When we started planning our road trip around Norway’s fjords, it was natural that we’d be starting near Flåm in the Sognefjord. But the fjords are huge, and surely we should see more of them, right? With that thought rattling around in my head, we decided to book a night in Balestrand before starting our trip north to Geiranger.
As we left Aurland after three days for Balestrand, I wondered if we’d made a mistake. After all, the Aurland/Flåm area was gorgeous and the hotel we were staying at was outstanding. And while Balestrand sounded like a nice enough spot when I was planning our road trip, it didn’t sound as amazing as our first three days in the Sognefjord had been.
Well, it wasn’t a mistake. Or it was a mistake I’m glad I’d made. Because if we hadn’t gone to Balestrand, we wouldn’t have experienced this view.
Seriously, I didn’t think that anything could top the view from the swimming hole we’d visited in Aurland, but this had me and Luca both saying, “Wow. Wow. Wow.”
Located slightly off the beaten path and only accessible by ferry, it’s no surprise that most visitors to the Sognefjord don’t go to Balestrand. But I’m here to tell you that you should. Sure, if you only have a day in the region, I’ll understand if you stick to Flåm and the Norway in a Nutshell route. But if you have another day to spare, head to Balestrand.
What to Do in Balestrand
Go for a paddle
As much as I enjoyed looking at the mountains surrounding Balestrand from land, it doesn’t even come close to the feeling I had looking at them from the water. Nor did the view on the ferry over compare to the one we had the next day in a little rowboat.
We went out on a rowboat provided in admission to the Sognefjord Aquarium. Getting out on the water (and back in) was rather stressful, though, so I don’t recommend that approach. (Because no one was working on the dock, we had to dig through an enormous bin of life vests to find one that would fit a toddler, pick out our own paddles (which ended up being for a canoe, not a rowboat), and get in and out of the boat without any assistance.)
Instead, I recommend spending the extra money on an actual tour. If you don’t have kids under 7 years of age, kayaking with Gone Paddling Balestrand looks fun. If you have younger kids, you might not be able to go paddling (other than through the aquarium), but check out Balestrand Fjord Adventures and Balestrand Fjord Angling if you want to get out on the water as a family.
Visit The Golden House and/or Art Café
If I’m being honest, this little art gallery is the main reason why we went to Balestrand. One-part art gallery and one-part antique shop/museum, The Golden House is the kind of quirky attraction that you probably shouldn’t drive two and a half hours to. But if you are in Balestrand, it is absolutely worth going to.
And you might as well go for a meal. Known for its “troll soup” (aka mushroom soup), the food at this little café is basic, but tasty. The best part, however, is that it comes with a (post-dining) view.
As Luca started getting tired of waiting for Fernando and me to finish dinner, the owner came over to our table and asked if we wanted to go up and see the secret room before heading up to the globe. I don’t want to give away too many details, but let’s just say that it was a fun, kitschy surprise before going up to see the better-known attraction, a glass dome on top of the building.
All evening guests at the café are welcome to go up to the dome at the top of the house to see spectacular views of the fjord. As a special touch, they’ve added a telescope so that you can get a better look at the glacier in the distance.
Currently called the “Art Café,” the onsite restaurant was previously known as Pilgrim, and before that, Me Snakkast. The café is open 4-9 p.m., Monday through Saturday, while the gallery is open Monday through Saturday from 11:15 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Sundays from noon to 5 p.m.
Open during the summer season (mid-May to mid-August) only.
Visit the Church of Sant Olaf
Built in the style of a stave church (but more adorned), this Anglican church was built in 1897. It was built by a Norwegian man in memory of his late (English) wife. During the summer you can attend Mass on Sunday, or just stop by for a peek at your convenience.
Worth it for the beautiful view of the fjord out the windows.
Other things to do in Balestrand
Those were our top three activities, and probably enough to fill your time if you are only in Balestrand for a day with a small child. If you have more time or would like to know about other options, check out the Visit Balestrand website.
Where to Stay in Balestrand
We stayed at and were satisfied with the Kringsjå Hotel, even though it was more basic than the places we usually stay. When the receptionist saw that we had a small child with us, he upgraded us to a larger room that had a hide-a-bed couch for Luca to sleep on. The room also had a nice little balcony and a simple breakfast was included. Perhaps most importantly, it is only a short walk from the pier—uphill, but it isn’t a particularly steep one.
Getting to Balestrand
Getting to Balestrand by car requires taking the Hella-Dragsvik/Fv55 ferry and then driving 15 minutes to Balestrand. The ferry is operated by Fjord1 and comes approximately every half hour during the summer. (Complete schedule available here.)
If you don’t have a car, the Flåm Express Boat is another option, but you have to get up really early—the departure from Flåm is at 6 a.m. (arriving in Balestrand at 8 a.m.), while the departure from Balestrand is at 8:30 a.m. (arriving in Flåm at 10:30 a.m.). Note that this option runs mid-June to mid-August only, and not on Saturday or Sunday. Cost is 290 NOK (US$35) for adults, with a 50% discount for children 4-15. Children younger than four years are free.
Have you been to the Norwegian fjords?
What was your favorite town?