8 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Sognefjord
The Sognefjord is the largest of Norway's numerous fjords, and is also the third largest in the world. Extending inland for 127 miles from Sygnefest to its easternmost point, Skjolden, this spectacular three-mile wide, 4,291 ft deep fjord is only three hours drive from Bergen (five from Oslo). At its eastern end, the fjord splits into a number of narrow arms enclosed by steep rock walls rising to heights of over 5,500ft, and here and there along the shores quaint fishing and farm communities nestle at the base of the mountains. With its combination of coastal and continental climates, the inner reaches of the Sognefjord enjoy mild winters and warm summers.
Despite its ruggedness, exploring Sognefjord is easy and can be done by car, train or boat, and even by bike. During the summer months the ships of the Hurtigruten, Norway's superb coastal ferry service, sail frequently from Bergen to Årdalstangen at the east end of the fjord, calling on numerous ports along the way. In addition to the numerous local boat services and cruise ships, this impressive fleet offers countless tour options for visitors wishing to explore the fjord's spectacular national parks, mountain ranges, glaciers, waterfalls, and numerous other attractions.
Widely considered one of the most spectacular fjords on the planet, the nearly 11 mile long Naeroyfjord arm of the Sognefjord is, at its narrowest point, only 820ft across. Hemmed in by nearly vertical mountains rising more than 5,600ft above its tranquil waters, it's an awe-inspiring sight. UNESCO has in fact included Naeroyfjord, along with many other Norwegian fjords, on its World Heritage List. The village of Gudvangen at the head of the fjord is a great place to begin exploring the area.
Address: Nærøyfjord, Sognefjord
Fjærland is the area surrounding a branch of the Sognefjord near Jostedalsbreen, the largest of Europe's glaciers. Taking a walk on or around this magnificent (though sadly retreating) glacier is an unforgettable experience, and a variety of organized hikes and tours are available. Fjærland is also where you'll find the Norwegian Glacier Museum, Norwegian Booktown (an interesting collection of book shops, galleries and cafés) as well as lovely Hotel Mundal, built in 1891. From Fjærland, a seven mile-long tunnel runs under the glacier to Skei, in the heart of the Sogn og Fjordane region.
Address: 6848 Fjærland, Sognefjord
The most attractive of Sognefjord's communities, Balestrand has been a popular tourist destination for well over a century. Much of this popularity stems from its dramatic surroundings, which over the years has lured artists such as Hans Gude, Alfred Heaton Cooper and Hans Dahl. Along the town's Cultural Heritage Trail are many historically significant treasures: the Cooper House, St Olaf's Church, the statue of King Bele with its burial mounds, and numerous lovely old holiday villas. Another great reason to visit is the majestic Kvikne's Hotel. Built in the 19th Century, the hotel's famous for having been where Kaiser Wilhelm II was holidaying when informed of the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand, the event that sparked WWI (the chair in which he was sitting at the time is still in the hotel).
Address: Kong Beles veg 20 N, 6899 Balestrand
4 Stave Churches
The Sognefjord is home to some of the best preserved of Norway's few remaining historic Stave Churches. The ornately decorated Hopperstad Stave Church, built in 1140, can be found on the south side of the fjord in the village of Vik, an ancient community consisting of wide and fertile farmland. The 40-seat Undredal Stave Church (1147), is located on the Aurlandsfjord, is the smallest church still in use in Scandinavia. But if you're only able to visit one of these UNESCO protected buildings, make it Urnes Stave Church on the Lusterfjord, the oldest such church in Norway. Once a private church for a powerful family, this beautifully decorated wood building still retains its nearly 900-year old timber.
Address: Vestreim, N-6854 Kaupanger
Located in the Årdalsfjord, the most easterly arm of the Sognefjord, the picturesque little town of Årdalstangen is a good place to take a break from all that hiking and sightseeing. With its hotels, dining and shopping, as well as its location at the head of the Sognefjord, it's a good base from which to begin exploring the area.
Address: Årdalstangen, Årdalsfjord
To the north of Årdalstangen, and also on the Årdalsvatn, Øvre Årdal is a great town from which to explore some of Norway's most spectacular waterfalls, including Vettisfossen. While a bit of a hike - the falls are a three to four hour walk up the Vettisgjel gorge - it's a must-do. Protected as a natural monument, Vettisfossen has a free fall of 902 ft, making it one of the highest waterfalls in Norway. Other waterfalls in the area worth exploring include Feigumfossen in Luster, Kjosfossen in Flåmsdalen, and Kvinnafossen between Leikanger and Hella.
Address: Vettisfossen, Øvre Årdal
7 Flam Railway
The Flam Railway, the world's steepest standard gauge line, provides visitors with close-up views of the Aurlandsfjord's most spectacular scenery, including tall waterfalls and towering snow-capped mountains. This wonderful 13-mile engineering feat twists through countless tunnels before depositing passengers at the foot of the 738ft Kjelsfossen waterfalls. If you're lucky, you may catch a glimpse of a legendary Huldra, a forest creature from Scandinavian folklore that dances and sings in front of the waterfall.
Address: 5742 Flåm
Situated at the head of the Amlabugt, an inlet on the north side of the Sognefjord, Kaupanger - once a Viking settlement - has a wonderful 12th Century stave church built on the ruins of two previous churches. Also worth visiting is its interesting open-air museum, Heibergske Samlinger, with displays of local life from the Middle Ages to the present.
Address: Vestreim, NO-6854 Kaupanger