Travel tales

Sailing the Sognefjord in Norway

Sailing out of Flam into the Sognefjord, Norway

It is Norway’s longest fjord, ranked as one of the world’s most beautiful fjord landscapes and listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site – the Sognefjord comes with a whole lot of superlatives and even more expectations, but it certainly didn’t disappoint. We’d already had a sneak preview of the fjord’s stunning scenery from the shore in a walk around Flåm, but it was time to get out on the water and explore it properly. Our two-hour boat trip from Flåm to Gudvangen took us along two different branches of the Sognefjord – starting from the end of the Aurlandsfjord and going through to the end of the Nærøyfjord.

Sailing out of Flam into the Aurlandsfjord, Norway

Sailing out along the Aurlandsfjord

The landscapes here are just immense, the scale of the mountains and the width of the fjords dwarfs everything. Boats were just specks in the distance and even a cruise ship coming in to dock looked like a toy boat. You’re surrounded by so many shades of green, but amongst it there are flashes of red from wooden buildings along the waterfront and white from the cascading waterfalls. You might even spot a harbour seal in the water if you can drag your eyes downwards for long enough. The shoreline is dotted with farms, mainly producing goats’ cheese using the traditional farming methods used here for centuries. One of the most famous villages for cheese is Undredal, which has 100 residents and four times as many goats.

Fjord cruise from Flam to Gudvangen

Red wooden houses and waterfalls along the banks of the Sognefjord

Many of the farms are located on the water’s edge, in little hamlets often only reachable by boat. You can’t help thinking what it must be like to live here – to be in the middle of such a popular and well-visited area, but still so remote. The most inaccessible of them all is the farm at Stigen. This is built way up on the mountainside, 300 metres above sea level. The only way up is via a narrow, winding path cut into the cliffside – though that’s an improvement on a few hundred years ago when there was just a ladder. The farm gets its name from the Norwegian word for ladder, and the story goes that if the farmer got any unwelcome visitors, like the sheriff coming to collect his taxes, then he’d just pull the ladder up.

Fjord cruise from Flam to Gudvangen

Dramatic scenery in the Nærøyfjord

As we sailed on, an almost vertical rocky mountain at Britelen marked the point where the two branches of the Sognefjord split, where we left the Aurlandsfjord and moved on into the Nærøyfjord. One of the villages along this stretch of water is called Styvi. It originally sprung up on the shore here as another farming village, but in the 1600s it got another important role as the terminus of Norway’s Royal Post Road, the Kongevegen. Back then if you were transporting post through the fjords you could travel as far as Styvi by road, but then you had to get into a boat and row the next 48 kilometres as far as Lærdal. Styvi’s still got its own post office today – the smallest one still in operation in Norway.

Fjord cruise from Flam to Gudvangen

The fjordside hamlet of Bakka

At this point the walls of the Nærøyfjord start to get closer and closer, and it reaches its narrowest point around the hamlet of Bakka. Here the gap is only 250 metres wide and water is as little as 12 metres deep. The steep sides tower up above you and it’s hard to imagine huge cruise ships fitting through this stretch of water without almost touching the sides. Bakka itself is one of the oldest settlements along the fjord and has a pretty white traditional Norwegian wooden stave church. The church was built in 1859 and can seat up to 200 people, though with only 100 people living in the parish today it can’t get filled up very often.

Fjord cruise from Flam to Gudvangen

The stave church at Bakka and reflections in the fjord

As we approached the far end of the Nærøyfjord, the boat docked at its final destination – Gudvangen. Back in the Viking era Gudvangen was an big trading post and there’s a Viking centre nearby where you can find out how people used to live then. Today it’s home to a few hotels and shops but was practically empty on the late spring afternoon when we visited. Browsing the gift shop I came across a book that explained the meaning of the name. Gudvangen translates as ‘God’s field by the water’ – a pretty apt description I think, not just for the town but for the whole of the Sognefjord.

Fjord cruise from Flam to Gudvangen

Rocky mountains and endless shades of green in the fjords

The details

Our two-hour boat trip through the fjords cost 360 NOK/£31 per person, travelling from Flåm to Gudvangen by boat and then back to Flåm by bus (a quick 20-minute drive though a tunnel), booked via Visit Flåm. There are several departures a day and you can do the trip in either direction. There are also packages available combining the fjord trip with the White Caves or Stalheim viewpoint (in summer only), or you can combine a fjord cruise with the Flåm Railway as part of the popular Norway in a Nutshell tour.

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 A boat trip through Norway's longest fjord – the Sognefjord – from Flåm to Gudvangen, past waterside villages, stave churches, mountains and waterfalls – ontheluce.com

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25 Comments

  • Reply
    precedent2013
    June 26, 2014 at 10:15 am

    Reblogged this on precedent2013 and commented:
    Discover The World

  • Reply
    Marc Latham
    June 26, 2014 at 11:56 am

    Nice photos and descriptions Lucy. I was there last May and also loved it. Didn’t know they are mostly goat farms, so thanks for the explanation. I also wondered what it must be like to live there: now and in Viking times!

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      June 27, 2014 at 4:23 pm

      Thanks Marc, glad to bring back some good memories. I didn’t get to try the goat cheese but apparently it’s really good – they’re one of the few animals hardy enough to cope with the steep hills.

  • Reply
    Vlad
    June 26, 2014 at 2:22 pm

    Stunning pictures, Lucy, it’s unbelievable that places like this actually exist! I’d love to visit the western part of Norway as well, it moves higher and higher on my bucket list with each post you write. 🙂

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      June 27, 2014 at 4:24 pm

      Thanks Vlad, it’s such a gorgeous area – I’m taking a break on the Norway posts for a bit now but have s few more about the Bergen area coming up next month (I took so many photos they’ll keep me going for months!).

  • Reply
    atravelingb
    June 26, 2014 at 4:20 pm

    Beautiful photos, Lucy. I love the little wooden houses on the shore, they look so quaint and peaceful. It is nice to see that places like this still exist outside all the hustle and bustle of cities!

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      June 27, 2014 at 4:25 pm

      They’re so cute aren’t they? Some are holiday rentals now, I would love to go stay in one right overlooking the fjords!

  • Reply
    raastha
    June 29, 2014 at 2:16 am

    Hey Lucy….Its early morning in India…and reading such a wonderful post has alreay made up my Sunday…Norway is in my bucketlist….The pics speak a lot and left me speechless. Hermoso!!!!!

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      June 29, 2014 at 10:10 pm

      That’s so lovely to hear! It is a really beautiful place and hope you get to see it someday!

  • Reply
    Worthy Girl
    June 29, 2014 at 3:22 pm

    Just gorgeous! Would love to visit someday.

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      June 29, 2014 at 10:09 pm

      Thanks, the whole place is just like walking into a postcard, so pretty!

  • Reply
    aBitofCulture
    June 29, 2014 at 11:24 pm

    Great pics – the Independent had a feature on sailing in the fjords yesterday, worth a read if you can find it on-line.

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      June 29, 2014 at 11:36 pm

      Thanks will have a look and see if I can find it!

  • Reply
    Suzanne Jones
    June 30, 2014 at 8:48 am

    So beautiful, green and fresh looking. As always lovely shots Lucy.

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      July 10, 2014 at 11:02 am

      Thanks Suzanne, was hoping for some sun but the colours still looked great even without!

  • Reply
    Arianwen
    July 9, 2014 at 7:45 am

    I’ve heard a lot of people compare the fjords of Norway to Milford Sound in New Zealand and it really does look so similar!

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      July 10, 2014 at 11:02 am

      There are definitely a lot of similarities – the amount of rain they both get being one!

  • Reply
    Meanne
    July 11, 2014 at 10:13 am

    I love the photos… I’m looking forward to my Norway Getaway in 3 days time

  • Reply
    Sarah
    May 10, 2016 at 3:43 am

    I’m glad I came along your wonderful post! We are traveling to the Sognefjord this summer and already have booked the boat along the Aurlandsfjord to Balestrand and are wondering if we should make the extra trip on the Naeroyfjord. Any tips? Thank you!

    • Reply
      Lucy
      May 13, 2016 at 11:17 pm

      So glad it came in useful. I’ve not done the Aurlandsfjord trip but that looks gorgeous too – the scenery does seem fairly similar but if you have the time free the Naeroyfjord was stunning (and two chances to get good weather – it can be pretty cloudy out there!).

  • Reply
    Deborah B.
    May 16, 2016 at 3:54 am

    Love your blog about where my ancestors came from! One day I hope to visit❣ I will have a place to stay perhaps also! I’ll share this so they can see how beautiful it is there❣Deborah

    • Reply
      Lucy
      May 18, 2016 at 10:34 am

      How lovely! It’s a gorgeous part of the world – hope you get to visit one day.

  • Reply
    Sharlyn
    May 10, 2018 at 12:58 am

    Hi,

    We are going to Flåm on July 26 and planning to take the Fjord Tour. What do you think is the best among the two? Fjord cruise to Næroyfjord or Sognefjord`?

  • Leave a Reply

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