With 15,000 miles of coastline and 1,190 fjords, Norway’s coastline is said to offer the most beautiful sea voyage in the world … and we’ll back them up on that. Beginning our journey from Bergen, we passed medieval cities to timeless fishing villages, glaciated mountains to wildlife-rich archipelagos. Making over a dozen stops on our seven days north to the Russian border, we explored by hiking, dog-sledding, zodiac cruising, and of course the classic Norwegian cruise liner, the Hurtigruten. Cruising the Norwegian Fjords would be stunning any time of year, though late fall hits the sweet spot for sunny days and electrified nights, swirling with the Aurora Borealis.
Arctic cruising is about the element of surprise, and every expedition is a little different. For a taste of what’s to come, here are our top adventures and must-see stops in the Norwegian fjords…
Embark in Medieval Bergen
A city founded in 1070, Norway’s former capital is full of charm and history. Stroll the narrow streets of the UNESCO-listed Hanseatic Bryggen quarter, the Hanseatic Museum, and the arctic fish market. Build extra excitement for your sea voyage with a funicular ride up Bergen’s 1,000-foot-tall Mount Fløyen for an incredible view over the medieval city and its majestic fjords.
Hjørundfjord and Norway’s Narrowest Valley
Disembark at this remote fjord and follow the road tucked between steep summits and past storybook stone houses. Reach a dazzling viewpoint of Lyngstøl Lake, the mountain gauntlet, and the sea. On your return, stop at the 19th-century Hotel Union Øye for reindeer stew and a wander around the whimsical rooms … a favorite hideaway of European royals.
Zodiac Cruise the Lofoten Archipelago
Cross the Arctic Circle and reach the Lofoten Wall: a 3,300-foot-tall mountain range shooting up from the sea. Zip between the granite-peak islands and white sand beaches, keeping an eye out for Atlantic puffins and sea eagles, then stroll the fishing villages lost in time.
Walking Tour of Tromsø
The Northernmost City in the World, The Gateway to the Arctic, The Paris of the North…Tromsø has many impressive titles. As an island inside the Arctic Circle, with rugged roots as a frontier town, it’s a surprisingly sophisticated place. Explore the cityscape, an intriguing mix of 18th-century wooden houses, modern ice-inspired architecture, and cozy cafes. Visit the Polar History Museum, pop into the Arctic Cathedral, tour the historic Mack brewery, dine at the trendy Hildr gastropub, and catch live music at the legendary Blå Rock.
Mush a team of huskies through the tundra and land of the native Sami people, dipping through snowy forests and over frozen streams. Take turns driving the sled, and whatever you do — hang on! Many cruise lines can arrange this activity from one of your northernmost ports.
Chase the Auroras
Sailing farther north and away from the cities, the solar winds grow stronger and create a northern lights spectacular. Your captain will announce when the Auroras are strongest, though to maximize your sightings, spend a couple hours each night on deck with some cocoa or soaking in the outdoor hot tub.
Humpback and Killer Whale Watching
Each November-February, hundreds of whales migrate to northern Norway for their winter feast. While cruising the Norwegian Fjords, keep an eye out for pods of orca whales and massive humpbacks (weighing up to 40 tons!) hunting the herring shoals, flashing their tails, and breaching with a big splash.
Explore the North Cape Cliffs
Dock at Honningsvåg, just 1,306 miles shy of the North Pole, and drive towards the sky-high North Cape Museum. Observe a quarter-million seabirds nested in the cliffs, including many endemic high Arctic species. Watch the museum’s fantastic documentary and snap a photo at the massive globe at the top of the world.
Peek into Russia
At a longitude of 30º east, the town of Kirkenes is further east than Istanbul and St. Petersburg. Take an excursion to the border between Norway and Russia and get a peek into the world’s largest country. And if you want to check out some other awesome European countries, check our friends blog with five must-sees!
Cruising the Norwegian Fjords
When you begin your journey back south, you may be traveling along the same route, but the scenery will be brand-new. Your savvy captain will ensure most of the destinations you missed during nights heading north will be revealed during your days sailing south.
Norwegian Cruising Mini-Guide
Who to Cruise:Hurtigruten: The 125-year old national ferry doubles as an excellent expedition ship with year-round departures, numerous embarkation points, and a wide range of prices and adventures.G Adventures: A small-group expedition ship offering 8-15-day all-inclusive trips with an active focus.
When to Go:Being along the gulf stream, Norway’s coastline isn’t nearly as cold as you’d think and rarely gets below freezing. October-March are incredible for northern lights, with November offering the sweet spot for Auroras, warmer weather, discounts, and ample daylight for exploring.
What to Pack: Pack your winter clothes (heavy coat, beanie, gloves, long johns, boots, etc.), but don’t worry too much about specialized gear. For the more extensive adventures, like dog-sledding, good outfitters will provide the necessary Arctic accessories. And don’t forget to pack a solid tripod for the best northern lights photography!