All aboard: Exploring northern Norway by train
- Credit: Archant
At 450 miles, the Nordlandsbanen is the longest train ride in Norway, and the only one in the world to cross the Arctic Circle. Sara Odeen-Isbister jumps on-board and discovers northern Norway’s spectacular landscape and charming towns along the way
When I tell someone I took a train across northern Norway to the Arctic, their eyes widen.
It does sound rather wonderful - the romance of a train journey coupled with the otherworldliness of the Arctic - who wouldn’t be impressed?
But does it live up to expectations? Well, if you’re picturing icebergs and polar bears (this may just have been me...) possibly not, but otherwise, absolutely. The 10-hour route, called the Nordlandsbanen, has been described by Lonely Planet as one of the most beautiful train rides in the world and it’s not difficult to understand why.
Starting at Trondheim, 300 miles north of Oslo and ending 400 miles further up the coast in Bodø, the journey carves its way through an ever-changing landscape of farmland, forests, fjords and mountains. From late autumn to early spring, passengers may even be lucky enough to spot the northern lights playing across the sky.
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Although the journey can be done in one go, our group was keen to discover some of the gems along the way, so took five days to cover the whole distance. I’ve picked out some of my highlights below.
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This 1,000 year-old city is the fourth largest in Norway but has the more intimate feel of a town. It’s teeming with history, colourful old houses and an excellent food scene.
Must-see... The imposing Nidaros Cathedral, built over the grave of former Norwegian king St. Olav, is an impressive sight. Work started in 1070, but the oldest parts still in existence date from the middle of the 12th century.
A taste of Norway... For lunch head to Baklandet Skydsstation (skydsstation.no/en) in the lovely neighbourhood of Bakklandet. Housed in a charming 18th century building, this quirky little cafe serves what some have described as the best fish soup in Norway (it was delicious) and one of the biggest collections of Aquavit in the country.
The Golden Road of Inderøy
If you’ve got the chance, it’s worth jumping off the train at Verdal or Steinkjer to explore The Golden Road. This pretty route in the region of Inderøy links together a curated group of local artisans, including art and craft exhibitions, breweries and award-winning dairy farms. To make the most of the area hire a car from Verdal or bikes from Steinkjer.
Art-lover’s tip ... Nils Aas Workshop (nils-aas-kunstverksted.no) is a gallery and workshop dedicated to one of Norway’s most celebrated sculpturs, Nils Aas (1933-2004). His work, on permanent display at the centre, ranges from the figurative to the abstract.
Bottoms up... Probably my favourite stop on the Golden Road was the Aquavit tasting experience at Berg Gård (berg-gaard.no), a working farm with its own distillery. Here you can sample the popular Scandinavian tipple flavoured with a variety of herbs and spices, such as cardamom, anise and caraway. Make sure to book ahead.
Situated in the Helgeland region, this lively little town experienced a boom in the 1860s, when a group of English timber barons established a saw mill. The barons are long gone, but left behind them a veritable number of boathouses, mercantile buildings, wharfs and homes that have been beautifully preserved.
Hotel with history... Mosjøen is home to north Norway’s oldest hotel, Fru Haugans Hotel (fruhaugans.no). The 200-year-old guest house, run by female proprietors for several generations, sits by the fjord and is surrounded by a large, pretty garden.
On yer bike... We hired bikes and enjoyed a leisurely ride around the fjord to get a lovely view of all the old wooden houses dotted along the shore.
Bodø, the final stop on the Nordlandsbanen route, lies just north of the Arctic Circle, and boasts a backdrop of rugged mountains and the sea. The town itself was almost completely levelled by World War II bombing, so isn’t the most exciting architecturally, but it’s the perfect gateway to its stunning surroundings.
Land of adventure... There is a whole host of activities to enjoy around Bodø, from hiking and climbing to kayaking and golf. We took a RIB boat to see the world’s strongest tidal current, Saltstraumen and were fortunate enough to spot a couple of majestic sea eagles hovering above us in the sky.
Beauty spot... Around 40km from Bodø is Kjerringøy, an old trading post from the 1800s. Most of the timber structures have been preserved and visitors can wander around the former merchants’ and fishermens’ quarters on a guided tour. What made Kjerringøy stand out for me, however, is the landscape. Fine white sandy beaches lapped by turquoise water, a sea peppered with islands, islets and rocks, and all surrounded by dramatic peaks - it really does take your breath away.
Train fares from Trondheim to Bodø cost from £51. Visit nsb.no
Norweigan fly from Gatwick to Trondheim direct, and from Bodø to Gatwick via Oslo. Visit norwegian.com
Best Served Scandinavian offer a nine-day tour from Trondheim to the Lofoten Islands, which takes in the Nordlandsbanen train ride, the Golden Road of Inderøy, Mosjøen, Bodø. and two and a half days sailing aboard a ship. Prices start at £1,435 including flights and accommodation. To see a full itinerary of the trip, called Polar Express, the Golden Road and the Lofoten Islands, visit best-served.co.uk.
For more information on visiting Norway go to visitnorway.com