Norway in a Nutshell- Bergen to Oslo (Winter Edition)

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When I planned our winter trip to Norway, I tried to develop an itinerary that was comprehensive and made sense. I mean, we started up in the far north of Tromso to maximize Polar Night. Then we took a cruise down the Norwegian coastline to Bergen and spent a few days there. Now it was time to make our way to Oslo, where we would spend the remaining days of our vacation.

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There are a variety of ways to get from Bergen to Oslo, but I chose the route that seemed the most fun, and gave us the greatest opportunity to see the beautiful Norwegian landscapes, though this choice was far from the cheapest. Tourist offices in Norway offer a wide variety of day trips and multi-day trips, and one of their most popular day trips is called Norway in a Nutshell. There are a variety of versions of this trip, with different routes and itineraries, all of them designed to give the traveler the most bang for their buck and see as much as possible of that route in a given day (though you can extend a trip by stopping in one of the various towns for a day or two).

Norway in a Nutshell-7Norway does a pretty good job of offering winter tours, though for obvious reasons, they aren’t as extensive as summer tours. But they do have one winter Norway in a Nutshell, and you can do it from Bergen to Oslo or Oslo to Bergen. Both itineraries are the same in terms of stops and even in terms of trip length. I booked it in advance with my travel agency, and they took care of everything, including arranging for our bags to be picked up. That option took a load off my mind, because I was just picturing my poor mother dragging her suitcase through the Norway snow and ice (or me dragging both of our suitcases) at every stop and wrangling them onto buses, boats and trains. But nope, you can pay extra to have your bags picked up in Bergen, and they will be dropped off for you at your hotel in Oslo. It’s not the cheapest option, but I would rather spend money for peace of mind and convenience, so all we had to carry were our day packs.

 

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The day trip from Bergen to Oslo starts early and ends late. We left Bergen by train early in morning, just as the rising sun was turning the snowy winter landscape blue. By the time we got off the train at Voss, the sun was completely out. From there, there is a marked bus from Voss to Gudvangen. The bus trip was also very beautiful, as everything was covered in snow (which it wasn’t in Bergen). The bus dropped us off at the tiny, tiny village of Gudvangen. We had some time to kill before our boat arrived, so we took the time to take in the awe inspiring views. We were at the end of a fjord, and the tall, snow covered mountains surrounded us. But to make the view even better, the water was super still and clear and provided these astounding reflections of the mountains. It almost looked surreal.

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Our next part of the trip was an electric boat ride through Naerjoyfjord, which is one of the smallest fjords in Norway. The passageway is rather narrow by fjord standards, but it packs a lot of beauty into such as small area. It was pleasantly chilly out on deck, but the never ending beautiful views made it all worth it. The boat ride lasts roughly two hours and ends at the tiny, but pretty village of Flam, which is off yet another fjord, Aurlandsfjord.

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The town itself was covered in snow, and it looked the picture of a charming, Norwegian traditional village. We had a pleasant lunch and then just walked around taking pictures, doing some shopping and just relaxing.

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It is here that part of me wished I had chosen something differently. See, when you sign up for the trip, you are given an itinerary, with departure times and tickets. Our departure out of Flam via the Flam Railway was scheduled for after 4 pm in the afternoon, which would have been perfectly fine in the summer. But in the winter, it was right around the time it would start getting dark. In fact, the sun was definitely low by the time we departed Flam, and it was completely dark by the time we arrived at Myrdal. Part of me wished we had taken the earlier train out of Flam, just because the views from the Flam Railway are supposed to be spectacular, and it is considered to be one of the most beautiful train rides in the world.

20190123_171941-1But even though we didn’t get to see EVERYTHING, we saw enough and I felt we got our money’s worth. The one fun thing is that there are a couple short photo stops on the Flam Railway, the longest being at the Kjosfossen Waterfall. This waterfall is one of the most popular stops in Norway, and I was worried that we wouldn’t stop at the waterfall, because it would be dark by that point. But fear not, stop we did, and the waterfall was lit up with colorful lights. It certainly looked like it was frozen over, and it would have been fun to see in daylight, but it was still good enough in the dark.

 

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The Flam Railway ends at Myrdal, and from there, we picked up another train to Oslo. We still had some hours to go before getting to Oslo, but at this point, all we had to do was sit back, relax and enjoy the ride. We didn’t arrive in Oslo until after 10 pm that night, so the full day trip itinerary takes over 14 hours. I’m sure it is even more beautiful in the summer, since the sun is out for so long. But I think it is still a worthwhile trip in the winter. If you love beautiful winter landscapes, you will definitely get your fill on this particular day trip. It is probably the most beautiful way to get from Bergen to Oslo, or vice versa.

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Cruising down the Norwegian Coastline in Winter

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When I first started planning our winter trip to Norway, I wanted to create a balanced itinerary that enabled us to see some of the things I hadn’t seen on my first trip to Norway with seeing some of the same stuff again, only in the light of winter. For my mother, it was all new to her, so whatever I came up with was going to satisfy her desire to see Norway. So of course I wanted to make this trip as seamless as possible. I’ve done tours where I have spent a lot of time traveling between sights, and I wanted to make that as fun as possible, especially since I was setting up a fairly ambitious itinerary. I mean, I knew we HAD to see Tromso, mainly because of the opportunity to see the Northern Lights (accomplished), but also because I hadn’t spent that much time seeing it before. It was only a few hours cruise stop on my first trip and I wanted to spend some time up there and enjoy as much as possible, because there is a LOT one can see up in the Tromso area. I knew we had to see Bergen and Oslo, because they are basically must do cities on a Norway trip.

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To make it fun and to maximize seeing Norway’s beautiful nature, we decided to link it all together with a series of tours and make the journey to each next stop part of the fun and not just as a slog to get to a destination. Starting in Tromso was the best bet, because that meant we started in the Far North where there was a lot of cold and snow and limited daylight.

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Traveling south from there meant that each day would get a tiny bit warmer (though it wasn’t really noticeable except for the three days we were in Bergen) and certainly longer days of daylight. The best option (though certainly not the cheapest option) was to take the Hurtigruten cruise south from Tromso to Bergen. I had taken the cruise north from Bergen to Kirkenes in the summer about 10 years ago, so I knew how this was a great opportunity to relax and see the Norwegian coastline in peace and intersperse it with some shore excursions.

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If you want to do a Norway cruise in winter, the easiest option is the Hurtigruten cruise (there area many, many other options in the summer, though those are more traditional cruise lines). The Hurtigruten cruise has been operating in Norway for decades, and it is more of a very nice ferry line and not what you would consider a typical cruise. I mean, the Hurtigruten is a working ship that transports goods to many of the tiny seaside towns- some of which are extremely hard to reach outside of a ship. There aren’t as many typical cruise activities (no casinos, all night buffets, waterslides and whatever else they are coming up with on cruises these days), but it is a great opportunity to relax and enjoy the beauty of the Norwegian coastline. If you want to maximize shore excursions, Hurtigruten offers a wide variety. But if you just want to plop yourself down in one of the lounge chairs on the upper deck and watch the world float by while reading a book or checking out the Internet, you are free to do so as well.

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Considering our first three days in Tromso involved some long days and nights with activities, cruising down the Norwegian coastline for three days was a great opportunity to relax and recharge. Sure our embarkation night in Tromso was a long one, since we weren’t able to board until after midnight (a fairly easy process if you have reservations), but after that, it was pretty much on our own time. Most of the time we just read books, enjoyed the view and took pictures outside on the open deck (you always needed to keep your winter gear nearby in case you wanted to outside). Usually I am very go go go on my vacations, trying to get a lot in, but cruising kind of forced me to pump the brakes. Outside of the meal times, and occasional disembarkation at a stop, it was just sort of blissful peace.

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The cruise will stop for a few hours at some of the larger cities, such as Trondheim, Tromso and the like, but many of the stops were for only an hour or less. Most of those places were just smaller villages, giving the ship enough time to offload some materials and give cruise goers a chance to look around. Honestly, outside of our stop at Trondheim, we really didn’t get off the ship.

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However, we did want to take advantage of our three hours in Trondheim to see the city, because it really is worth a visit. There is a lot to see and do there, but you only have a limited amount of time, especially if you decide to walk like we did. The cruise offered a Trondheim sightseeing tour, but I am not sure if they stopped in many more places than we did. The southbound Trondheim stop is from around 0630 to 1000. That SOUNDS like a lot of time, but it really isn’t. First off, if you want to enjoy breakfast, you won’t be getting off the ship at 0630, and even so, in winter, the sun doesn’t rise until around 0900, so it’s not like you are going to be able to visit much at that hour. Plus the day we stopped, the wind and snow were blowing pretty hard, but we persevered. We had enough time to make a short 20 minute visit to the Nidaros Cathedral, which is one of the main attractions in Trondheim. The cathedral opened at 0900, so I figured we had enough time to visit and then briskly walk the 30 minutes back from town to our ship. We did make it and all, though we only had about five minutes to spare, but that was enough.

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After first disembarking, we made our way from the harbor area to the center of the Old Town, and we actually arrived at the cathedral before it opened. Since we had some time to kill, we walked the few hundred meters over to cross the Gamle Bybro or Old Town Bridge and get some nice photos of the Bryggen, which is a collection of colorful 18th and 19th century buildings along the canal. I remember my summer visit to Trondheim allowed me more time to walk around and explore that area, but not this trip. You can see a decent amount in three and a half hours, but it is more challenging when it is dark, but also that everything is closed. I wish our stop could have been in the later morning or the afternoon, but you can’t have everything (the northbound stop at Trondheim is later in the day, so you can maximize your visit). I wished we could have visited the Archbishop’s Palace or the fort overlooking the city, but it was still an enjoyable visit.

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Stopping in Trondheim was sort of the highlight of our cruise, and later that day, we saw the actual sun above the horizon in more than a week. It was interesting to see the gradual lengthening of daylight. The first day we were in the Lofoton Islands, which were beautiful, but we had the same limited daylight we had in Tromso, which unfortunately meant we didn’t get to see Trollfjord while we were cruising. But each day, the amount of daylight got both longer and brighter until we were actually seeing the sun on our last full day before arriving in Bergen.

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I am glad we did the wintertime cruise, as it was a good counterpart to seeing Norway in the summer. I think Norway is beautiful all year around, and worthy of a trip anytime. Sure there are some things that are seasonal specific, such as seeing the Northern Lights only in winter, and really only being able to take some longer hikes in the summer, since many of the paths are covered in deep snow in the winter. But many things are good all year, such as cruising the Norwegian coastline. It’s a great, peaceful and easy way to see parts of Norway that aren’t easily accessible on a land tour, and traverse great lengths of the country.

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