Flåm (pronounced "Flom") is a tiny village on the banks of the Aurlansfjord in Norway, one of the branches of the beautiful Sognefjord -- the longest and deepest fjord in Europe.
The setting is breathtaking and a stroll along the waterside past orchards and hamlets, cottages and farmland, topped with soaring peaks, quickly helps you realize why this is an essential stop on any Norwegian fjords cruise.
Built between 1920 and 1940, the Flam railway was opened by German troops who had a large military camp in the village during the Second World War. The wooden carriages and hard seats seem to have been little modernized since then, but there are large picture windows so you'll never be without a breathtaking view.
Down in the village the Flamsbåna Museum tells the story of the railway's design and construction. Work began in 1923, and 20 tunnels were constructed through the mountain, 18 of them excavated by hand. The track was laid in 1936 and steam trains ran from 1940 to 1944, when they were replaced by electric trains which are still running today. The Flam line connects with the Bergen line at Myrdal station.
The track climbs 867 meters (948 yards) over a distance of 20 kilometers (12 miles) in just 50 minutes, with a gradient of 1 in 18, through magnificent scenery, in and out of mountains, past waterfalls and ravines, and pausing at the beautiful Kjosfossen waterfall, where water crashes 225 meters (246 yards) down the side of the cliffs.
Regarded as one of the most beautiful train rides in the world, the journey offers a panoramic view of some of the most magnificent natural wonders in the Norwegian fjord land, travelling through 20 tunnels and giving many wonderful viewpoints. When boarding the train, sit on the right-hand side for the upward journey, which becomes the left-hand side for the return journey, for the most spectacular views.
Trains run all the year round, with up to ten departures per day during the summer season and four per day in winter. There is a booking office in Flåm village, where tickets can be purchased for 480 kroner. However, the high demand for tickets means it's advisable to book through your cruise ship to make sure of availability. There is a variety of different tours involving all or part of the railway combined with other sightseeing or experiences.
A journey on the railway followed by a scenic cycle ride is a popular option. There are seven stops en route and all the trains have bicycles which are available for hire, but it's advisable to book a shore excursion through your cruise line. Most lines will offer the following excursion: Ride to the top of the line to Myrdal, remain on the same train and travel back down the line to Berekvam station, disembark and collect your mountain bike for the return journey.
Starting at 343 meters (375 yards) above sea level, follow a trackfor approximately 11 kms (approx. seven miles), downhill all the way. The narrow track winds beside the river for most of the way, with views of the valley and many waterfalls.
Tips: The journey takes around an hour and a half, so you'll need to be fairly active and have the ability to ride a bike with gears. It's considered better suited for people who are confident cyclists. The minimum recommended age for this tour is 12, and minors must be accompanied by an adult; your cruise line will supply cycle helmets, reflective vests and rain jackets (if required). A warm jumper or jacket is advisable, and you should bring a bottle of water. A vehicle will accompany the group, and will be on hand should there be any problems.
A scenic hike through the Flåms valley can be combined with a ride on the Railway. The Black Watch itinerary begins with a short walk to meet your guide and board the train. There is a pause at the Kjosfossen waterfall, where you can disembark for a few moments to experience the amazing sights and sounds of the thundering water. Continue on the train to Vatnahalsene, the last stop before reaching Myrdal and turning back to Flåm. Starting at 820 meters above sea level, follow a hiking trail for approximately 9 kms (5.6 miles), downhill all the way. The narrow track winds beside the river for most of the route, affording great views of the valley with waterfalls, snowy peaks and many photo opportunities. Pass the pasture at Kårdal, where several farms send their goats in the summer. This area is known for its many goat farms and the production of goat cheese.
Your guide will tell you about the diverse flora, fauna and history of the area as you walk. At Berekvam station rejoin the train for the journey back to Flåm.
Tips: This tour is only suitable for the fit and healthy as it involves approximately two and a half hours' walking over rough, uneven ground including some gravel and inclines. Sensible clothing is advisable, preferably layers, including a warm sweater and windproof jacket and trousers that you can add or remove as necessary. A pair of solid walking boots is essential, a bottle of water and hat and gloves advisable. A packed lunch is supplied by the ship. There are no toilet facilities on the hike.
If you don't feel particularly active, the easiest way to enjoy the railway is to opt for the return, with a couple of stops en route. The typical excursion involves a stop en route to see the Kjosfossen waterfall and then getting off the stop before last for waffles and jam and coffee at the Valnahalsen Hotel.
Tips: This tour isn't suitable for wheelchair guests, due to the boarding of the train. There is also an uneven path from the station to the hotel.