There are many reasons to visit Norway: Follow the footsteps of the Vikings, see the sunrise at midnight, experience the Northern Lights, spot polar bears. The crime rate is low and the UN has even rated Norway as one of happiest places in the world. All these reasons make Norway a top destination, but in my opinion, the #1 attraction are the fjords. Norway boasts the highest concentration of fjords in the world, with more than 1000 fjords that can be explored. 1000 more reasons to visit this most beautiful country.
Fjords were formed hundreds of years ago when the glaciers retreated, leaving behind deep valleys cut into the mountains. As the glaciers retreated, seawater filled in the space. With the Gulf Stream warming the waters around Norway, these fjords actually experience a fairly mild climate and are virtually ice free, allowing for year round travel. Most travelers will explore Norway's fjords in the summer months, but those wishing to experience the changes of the seasons can find wonderful itineraries year round.
Norway's top iconic fjords are visited by most of the major cruise lines. Norway's longest and most well known fjord is Sognefjord. At 126 miles long, it is the longest in Norway, and the second longest in the world. The innermost sidearm of Sognefjord is Aurlandsfjord, known for the town of Flam, home of the Flam Railway. This railway is considered one of the most beautiful train rides in the world and is a popular excursion with cruise passengers. The train runs year round and can also be reached from Bergen.
Another sidearm of the Sognefjord is Naeroyfjord, a UNESCO world heritage site. The other UNESCO site is Geirangerfjord, shown above. Lysefjord, near Stavenger, is famous for the Pulpit Rock tourist attraction (Preacher's Rock or Preikestolen) which sits approximately 2000 feet above the fjord. Hardangerfjord, Norway's second longest fjord and the fourth longest fjord in the world, is located about 50 miles south of Bergen and is one of the most scenic.
Pulpit Rock at Lysefjord
If you are interested in seeing more of Norway, one way to experience the thousands of miles of coastline is on Hurtigruten. They have been an active part of Norway's coastal waterways for more than 120 years, and offer a truly authentic experience. Cruising Hurtigruten is different - not your usual cruise. They emphasize nature viewing, the stunning landscapes, mingling with like minded travelers from all over the world as well locals and visiting the small port villages that dot the fjords. There is plenty to see and do - some itineraries have up to 50 different excursions to choose from. Just don't expect multiple dining venues, evening entertainment of the Broadway kind or onboard shopping.
Each season brings a different experience, a different journey, a different feel to the surrounding beauty. Winter can bring cold, wintry conditions and the days are short, but they also bring awesome displays of the Northern Lights, the option to stay overnight at the Snow Hotel or experience the an exhilarating dog sled excursion! Witness the return of migratory birds and a visit to Lyngenfjord in the spring, enjoy the colors and the bounty of autumn harvests in the fall or cruise the summer classics experiencing Geirangerfjord and Trollfjord.
Norway is more than fjords. Voyages to the arctic region of Spitsbergen also offers stunning scenery and wildlife viewing. But we'll leave that to another article.