The highlight of my first trip to Scandinavia in the 1970s was riding the The Flåm Railway for an hour from the high mountain plateau at Myrdal down a steep valley to the Aurlandsfjord alongside the destination village of Flåm. It was the off season. The air had a chill to it. Tourists were few.
The cozy inn I chose to stay in completed an interesting introduction to rural life in Norway, despite the fact that a pot of tea cost just about the same as a night in a hotel in, say Spain.
In today's Industrial and globalized world the technology of trains might dazzle an engineer reading the specifications, but nobody would seek one out to take a special ride. The high-speed trains are all very similar; the same even. This sameness does not tickle the imagination. Not in the least.
But the Flåmsbana, that was something else. When I rode it, the train had more braking systems than it did passengers. It was a marvel of not only engineering, but of problem solving. The steepest climb was 55%. There were 18 hand-dug tunnels out of 20 total. The difference in elevation was 863.5 meters for a 20.2 kilometer ride. The railway was unique in all the world, the scenery gorgeous.
Over time the engines changed. Over time more people rode. When I took the journey, the ridership had stabilized at about 175,000 passengers.
Then the modern press took notice and the influx occured.
- 2010 The Flåm Railway is chosen as one of the top 10 most beautiful train journeys in Europe by National Geographic Traveler Magazine.
- 2011 The Society of International Railway Travelers proclaims The Flåm Railway to be one of the world's 25 most beautiful train journeys.
- 2011 New passenger record: 618,557
- 2012 New passenger record: 635,368
- 2013 New passenger record: 718,195
- 2015 New passenger record: 781,427
Today, this beautiful stretch of Scandinavian landscape plied by specialized and once unique machinery has been discovered, and that makes some tourists who've ridden the crowded trains quite sad.
For most though, the one hour train ride is still one of the most interesting in the world, even with the technical advances that take the romance out of thinking how hard it was to put it all together and how many people were involved. Today you can take the ride virtually.
It's better in person, of course. In the off season. The train runs all year.
Map Showing Flam and Myrdal
Staying in Flam
As you can see if you zoom in the map to Flam, the small village is very close to the town and to the docks. The bargain place to stay is the Flåm Hostel just across the river from the Flåmsbana Museum and downtown Flam. Apartment seekers will gravitate to the new Flåm Ferdaminne. The highest rated hotel in Flam is the Flåmsbrygga Hotel. All are very near the train station.