Are you drooling over gorgeous Norwegian fjord photos and trying to figure out if you can afford to take the Norway in a Nutshell tour? I was doing the same thing last year, but after doing some sleuthing I found that I could save hundreds of dollars and see the fjords just how I wanted to by putting together my own itinerary. Stick with me and I'll show you how you can do it too.
After much research, I decided the way I wanted to see Norway's fjords was to take the highlights of the Norway in a Nutshell tour but do them at my own pace and ideally at less crowded times. I relied on suggestions from Rick Steves’ Snapshot Norway guidebook. Buy it. You won't regret it.
I took the do-it-yourself approach because I found that with four of us traveling, we could save hundreds of dollars by driving our own car, booking our lodging, and arranging our own tours. In the end, I don't think I missed anything the Norway in a Nutshell tour offered, and instead enjoyed a customized itinerary that was perfect for us. To be clear, the Norway in a Nutshell tours are not guided tours; they are a series to train and boat tickets purchased together, but sold at a premium.
Norway in a Nutshell offers several options for touring, the most intensive being a 20-hour tour that takes you from Oslo, through the fjords, and on to Bergen via train. Norway in a Nutshell recommends that you stay overnight in the fjord region if you've got time and offers lodging options they can book for you.
We choose to break the suggested Sognefjord tour up into several days and stay in a cottage on Sognefjord fjords. We looked at rentals in darling little towns like Solvorn and Balestrand all along Sognefjord, and ended up staying at Amblegaard Cottages in Kaupanger, which was a perfect choice for us. There are many other options available from Airbnb or other vacation rental sites.
Norway in a Nutshell travels by train, and while I'm sure this is a great option for many, we rented a car. Norway is easy to navigate once we figured out how to use our car's GPS system. Everyone raves about the beauty of the train ride on the Norway in a Nutshell tour, but I wouldn't trade the chance we had to to drive the Sognefjell Mountain Road for anything. I saw hours of beautiful scenery all over Norway, but the unique experience of crossing this mountain pass goes down in my memory book as one of the most surreal travel experiences of my life.
We loved having a car once we arrived in the fjords so we could explore the quaint towns at our leisure. We rode the car ferry across Sognefjord several times, and had a delicious lunch in Balestrand at The Golden House. Try the troll soup. It's delicious.
Are you finding this post helpful? If so, check out another popular Norway post: 4 tips for visiting Bergen.
We went to Norway in May, at the very beginning of the tourist season, so nothing was crowded. We had the luxury of watching the weather forecast and calling to reserve our boat cruise after we found the least rainy day.
The highlight of our time in the fjords was the day we started in Flam and took a 2.5 hour boat cruise on Sognefjord and Naerøyfjord to Gudvangen. After our Fjord Cruise Naerøyfjord, we took a 20-minute shuttle ride back to Flam in time to catch our departure for the Flam Railway from Flam to Myrdal and back. I took pictures all day as we saw hundreds of waterfalls and the most amazing vistas.
I would suggest you do both the fjord cruise and the Flam railway. We started with the cruise and did the railway second, but it wouldn't matter what order you did it in. The snow was melting off the mountains, and at one point on our cruise, we counted 26 waterfalls that we could see at one time. I saw dozens of waterfalls that I would have happily hiked for hours to see. May was a great time of year to visit Norway.
You know those epic vacation days you have every once in awhile that make your top five vacation memories? That is how I feel about our cruise on Naerøyfjord and the trip to Myrdal on the Flam Railway. I fell in love with the majesty of Norway's fjords, mountains and waterfalls. I loved both activities, but if you only have time for one, do the fjord cruise because you can be outside and have 360-degree views. One of my favorite things was passing by all the small, quaint villages along the fjord and imagining what life is like for those families living there. I left a part of my heart in Norway when we left the fjord region.
Tips for planning your own Norway in a Nutshell tour
- Book in advance. Reservations are necessary during peak season (late June to mid-August). I recommend booking a few days in advance during shoulder season, and two weeks in advance during peak season. Since I wanted to do a fjord cruise and the Flam Railway, I found it easiest to call and purchase my tickets from a phone operator who helped me figure out the timetables that worked best for us. You can book online, but booking over the phone simplified my planning process. Call +47 57631400 to book. You can book online here.
- The main Norway in a Nutshell crowds will arrive in Flam around noon. If you want to avoid the biggest crowds, cruise the fjord early in the morning or late in the day. The cruises that depart between noon and 2:00 p.m. will be the busiest. In May, we did an 11:00 a.m. cruise and our ship was mostly empty. I loved having any seat I wanted and freedom to move around the boat to get the best views.
- Pack a lunch. You can buy food at the gift shops in Flam, but I found we did not have much time between our cruise and our ride on the Flam railway, and I didn't want to feel rushed or stressed. We packed a picnic lunch and when we got too cold on the cruise, we went inside for a few minutes and ate our lunch inside the ship.
- Dress warmly. Coats and jackets are a given in Norway, but even on a sunny 65-degree day, I was grateful for layers, rain jacket, mittens, hat and gloves that I wore on our fjord cruise. The wind can be strong in the narrow fjords, but I didn't want to miss a minute of the beautiful views by going inside the ship.
- Arrive early. You need to be there 15 minutes before departure, but if you arrive early there are hiking trails, museums, cafes, and gift shops to explore.
- Plan to spend a few days in the fjord region. Check Yelp for great restaurant suggestions, drive around Sognefjord or Hardanger fjord, go hiking, take a rowboat or fishing boat out on the fjords, kayak or take a speedboat tour for a more exciting ride. Explore orchards and local markets. Try delicious local cheeses. Walk on a glacier. Eat Norway's famous fish soup. Tour a stave church.
Planning a Trip to Norway?
Check out our Europe Pinterest board for more great blog posts about Norway. You may also like the following Tips for Family Trips posts:
- Land of the Fjords: Tips for Planning a Trip to Norway
- Oslo, Norway, City Guide for Families
- Bergen, Norway: 4 Must-See Destinations and Planning Tips
- Driving the Sognefjell Mountain Road
- Photo Essay: Beautiful Photos of Norway my husband took of our trip in May 2015.