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Voss: Western Norway’s Outdoor Sports Destination

Panorama of Voss in western Norway

Nestled in a western Norwegian valley, Voss is an outdoor sports hub for all of Norway. Whether you prefer skiing, hiking or something more extreme, Voss has something for you.

If you've ever taken the Oslo to Bergen railway, you'll have noticed Voss. It marks the transition from the stunning scenery over the mountains to the increasing numbers of villages and towns on the way to Bergen.

An introduction to Voss

Both the municipality and the town are known as Voss, although the main town is actually called Vossevangen. Almost 7,000 people live in the town, with more than double that in the municipality as a whole.

Located 100km east of Bergen along the E16 highway, Voss has long been a destination for those looking for an outdoors vacation. That's down to geography. The town is on the edge of a lake, and surrounded by snowy mountains, forests and fast-flowing rivers. This means skiing, water sports including kayaking, skydiving, paragliding, and more are all possible.

An Extreme Sports Week is held every year, one of the biggest of its kind in the world. The town's proximity to the Sognefjord and its position on the scenic Oslo to Bergen railway have made it popular with other tourists too. But before we dive into details about things to do, let's start with a little history.

The history of Voss

According to legend, the people of Voss were forcibly converted to Christianity by then-king Olav Haraldsson, who would go on to became Saint Olav. A stone cross in Vossevangen is said to have been erected at this time.

One famous event from the 12th century has been immortalised in a popular hike. After attempting to take Bergen by surprise in 1177, Sverre Sigurdsson and his Birkebeiner rebels fled Voss after an ambush by locals. Their escape from Voss up a steep hillside resulted in the naming of the trail, Sverrestigen, or Sverre's path. Guides from Wild Voss now conduct enactment hikes of this dramatic event.

The exterior of the stone church in Voss, Norway
The exterior of the stone church in Voss. Photo: Wikipedia

Notable historic monuments in the town include the 13th-century stone church, with its 16th-century octagonal steeple, and Finnesloftet, a wooden guildhall thought to be the oldest non-sacred wooden building in the Nordic region.

During early World War II, Voss was the main point of mobilisation for the Norwegian Army in the west. German forces were met with resistance here. As such, Vossevangen was bombed in April 1940. Civilians died and the wooden town centre was destroyed. German troops then occupied Voss until the end of the war.

Things to see in Voss

At the heart of the otherwise modern central area, the medieval stone Voss Church is believed to have been built in the 13th century on the site of a former Germanic pagan temple.

A beautifully preserved farmstead in the hills overlooking the town, Voss Folk Museum provides a genuine window into the past. The wooden buildings of the Mølstertunet farmstead are unchanged from as far back as the 16th century and reveal how tough daily life was in this part of the world before transport links, electricity, and computers.

For a great view over the town and its surroundings, the Voss Gondol cable car is worth the trip. If you're travelling in ski season you can expect to share the cable car with skiers heading for the Voss Resort. At the top, a restaurant…

Outdoor activities

Spring is the best time for kayaking or white-water rafting on the rivers. Hikers should wait until the snow clears in mid-June, but the trails are at their best in September and October.

The waterfall Tvindefossen in Voss municipality, Norway
The waterfall Tvindefossen in Voss municipality, Norway.

Skiing

Norwegians flock to Voss because not only is it the largest ski destination in western Norway, it’s also one of the most reliable areas for snow throughout Europe. In addition to the two major alpine resorts, cross-country ski touring and freeskiing are popular in the surrounding mountains.

The best-known resort is Myrkdalen, known for excellent off-piste skiing and floodlit cross-country trails. Many of the 22 slopes are suitable for beginners and families. In addition to a day pass, there are cheaper half-day and evening options available. All ski and snowboard equipment is available to rent.

First-timers or lapsed skiers can hone their skills at the Myrkdalen Ski School, which offers private and group lessons in alpine, telemark, cross-country, and snowboarding. A free shuttle bus runs from Voss, but keen skiers may like to stay at the resort itself in the Myrkdalen Hotel.

A further 22 slopes are available closer to the town at Voss Resort, which can be reached by cable car or the free resort bus, both from Voss railway station. Ski rentals and lessons are available.

Hiking

The mountains surrounding Voss are prime hiking territory. There's many kilometres of marked trails that weave their way through valleys, along lakes, and past former farmsteads for a taste of rural Norwegian life.

Keen hikers can challenge themselves with the demanding hike from Voss Folk Museum to the summit of Lønahorgi, a 1,200-meter (3,937-foot) climb that can take up to eight hours for the round-trip.

The landscape surrounding Voss, Norway

Other popular hiking trails in and around Voss include the all-day Bakkanosi hike for a spectacular view of the Nærøyfjord, or the much more leisurely walk to Bordalsgjelet gorge, which starts from the town centre.

Kayaking

Throw yourself into the spirit of Voss by taking to the crystal-clear waters, even with no prior kayaking experience. A two-day course from Vått og Vilt begins by learning basic paddling techniques on calm water, before testing out your newfound skills on a more exciting river. The course is pricey, but it's an experience you're likely to remember! ,More extensive guided tours are available for experienced kayakers.

Skydiving

If you’ve ever considered skydiving, three minutes in the wind tunnel at Voss Vind is an ideal introduction to the sport. The first such attraction in northern Europe simulates the experience of freefall skydiving in a safe environment.

It’s the biggest adrenaline rush in Voss, save for the real thing, and has been enjoyed by ages 5 through 95! The basic first-timer package including instruction must be booked in advance. A souvenir video is available for purchase.

Ready for the real thing? Founded in 1978, Skydive Voss welcomes first-timers and experienced skydivers along with spectators during its opening season, usually April to mid-September. It's Norway's largest such club, with more than 2,000 members.

Where to stay in Voss

The grand old lady of Voss hotels, Fleischer's Hotel has been run by the Flesicher family since its opening in 1864. The main building gives off the feel of a Swiss mountain lodge with its 19th-century decor and elegant restaurants.

A view of Voss from above featuring Fleischer's Hotel
The Swiss-style Fleischer's Hotel in Voss, Norway.

A dip in the indoor swimming pool is the perfect way to relax those aching muscles after a day on the slopes. The hotel also owns a self-catered motel block 100 metres away with lower prices.

The best of the budget options are the simple cabins at the lakeside Voss Camping. There's also space for tents. Most Norwegians will choose a cozy cabin over a hotel, and Voss Tourist Information office can help you understand the other options available throughout the region.

Startup Extreme

Such is the reputation of Voss, it's the home to Startup Extreme, a different kind of technology conference:

“Once a year, the most impactful and influential figures in tech journey to Voss, Norway to create Startup Extreme—a festival dedicated to bridging new relationships and fostering the growth of entrepreneurship internationally. Leave your suit and tie behind and join us in the fjords of Norway. You’ll experience two days of outdoor activities, world-class speakers, thought-provoking conversations, performances, and much more.”

A quick word on Voss water

Perhaps you've reached here looking for information on the source of the premium Voss brand of water.

Well, despite the name, Voss is actually bottled hundreds of kilometres away in Iveland, a tiny village close to the southern tip of Norway.

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About the Author: David Nikel

Originally from the UK, David now lives in Trondheim and was the original founder of Life in Norway back in 2011. He now works as a professional writer on all things Scandinavia.

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