TravelTraveler Magazine

The Longest Tunnel in the World

Norway is the longest country in Europe — nearly every Norwegian I meet proudly boasts that if Norway were a long wooden board and Oslo the nail it hinged on, you could swing the country around and it would reach all the way to Sicily in southern Italy.

But that’s not nearly the half of it. Norway’s length comes nowhere close to the country’s complexity — especially the way that fjords, glaciers, and very steep mountains create a kind of beautiful topographical maze that travelers must carefully navigate in order to get from A to B.

In other words, Norway is not Kansas —you can’t just drive across it. Some days, roads are closed by four-story-high snowdrifts, and on most days, there’s a mountain in the way or a fjord to cross or go around. If you were to unravel Norway’s bundled-up coastline, it would reach more than 25,000 km (15,625 miles) in length.

For a very long time, the reality of Norway’s intricate geography meant a life of isolation for so many Norwegians — during the long winter months, farmers and fisherman were cut off from the world by snow and ice. Neighbors may live less than a mile from one another, but on opposite sides of the fjord or mountain, that’s a world apart. In some ways, before Norway’s extensive network of roads, bridges, and tunnels was completed, the west coast of Norway (namely Bergen) had closer ties with the outside world than their own capital, Oslo.

This “isolation nation” is one major reason why Norway has so many distinct dialects. People living in different valleys and fjords were sequestered long enough to develop their own way of speaking. It also contributed to Norway’s tunnel-digging craze.

Nobody builds tunnels the way the Norwegians do. If there’s a rock they can dig through, they will, and it makes driving through the country much more exciting than simply rounding a bend. Once while driving through the western fjords of Norway, I counted myself driving through 39 tunnels in the space of 90 minutes. Seriously.

The longest of these engineering phenomena is the Lærdal Tunnel (Lærdalstunnelen), spanning the mountain between the tiny villages of Lærdal and Aurland but fundamentally linking Bergen and Oslo.

At 24.5 km (15.23 miles) long, the Lærdal Tunnel is the longest road tunnel in the world, meaning it’s the longest tunnel that you can drive through. At 57 km (35.4 miles), the Gotthard Base Tunnel in Switzerland now holds the title for longest tunnel in the world (used only by trains), and last September, I rode through the Seikan Tunnel in Japan, which is the longest undersea tunnel in the world.

It took me over twenty minutes to drive from one end of the Lærdal Tunnel to the other, and traveling through it evoked a strange emotion to know that I was zipping beneath one of Norway’s massive stone mountains.

Speeding through the dark for such a long time might be unnerving for some travelers, but rest assured, the Lærdal Tunnel is one of the safest in the world, with a high-tech ventilation system, safety stations with emergency equipment and call boxes, and several man-made caves that are lit with colored lights. There are even regular parking bays inside the tunnel where you can pull over should you need to.

I shot this video from the hood of my car in order to show you the full length of the tunnel, but for the sake of your time, I’ve sped it up by 800%.

That way you can experience the longest tunnel in the world in the longest country in Europe in the shortest amount of time.

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Driving through one of three "caves" in the Lærdal Tunnel, the longest road tunnel in the world. (Photo by Andrew Evans, National Geographic Traveler)