Some time ago Lonely Planet’s Tom Hall wrote: “Anywhere else, the Bergensbanen would be heralded as a wonder of the world.”
The Oslo-Bergen railway (Bergensbanen) passes one of the world’s highest stretches of railway tracks, the Hardangervidda plateau (4,060ft). For nearly 60 miles it runs above the tree line, in terrain with few signs of human life. If you want to experience more of Norway when traveling between cities, the Oslo Bergen train is a great option.
Few European railways traverse such desolate mountain terrain as the 308-mile (500km) line linking Norway’s capital with its principal port and second city. Best of all, unlike many other things in Norway, it can be done on a relatively small budget.
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Bergensbanen, operated by NSB, takes you on a journey through picturesque mountain scenery and has many destinations worth seeing along the stretch, taking about seven hours. It was built between 1875 and 1909 and has 182 tunnels (11¼ miles) carved out through solid gneiss. 12 routes were surveyed before one was chosen. The line opened in sections from 1883, but the first scheduled train for Bergen did not leave Oslo until 1908.
The Bergen Railway Station is located right in the heart of Bergen city, just a short walk from the famous Bryggen, the Fish Market and the beautiful and lively city center of Bergen. The Oslo railway station is next to the stupendous Oslo Opera House. There are four daily departures from Bergen and Oslo all year round.
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If you’re leaving from Oslo, the train follows the capital’s commuter belt to Drammen, the first major stop after an about half an hour’s trip. From there the line begins to head into wilder land. The train follows the course of valleys and rivers, seemingly growing ever wider and faster-flowing. Skirting the lake of Tyrifjorden, it arrived at the junction of Hønefoss.
Holiday cabins dot the hills as the train leaves the last trees behind and heads for the north shore of Lake Ustevatn, which can be frozen for three quarters of the year. The train burrows through the first of many snowsheds, vital to keep the line open year-round but an irritation when you are enjoying the view.
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The Oslo Bergen line stops 21 times. The highest station is Finse, at 1222m. During the trip you can experience some of Norway’s most popular nature attractions, like the Flam Railway. The option then is to leave the line at Myrdal station where you can change train and experience the historic Flåmsbana to Flåm. You can continue with a boat to Gudvangen, bus to Voss and train to Bergen.
Past Ål, the frequent river crossings are marked by a metallic roar as the train crosses a bridge in its climb through the beautiful Hallindal Valley towards one of Norway’s best-known winter sports center, Geilo, boasting 39 downhill slopes and nearly 350 miles of cross-country trails.
The views over Sognefjord, Norway’s deepest and longest fjord at 125 miles, are spectacular as the train gingerly twists down the mountainside.
This is a comfortable and easy way to travel; either you travel all the way from Oslo to Bergen or just want to enjoy the nature at some of the destinations along the way. It has become a popular journey for tourists. Snow is a feature almost throughout the year, because the average snowline in Norway is at about 3,000ft, compared with 7,000ft in Switzerland.
If you are lucky the train will be quiet enough to swap sides to take advantage of the best views, but if you’re on a business trip or in a hurry, the train also offers cabins for those traveling by night.
During a one-day journey from Bergen you can experience Norway’s most spectacular fjord landscapes. But looking at the map of Norway, you realize that there are plenty of train lines. For train lovers, one journey should lead to another.
Norwegian Train Line Heralded a Wonder of the World, written by Tor Kjolberg
Feature image (on top): Bergensbanen at Flåm. Photo: A. Morten Rakke