Weekend Away: Slow Travel Oslo to Bergen
Fay Edwards takes us on a slow rain journey from Oslo to Bergen.
Editor’s Note – On occasion, we’ll feature slow travel experiences in neighboring Nordic and Baltic countries as part of our Weekends Away.
Touted as one of the world’s most beautiful journeys, the Oslo to Bergen route transports passengers from the slick streets of Oslo to the historic corners of Bergen’s UNESCO World Heritage ‘Bryggen’ quarter. And during the almost seven-hour journey, travellers pass through some of Norway’s most dramatic countryside – from patchwork fields of crops ready for harvesting, to sheer cliffs that tumble into dark fjords below.
Whilst the train line was first suggested in 1871, it wasn’t until 1908 that the first train was able to complete the journey. And as the highest mainline railway line in Northern Europe, crossing the Hardangervidda plateau at 1,237 metres above sea level, it isn’t hard to understand why.
Nevertheless, today the train journey is both comfortable and reliable during all seasons.
Ticket prices can be rather expensive during peak tourist season (June, July and August). However, the national Norwegian Railway company (NSB) offers a number of excellent deals, including student discounts, family tickets and the ‘Norway in a Nutshell’ pass. A great option is to check the availability of ‘minipris’ tickets, which are discounted fares released according to demand each month.
For those travelling as a family, it is good to note that NSB provides a family rail car complete with a playground to keep children occupied, allowing parents to absorb the views. Additional facilities include free Wi-Fi, power outlets, a sleeper car, and a lovely café where passengers gather to enjoy healthy snacks, a game of cards and the gorgeous view.
For a short trip, three days is ideal. First, take the early morning train from Oslo S to make sure you capture the best of the scenery on the way to Bergen. The transition from the countryside at the beginning of the trip to the countryside closer to Bergen is striking. At first, travellers will catch glimpses of yellow timbered houses set amongst open fields, with glistening rivers passing beneath a dark backdrop of Cyprus pine forests.
As you move further onwards, the forest grows heavier and the river becomes like a sheet of ice gliding over sharply cut rocks. And if you look way up high, you can see tiny little villages nestled in between mountain peaks. And then, upon passing Al, the countryside changes again – this time becoming windswept and desolate. By the time the train finally descends into Bergen the forests deepen again, enclosing the city which is framed by seven mountains.
Upon arrival to Bergen travellers have a wide range of accommodation to choose from including several hostels, but be careful as they sell out quickly.
For the budget traveller, ‘Marken Gjestehus’ is highly recommended for its excellent location, facilities and staff. The following day could begin with a wander down to the UNESCO World Heritage quarter ‘Bryggen’ on the eastern side of Vagen Harbour. The buildings here date back to the 17th century, but the history of the site reaches as far back as the 12th century when 30 wooden buildings were home to a number of trading firms. Today, these higgledy-piggledy buildings house boutiques and art studios within their roughly hewn log walls.
From here it’s a quick walk through cobbled lanes to ‘Krok og Kinkel Bokcafe’, down in an old cottage basement for a coffee and bite to eat before surmounting Mt Floyen behind you. In fact, several coffees are recommended in order to prepare for the hike.
While locals casually call it a gentle 45-minute stroll, I argue that it’s rather more strenuous. (However, readers should note that several mothers with toddlers overtook this traveller easily!). If this sounds a bit too much effort, another option is to take the ‘Floibanen Funicular’ or cable car from down behind the eastern side of Vagen, all the way to the top. But would the view be so sweet?
After an icecream at the top of Mt Floyen travellers have the option of taking a number of other hikes that extend into the mountains beyond. But if legs are shaking and energy is low, grab the funicular back down to the harbour and take a well-deserved break in the lovely park ‘Byparken’, before wandering to the atmospheric fish markets ‘Torget I Bergen’ for a feast of freshly caught seafood under flickering lights.
The final day should be spent wandering between the wonderful KODE Art Museums of Bergen. The Edvard Munch collection in KODE 3 is one of the largest and best in the world, with guided tours in English held twice daily at 12pm and 2pm during the months of June, July and August. For a lunch break between museums, the very funky ‘Landmark Café’ is worth a visit for both the food and the stylish interiors.
After a day perusing some of the world’s best art, wander over to the ‘Greighallen’, or concert hall which hosts a wide range of public concerts throughout summer. From here, head back to the harbour for dinner whilst watching the fishing boats come in to dock.
Finally, as the sun sets travellers can choose to stay one last night or to take the overnight train back to Oslo. This particular traveller was very happy to save the cost of an extra night of accommodation, and to snuggle comfortably aboard the train before heavy mists rolled in from the sea.
Special thanks to NSB for the complimentary rail tickets