For my birthday this year, I got The Bergen Railway. Well…I got a ticket for it. And if you think getting a train ticket for your birthday doesn’t sound exciting, then think again my friend, because this isn’t a standard journey; it’s one of the world’s most scenic train rides, your ‘thing to do’ for the day and a way to cross the 310 miles from Oslo to Bergen (or vice versa) all at once.
We booked online for the midday train (or 12:03 if you want to be exact) and had been intending to pay the extra to travel in Komfort class – well, I was intending to allow extra to be spent on my birthday present – which is around a tenner more. However, there weren’t any of those tickets left when we booked (you’re probably best to book them several weeks in advance for that) so standard – about £90 – it was.
As usual we were wandering around the train station in search of food before boarding so although there is a side and direction of seat that I believe you are supposed to try to nab for the ‘best views’ we didn’t get pick of the bunch. There were still quite a few to choose from though, so we just plonked ourselves on one of the four-seat-and-table situations (where we were later joined by a smiling old lady) – and it was time to set off!
Because I thought I might want to blog the journey I started making some notes on my phone of points at which you could see something in particular, but I quickly realised that this was a really stupid idea and I’d have been doing some crazy typing-while-looking-out-of-the-window-then-back-at-my-phone thing for the whole seven hours like an exhausted version of one of those nodding dogs. The views aren’t necessarily at certain points; sure there are some ‘wow’ moments, and they’re different as you pass through different landscapes but it’s also pretty much continuous. The first hour is your standard ‘way out of the city’ scenes, albeit a very nice version of those, because Norway is dreamy. We passed pretty small towns, hills, rivers and wooded areas, skirted a gorgeous lake for a while and stopped quite a few times at smaller stations.
About an hour in the signs of human life became more scarce; the landscape was dotted with little red houses every so often but aside from that we had definitely entered the (very green) countryside. An hour after that, the scenery started to become more mountainous and rolling, with drops either side of the track. We entered the darkness of a tunnel and a few moments later emerged into bright white mountains. The scenery here was dramatic and beautiful, all ice and snow and peaks and the occasional waterfall, and when there were no longer any peaks in sight – that was because we’d reached the highest point of the journey, the Hardangervidda Plateau at 4,060 ft high.
Around about this time we got up and stood in one of the carriage entrances to peer through the doors on either side. You can see perfectly well from your seat no matter where it is if everyone just sits still, but I was that annoying person that just has to get closer and wave a camera at it, and I was getting annoyed that through the opposite window there were people in the way and I had to look past Rob to look through our window (I know, it was my birthday present, why didn’t I get the window seat?!). From our standing position we could run between right and left without any heads in the way (although we really slacked on the photo taking) – and we stayed there for much of the rest of the journey, only returning to our seats for snacks/to realise we’d run out of snacks and order extortionately priced food from the train.
The stops along the way were getting more and more interesting to look at, too; the ‘outskirts of the city’ ones were long gone and in their place were pretty, traditional looking and remote station buildings. On of these was the junction station of Myrdal, where we would return the next day while on our Norway in a Nutshell tour – and you can get off here and then switch trains to the Flam railway.
From Myrdal the train began to descend a little more steeply, and the scenery started to get greener as we made our way towards our destination. It was still beautiful, but different from the mountain plateaus; we were back seeing beautiful lakes (and perfect reflections of the hills they were fringed with reflected in them), woodlands and villages. We arrived in Bergen at around 7pm, and you can read about our time there (from the minute we stepped off the train, actually), in this post.
Tips for taking The Bergen Railway
- Book online ahead of time; especially if you want to secure Komfort class
- It goes without saying, but if you prefer high end travel, book Komfort class for complimentary tea and coffee, power sockets, more leg room and less passengers to a cabin
- Standard class is more than fine though (trains in Scandinavia are excellent); we had a power socket and weren’t uncomfortable even in a full compartment
- You can start this journey in the early morning, around midday, or in the late afternoon – or you can do it as an overnight train
- Chill out; the ride is 7 hours, there is a lot to see, so if you aren’t gawking out of the window for every single possible second it’s no biggy
- Your choice of seat doesn’t matter as much as everyone seems to think; there are views on both sides and whatever side you sit you will find you aren’t in the optimum position for something or other, so I honestly don’t think there’s any point fussing about it
- You can hop off/stick your head out of the doors quickly at stations for a still, window-free photo, as there are people disembarking and getting on at all/most of them, but stay next to the train and jump on again fast as lots of them are brief
- Take snacks; mate, it’s 7 hours. You’ll get hungry. The food on board isn’t bad but it is expensive. Plus, even if it was a 30 minute journey are you even on a train if you don’t bring along a bag of food?
Sorry that the photos don’t quite back up what I’m saying in this post – it is really hard to take photos, as you are obviously doing so through glass and the train is moving, so none of what we got on camera reflects the stunning scenes we actually saw…so many of them are blurred or of the inside of a tunnel! What I do think the snaps show is 1) how rainy and grey it was on the day we did it and 2) how desolate and remote but also beautiful the mountains are; epic in the truest sense of the word and seriously moody too.
I’ve done some lovely journeys overland before, but this is probably the best – a far better gift than the shoes I’d been eyeing up (no one panic; I bought them anyway. Self gifting is good for the soul).