The Life in Norway guide to one of the world's longest and deepest fjords, a true force of nature.
Impossible to miss on a map, the epic Sognefjord splits apart the northwest and southwest fjord region with an imposing 205km-long body of water.
The idyllic villages, centuries-old farmsteads, abundant fruit orchards and well-worn hiking trails around the fjord would take months for anyone to explore in-depth, so it’s best to make a plan before arriving. My recommendation is to focus on the inner section east of Balestrand, almost two-thirds of the way along the fjord.
The scenery here becomes truly captivating, as the Sognefjord’s narrow fingers reach deep inland to the foot of glaciers and some of Norway’s tallest mountains. The entire length of the Sognefjord is essentially a living museum, and you will find incredible landscapes and hidden cultural gems around every corner.
The most picturesque of the inner Sognefjord’s villages, Balestrand is a great place to base yourself while exploring the wider region. The lush vegetation and colorful timber houses provide a relaxing environment following a day's hiking.
Pick up a free map at Balestrand Tourist Information and follow the Culture Trail, a two-mile self-guided walk around the village. Run by the Kviknes family since 1877, the Swiss-style Kviknes Hotel has been expanded over the years but still retains its historic character. The church is a looker, too!
The Fv55 National Tourist Route over the Sognefjellet mountains is one of the country’s greatest driving experiences and well worth planning a full day for. In days long gone, the mountain pass was a dangerous journey, in more ways than one. Inclement weather was a problem at any time of year but essentially in the winter with enormous amounts of snow. But as trade increased along the vital link between coastal and inland Norway, so increased the number of robberies.
Today the raw mountain landscape provides the setting for one of the country's most compelling roads trips. The absolute best time to drive the road is straight after its springtime opening, when enormous banks of snow line both sides of the narrow road. It's an absolutely unforgettable driving experience.
Jostedal National Park
If you want to learn about the last Ice Age there are few better places on the planet than the imposing Jostedalsbreen glacier on the northern side of the fjord. Mainland northern Europe’s largest glacier had for years continued to grow rather than retreat, but in recent years this trend has started to reverse. Even so, the ice still covers an area of around 474 square kilometres and is up to 600 metres thick.
The National Park is a nature lovers dream. The landscape ranges from lush green valleys and stunning waterfalls right through to the harsh environment of a glacier. Much of the park can only be reached on foot, so the opportunities for hikers, cyclists and skiers are second to none.
Getting to the Sognefjord
Although driving allows you to enjoy the best the region has to offer, the system of high-speed passenger ferries run by Bergen-based Norled provide an enjoyable alternative as they essentially serve as a sightseeing cruise of the Sognefjord. The five-hour service from Bergen to Sogndal runs all year although there is just one early evening departure during the winter months.
From May to September, an additional service links Bergen with Flåm, via Vik, Balestrand, and Leikanger. This service can be used to travel between the small towns of the Sognefjord, but as departures are limited it’s wise to keep a copy of the timetable on you to avoid an unplanned overnight stop.
Individual trips on these ferries can be expensive, but the Norled Fjord Card is one of Norway’s best travel bargains. It allows unlimited travel on the network for five days, but is only available from May to September to coincide with the regional ferry.