For those of us who think of Europe as two-countries-before-breakfast tiny, Norway is a surprise. It’s about 2400 kilometres to cruise from Oslo to the top of Norway – about the same distance as Sydney to Townsville.
However, unlike the Australian coast, the Norwegian coast is deeply inset with fjords, some deep enough to accommodate the largest ships. Standing on deck looking up the sheer sides of a fjord rising more than a kilometre above and almost close enough to touch is magical. And watching a giant cruise ship turn in a fjord little wider than the ship’s length reveals impressive nautical skills.
Most Norwegian cruises start on the southwest coast. Indeed, a lot don’t go anywhere near the capital city of Oslo. If you do travel via Oslo, I recommend an excursion out to Trondheim, the home of the legendary polar explorer Roald Amundsen. It’s tricky to get to – and to get back from – but it provides an interesting insight into a fascinating man. My other must-see recommendations are the Viking Ship Museum and the exciting new Opera House.
The best-known port of the itinerary may well be the first and its most rewarding. Bergen is wonderful. It’s a World Heritage city and picturesque Bryggen, the city’s historic district and its heart from the days of the Hanseatic League, rewards hours of exploration.
The old-school beauty of the Bryggen district on Bergen harbour is something to behold
However, it’s a good idea to venture into the suburbs to Troldhaugen, which was composer Edvard Greig’s home. Sometimes there are recitals of Peer Gynt here. Venture down from his house to the waterfront to visit the simple hut where he wrote much of his music. He couldn’t have written it anywhere else: Greig’s compositions perfectly encapsulate the wonders of the dramatic Norwegian coast. “In the Hall of the Mountain King” indeed.
One dramatic point of entry into fjordland is sailing into Flam, deep in a narrow fjord and the terminus of the Flam Railway. It will offered as a shore excursion and no other compares: the train climbs 865 metres over 20km to Myrdal on a journey justly rated as one of the most spectacular in the world. The rails begin mere metres from the dark, deep waters of the Aurlandsfjord. The next day you are likely to cruise along Sognefjord, Norway’s longest fjord at over 200km.
Recently, I had the chance to ask the Norwegian captain of the Azamara Journey, Captain Johannes Tysse what were his favourite fjords. Not surprisingly, they were all Norwegian. He nominated Geirangerfiord with the Seven Sisters waterfall and Naeroyfiord off Sognefiord into Godvangen. But his absolute favourite is Trollfiord, south of Tromso, where the Azamara Journey is the largest cruise ship able to turn within it.
The picturesque port of Flam is a perfect stopover on a cruise around the Norwegian fjords
Norwegian summers can be a challenge. With luck, sunny days reveal snow-capped alps reflected in mirror-smooth fjords. But inclement days top up the snow cover while sometimes fog and cloud merge into an opaque white wall.
While many of the best sights of the magnificent Geirangerfjord can be seen from the decks of the ship, in pretty Geiranger town it’s worthwhile venturing inland to Flydalsjuvet lookout, the one that features in so many gut-wrenching pictures.
On a voyage north a stop may be Alesund, an important fishing port that burned down in 1904 and was rebuilt over the next three years in Art Noveau style. Heading north, Molde offers a chance to visit the Trolls Road and the beautiful new viewing platform at the top.
Next are the two Ts. Trondheim, on the very open Trondheimsfjord, was once the capital of Norway and is still the country’s third most populous city. It’s a big step to the north to Tromso that lies above the Arctic Circle and has an impressive collection of wooden buildings in the city centre and a cable car to provide a bird’s-eye view of the city.
A 12-hour visit to Honningsvag is barely enough time to appreciate North Cape. But if you are lucky, your ship may cruise around the cape and provide a perspective denied to land-based visitors. It’s also closer than most people will ever get to the North Pole.
The ultimate goal of a Norwegian cruise is North Cape (or Nordkapp). At 71.1725°N this is as far north as you can go on the European continent – the next stop is the North Pole. The main attraction is to gather at a giant clifftop globe of the world and watch the midnight sun skirt above the horizon before rising again. Honningsvag is the tiny port for North Cape.
The midnight sun rising through the clouds at North Cape gathers crowds from around the world
There’s a very wide range of options for a Norwegian cruise as most cruise companies offer it throughout the European summer. The classic voyage is with Hurtigruten that began running mail boats to remote coastal communities in 1893 and offers an extensive selection today.
Otherwise, just consult your favourite cruise company be it Azamara, Silversea, Costa, MSC, Holland America, Saga, Fred Olsen, Seabourn, NCL, Ponant, Regent Seven Seas, Crystal, Oceania, P&O, Princess, Windstar, Lindblad, Sea Cloud and Viking, of course. There’s a very good chance they’ll all be able to offer you a cruise with the chance to embrace your inner Viking.
Have you been cruising in Scandinavia? Share your favourite memory.