The Bergen tourist office claim that the Bergensbanen is “One of the worlds most beautiful train rides” but they would wouldn’t they? Lonely Planet asks whether it’s “Europe’s best train journey?” whereas the Guardian declares it as “one of the world’s best long-distance rail journeys“. High praise indeed and it seemed to us that there was just no better way to get from Oslo to Bergen.
Early morning in Oslo
As usual we went for the early train so had to be up and away from the Anker Hotel by half past six which meant an even earlier start if we were to get our three plates of buffet breakfast (Norwegian Adventures in Oslo). Dry and bright weather forecast thank goodness as we hiked into city centre and found the main Oslo S station where our journey would start. Bit of background information on what this railway line is all about first though.
The Bergen Railway, or the Bergensbanen as it’s known in Norway, is a 308 mile (497 km) passenger train that runs between Oslo and Bergen. Construction started in 1883 but the whole length wasn’t completed until 1909 with the line being electrified in the early 1960s. It is the highest mainline railway in Europe with it’s highest point being the Hardangervidda plateau at 4,058 feet (1237 metres) above sea level. Considering that it starts and ends at virtually sea level it’s a huge climb and descent.
The seven hour journey takes you through some of the worlds greatest scenery and through 182 tunnels. It’s mind-boggling that the track was ever built to be honest as the terrain is seriously unforgiving. From the map below you can see that the route takes you from the Norwegian capital in the south east right across to Bergen on the west coast.
Classic Train Journeys
As regular followers of our blog will know we really enjoy travelling by train and absolutely love a classic long train trip such as our journey from San Francisco to Chicago on the California Zephyr (Rocky Mountain Way on the California Zephyr). So when we were planning our Norwegian trip we just couldn’t resist the Bergensbanen. So how would this rank alongside that epic experience?
We’d booked our tickets with NSB and had made the rash decision to upgrade to ‘Comfort‘ class. Not much more but apparently with more leg room, free tea and coffee, and a quieter child-free carriage. Obviously on-time to the minute we found our seats and settled as our fellow passengers milled around getting themselves sorted out. Now we’ve always loved ‘people-watching’ so a major part of any trip like this is just to enjoy getting to know our fellow passengers and watch their antics along the way.
The train crept reasonably slowly through the suburbs as it left Oslo on the way to our first major stop at Drammen. That was where we left civilisation and headed out into the wilderness. The sun was shining and we had beautiful blue skies as we headed on up towards Honefoss.
A few of our fellow passengers seemed to be busy on their laptops or more interested in the free coffee but we just couldn’t get enough of the spectacular scenery on both sides of the train. The track twisted alongside fjords and through valleys past snow-tipped mountains as it climbed higher and higher.
In the carriage with us were a couple of Germans who seemed more interested in what we were doing than the scenery, some Canadian ladies who had been everywhere and just wanted to outdo one-another with their travel tales, a Norwegian couple who had serious problems finding their seats everytime they wandered off, some very very loud Americans who knew it all, another British couple who sadly never spoke to each other with the wife constantly on her laptop, and our favourites an older Indian couple.
Why favourites? Well they just never got used to the fact that the train actually moved and kept falling in other passengers laps and throwing coffee everywhere. Plus the guy held a camcorder which he used for the whole trip. He kept filming as he collapsed on top of the Canadian ladies, tried unsuccessfully to carry cups of tea, and even flattened me against the window in the corridor. Hilarious.
Stopping at strangely names stations such as Fla, Nesbyen, Gol and Geilo we were almost at the highest point of the journey as we approached Finse the highest station on the line at around 1222m. The weather had closed in as we climbed and the blue skies had been replaced by thick dark clouds and unbelievably light snow.
Between Finse and Myrdal we travelled through a snow-covered wasteland that almost looked like another world. The occasional wooden hut sitting miles from anywhere alongside a fjord was the only sign of life as unbelievably beautiful scenery welcomed us on all sides. Truly unbelievable and as we pulled into Myrdal I just couldn’t resist jumping off for a quick snowy walk along the platform.
The Flam Line
At Myrdal the only branchline connecting the Bergensbanen is the Flam Line. This runs north to the town of Flam where several fjord cruises start on Sognefjord. Many of our fellow travellers, particularly the Americans, were leaving us here to take the Flam line and catch one of those cruises, thank goodness. We heard every detail as they discussed their itineraries in extremely loud voices trying to outdo one another as we arrived. It actually sounded like a great trip so we’ve banked the information for next time. The other British couple hardly looked up and the Indians just kept filming each other falling over.
Leaving Flam the train descended fairly quickly out of the glacial wilderness and started it’s way down towards the sea at Bergen. Scenery changed dramatically as the ice and snow withdrew and we dropped into greener valleys. A few passengers were dozing at this stage but we as usual couldn’t contain our excitement.
Stopping at Voss and Dale we were almost at the end of the journey and we desperately didn’t want it to end. As much as we were looking forward to seeing Bergen and experiencing what it had to offer we were loving the train far too much. We even spoke about whether we could do the return trip to Myrdal and back the following day! Crazy talk.
Arriving at Bergen
Before long the train was pulling in Bergen station and the end of our journey. It hadn’t felt like anywhere near seven hours as there had been so much to see and the time flew by. We couldn’t believe the change in temperature as we stepped onto the platform as it was a good ten degrees colder than when we had left Oslo.
Is the Bergen railway the Worlds Greatest Train Journey?
Tough one for us to answer as we obviously haven’t been on all of the worlds top train trips but it was a stunningly spectacular journey that must be difficult to match anywhere. From our limited experience we would probably say that it was the best train trip we have ever taken. Unbelievable and unforgettable.