The municipality is situated at the confluence of the Fjærlandsfjorden/Esefjorden and the main Sognefjorden. The major industries in the municipality are tourism and farming. Balestrand became popular early due to the interest of artists, such as Hans Gude, Alfred Heaton Cooper, Hans Dahl, and Johannes Flintoe. Their paintings of the scenery around Balestrand inspired visitors, and Balestrand maintains its connection with art. Other industries include made-to-order kitchen interiors, local apple juice, and Nesseplast which produces industrial plastic. The Norwegian County Road 13 runs through the municipality.
The 430-square-kilometre municipality is the 232nd largest by area out of the 426 municipalities in Norway. Balestrand is the 373rd most populous municipality in Norway with a population of 1,288. The municipality's population density is 3.1 inhabitants per square kilometre and its population has decreased by 7.9% over the last decade.
In 2016, the chief of police for Vestlandet formally suggested a reconfiguration of police districts and stations. He proposed that the police station in Balestrand be closed.
Balestrand was established as a municipality in 1850 when the three sub-parishes (sokn) of Vangsnes, Tjugum, and Mundal in the northwestern part of the large Leikanger municipality were separated to form the new municipality of Balestrand. The initial population of the municipality was 2,122. In 1861, the Mundal sub-parish was renamed Fjærland.
During the 1960s, there were many municipal mergers across Norway due to the work of the Schei Committee. On 1 January 1964 the municipalities of Vik, Leikanger, and Balestrand changed their boundaries in a land trade. The sub-parish of Vangsnes (population: 189) was transferred from Balestrand to Vik, Balestrand gained the sub-parish of Kvamsøy (population: 389) from Vik, and Leikanger gained the Hella-Eitorn area (population: 31) from Balestrand. Balestrand had a population of 1,606 after the changes were completed.
The Fjærland area of Balestrand had always been isolated from the rest of the municipality, and only accessible by boat. In 1995, the Frudal Tunnel was completed connecting Fjærland to neighboring Sogndal municipality (not to the rest of Balestrand). This caused discussions about Fjærland's municipal future. On 1 January 2000, the entire sub-parish of Fjærland in northern Balestrand was transferred to Sogndal municipality.
On 1 January 2020, the three neighboring municipalities of Balestrand, Leikanger, and Sogndal will merge to form a much larger municipality called Sogndal.
The compounded name Balestrand was created in 1832 by the Norwegian writer Henrik Wergeland. The first element is the name of the old farm Bale (Old Norse: Bali) and the last element is (Old Norse: strönd) or "strand" which means "beach". The name of the farm is identical with the word bali which means "hillside along a beach".
The coat-of-arms is from modern times. The arms were granted on 23 October 1989. It shows the silver-colored hilt of a Viking sword on a blue background.
The Church of Norway has one parish (sokn) within the municipality of Balestrand. It is part of the Indre Sogn deanery in the Diocese of Bjørgvin.
There is also one Anglican church in Balestrand:
All municipalities in Norway, including Balestrand, are responsible for primary education (through 10th grade), outpatient health services, senior citizen services, unemployment and other social services, zoning, economic development, and municipal roads. The municipality is governed by a municipal council of elected representatives, which in turn elect a mayor.
The municipal council (Kommunestyre) of Balestrand is made up of 17 representatives that are elected to four year terms
The mayor (ordførar) of a municipality in Norway is a representative of the majority party of the municipal council who is elected to lead the council. Harald Offerdal of the Labour Party was elected mayor of Balestrand for the 2011–2015 term and re-elected to the 2015-2019 term.
Balestrand lies between the high snow-covered Gaularfjellet mountains in the center of the beautiful, lush Sognefjorden. Three fjord arms stretch inland, winding through the mountains and dotted with charming hamlets: Lånefjorden, Esefjorden, and Vetlefjorden. The Fjærlandsfjorden runs along the eastern border of the municipality. The Jostefonn glacier sits at the very northernmost part of the municipality.
Balestrand is bordered to the west by the municipalities of Høyanger and Gaular, to the north by Førde, and to the east by Sogndal and Leikanger. Across the Sognefjorden to the south is the municipality of Vik.
Built in the 19th century, the Kvikne's Hotel is one of the most famous buildings in Balestrand. The Kvikne family, who own the place, took it over in 1877. Since then the establishment has undergone constant development which continues to this day. There are many new buildings and remodeling and expansion projects have been carried out.
Today, the hotel is a highly modern facility resounding with tradition and culture. With 200 rooms, it is also one of Norway’s largest fine hotels catering to tourists. An impressive collection of art and historical pieces is a central feature of the hotel's interior, and one of the elements of its distinct personality.
Kviknes Hotel was made popular for European visitors in the early part of the 20th century by Kaiser Wilhelm II, who often visited there during his summer vacations prior to World War I. The hotel still possesses the chair he used in their restaurant. The Kaiser is accompanied on the list by a number of emperors, kings, presidents, Prime ministers, film stars, and artists from many countries.
St. Olaf's Church, also known as the English Church, is an Anglican church built in the style of a Stave church. The church was completed in 1897 as a memorial to Margaret Green. Margaret, an English lady, came to the fjords as a tourist to hike the mountains. She met, fell in love with and married Knut Kvikne who was an avid mountain man. Being a very pious woman, she wished for an Anglican church in Balestrand. She started the church with her husband, but died before its completion. Sunday services are held during the summer months, being conducted by rotating vicars from England.
St. Olaf's Church is notable as the inspiration for the chapel in Elsa's coronation scene in the 2013 Disney film Frozen.