Cruising the Norwegian Fjords with Hurtigruten

The Hurtigruten itineraries are often described as “the world’s most beautiful voyages,” as they provide access to some of the most stunning scenery and the unique cultures of Norway, many of them above the Arctic Circle. Originally a communications and travel link between the villages on Norway’s western coast, Hurtigruten provides an up-close look at the fascinatingly intricate fjords, mountains, and villages that were once isolated and difficult to navigate.

Normally these journals are from our own travels however after living in Norway for two years I managed to visit coastal Norway many times – without however doing the full “Hurtigruten Coastal Express”.  For my favourite towns and cities along the Hurtigruten route in Norway read on here.

Hurtigruten ships sail year-round on Norwegian coastal express routes. These are also working ships, transferring both cargo and passengers, but the ships have the look and feel of traditional 3 star cruise ships. However, Mother Nature is the star of this show. Tour leaders on board all voyages assist with practical, cruise-planning details, but these are not traditional cruises.

No one knows the Norwegian coast like Hurtigruten. The ships have been carrying local passengers, visitors and freight between cities, towns and hamlets since 1893. 120 years later, Hurtigruten is still an integral part of Norwegian coastal life. One of the fleet’s 11 ships departs Bergen daily, and sail to Kirkenes and back in 12 days.

When you step on board, you enter a relaxing environment with like-minded fellow travellers, and you will find that the friendly atmosphere encourages conversations with the other guests.

All Hurtigruten ships are equipped with a wide choice of cabins, comfortable panorama lounges and ample deck space with perfect views of the untouched, unmistakably Norwegian coastline. At the same time, each of the 11 ships has its own distinct style and something unique to offer.

A journey on Hurtigruten is more than a feast for your eyes; it is a mouth-watering adventure for your taste buds too. Norway’s culinary traditions are fresh, distinctive and varied; very much like the coastal landscape itself. Experienced Norwegian chefs prepare inspiring food that ranges from traditional dishes to modern fusions, using local produce from the regions en route. Breakfast buffet, lunch buffet with specialities from the coast and three-course dinners are included in all the classic voyages, and the mealtimes are great occasions to exchange your daily experiences. The restaurants on board are fully licensed.

Hurtigruten delivers passengers and freight to 34 ports, many of which are less known among tourists. Each port has its own character; some are tranquil hamlets on tiny islands, others bustling towns with fishing, mining or shipbuilding industries. The residents rely on Hurtigruten to bring essential groceries and supplies, and often come out to visit the ships on arrival. Explore the smaller ports on foot, by bike (available to rent) or stay on board and watch goods and passengers leave and join the ship. At larger ports or during longer stays, you may wish to join one of the excursions on offer to experience the life, culture and landscape along the coast.

What to expect through the different seasons

Summer is the most popular time of the year for exploring Norway’s coast. During the light summer months, the whole country bursts with life. Flowers bloom, rivers are filled with fish and giant waterfalls cascade towards the ocean, creating a perfect setting for a summer holiday. Take time to enjoy the wonder of Norway’s midnight sun north of the Arctic Circle. Daylight around the clock provides energy to the flora and fauna, as well as to the Norwegians themselves, and it is likely to rub off on you as well. Make the most of the energy and take part in Hurtigruten’s exclusive summertime shore programme like the Geiranger panorama view excursion, a glacier adventure to Svartisen, a sea eagle safari in the Lofoten Islands or a visit to the UNESCO-listed Vega Islands.

As summer fades into autumn, you can watch the coastline shift from one season to the next. Along Norway’s shores the sharp, clear air strengthens the reds, yellows and oranges, which fill the mountainsides and hilltops. You can enjoy a tranquil voyage and see the stunning display of colours, the fresh air and the beautiful landscape. Hurtigruten’s autumn programme includes several activities and excursions taking you closer to the cultural life, old traditions and local inhabitants along the coast like a visit in the Hjørundfjord or the Munkholm Island, or a Sami Autumn and Arctic bushcraft experience.

Winter is perhaps the best time to explore Norway’s most northern reaches. The sun is low on the horizon, and north of the Arctic Circle it disappears completely below the horizon for weeks. Hunting the aurora borealis, the northern lights, is a major attraction of the winter journey. On board Hurtigruten, far from artificial light, you have excellent chances to experience the magic colours of this extraordinary natural phenomenon. You can also take part in exciting excursions like a visit to a wilderness camp or the Kirkenes Snow Hotel, a snowmobile trip or a husky dog sledging adventure.

After a long winter, the spring sun returns to the shores of Norway and rejuvenates life along the coastline. The sun works overtime to thaw the frozen land, rising higher and higher each day. In spring you can experience three seasons in one journey, and the contrasts between northern and southern Norway. From mid-April, Hurtigruten sails from Geiranger to Ålesund, including highlights of the Norwegian fjords, the famous Seven Sisters Waterfall and the panoramic view from Ørnesvingen. Spring excursions include a RIB boat expedition to the bird island Runde, kayaking in Tromsø, an excursion to Gjesværtappan nature reserve, bird watching in Varanger and a sea eagle safari to the Raftsund.

All Hurtigruten’s voyages offer an exciting range of excursions, designed to give you the opportunity to experience the best that the various destinations have to offer. The programme covers a wide range of activities, ensuring there is something for everyone: informative city tours, visits to cultural sites, bird watching trips and adventures like dog sledging and snowmobiling. Qualified guides and modern modes of transport ensure consistently high standards throughout.

Once you have selected your Hurtigruten voyage, you have a number of arrival and departure options depending on where your journey starts and ends:

The Classic Round Voyage; Bergen – Kirkenes – Bergen, 12 days

This is the ultimate voyage with Hurtigruten, covering over 2500 nautical miles. The ship visits the 34 ports twice, so if you miss anything going north you have a second chance on the voyage south.

The Classic Norwegian Discovery; Bergen – Kirkenes – Trondheim, 11 days

This voyage combines many highlights of the Classic Round Voyage. From Bergen, you cross the Arctic Circle twice, pass the North Cape, visit the turning point of Kirkenes and finish in the medieval city of Trondheim.

The Classic Voyage North; Bergen – Kirkenes, 7 days

From the iconic, sheltered waters of Bergen, you sail towards the border town of Kirkenes. En route you will experience the wonders of Arctic Norway.

The Classic Voyage South; Kirkenes – Bergen, 6 days

The highlights include sailing through the beautiful Vesterålen and Lofoten Islands in daylight, the Seven Sisters mountain range and the peculiar Torghatten Mountain, with its legendary hole in the middle.

Fjords, the Lofoten Islands and Paris of the North; Bergen – Tromsø, 5 days

Experience the spectacular fjords, the beautiful coast of Helgeland and a RIB boat safari in Lofoten.

Lively Tromsø, the Lofoten Islands and the Magnificent Coast; Tromsø – Bergen, 4 days

On this four days journey you will see the beautiful Lofoten Islands, the mythical coast of Helgeland, the Atlantic Road and the UNESCO listed Vega Islands.

North Cape and magical Finnmark; Tromsø-Kirkenes-Tromsø, 4 days

On this journey you can visit small coastal communities, enjoy the exotic nature along the Arctic coast and experience the North Cape.

Fjords, sheltered areas and big cities; Trondheim – Bergen, 2 days

On this two-day voyage you visit the big cities along the Norwegian coast with beautiful fjords and sheltered areas.