The Nærofjord is on the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites and headlines the Norway In A Nutshell tour. A trip down this fjord was a must for us, so in order to see it on our own we found an advertised “package” that looked promising . It was basically a series of ferry and bus tickets that originated in Balestrand, connected us through the Nærofjord and got us back to Balestrand. It sounded great and comprised of:
- Balestrand to Aurland via boat
- Aurland (passing thru Flåm) to Gudvangen via bus
- Gudvangen to Flåm though Nærofjord via ferry
- Flåm to Balestrand via catamaran
With this itinerary, we’d get to spend some time in Flåm and see a couple other fjord towns along the way. Unfortunately, this package wasn’t all that well-conceived by the booking company and we hit a couple snags along the way. As such, we wouldn’t recommend booking a “package” from a tour company. It’s just as easy to book the individual routes you want through one of the TI’s in the the Songefjord. Here’s how our trip unfolded and turned into a nightmare:
Leg 1: Balestrand to Aurland
The first boat from Balestrand worked out great. It only had four passengers: us and a newlywed couple from Minnesota. The delightful co-pilot was a young lady who grew up in one of the small towns nearby and was doing this as her summer job. She shared a lot of information about the area, Norway and what it was like to grow up on the Songefjord. Her commentary alone was worth the fare as we learned a lot about the lifestyle in the area and some details about some of the landmarks along the way like the “Ladder”: a house, now resort that sits precariously on the edge of a cliff. It’s only accessible via a ladder. During the Nazi invasion, she said the house was able to effectively pull up the ladder and avoid any sort of invasion from Nazi soldiers.
Leg 2: Aurland to Gudvangen
As we arrived in Aurland, the co-pilot gave us directions to catch our bus for the next leg of our journey. We only had 20 minutes so we hustled through the small town and found the bus stop. The bus arrived and we boarded. The trip to Gudvangen wasn’t too exciting from a scenery standpoint. We saw a couple of small waterfalls and passed through a few tunnels before arriving in Gudvangen. That’s where things started to go downhill.
Leg 3: Nærofjord, Gudvangen to Flåm
Gudvangen is the gateway to Nærofjord so it’s a mass of buses and tourists all milling around waiting to get on the next ferry. It was a cattle call and one of the most miserable parts of the day! First, the ferry company didn’t honor our ticket “package”. As we boarded the ferry, the clerk said the tickets were in no way affiliated with this ferry line and he wouldn’t accept them. Despite our best efforts to convince him, we eventually had to concede and buy another ticket so we could board—so we essentially paid double at that point.
By the time we boarded, there were hundreds of people jockeying for position on the decks. We luckily found an open area—standing room only—along the railing and staked our claim. People were constantly tying to sneak in and push us down the railing to an inferior spot against a wall that obstructed our view. So we had to literally hold our ground to prevent people from squeezing in.
Once the ferry pushed off, the real insanity began. People apparently thought it was fun to feed the seagulls and so for the first few miles, a flock of seagulls swooped, dove and swarmed overhead. People would throw food off the side and watch the seagulls try and catch it mid-air. It left the rest of us inundated with birds, ducking for cover and hoping we didn’t get hit with seagull poo. It also was difficult to take photos of the scenery without seagulls in the shot.
Eventually the novelty of feeding the birds died off and the birds thankfully dissipated. From there, we just had to contend with people trying to squeeze in to our spot! The fjord itself was beautiful! But even as one of the most beautiful places on earth, it was far from peaceful due to the mayhem going on all around us.
Leg 4: Flåm to Balestrand
We were thankful to finally be off of the Nærofjord ferry and had a couple hours to kill in Flåm. This town, too, is very busy with tourists but at least there’s a bit more space, a few good restaurants and even a brewery. We decided to simply find postcards and get them in the mail. We knew we’d be coming back in a few days to catch the train to Myrdal, so we didn’t explore too much. We sat on a bench enjoyed the sun (and not having to defend our space) for a while and then boarded the fast catamaran for our return to Balestrand. Thankfully, they honored our ticket “package” on this one!
A Better Way to See the Nærofjord
Now that we know just how crowded and unpleasant the ferry is, we’d do it all differently. We’d still stay in Balestrand, but instead of taking the standard ferry that’s part of Norway in a Nutshell, we’d book a fjord “safari” on a smaller boat or take a kayak trip on the fjord. Either of those options would be more pleasant than the over crowded ferry!
Update: We contacted the tour company after our trip. At first they weren’t responsive at all, but after a couple weeks of follow up and sending documentation and receipts, they eventually gave us a refund for the Nærofjord ferry ticket.