12 Things You Need to Know About Flåm
Norway is a vast country. But sometimes, it’s the small things that make her so breathtakingly beautiful.
Flåm, a tiny village surrounded by steep mountains in Fjord Norway, certainly seems like a small thing to focus on, while on holidays. And yet, this small village at the innermost bank of the Aurlandsfjord, one of the arms of mighty Sognefjord, packs so much beauty (and interesting historical trivia) that it would be a shame to miss the opportunity to visit.
Here are some things you need to know about Flåm (and perhaps add to your bucket list):
For every Flåm resident, there are at least 1,000 visitors yearly
We told you Flåm was small! Although inhabited since 1340, today only 350 people call Flåm home on a steady basis. And yet, the place is so picturesque that it welcomes nearly 450,000 visitors yearly — that’s more than a thousand visitors for each resident! (Of course, not everyone visits at the same time).
One of the world’s most beautiful (and steep) train rides in the world awaits
Feel like stepping into a ‘40s movie set and going on an enchanted journey from the fjord’s bank, all the way up to the steep mountains? The Flåm Railway (Flam Railway or in Norwegian, Flåmsbana) is one of the most fascinating offerings in all of the Sognefjord area — and indeed all of Europe!
With all its old world charisma and vintage aesthetic still intact, Flåm Railway holds the title of “the world’s steepest railway” as it goes from fjord level to an 867-meters altitude in one hour. But in this case, the magic is both in the destination and in the journey itself, because...
You can stop for photos, while aboard the train
This train journey is not like anything you’ve ever experienced before. The train goes slow, deliberately so, helping you really take in all the sights as the landscape transforms around you. It even stops at key points along the journey, so that you can take proper pictures. And trust us, you’ll make good use of that time.
Passing through 20 tunnels along the way and with forests and waterfalls surrounding you in every step, you’ll be left wanting for more when you arrive at Myrdal, the train’s end destination up the mountains. Which is a good thing, because once you get there, you can...
Credit: Sverre Hjørnevik | Visit Flam
...have a pancake break between train rides
Want to do it all again? No problem! At the mountains of Myrdal, where the train stops, there is a relaxing cafe at the station. Have a plate of pancakes, drink some coffee (perhaps check out the memorabilia selection) and then prepare to do it all again! That’s right, you can take the Flåm Railway right down the mountain again — in fact most people do book return tickets.
You may be seeing the same things on your way back, but the different angle and perspective will make it feel like a brand new journey!
Credit: Paul Edmundson | Visit Flam
… and then meet the people who built the railway back in 1924-1940
Curious about how this train ride you just experienced was even possible back in the ‘40s? You’ve every right to be: for all intents and purposes, this train is considered a “feat of architecture”.
A visit at Flåm Railway Museum once you arrive back in Flåm will solve all your questions! Here you’ll get a glimpse of the lives of the engineer’s who accomplished this marvel from 1924-1940 — and learn how they overcame the many engineering challenges of the time.
The Flåm Railway museum is open all year round and with a free entrance.
There’s a church built in the ‘70s… the 1670s!
From the ‘40s, your journey through time in Flåm continues to the ‘70s… only it’s the 1670s! Although technically not one of Norway’s few remaining stave churches, Flåm Church was actually built in 1670 using material from the old stave church that existed here since 1340 (when that old church became too ruined from the passage of time). So in a sense, you’re standing inside a centuries-old part of history that contains another centuries-old part of history…
You can go on an art hike
Flåm, and the whole region of Fjord Norway in general, definitely does not fall short when it comes to hike and bicycling offerings! After all, here you will also find the Rallarvegen, a 50-mile scenic route and one of the country's most popular bicycle trails.
If you’re looking for something smaller with a big impact though (much like Flåm itself), pick up a map from the Visitors Centre and look for a short hike trail that explores the hill area behind the Fretheim Hotel, overlooking the city and the fjord and passing through small waterfalls along the way. The twist? There are several artwork pieces, hidden among the scenery along your way — and there are no signs or clues as per the artist or their intention. Perhaps it was the gnomes?
Credit: Stine Karlsen | Visit Flam
You can stay at a hotel haunted by a friendly ghost
Speaking of the Fretheim Hotel: this iconic landmark was built back in the mid-1800s, when Flåm started attracting tourists. Local legend has it that Marthe Fretheim, the hotel’s manager who died back in 1933, still lingers around the halls, looking out for guests.
But even if you don’t care much for ghosts, stay for the amazing architecture (a blend of the original 1870’s rooms still on offer and modern additions) and the hotel’s famous rose garden which contains 100 varieties of roses.
There’s a brewery that will transport you to the Viking Age
Continuing in the spirit that wants every part of this small village to look either like a storybook or a living museum, Flåm also has a brewery that can take you back to the Viking Age. Having received several international awards for its handcrafted brews, the local brewery (which also offers great food) is decorated like a Viking Age drinking hall. Say “skål”, that’s the Norwegian word for “cheers”!
You can (safely) float above the fjord
If you need to step back and take in all the sights from a bird’s eye view, take the bus to the Stegastein Viewpoint. One of the most impressive viewing platforms in fjord Norway, the Stegastein Viewpoint is perched 650 meters (2132 ft) above fjord level. Its design is another feat of architecture: after going on for 30 meters (100 ft) , the platform ends abruptly with an almost invisible glass pane, giving you the sense that you’re floating above the fjord…
And no, it’s not dangerous at all. The platform may look like it’s made from wood, but it’s actually made from steel and dressed in solid pine.
The fjord is so beautiful, it has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage site
Aurlandsfjord is one of Norway’s most picturesque fjords. A 17-kilometers long and narrow (less than 2-kilometers wide) arm of Sognefjord, Aurlandsfjord is surrounded by steep mountains over 1,400-meters high (4590 ft). Talk about wonderful juxtapositions in the natural environment!
Because of its beauty, Aurlandsfjord has become part of the UNESCO World Heritage area along with other scenic arms of the Sognefjord.
If it looks like something out of a Disney film… that’s because it is.
Having a bit of deja-vu when in Flåm? It’s not your idea, you have seen this before somewhere… on a movie screen. Flåm, along with some other areas in Fjord Norway and in the Lofoten islands, was the inspiration behind the kingdom of Arendelle, Elsa’s home in Disney’s Frozen. We did warn you that Flåm may be small but leaves a big impact in people’s hearts and minds…
Credit: Paul Edmundson