Giants and glaciers: Although a small town, Skjolden offers big experiences
If you disembark from a cruise ship in Skjolden, you will be close to a place where some of the most frightening adversaries of the Vikings made their home. At least that’s what the Vikings themselves believed.
Vikings are probably something that most travelers associate with Scandinavia in general and Norway in particular. On the one hand, Vikings were both traders and fierce warriors who raided foreign countries as they explored the world. On the other hand, they were also skilled craftsmen with a religion of their own. According to that religion, Viking warriors who had fallen in battle would reach Valhalla – a heaven for warriors. There were no lack of enemies in that heaven, though. Some of the most frightening adversaries were the giants, who lived in Jotunheimen.
Situated at the innermost part of the world’s longest navigable fjord, the Sognefjord, the small town of Skjolden is only minutes from Jotunheimen. You would probably be considered lucky if you saw a giant when exploring the area. If you don’t, however, you could probably still be a luckier traveler after experiencing the natural beauty of this part of Norway. The Jotunheimen National Park is an Eldorado for outdoor enthusiasts, featuring the highest mountains in Northern Europe (Galdhøpiggen is the highest, at 8,100 feet/2,469 meters), glaciers, lakes and waterfalls.
Although not a part of the Jotunheimen National Park, the Jostedalsbreen, Norway’s largest glacier, is also within easy reach for Skjolden’s 300 inhabitants. It is the meltwater from the glaciers in the area that colors the water of the Lusterfjord emerald green (the Lusterfjord is an arm of the Sognefjord). As you approach Skjolden you will be able to enjoy the lush landscape along the shores, where farms add to the idyllic landscape. Perhaps it is no wonder that many visitors have returned to Skjolden time and again after developing a fondness for the area, the Austrian philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein being one of them.
Cruise ships dock close to the town center, with easy access for travelers who wish to explore independently. A new cruise terminal was built for the 2010 season.
- The Sognefjell Mountain Road has been designated a national tourist route because of the spectacular scenery along the way. The road connects the towns of Luster and Lom. Along the way, it crosses the Sognefjell mountain area. The road is considered the main gateway to the Jotunheimen National Park.
- Another national park easily accessible from Skjolden is the Jostedalsbreen National Park, Breheimsenteret. The Jostedalsbreen is the largest glacier in mainland Europe. The Breheimsenteret offers activites such as white water rafting, glacier hikes and kayaking. Distance from Skjolden: 37 miles/60 kilometers
- The Urnes Stave Church is included on UNESCO’s World Heritage List. It is the oldest of Norway’s stave churches, built around 1130 A.D. Distance from Skjolden: 18.6 miles/30 kilometers
- With a free fall of 715 feet/218 meters, the Feigumfossen Waterfall is one of Norway’s highest waterfalls. On coach tours, you will pass the waterfall on the way to Urnes, and you also get a nice view of it on the way to Nigardsbreen. Distance from Skjolden: 9.3 miles/15 kilometers
- The open-air Sogn Folk Museum was established in 1909. It consists of nearly 40 buildings from the Middle Ages until the present day, showing how the preconditions for inhabitants in this part of the world have changed over time. Distance from Skjolden: 37 miles/60 kilometers
- Photo excursions by foot can be on offer. With magnificent views of the Lusterfjord and the surrounding mountains, Skjolden is no doubt an ideal place for taking pictures.
- During a coach tour to the Jotunheimen National Park, you will travel on the spectacular Sognefjell Mountain Road (see above under Do Not Miss). Connecting the two towns of Luster and Lom, the national tourist route passes through Skjolden. The highest point of the road is more than 4,600 feet (1,400 meters) above sea level.
- Other coach tours visit the Nigardsbreen and the Breheimsenteret at the Jostedalsbreen National Park (see above under Do Not Miss).
- For those with a particular interest in Norwegian history, a coach tour to the Urnes Stave Church and/or the Sogn Folk Museum (see above under Do Not Miss) might be something to consider.
- A trip by kayak on the Lusterfjord will bring you even closer to Norwegian nature, as you paddle beneath the steep mountainsides. For an altogether different perspective on the area, try a helicopter tour of the area.
With additional reporting by Andreas Lundgren
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