“Norway in a Nutshell” is a canned tour that a lot of tourists choose because it’s a quick way to see the best parts of the fjords-Nærofjord, Sognefjord, and the historic Flåm train. But, the route is extremely crowded which detracts from the otherwise gorgeous scenery. If you’ve got a bit more time, it’s better to base yourself in one of the small fjord towns nearby and experience the fjords using day trips. We found that method to be a quieter and a more enjoyable way to see the sites of Norway in a Nutshell plus a whole lot more!
Balestrand as a Base
We used Balestrand as our base and fell in love with the little town on the edge of the Songefjord. We stayed in the stellar hostel—which is more like a hotel—and then took several day trips to explore other towns, fjords and nearby natural wonders. Here’s what makes Balestrand an ideal place to explore the fjords:
There are at least two fast boats each day from both Bergen and Flåm that connect to Balestrand. So no matter which direction you’re traveling, you can get to Balestrand quickly and easily. Plus the fast boats are a convenient and scenic way to see the Sognefjord which makes the connection a site-seeing journey as well.
Flåm is within Reach
Likewise, you can get from Balestrand to Flåm quite easily via regular boats and ferries. Flåm is where you can catch a myriad of tours as well as board the historic railway to Myrdal.
Nærofjord is within Reach
There aren’t any direct tours to Nærofjord from Balestrand, but still the must-see fjord is within reach. You have to connect through Flam, but as mentioned above, getting there isn’t difficult and you can fiind all sorts of tours from Flåm. We’d suggest looking into a “safari” or kayaking trip from Flåm as the main ferry line between Flåm and Gudvangen is overcrowded and quite miserable. Read Nærofjord Nightmare for more color about our experience taking the standard ferry line.
It’s Laid Back and Quiet
Balestrand is small and as such it’s a relatively quiet town. It’s not overrun with thousands of tourists connecting to the Norway in a Nutshell routes. The main hotel, Kviknes, is very popular and does draw its share of tourists (mainly for the fancy buffet), but the rest of the town seems very calm and laid back. Each time our boat docked at Balestrand, only a handful of people got off. There was never a mass of people flooding the streets like you see in Flåm or Gudvangen.
Balestrand has a series of well marked nature trails that provide outstanding views over the Sognefjord. Grab a map from the TI and head up to the many lookout points above the town. Even the “difficult” paths are fairly easy and the higher you go, the better your view. Continue going to the top and you get a rewarding view over the backside of the mountain. We weren’t aware of all the trails prior to our arrival but it became one of the highlights of our entire time in Norway.
Access to Jostedalsbreen & Other Day Trips
From Balestrand, you have the abilty to hit many other sites off of the Nutshell route. You can rent a car and head off in any direction along the fjords. One of the greatest day trips for us was hiking on Europe’s largest glacier, Jostedalbreen. It takes some coordination to get there well worth it! If it sounds interested make sure to read our post about Walking on Blue Ice.
Friendly and Helpful TI
The tourist office in Balestrand was superb! The office wasn’t ever busy and they were always friendly and extremely helpful. They even let us use their phone to make a couple reservations, and then kept an eye on us to make sure we made our early morning boat connections.
If you don’t have a lot of time in Norway, the Nutshell tour is great. Just be prepared to share the experience with thousands of others every step of the way. If you’d like to minimize the craziness, opt for one of the small towns on the Fjord. As you can tell, we loved Balestrand, but you might also look into Aurland, Vik or one of the other Songefjord towns. We don’t have first-hand experience with these towns but I’m sure they’ve got their own charm and offer some respite from the hoards of toursits on the Nutshell route.