Norway Cruise Holidays With Hurtigruten
With such an incredible coastline and the grandeur of the fjords, exploring by boat is an unbeatable way to see northern Norway. A berth on the famous Hurtigruten line is a deeply rewarding experience in any season but for those who don’t like to miss a thing, summer is the ideal time to go.
As you sail north, the days become longer until the sun refuses to dip below the horizon. It’s an unusual thrill to lean on the guard rail, gazing at steep, wooded mountains reflected in the bright waters and glance at your watch to find that it is past midnight.
You’ll find itineraries along this coast offered by many other cruise lines. But Hurtigruten offers something more: the chance to get close to the real Norway because the ships call at so many more ports.
The name Hurtigruten translates as 'the express route', although guests are delighted at the slow pace with which the endless panoramas unfold. Since 1893, its ships have been a lifeline for the remote coastal communities of Norway.
Though many of today’s guests are on board simply to enjoy the astonishing scenery, Hurtigruten continues to serve as transport for local people and cargo. Throughout the year, one ship sails out of Bergen every day to start the 2,400-kilometre northward journey, while another sails south from Kirkenes, a town that is very close to the Russian border.
You may find yourself chatting to family groups on the way to visit relatives, farmers taking machinery to town for repair, or birdwatchers bound for one of the tiny Vega islands. The facilities on board are modern and comfortable, with well-appointed cabins, panoramic lounges and a superb standard of dining.
Ships in the Hurtigruten fleet have to be compact enough to reach the smallest settlements and they can get to many places that are inaccessible to larger liners. In all, the classic route between Bergen and Kirkenes calls at 34 ports.
Stops are made throughout the day and night. Take the 12-day round trip and you’re assured of seeing each port during daytime hours. But it’s worth remembering that if you travel in mid-summer, destinations north of the Arctic Circle will be illuminated by 24-hour daylight.
Bergen, the southern terminus of the voyage, is a splendid maritime city and you must set aside a few hours to explore. There’s the Bryggen, the handsome line of old wooden wharf buildings that is a Unesco World Heritage Site; the fish market by the harbour; and the funicular that takes you up to the top of Mount Fløyen for great views of the city.
Other urban highlights along the voyage include the delightful Art Nouveau town of Alesund and Norway’s third city, Trondheim — famed for the intricate Nidaros Cathedral and one of Scandinavia’s best-preserved wooden palaces. The approach to Tromso, with the soaring bridge in sight, is among the most memorable; while at Hammerfest it’s traditional to call at the Royal and Ancient Polar Bear Society to learn about the significance of Ursus maritimus in the culture of the north.
Dulcet tones: Sound Of Music Through Norway's Fjords
Magical Norway: The Northern Lights With Hurtigruten
The greatest wonders of a Hurtigruten voyage, though, are natural. In the south, you’ll glide past forested shores speckled with pretty red cabins and navigate a passage through tiny skerries and islets.
Many summer voyages take a detour into Geirangerfjord, one of two Norwegian fjords that is Unesco-listed due to its incomparable beauty. Gliding past the great rock walls of this narrow channel, close up to the spray from the Seven Sisters waterfall, is unforgettable.
Further north, the fjords possess a lonely, savage beauty, while the Lofoten Islands – a constellation of rugged peaks rising from the sea – are cited by many as their highlight.
The journey is rich in folklore. In summer, you’ll be able to sail right inside Trollfjord, one of Norway’s most famous natural wonders. It was named after the sinister creatures of Norse legend and there remains a sense of dark magic about this slender inlet. Its entrance is little over 90 metres wide, but Hurtigruten ships are manoeuvrable enough to turn around in the small bay at its end.
An imposing mountain range, also called the Seven Sisters, draws its name from a legend of seven troll maidens who were turned to stone as they ran from an enraged suitor. One of his arrows is said to be responsible for the shape of nearby Torghatten mountain, which is pierced right through by a natural tunnel.
At the top of the Norwegian mainland are the 300-metre cliffs of Nordkapp (North Cape). This headland, visited on an optional excursion from Honningsvag, feels like the end of the Earth.
The ocean here is especially haunting when seen under the languid glow of the midnight sun. You can also pop in to the Nordkapphallen visitor centre, where a panoramic film shows the passage of the seasons.
Throughout the voyage, there are options for shore excursions. Some passengers want to find out about the Sami – the people indigenous to the northern regions of the Nordic countries.
Traditionally, they lived as nomadic reindeer herders, following their animals between the best grazing land. With Hurtigruten, you can meet a Sami family in their lavvo (tent dwelling) and learn about their culture and folklore.
Several excursions offer a close encounter with the amazing wildlife of the coast. Around the Lofoten Islands, it’s possible to transfer to a smaller boat for a sea-eagle safari. Watching one of these magnificent birds swoop to snatch a fish from the water is an experience not to be missed.
When the ship reaches the Unesco-listed Vega archipelago, you can find out about the unusual livelihood of the islanders, who for centuries have looked after eider ducks and collected their precious down to sell. And at Kirkenes, an intriguing frontier town barely 17 kilometres from Russia, you could join an expedition in search of the massive king crabs that scuttle in the icy depths of the Barents Sea.
A cruise with Hurtigruten is unique. Join one this summer and you’ll discover how it lives up to its billing as “the world’s most beautiful voyage”.
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This article was written by Kevin Coyd from The Daily Telegraph and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.