One of the world’s most beautiful cruise destinations can be found within the majestic fjords and mountainous peaks of Norway. In fact, Hurtigruten, which has operated ships between Bergen and Kirkenes every day of the year since 1893, once marketed its cruises as “The World’s Most Beautiful Voyage.”
Though only a marketing slogan, the truth was not that far removed from the reality. Coastal Norway certainly ranks as one of the world’s most beautiful voyages, and today a number of cruise lines offer trips that go deep into the fjords.
The sea has always played an important role in the history of Norway as a country. It was here that the Vikings set off to conquer and explore faraway lands, leaving from some of the same ports that cruisers can expect to enjoy on a voyage here.
There are two ways to do Norwegian Fjord cruises. One is to take a Baltic or Northern European voyage. Though some begin in Oslo, most of these voyages operate roundtrip from nearby ports like Copenhagen, Stockholm, Dover or Southampton.
These embarkation ports have good airlift so that passengers have as many air options as possible (Copenhagen International or London’s Heathrow Airport, for example, offer far more flights to North America than Oslo’s Gardermoen Airport). But even if they don’t begin in Olso, these voyages can — and routinely do — include visits to three, four, or even five Norwegian ports of call in a single itinerary.
For those who really want to get to know this fascinating country, look no further than Hurtigruten. As we mentioned earlier, the Norwegian coastal cruise/ferry line has been plying these waters since 1893 and offers cruises that explore the ports of call and narrow fjords that are simply off-limits to larger, mainstream cruise ships.
While the capital city of Oslo is a must-see for any first time visitor, it’s the small Norwegian towns and cities that really captured our hearts and imaginations.
The city of Bergen is notable for its Hanseatic waterfront known as Bryggen. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Byrggen has suffered from many fires due to its wooden-constructed houses and shops. Despite the damage, around a quarter of the buildings here still date back to the 1700s.
Within the fjords of Norway lie endless possibilities. The small town of Flam, for example, plays host to the Flamsbanen, a 12.6-mile railway that runs from the town to Myrdal. What makes this particularly notable (and a great attraction for visiting cruise ship passengers) is the railway’s 5.5 percent grade, making it the steepest Standard Gauge railway in Europe. You can actually take the train up and bicycle back, an exciting adventure also.
Nestled at the end of the Nordfjord is the sleepy little Norwegian commune of Olden. With a population of under 500, the real draw here is the spectacular mountains, hills and valleys that line this region, dotted along the way by postcard-perfect farms and outbuildings. Excursions further afar here routinely take guests to the nearby Briksdalsbreen Glacier, one of the arms of the Jostedaslsbreen Glacier, which itself is the largest in Europe.
Moving north, nearly every cruise ship offering Norwegian ports of call will sail down the magnificent Geirangerfjord, with a few stopping temporarily at Hellesylt to disembark passengers on overland shore excursions.
The Geirangerfjord stretches for nearly 10 miles and as such, scenic cruising is an important component of any visit here. You may have seen photographs of the famous Seven Sisters Waterfall, but chances are you’ve never seen photographs of The Suitor, which is located directly opposite the Seven Sisters on the other side of the fjord. Legend has it that the Suitor is trying to lure the Seven Sisters across to the other side of the Fjord, though unsuccessfully so far.
At the end of the fjord is the town of Geiranger, which has restaurants, cafes and curio shops in addition to a hotel. It serves as a jumping-off point for more inland shore excursions, but one of our favorite things to do here is to sit down at a café, grab a bite to eat and a drink, and enjoy the magnificent vistas the fjord has to offer.
The northerly town of Alesund is also a staple on many cruise itineraries, though some swap this out in favor of the more southerly Stavanger. Our opinion: You can’t go wrong with either city (have a look at what you can do in Stavanger by clicking here), but we have a soft spot for Alesund, with its narrow, winding streets and well-kept Art Nouveau buildings. For an adventure, you can hike from the cruise ship piers up to the Fjellstua Restaurant located on the Aksla Viewpoint. It’s a 40-minute hike up that we recommend for those in reasonably good physical condition.
There is also a misconception that Norway is always cold. Certainly, during the winter months this is true, but temperatures during the summer can vary wildly. One of the worst sunburns we’ve ever had occurred on a visit to Geiranger, where temperatures soared above 28 degrees Celsius in early August.
By now, you might be wondering about Arctic Norway, with cities and towns like Tromso, Honningsvag and even Kirkenes. There’s also the Svalbard Archipellago, home Spitsbergen and the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, a Dr. Strangelove-esque facility that preserves a variety of seeds in highly controlled underground caverns and vaults to be used in the case of a global crisis.
Artic Norway is so diverse and vastly different from the warmer, southern end of the country that most cruises typically visit that we’ll be highlighting it on a future installment of Avid Cruiser Voyages. It’s safe to say, however, that if Norwegian towns like Olden and Alesund intrigue you, then Arctic Norway will hold you spellbound.