Finding beauty and adventure in western Norway
Exploring Eidfjord, Flåm, the fjords, and beyond
Lori Ann Reinhall
The Norwegian American
It has been said that Norway is “powered by nature,” and I quite agree. No matter where you are in Norway, there seem to be new wonders to take in. Nowhere is this truer than in scenic western Norway, where you can discover national parks, fjords, waterfalls, scenic roads, and idyllic villages.
Whether you are able to spend only a couple of days or a couple weeks, and no matter the season, you needn’t travel far to be immersed in a realm of unparalleled natural beauty. You can travel by boat, bus, train, car, and even bike, and hike or ski along the way. The possibilities seem almost endless.
Less than 2 ½ hours from the coastal city of Bergen by car is Eidfjord, in the heart of the historic Hardanger region, one of western Norway’s most dramatically beautiful landscapes.
Eidfjord is located at the end of the Eid Fjord, an inner branch of the larger Hardanger Fjord. In fact, the name Eidfjord means “the land between two waters.” The village of Eidfjord is a major cruise ship port of call and a major tourist destination, bustling with activity year-round.
And there is much to see here: the high Hardanger plateau, called Hardangervidda in Norwegian. The Hardangerjøkulen glacier is located nearby, and the beautiful Måbødalen valley and the majestic Vøringfossen waterfall are just a short distance away.
Summer in Eidfjord is about being out on the water, whether you arrive by cruise ship or on board a tour boat, or even out on a local fishing boat from the quay there. The area surrounding Eidfjord is rich in fishing opportunities—trout, salmon, cod, and crab—in its rivers, lakes, and in the fjord, of course.
The Kjeåsen Mountain Farm lies like an eagle’s nest about 1,968 feet above sea level, offering a magnificent view. The farm was settled already in the Middle Ages. It is believed that people came there to get closer to hunting grounds on the Hardangervidda, the high mountain plateau.
Before the car road came in 1984, it was only a very, very steep path leading up to Kjeåsen. And it took about 40 years to build the houses here, because they had to carry everything that they needed to build a house on the steep paths.
Town of Eidfjord
When you venture into the center of town— only a short walk—you will find much waiting for you there. The Hardanger region is known for its food: fresh ingredients and culinary creativity.
You can also explore the history of the early medieval settlement with a visit to the Old Eidfjord Church, which dates back to around 1301. You can visit souvenir and gift shops that offer authentic local arts and crafts — the Hardanger region is a hub for artists and musicians, both traditional and contemporary. In fact, the Hardanger fiddle is world famous for its unique sound.
Finally, you can settle into the comfort of your hotel or bed-and-breakfast, hostel, or camp site, preferably with a view of the fjord.
From Eidfjord, you can travel to Vøringfossen, with its free fall of about 600 feet, as huge volumes of water from the Hardanger plateau drop to the valley of Måbødalen below. The valley stretches from Eidfjord all the way through to the Hardanger plateau, where it is possible to see the waterfall from the bottom of the valley. The very dramatic but smaller Tyssvikjo falls neighbors Vøring and both feed the river at the base of the the Måbødalen valley below.
Then, you can stop for a cup of coffee after you enjoy the sights before continuing on your journey.
A must-see on any western Norway itinerary is Flåm. Easily reached from Bergen, it can be a day trip with the “Norway in a Nutshell” tour. You can plan on staying for only a few hours or pack an entire week full of adventures, as it is the perfect departure point for some of the most popular—and beautiful—destinations in all of Norway.
Many visitors arrive by cruise ship or ferry. Flåm is a port for Norway’s state-of-the-art electric ferries, with advanced engineering that makes them the most energy-efficient and environmentally friendly in the world.
Once in Flåm, you will be greeted by the historic Fretheim Hotel. Built at the turn of the 19th century, it is listed in the registry of historic hotels. Over the years, the Fretheim has undergone a number of remodels, restorations, and additions, which all blend together, to create a totally comfortable experience.
The lobby, with its large pine beams, wooden floor, and warming fireplace welcomes you, along with Norwegian artwork and handicrafts. You are greeted by two elaborate folk costumes from the area, as well as artwork inspired by their details.
For the shopper, the Mall of Norway offers one of the largest selections of Norwegian brands in a brick-and-mortar shopping venue, with literally thousands upon thousands of items in stock. You can pick up a postcard for less than $1, buy yourself a Norwegian sweater or jacket, or even spring for an exclusive piece of art jewelry for $20,000 upward.
The Flåm Railway Museum will draw you back in time, as you learn about the building of the Flåmsbana, the Flåm Railway, completed in 1940. This was a major engineering feat in its day, providing an important connection with the outside world. Ironically, the same men who designed and built the Flåmsbana would be the ones who would strategically sabotage it to stop Hitler’s troops and the flow of goods during World War II.
After the museum, you can then embark on the Flåmsbana train to experience “one of the most beautiful train journeys in the world” as you continue to Myrdal.
There is a short scenic stop right on the majestic Kjosfossen waterfall.
From Myrdal you can make a connection to Bergen or return to Flåm, depending on your itinerary.
The Stegastein viewpoint, just a short bus or car trip away from Flåm, is Norway at its best, offering you a panoramic view of the Aurlandsfjord. The observation deck, not designed for those with a fear of heights, juts out nearly 100 feet from the mountainside, over 2,100 feet above the fjord. The scenery is beautiful throughout the four seasons and is open 365 days a year.
Finally, from Flåm, you can board a ferry to Gudvangen to take in the beauty of the scenery surrounding the Nærøyfjord.
The two vessels Vision and Future of the Fjords have been designed to maximize your experience during any kind of weather, with large windows and walkways inspired by the winding trails of steep mountain terrain. Inside, the Nordic-inspired interior design offers a high level of comfort, an experience in and of itself.
The Nærøyfjord is truly a natural wonder and is featured on UNESCO’s World Heritage List. With mountains and waterfalls, it is spotted with picturesque villages and farmsteads.
Gudvangen is an ancient site—in Norwegian, “gud” means god and “vangen” is an open space. Hence, it was a place where the old Norse gods were worshipped—it’s “the place of the gods.”
When you arrive there, you will be immersed into the world of the Vikings. The Viking Valley village Njardarheimr was built to teach both Norwegians and tourists how Vikings actually lived in medieval Norway, and every effort has been undertaken to make the experience authentic.
Years of research went into the planning and the building the structures. With the exception of some plumbing and electricity required by modern codes, they take you back to medieval times.
It is even possible to stay at the village and learn some of the trades and handicrafts of Viking times. Re-enactors wear clothing fashioned from fibers that would have been available to Vikings, and meals are prepared with the foods they would have eaten.
As you leave the Viking Village to return to the 21st century, you may still have the feeling that you are hovering in an unreality—for that is western Norway, a place of natural beauty so rare, so extraordinary, that it sweeps you away into another world.
This article is based on Lori Ann Reinhall’s script for the Travels in Western Norway series produced by Woods Productions. To learn more and purchase access to these informative educational travel videos, search for “Travels in Western Norway” at amazon.com.
This article originally appeared in the February 2023 issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.