Gudbrandsdalen is a valley just north of Oslo. Described by VisitNorway as ‘the king of the valleys’, Gudbrandsdalen has a lot to see and do. There are tons of historic sites as the valley is historically important. There are ancient farms as the valley is one of the famous food produces of Norway. And there are outdoor activities aplenty as Gudbrandsdalen is close to some of the most beautiful scenery in Norway.
I have a lot to say about Gudbrandsdalen. This is, in fact, one of the valleys you are likely to visit on your trip to Norway. It’s on the way to Geiranger from Oslo, meaning it’s quite popular with tourists. I take my groups through the valley, and we spend time at the stave churches, farms, and mountain villas.
Gudbrandsdalen (which means “Gudbrands Valley” in Norwegian) begins at Lillehammer, home of the 1994 Winter Olympics and an American mobster in hiding, and ends at Vågå, where you have easy road connections to to the Stryn, Sogne and Valdres Scenic Roads, plus the Western Fjords – provided you go in summer. Most of these roads close in winter.
This is my overview of Gudbrandsdalen, including what to see and do. Watch the video below to see what this drive looks like, and be sure to read along with this article 🙂
Practical info can be found at the bottom of this article
On this road trip...
Is this drive for you?
- This drive is great for: Everyone. It’s got a bit of everything!
- This drive lacks: It’s not as scenic as the narrow tourist roads
- How hard is this drive? Very easy. It’s well signed, wide, and flat.
- Start: Vågåmo
- End: Ringebu
- Distance: 82.5km / 51 miles
- Drive time (without stopping): 1 hour 7 minute
- How long did it take us? 1.5 hours
- Tolls: Yes – 80 NOK. Can avoid some if you take the old highway instead of the E6 (source)
- Ferries: No
Early that morning, we did the Valdresflye Scenic Road. We spent the night in Ringebu. The next day, we did the Rondane Scenic Road.
Watch on YouTube
Earlier that day...
We woke up this morning in Fagernes. In the morning, we drove across the Valdresflye Scenic Road. After lunch in Vågåmo, we drove through Gudbrandsdalen in the afternoon and spent the night at an AirBNB in Ringebu.
This drive will go from Vågåmo to Ringebu – heading south towards Oslo. It’s very likely you will be doing the drive north from Oslo (Ringebu-Vågåmo). My guide can easily be flipped 🙂
This drive begins in Vågåmo, a picturesque small town located just off highway 15. Information on Vågåmo can be found via the link below.
Continue on south on the highway 15 towards Otta and Lalm.
Shortly after leaving Vågåmo, you’ll pass the centre where you can go paragliding.
Optional Detour: Sel
Shortly before you reach Lalm, you’ll see a sign pointing you to Sel. Sel is a nice detour, if you are interested in history. Sel is also the name of the municipality we are currently in.
Sel is one of the more scenic and historically important areas of Gudbrand Valley. A large concentration of Norway’s heritage-listed farms are located in Heidal, a town in the municipality.
Jørundgard Medieval Centre is a reconstructed 14th century medieval farm. It was used as a filming site for the movie Kristin Lavransdatter, based on the book by Sigrid Undset. In the novel, Kristin lived in Sel.
Lalm is a small town (pop 329) with a big history. Many folktales come from here, as the Norwegian folktale writer Peter Christen Asbjørnsen had a major source here.
But Lalm’s big history surrounds industry, and it’s believed the town was established as an industrial site as far back as the Viking Age. Millstones (stones used for grinding grain and wheat) were produced here. Until 1640, the mines were owned by the Crown. After that, anyone was free to produce millstones as long as the landowner got every fourth one. The population increased until the business ended in the 1870s, when another village with a railway connection took over as the main millstone producer.
Another stone mined here is soapstone. Soapstone was mined throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, but the production today is very small.
The site of millstone production is a protected cultural site. It’s called Kvennberget if you want to visit. Click here to view a page about it (in Norwegian).
Continue on south on the highway 15 towards Otta and Lalm.
Shortly after leaving Vågåmo, you’ll pass the centre where you can go paragliding.
Otta is one of the largest towns you’ll pass through on this drive. Located at the meeting point between two rivers and two valleys, Otta is also historically important. Otta is known for its white-water rafting potential, plus is the gateway to the Rondane National Park, Norway’s first national park.
Otta in its present form became known in 1896 after the construction of the railway line which now runs from Oslo to Trondheim. Otta is located roughly halfway on the line, and until 1912 it was the terminus for the line. The connection to Trondheim was finished in 1922.
Despite its recent recognition, people have lived around Otta for thousands of years. In 1612, Otta was the location of the famous Battle of Kringen. Basically, the battle involved an ambush by Norwegian peasant militia of Scottish mercenary soldiers who were on their way to enlist in the Swedish Army for the Kalmar War.
The battle is known in Norway, giving names to places in Norway. The coat-of-arms for the municipality depicts the Prillar-Guri, the local girl who went up a hill and distracted the Scots by blowing her horn. This also signalled to the peasant militia that the Scots had arrived, and they began their attack. A statue of her can be found in the town centre.
Between the 17th and 19th centuries, the area around Otta was a large industrial site. There were copper and iron works, plus various mines in the hills. Today Sel Church is located on the site. This is the main church of Otta; Otta is one of the very few towns in Norway without a central church.
During the occupation of Norway by German forces in April 1940, Otta saw extensive fighting between German and British forces during the last parts of the German advance up the Gudbrand Valley. The British managed to disable three German tanks, but by evening had to retreat due to fierce artillery fire from the Germans. The last British forces fought off the Germans while retreating north towards Dombås.
Today Otta is popular with those looking for outdoor activities, thanks to its central location for several national parks. Otta is an administrative centre and large industrial town with a window framing plant, production of slate, wood mill, and large printing plant.
In Otta you’ll find cafes, restaurants, a shopping mall, a hotel, many supermarkets, and petrol stations.
Continue on south on the highway 15 through Otta until it reaches its end (you’ll pass over a bridge and then go straight through a roundabout). Turn right onto the European Highway 6 (E6). It will be pointing towards Lillehammer and Oslo. If you were to go left, you’d be heading towards Trondheim.
Rondane National Park
Very soon after turning onto the E6, you’ll see tourist signs leading you to the Rondane National Park. I visited this park the day after Gudbrandsdalen.
Sjoa is a small town located alongside the river Sjoa – hence its name! The town is very well known for its water sports, including rafting and kayaking. The river is also rich in trout and grayling, making it one of several popular fishing rivers in Norway.
To E6 or not to E6?
At Sjoa, which you’ll see on my video, we leave the E6 to take the old road. The E6 is a new highway with lots of tunnels and tollroads. You can take the E6 and still reach the same final destination, but in my opinion you miss out on some of the nicest attractions in Gudbrandsdalen.
My guide will follow the old road route I took. If you stay on the E6 – it is a wider and safer road – you will still be able to leave the E6 to see the same attractions.
Driving directions: Turn right off the E6 at the yellow sign pointing to Kjørem.
Kvam is probably most famous for the battles that took place here during World War II. During the military campaign in Norway in 1940, Kvam was the scene of a battle between German and British forces. During the battle, the original Kvam Church (from 1776) was destroyed, along with 70 houses. There is a whole Wiki page to the battles, which you will find here.
By Kvam Church is the Peace Park, which is a memorial to the locals killed during World War II. There are also memorials on Stølane (Kvamsfjellet) where Russian soldiers were shot by Germans, and on Hillingen where three Norwegian soldiers lost their lives in a battle against German troops.
Kvam has a British military cemetery. There is also a museum about World War II, the Gudbrandsdal War Memorial Collection, in town.
Remember the battle at Otta in 1612 between Norwegian peasants and the Scots? Well, after the battle 134 Scottish prisoners were taken from Otta to Kvam. At Klomstadlåven, most were killed in a massacre. The barn building where they were kept before they were massacred, was destroyed during World War II.
Kvam currently has a population of 762. Most of the industry has closed down in the last few years.
If you look on the map, you’ll see there’s a huge tunnel that cuts past Kvam and a chunk of Gudbrandsdalen. You could take it, but you’ll miss so much. Continue on the main road through Kvam, heading south. If you take this road, you’ll see much more of the valley.
Vinstra is a small town with a population of 2553 on the E6 and the Train from Oslo to Trondheim.
Vinstra is perhaps most famous for its connection to Peer Gynt. A local man, Peder Olsen Hågå, was the model for Henrik Ibsen’s dramatic poem Peer Gynt from 1867. In the cemetery in Sødorp you’ll find a monument to Peer Gynt.
Every year since 1967 the Peer Gynt Festival has been held on the Peer Gynt Farm, Hågå. The farm consists of 15 old buildings, and the festival includes, among other things, an open-air performance of the play.
From Vinstra you can do the Peer Gynt Road through Gålå to Lillehammer. There’s also the Peer Gynt Seter Road to Kvam over the hills.
You’ll see a yellow sign on the right pointing you back to the E6. Take that – but you won’t reach the E6. You’ll come to a roundabout with a right-hand turn leading you to Sødorp Church (marked as Sødorp kirke). Keep following the signs. You’ll head uphill on a narrow road.
Sødorp Church is a wooden cruciform church from 1752. It’s believed the first church on the site was a stave church, but it was replaced in 1570 and no trace of it remains today. In 1752, the church was replaced once again with the church we have today.
Originally the church stood in Sødorp, a small town just south of Vinstra – hence its name. However, Vinstra emerged as a major town in the early 20th century, and it was decided to move the church there. In 1910, the church was moved to its present location.
The 18th century church originally had a very high tower, but it was destroyed by wind in 1850. The church then got a stumpy small tower (click here for a photo of it). When it was moved to Vinstra, they made a new high tower for the church. You can see photos of the construction process here, here, and its completion here.
Much of the interior is from the 18th century, including the altarpiece, pulpit, choir arch, crucifix and relief figures. The soapstone baptismal font is from the Middle Ages, though.
In the graveyard you’ll find a memorial stone to the real Peer Gynt.
On the YouTube video, we do the rest of the drive on the E6. But for visiting purposes, I’ve outlined the rest of the drive as if you stay on the old highway – the one we have been on since Kvam.
So, make your way back to the road we were on and turn right to head towards Harpefoss. The road is called Riksvegen and then becomes Kongsvegen – both mean “Royal Road”
Harpefoss is a small town with a population of 335. The name comes from the railway development in 1896, when the railway station was named Harpefoss. People have lived here for centuries, though, and old names were Skurdal and Ryssland. Harpefoss is the name of the waterfall that separates two hamlets.
During the railway development, Harpefoss Hotel was built. It is the only hotel left that is one of the original hotels from the railway development period that still stands. It is built in Swiss style with neo-Gothic features. It has long since been closed down as a hotel, and after a period as a country store, the house is now a residence.
In Harpefoss you can stay in a historic farm!
The farm ‘Sygard Grytting’ has belonged to the same family since the 14th century. The current owner is the 16th generation since the year 1534.
It’s believed that as far back as Christianity goes, pilgrims would stay at the property on their way towards Nidaros in Trondheim. Because of these, there are unusual details in some of the buildings that are very similar to details found in monasteries.
You can stay in historic houses from the 17th century – the same houses the pilgrims stayed in – or buildings from the 19th century.
The property is still a working farm.
Agriculture specialises in sheep, grain, grass production and forestry. In ancient times, the operation was very versatile and the farm was self-sufficient in most things.
Continue on Kongsvegen until the next town, Hundorp. You’ll drive through the town and then see signs pointing to the farm on your right. Dale-Gudbrands farm is almost immediately to your left once you turn off Kongsvegen.
Hundorp & Dale-Gudbrand's Farm
Hundorp is the administrative centre of the municipality. Historically, Hundorp is a very important place. It was the centre of the petty kingdom of the Gudbrand Valley and as such an important place in terms of religion and politics.
All this took place at Dale-Gudbrand’s farm. Dale-Gudbrand is a famous historic figure from the 1100s. He is mentioned in multiple Norse sagas, but most famously in the story of Olav the Holy christianising Gudbrandsdalen. You can read the story here. The image above is a drawing of Olav christianising the farmers.
Around the farm are five large grave mounds, though sadly one of them was removed. The four remaining are between 23 and 32 metres (75ft and 105ft). Additionally, there’s a square ring of stones and the remains of a round ring of stones, indicating a possible worshipping site.
Today it is a Pilgrim Centre. There is a small farm shop with local food products and souvenirs. You can also spend the night there if you wish. Click here to visit their website.
Head back to Kongsvegen and turn right to continue the drive.
We’ve made it to Ringebu! Ringebu is the southernmost small community of Gudbrandsdalen, just 60km north of Lillehammer.
Ringebu is primarily an agricultural settlement, with the main emphasis on animal husbandry. Forestry also plays a part in the economy, with several timber companies in the surrounding area.
Of course, Ringebu is most famous for its stave church. Ringebu Stave Church is one of the 28 remaining stave churches in the country, and is certainly one of the largest.
The stave church is located a little past the town, on top of a slope overlooking the valley. It is very well signed from the Ringebu town centre.
Where to go from here?
We ended our drive in Ringebu, staying in an AirBNB within walking distance of the stave church. Of course, you could go all the way to Lillehammer. There is a lot to do there, and hopefully some day I’ll get around to writing about it!
Where to stay
Several unique hotels are mentioned in this article. Of course, these historic hotels tend to come with a high fee. There are plenty of budget options in Lillehammer, plus a large hotel in Otta. Otherwise, I recommend renting a cabin or AirBNB for the night.
Food & services
- This is a short drive, and there are restaurants in Otta and Ringebu. Otherwise, you will pass service stations everywhere. This is a main highway, after all.
- At minimum, towns will have service stations that will serve baked goods and some hot items, like hot dogs!
- We don’t have roadside stops in Norway like you do in the United States or Australia, for example. There are no signs on the highway pointing to the nearest McDonalds. In fact, there are no fast food options on this drive.
- Get food at a service station or supermarket, or spend some time at a ‘kro’ (our version of a roadside diner) or a local cafe. Everyone is friendly!
- Some of the towns will have a place to get food, others won’t.
- Service stations have restrooms
- The highway is open all year round, but the scenic roads around it will likely close
- Always check road information at Statens Vegvesen (our road authority) before driving. Click here to view their page. It’s in Norwegian but easy to figure out. They also have a Twitter and some cars have announcements on the radio
- Even when the road is open, there is a chance of snow or ice on the ground
- In summer the road will be full of travellers in cars, caravans, and even by foot.
- The E6 (highway) has overtaking lanes
Tell me what you think!
If you have done this drive, or have any questions, let me know in the comments 🙂