Cruising through the fjords of Norway - Your guide to navigating the coastline
Endless majestic mountains, peaks of snow, glistening to thundering waterfalls all with the stillness of lush greeny-blue waters. Serenity. That's what I just described. And nature at its best. Norway has a certain calmness that can be experienced regardless of which month you travel and the weather you face. Travelling in the month of May - so this is a bit of a laterblog, I actually saw all seasons from summer sun to winter's snow, and may have seen a few trolls too!
I had always earmarked the Norwegian Fjords to travel by sea so I can make the most of the scenery and get to the little villages and towns. So it made complete sense that I did this by cruise for a very different experience. Cruising with 8 port docking's over 12 nights meant I would get plenty of sight-seeing in alongside the chilled ship atmosphere and a spot of shopping in between the fine dining.
When booking the cruise I decided this is one trip I want to take my folks on. Knowing they are never going to venture into this part of the world, I thought it would be a nice way for them to experience it and see Norway. It was a bit of a bold move considering my mother has a fear of boats and water, and I tell her i'm taking her to float around for 2 weeks... She nearly died at the thought of it.
Our cruise sailed from Portsmouth, you will find several cruise liners that offer the fjords cruise with lengths varying from as little as 5 days up to 21 so you will find something that works for you, I had picked P&O. You can also choose when suits you better to go - bang in the middle of summer (July/August) and you can witness the midnight sun. There are also the winter months which include the chance to see the Northern Lights. Or you can just pick an in-between like I did around my birthday and still enjoy it!
Most itineraries will include Bergen, this I knew would be the biggest and and most populated but was still on my list to see. My view was that one day here would be good enough to get a flavour of what can be done on a return trip to help plan one. Bergen has airport links to make a second trip here easily possible, the smaller towns do not, and travel by car would take much longer to see the same places.
The myth with cruises is that these are for 'older people'. Having now done my first cruise I can actually say I saw everyone from young families to pensioners. Yes the older generation were of greater numbers, but the younger numbers aboard showed cruising is now changing.
With cruises that dock at ports you are given the option to book excursions. These can be costly if doing several, and in Norway its pretty extortionate. I however have a personal preference to book them as I find most small towns can be covered on foot relatively quickly, either before or after a booked trip. We actually booked for all 8 ports for our cruise, it was not cheap, but I am glad we did it as we visited parts of Norway which otherwise would not have been able to see. If you are new to cruises you may find my blog on first time cruising helpful.
Port 1 - Haugesund: After a day and half at sea it was nice to step onto dry land - we can blame this on the bad weather that caused larger waves than necessary. However, arriving in Haugesund I was surprised to see how big the town was. I had thought it was one of the smaller ports but actually it is quite a built up area. If you didn't want to book an excursion you could go for a stroll around the town centre and find local things to see and do. Its also not too far from local attractions and easy to get to a hiking trail.
We had booked a day trip to Åkrafjorden in the Hordaland county to also see Langfoss waterfall. We had a great boat ride into the fjord here to really soak up the views, and our captain stopped by the waterfall to get a bucket of water. They say the water is so clean you can drink it straight and everyone aboard was given a taster! A lovely lunch was included in nearby Fjæra from where you could see Langfoss so the view was great as was the food. Our trip was rounded off well with a few pit-stops along the way, we passed by the town of Ølen where we could do a spot of shopping. We were also taken to see a few local landmarks, including the Haraldshaughen, a national monument in Haugesund.
Port 2 - Skjolden: Arriving in this cute village it was as picturesque as I had imagined it to be. You wouldn't need much time to walk around the port area and locally. But it is possible to visit places locally like the Llama farm or the ice cave (winter months), or as most other ports offer - get a local fjord boat/RIB ride! We took a stroll around the port area of the village after coming back from our excursion, and of course nipped into a few local shops.
We'd booked ourselves on a day trip out again into the mountains to get a bit up close to nature. We had not anticipated what we would see out here, bearing in mind the previous day was all warm and fuzzy and stayed as such everywhere we went. Arriving in Skjolden it was warm, we headed outward and upward, and the higher up we got the whiter it became. At one point there was almost no sky to be seen between the clouds and the snow on the mountains. I was in awe of the the scenes I was seeing. And my folks? They were loving this. They had never been in such surroundings as they hate cold climate holidays, but you couldn't wipe the smiles off those faces. Whilst it might have been very snowy it was not actually cold. The snow was glistening like crystals against the sun's rays.
The day was spent travelling through the mountains and taking in the breathtaking sights, with stops along the way of course. We had a break for a few hours in the municipality of Lom, which is situated high up in the mountains at 382 metres above sea level. It is well known for its Stave Church as not many remain so this is highly visited. Following another great lunch of locally sourced salmon and a bit more shopping we visited the local museum before heading back out again through the mountains. On our return we saw a fresh sprinkling of snow so it only seemed right to have a snow fight. With random people of course.
Port 3 - Flåm : So our luck with the weather ended as we arrived here, we were rained on the whole day which just got heavier by the afternoon. But, we had to make the most of the day and you cannot visit Flåm and not take a ride on the famous Flamsbana railway. The line is 20km and has a difference of 866 metres in height so you can image the elevation reached and the sights that can be seen! Of course if you did not want to do this there are fjord tours and other activities available. We had our train tickets pre-booked as part of our 'Norway in a nutshell' trip so we headed toward Myrdal before changing trains to Voss.
We saw some breathtaking scenes taking the train ride into the mountains which otherwise is inaccessible (unless you're hiking for days), before stepping out at Myrdal to see a thundering Kjosfossen waterfall. It was still so cold up here that there were icicles along the sides of the waterfall and huge ones along the railway line. As we stopped in Voss for lunch the heavens seemed to open at full speed so venturing to see the local area was ruled out. We were however conveniently in Fleischer's Hotel which is set on the banks of Vangsvatnet so had great outdoor views complete with a bar!
Our return to Flåm was by road so we got to experience one of the steepest mountain roads across Northern Europe with 13 hairpin bends. Stalheimskleiva mountain road did also offer two waterfalls to see (Stalheimsfossen and Sivlefossen), but you can't get out of the vehicle to see these so I have quite a rubbish photo of one, and an ok-ish photo of the other. I think you would probably struggle even with a car - unless the road is clear and you are super quick at snapping pics so you would need to do the hiking route to see up close. The route took us to Tvinnefossen waterfall, it was beautiful but I think we were still early in the season so it was not with its full water power. With the rain not easing we couldn't spend too long here anyway. This is once place i'd love to go back to as you can walk behind the waterfall, that would be nice to do on a warmer and dryer day.
Port 4 - Hellysylt: We arrived here later afternoon after passing by the Geirangerfjord waterfalls. It was a shame that like Tvinnefossen, none of the 3 were really in full force yet, only 'the suitor' had a an ok amount of water flowing. You could actually be forgiven for missing the other two.
I'd like to think that the picturesque Hellesyltfossen waterfall made up for this. See even though we had docked earlier than expected, we didn't actually know it was there. With the cabin on the other side of the ship we only realised when we went up for lunch. It meant while munching we had the best view right from our table. We hadn't left as it was raining. Again. So we thought to relax the first half of the day and venture out later as we had an evening out in the valley to look forward to. Plus this way we just get soaked in one hit.
Our valley trip was only a few hours long but we had a fair amount packed in. We headed out toward a rainy Hellysylt view point followed by the Norangsdalen Valley. The valley is said to be one of the narrowest in Norway but it did not disappoint as we passed by the cutest little farm houses and Lake Lyngstøylvatnet. Our guide tells us the former are used to stock goods for the winter months to help with farming. The latter is a lake that formed by a rock fall that changed the course of the water flow. But even today you can see remains of the old road and houses from the clear waters, divers are said to like heading down here for a closer look as there is also an old bridge buried under there.
Port 5 - Geiranger: I had been looking forward to this day as the view points I knew of and really wanted to see were in Geirangerfjord. But as my luck would have it, the excursion I had originally booked was cancelled 'due to unseasonal heavy snowfall' which had closed the roads. I ended up picking an alternate but to be fair none that were now left were any good because the road closures cut the coolest parts off.
That of course didn't dampen things. The weather did, haha. We're now somewhere between rain, sleet and snow. We headed out to the best viewpoints we could get to, the first being Flydalsjuvet from where you could walk down to the cliff edge and take that 'perfect instagram shot'. It was however so slippery that I didn't risk getting too close to the rock edge. Also I had no one on the far side to take my photo for me. There was that teeny bit of wanting to come back alive too. If i did then i could go back in a warmer and not so slippery month! We went onto Ørnevegen, AKA Eagle Bend from here where the view of Geirangerfjord's horseshoe can be seen from. If you look closely, all three waterfalls can be seen too. We even had time to visit the Norsk Fjordsenter on the way back.
Despite the rain and snow I decided I wanted to go into Geiranger for a walk and a spot of shopping - who ever says no to that?! They have a nice little selection of shops and cafe's, trolls and the standard duty free souvenirs.
Port 6 - Åndalsnes: Guess what? Its dry today! we've managed to shake the rain off and all in good time as we arrived in Åndalsnes and were whisked away for a ride on the Rauma railway to Bjorli. Unlike Flamsbana which was so full, here I was able to walk around the train more freely. And quite conveniently our tickets were in the end carriage so I papped a few photos and videos from the back door. I reckon other than the driver's seat that was the best view anyone could have had on the entire journey!
As we arrived in Bjorli, well known for skiing, it did start to snow on us, but we were now heading towards Trollveggen (The Troll Wall) but not before stopping at Verma first. Verma, a small village deep in the valley of Rauma, was lush green despite many places nearby still being covered in snow. Not too much further away is The Troll Wall, Europe's tallest vertical overhanging rock face at 1,000 metres. Even though it was not raining today it was extremely foggy in parts and we could not even see the top of the wall. We were of course on the side of Trollveggen which falls near the main road where there is a small cafe and souvenir shop - the Besøkssenter. If however you were hiking you would be on the other side and have quite a different view.
Port 7 - Olden: This is another small village, a bit like Åndalsnes and very picturesque. Hasn't everything been so far!? We had booked a trip to see Nordfjord today and still had a few hours after to explore Olden when we got back. As always, its onwards and upwards into the mountains and valley's for fjord view first. Of course it was foggy today which got worse as we got higher into the mountain and the weather gods decided to add some snow. So as we reached the first viewing point we couldn't see anything. I decided to enjoy the fresh sprinkling of snow instead before we moved on. We had better luck at the second pit-stop, where the snow stopped but our friend fog was still there. You could however see Innvikfjorden from here with a pretty haze.
As we moved closer to Lote and Nordfjorden the weather gods changed shifts and we started to see clear blue skies and some sun!! We passed by Panoramavegan and stopped for more photos before continuing into the mountains and around Nordfjord, stopping at the Nordfjord Hotel for lunch then heading back.
The village of Olden has quite a few shops just a little walk from the port. We took a walk around the local area and I looked into going to the Loen Skylift or vising the Glacier as I had enough time to fit something in. However I was informed that the glacier route was quite snowed down so getting to it would take longer that usual so it ruled this out, I couldn't risk the ship leaving without me! The Loen Skylift was priced to start at NOK 785 (approx. £70), plus the fee of the shuttle. Now while I was tempted to do this despite the cost, it was not a clear day so I wouldn't be able to see much from the elevation this would go to. It seemed a little pointless so I decided to leave it on this occasion and went for afternoon tea instead. But for those travelling to here these options are available as are the hop on and off buses and trains that take you around the attractions.
Port 8 - Bergen: Making it to Bergen had mixed emotions, while I was happy to finally be here, it also meant my trip was coming to an end as this was the final port. On arrival seeing the iconic buildings and huge city I couldn't wait to get out. We had the whole day here as we were not leaving until the night so the day was at our leisure.
And yes, we had a booking for today as well, but not the whole day out so had plenty of time to explore once we were back. We headed out to Hardangerfjord with several stops in the journey including a stop on the side of the road to see Tyssefossen Waterfall. This was not the highlight for me in today's trip though, it was Steinsdalsfossen Waterfall that I was waiting to get to. I was all prepared to walk behind it so couldn't really contain my excitement! And how grand it was to do that when we finally made it there. The waterfall was thundering away, it was a steep-ish climb up but there is a handrail for support if needed. The photos and videos from behind the fall were a magnificent experience, you don't get wet. And you can continue on to a viewing point before coming back down the same path. I was so happy to be able to tick off walking behind a waterfall, although there are a few others I would still like to do. We carried on into the valley then had a short boat ride using the fjord's small ship from Hatvik across to Venjanese and we stopped over for lunch before heading back to Bergen.
In our free time I decided to get tickets to the Fløibanen funicular to the top of Mount Fløyen, 400m above sea level. It was very quick and you are up there in 5-6 minutes. You can see what feels like the whole of Bryggen from up there! For those who want to, there is a route to walk it up/down and take the scenery in.
We then hit the town - shopping of course, got my last few gifts and souvenirs as I headed to the old wharf to see the traditional wooden buildings. We ended the day in the harbour before heading back to the ship.
We spent the next two days at sea on the ship before docking back in the UK. For more about ship life catch my blog on cruising for beginners. Don't forget to check out the snaphshots of all the places I have mentioned in the photo album.
Recommendations and tips:
Prepare for all weather conditions, as you travel around you might find it changes as the altitude of the mountain changes. This can differ depending on the time of your you go, layers are good for colder days.
Have a good pair of hiking boots/shoes.
Norway is expensive so if you are carrying cash have enough while docking and travelling around. The currency is NOK and everywhere usually takes card payments too.
I enjoyed my cruise with P&O and would travel again without hesitation, I recommend their ships based on the Arcadia which I travelled on.
When booking rooms, select best suited to budget, but now having booked a balcony I do feel it is not necessary as you can go onto the decks for a better view. A room with a window however I would recommend over an inside cabin.
If you are prone to sea sickness book a cabin nearer the middle.
Book excursions with the cruise ship, these are timed to bring you back before the ship is due to depart. If they are late the ship will wait. You can book at the ports but these are at your risk if delayed for whatever reason. And yes the ship will leave without you.