Sognefjorden is a fjord in the county of Sogn og Fjordane in Norway. The district surrounding the fjord is known as Sogn. Sognefjorden is the longest fjord in Europe and the second longest in the world. Nærøyfjord, a World Heritage Site, is one of the branches of Sognefjorden. Several of the few remaining stave churches, including UNESCO listed Urnes stave church, are found in Sognefjord district.
- Indre Sogn — literally Inner Sogn. Comprises Aurland, Luster, Lærdal, Sogndal, and Årdal municipalities.
- Ytre Sogn — literally Outer Sogn. Comprises Balestrand, Gulen, Hyllestad, Høyanger, Solund, and Vik municipalities.
- 2 Balestrand — classical resort on the north shore
- 3 Fjærland — gateway to Norway's largest glacier, lovely branch of the main fjord
- 4 Flåm — popular cruise port and via Flåm railway access to national rail network via Myrdal junction
- Lærdal - major valley with connection to East Norway through mountain passes
- 5 Skjolden — The innermost town of the fjord, Luster area
- 6 Solvorn — Charming, sheltered village on the shores of the Lustrafjord, good base.
- 7 Høyanger
- 1 Jostedalsbreen — mainland Europe's largest glacier
- 2 Gudvangen — small village at the intersection of iconic Nærøyfjorden and dramatic Nærøydalen valley.
- 3 Luster — district in the innermost part of the fjord, lovely fjord and deep valleys surrounded by Jotunheimen and Jostedalsbreen
- 4 Jotunheimen — alpine, high mountains around inner Sognefjorden
- 5 Hurrungane — wild, western part of Jotunheimen, between Luster and Årdal
- Urnes Stave Church
- See also: Fjords of Norway
Sognefjorden is the longest fjord in Europe and the second longest in the world. The fjord stretches more than 200 km from the rugged islands on the North Sea to the central mountains, including the alpine Jotunheimen. With the many arms or branches the entire Sognefjord system has a coastline of at least 500 km, more than the French and Italian Rivieria combined.
It is also the second deepest fjord in the world, more than 1000 meters deep - if all water was removed the fjord would appear as a huge gorge some 2000 to 3000 meters deep. The fjord is actually 1300 meters at the deepest point, or 1500 meters to the bedrock because of some 200 meters thick sediments. The greatest depths are in the central parts of the fjord, at the mouth there is a relatively shallow threshold of some 150 meters. From the water surface to the high summits there is some 1500 to 2500 meters. About 5,400 km3 (or 5,400,000,000,000 m3) were removed to create this vast gorge. Sognefjord's scale can be compared to Arizona's Grand Canyon. The Sognefjord area is about the same width as New Zealand's Fiordlands. While there are large and deep fjords in Greenland and Antarctica, this is the only such great fjord with significant ordinary settlement and easily accessible by road or public transport. In fact, two of Norway's main roads, the E16 (Oslo–Bergen) and E39 (Bergen–Trondheim), run along or across the fjord.
The main fjord is too deep and wide too to cross by conventional bridges. There are 3 main ferry crossings for each of the 3 main roads E39, road 13 and road 5. It is basically not possible to travel in the north–south direction except by ferry, although in summer it is possible to circumvent the fjord via a mountain road through Jotunheimen.
Sognefjorden is more than a single fjord, it is wide fjord system. Each branch (arm) of the Sognefjord is a great fjord on its own and with its own name, but is still regarded as part of the greater Sognefjord system. Even a single branch like Nærøyfjorden is longer than for instance Milford Sound in New Zealand. Steep mountains rise directly from the water leaving little space for roads and settlement, except in the deep valleys such as Lærdal valley and Flåm valley. These river valleys are surprisingly flat offering excellent ground for farming. This complex topography makes overland transport challenging but highly rewarding in terms of scenery and impressive engineering.
On the northern shore, Sognefjorden district includes Jostedalsbreen, mainland Europe's largest glacier. Numerous rivers transport "thick" (opaque) glacial melt-water to lakes and to the fjord, giving fjords and lakes a milky turquoise appearance, particularly in Luster area. Because of generous precipitation and altitude differences, the area is also home to significant hydro electric power plants as well as a couple of aluminum factories. These man-made objects are however dwarfed by the grand scale of the landscape.
The Sognefjord district covers some 11,000 km² (about the size of Montenegro) with some 30,000 inhabitants.
The Sognefjord is crossed by the second largest stretch of a power line in the world. Its span width is 4,597 metres. Do not expect tall pylons at the ends of this stretch. They are not required, because of the topography.
Because the fjords runs from the ocean to the deep interior, both landscape and climate changes along. The outer section where mountains rise from the ocean, is one of the rainiest areas in Europe, but also one of the mildest areas in Norway. The easternmost or inner part of the fjord is one the driest areas in Western Norway. In particular Lærdal do not get much rain. The shores of the inner area enjoys relatively warm summers allowing extensive fruit and vegetable production. The favourable climate even made tobacco farming possible: Norwegian emigrants returning from America around 1900 brought seeds and knowledge that initiated a local tobacco industry that thrived for some 40 years.
As in the rest of Norway, English is widely understood and spoken. Other European languages such as German and French may also be understood, although less common than English. Spoken language is generally Norwegian, signs are in Norwegian (and English in tourist hotspots). The local dialect, Sognamål (lit. Sogn language) is used to a great extent in Indre Sogn. It is one of the more distinct in Norway.
There are a number of ways to get to the Sognefjord and surrounding area.
By boat - Arguably the most enjoyable way is via a boat from nearby towns. The most convenient would be one of the high speed catamaran services operated several times each day from Bergen. Hurtigruten calls at Florø (near the mouth of Sognefjord) and Bergen.
By air - The nearest airports are located in Sogndal (SOG IATA) and Førde(FDE IATA), although the nearest international airport is located in Bergen (BGO IATA). The eastern section of Sognefjord is about 260 km from Oslo airport Gardermoen, the same distance as from Bergen airport.
By rail - Reaching the town of Flåm, sitting at the end of a fjord that branches off the Sognefjord, is possible via an incredibly steep railway line. Flåmsbana, the Flåm railway line, connects to the Bergen line (Oslo-Bergen) at Myrdal. This is the only railway in the county. Alternative railway stations are at Voss and Gol, connections to Sognefjord by bus or car.
By coach - Many of the towns situated along the fjord are also accessible by up to several daily coach services. Long distance coach services connect Sogndal with Lillehammer, Lom, Oslo and Bergen. The outer Sognefjord area is connected by long-distance coaches to Ålesund, Trondheim and Bergen.
- By car
Because of modest population and infrequent public transport, a self drive may be the easiest and most flexible way to get a distant corner of Sognefjord. The main road Oslo-Bergen (E16) runs through the area, as does the main road Bergen-Trondheim (E39). Except for the E16, travel in this area usually involves ferries, those are not separate means of transport but an integral part of the road network.
There are several local bus lines as well as long-distance coach lines. Timetables for public transport and car ferries are administrated by Kringom. There are local high-speed passenger boat services and car ferry services. Passenger services are known as boats (hurtigbåt), while car services are known as ferries (ferje). Keep in mind that some routes may have a limited schedule.
Car rental firms are located in Sogndal (major ones including Avis, Hertz and Europcar), Flåm and Årdalstangen, as well as in Førde which is not located on the Sognefjord.
By passenger boat — The Flåm-Balestrand service is very scenic. Other services is the combined ship sailing between villages on the southern side of the fjord between Ortnevik and Vik, one can also cross the fjord from Ortnevik to Måren and Nordeide. High-speed catamarans (express passenger boats) can also be used within Sognefjord - to cross the main fjord (north-south) or to travel east-west.
By car ferry — The Sognefjord is crossed at several points by car ferries with frequent departures. During day time departures are usually so frequent that travellers should not worry about timetables. These ferries are not a separate means of transport, but a continuation of main roads E39, road 13 and road 5. Fjord1 is the major operator. Car ferries take all kinds of vehicles as well as foot passengers, but docks are usually in a remote place at the most narrow crossing.
By tourist boat/ferry — There are several summer-only tourist routes, including Fjord1 operated Bergen to Flåm catamaran, the ferries from Flåm and Lærdal to Gudvangen, as well as other trips on the Fjærlandsfjord and the Nærøyfjord.
By bus — The larger settlements are served by local buses to rural areas, and long-distance coaches and local buses connect the settlements. The schedules may be very limited, with routes often only operating a couple of times a day, and even a couple of times a week for some sparsely populated areas. Roads E39, E16 and 5 pass through the area, and express buses north-south and east-west run along these roads.
- The Norwegian Glacier Museum and Ulltveit-Moe Climate Centre in Fjærland offers interactive exhibits and films about the glacier and more. Glaciers visible close to the road (arms of the main glacier.) Fjærland is called the Norwegian Book Town because of its many bookshops.
- The Breheimsenteret visitor centre in Jostedal is the information centre for glacier national park in the glacier. Enjoy the stunning views of the Nigardsbreen from the restaurant. It is also a centre for outdoor activities.
- 1 Borgund Stave Church (Borgund Stavkirke), Borgund, ☏ , fax: , email@example.com. May–Sep: 10:00–17:00, 11 Jun–21 Aug: 08:00–20:00. Built around 1180. It is the best preserved stave church in Norway. Adults: 80 kr, students/children: 60 kr.
- 2 Urnes Stave Church (Urnes Stavkyrkje), Urnes (30 km (19 mi) from Skjolden on route FV331, or with ferry from Solvorn.), ☏ , fax: , firstname.lastname@example.org. 5 May–30 Sep: 10:30–17:45. The oldest stave church in Norway, built around 1130 AD. Included on UNESCO World Heritage List. Adults: 80 kr, students/children: 60 kr.
- 3 Hopperstad Stave Church (Hopperstad Stavkyrkje), Vik (2 km (1 mi) from Vik village.). Built around 1140 or earlier, one of the most elaborate of Norway's ancient stave churches. The building is owned and maintained by National Trust of Norway (the Society for the Preservation of Ancient Norwegian Monuments).
- 4 Hove Church (Hove kyrkje), Vik. This small but heavy romanesque building is one of 3 churches in Vik village. It was unusual for such a small village to keep 3 churches and masonry churches were unusual in rural areas, so the church was presumably built by a local rich man. Like the stave church nearby it is no longer regularly used. The building is maintained by National Trust of Norway (the Society for the Preservation of Ancient Norwegian Monuments). It is one of the oldest masonry churches in Norway and perhaps the oldest in Sognefjord area.
- 5 Gulen assembly (Gulating), Eivindvik. Gulating was the Viking era legislative assembly and high court (þing) for West Norway. The site had a central location along the shipping lane (the highway of the time). The assembly may have been established by Harald Hairfair around year 900 (perhaps older), and existed until 1300. The Gulating law was the corresponding legislation and at its widest extent covered West Norway as well as Agder counties, Valdres and Hallingdal. The Gulating law is Norway's oldest known legislation. Originally Gulating was a "common assembly" where all "free men" joined for the annual meeting, later only delegates from each district. Around year 1300 the assembly met in Bergen rather than Gulen. Today the name is retained in Gulating court of appeal in Bergen. Two ancient stone crosses mark the original site, and new monument marks a later site nearby. Similar assemblies and laws existed for Trøndelag and for Eastern Norway. When Norway's modern constitution was crafted in 1814 the name Storting (grand assembly) was adopted.
- The Flåm railway climbs from Flåm at sea level to 866 m (2841 ft) in 20 km (12 mi), making it the third steepest normal railway in the world. View of high mountains and waterfalls, joins the Bergen railway at Myrdal.
- 1 Aurland mountain road (Snow road, Aurlandsfjellet), Aurland-Lærdal. Summer only. This road climbs the steep hills to the mountain pass (1300 meters) between Aurland and Lærdal villages. Replaced by the world's longest tunnel in 2000. Maintained as one of Norway's national tourist routes. Magnificent panorama. Snow may fall even in summer. Free.
- 2 Lærdal tunnel (Lærdalstunnelen), Aurland-Lærdal (E16). World's longest road tunnel Free.
- 3 The Norwegian Wild Salmon Centre, Lærdal village (Road 5/E16). Explore everything about salmon and the traditions associated with salmon fisheries. There are interesting exhibits, exciting movies and a salmon observatory. Lærdal river is king Harald's favorite salmon river.
- 4 Sognefjellet mountain pass (Sognefjellsvegen), Road 55 from Skjolden. Summer only. Norway's highest mountain pass runs pass Norway's highest mountains in Jotunheimen with view to summits and glaciers. On the eastern side through Bøverdalen valley to Lom village. The road is closed in winter, opens about May. Steep ascent and descent, sharp corners. Cross country skiing is possible until June. Free.
- 5 Vikafjellet mountain pass, Road 13 Vik-Voss (From Vik at Sognefjord or from Vinje junction in Voss district). Main road 13 runs through Vikafjellet mountain pass with wonderful panoramas to Vik village and Sognefjord. Occasionally closed in winter. Snow remains until mid summer along the road. Free.
- 6 Nærøydalen and Nærøyfjorden, Road E16 Voss-Gudvangen (Car or bus). All year (boat daytime only). Main road E16 runs through the wild Nærøydalen valley with incredibly steep rock faces and some of the world's tallest waterfalls, at Gudvangen the valley joins the Nærøyfjorden UNESCO-listed fjord landscape. Sightseeing boat on fjord.
Through exhibitions, an outdoor museum and a traditional farm with live animals, Sogn Folk Museum / The Heiberg Collections at Kaupanger shows you how life is lived along the Sognefjord.
In the Sognefjord Aquarium in Balestrand you can visit the maritime activity centre, where you can observe more than one hundred different species of fish from the Sognefjord.
In Indre Sogn, the climate is suitable for growing fruits and berries, and alongside Hardanger, it is one of the major areas of fruit production in Norway. A local company named Lerum, located in Kaupanger near Sogndal, makes jam and other fruit and berry products. The entire county has a strong culinary tradition.
The tap water is safe to drink, and may be of very good quality. Olden is a bottled water brand made by the Jostedalsbreen glacier. There is a brewery in Flåm, called Ægir. Depending on the season, they brew up to eight different types of beer and ale.
Outer Sognefjord area
- 1 Lavik Fjord Hotell, 6947 Lavik (Høyanger district), ☏ . Lavik Fjord Hotell is a comfortable family hotel with a panoramic view of the Sognefjord. The hotel offers transport service for hikers (Lavik is a fine place for hiking with many well marked trails) and it is also possible to rent bicycles.
The county is one of the safest in Norway. Keep a safe distance from glaciers. Never hike on glaciers without a guide and proper equipment. Be careful around waterfalls. The fjord itself is extremely deep and very cold most of the year.
- Bergen — the capital of the western fjords
- Voss — one of the few "inland" towns and areas of Hordaland, hub between Hardanger and Sogn
- Valdres — a major valley and upland area just east and south of Sognefjord
- Hallingdal — a major valley and upland area just south of Sognefjord
- Hardanger — the other major fjord
- Jotunheimen — Norway's highest mountain at the end of the fjord
- Nordfjord: Stryn, Olden and Loen
|Routes through Sognefjorden|
|Bergen ← Voss ←||W E||→ Valdres → Oslo|
|Bergen ← Lindås ←||S N||→ Førde → Ålesund|
|Lærdal ← Fodnes (ferry) ←||S N||→ Sogndal → Førde|
|Stavanger ← Voss ←||S N||→ Balestrand → Førde|