Hardangervidda High: Crossing Norway’s Vast Mountain Plateau on the Bergen Railway

IMG_8845The railway between Norway’s two main cities, Oslo and Bergen, is one of the world’s most scenic train rides, passing through green agricultural valleys and across the country’s “roof,” the barren yet beautiful Hardangervidda plateau.

IMG_7898The construction of the Bergen Railway, Europe’s highest mainline railway, was an extraordinary feat of engineering. Construction began in 1875 and took 34 years to complete. A dozen different routes were surveyed; the route chosen required more than 11 miles of tunnels – 182 tunnels in total – carved by hand, as well as numerous bridges. With few roads through the area, bringing in supplies was a challenge, and the long winters with deep snow and freezing temperatures exacerbated the difficulties. It was quite a triumph when the Bergen Line finally opened in 1909.

Starting from Oslo Central Station, the train takes approximately seven hours to travel the roughly 300 miles (484 kilometers) to Bergen. Leaving Oslo through a long tunnel, the train travels through various communities south and west of the capital before turning north along the Tyrifjord, Norway’s fifth-largest lake, to the railway junction at Hønefoss.

IMG_8848At Hønefoss, the true Bergen Line begins, traveling through the lovely valley of Hallingdal, crossing numerous rivers and passing through fields and forests as it makes the climb to Geilo, one of Norway’s top winter-sports destinations. Beyond Geilo, the railway soon climbs above the tree line, passing along the north side of stunning Lake Ustevatn, which is frozen for much of the year. The lonely stations at Haugastøl and Finse are popular with hikers, mountain bikers, and skiers heading out into the wilderness. Bikes can be rented at both stations. At just over 4,000 feet (1,222 meters), Finse is the highest railway station in Norway.

The highest altitude along the Bergen Line comes soon after Finse as the train passes Taugevann at 4,270 feet (1,303 meters). There are more spectacular views of mountains and desolate alpine farms – interrupted by tunnels and snow shelters – as the train begins the descent on the western side of Hardangervidda.

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Many passengers disembark at the small station at Myrdal for the scenic side trip down the mountains to the Sognefjord on the Flåm Railway. Those who remain on board continue westward, descending steeply back below the tree line and making a dramatic crossing of the Raundal River into the highland farming country surrounding Voss, a sizeable town and popular ski resort.

IMG_5211From Voss, the railway continues to descend, reaching sea level near Dale station. Traveling along the shore of the Veafjord to Bergen, the train enters Norway’s second-largest city through the Ulriken Tunnel, terminating at the central railway station, built in 1913.

For more information about the Bergen Line, visit the Norwegian State Railways (NSB) website. Most trains traveling the route have dining cars on board, although some departures have only trolley service with drinks and snacks.

For a taste of what the journey is like, watch this 10-minute NSB video condensing footage from the entire seven-hour journey between Oslo and Bergen.

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