Five things I wish I knew before visiting the Norwegian fjords
The Norwegian fjords are majestic in a uniquely northern way. The deep and narrow inlets of water were created by retreating glaciers thousands of years ago. With high rugged land that juts from the sides of the fjords, this spectacular sight is a trademark of Norway. With some 1,000 fjords along Norway’s coastline, one cannot go to Norway without seeing the fjords. I’ve been lucky enough to travel to many countries throughout the world, but Norway holds a special place in my heart. With each visit, I learn a bit more about why Norway’s fjords are so celebrated.
1) The top fjords to visit
With so many fjords to view, it can be difficult to know which are a must-see. Though I generally believe your life will be enriched anytime you seek nature, three fjords have really impressed me. First, the best way to start in your fjord-education is by visiting the most classic fjord, Geirangerfjord. Yes, it is the most visited during tourist season, however, there are a number of reasons to love this fjord. It has deep blue waters and simply majestic landscape. There are a number of outdoor adventures to be experienced as well. Famous for inspiring Disney’s Frozen landscape and being a UNESCO World Heritage Site, this fjord is one to write home about.
The second fjord I recommend visiting is Sognefjord, the longest and deepest in Norway. More than 127 miles long, Norway’s “Grand Canyon” is known for diversity in plant and animal life. If you’re feeling brave, ride the steepest train in Norway, the Flåm Railway; its stunning views through snow-capped mountains are worth the thrill. Additionally, this area is renowned for historic churches including the oldest stave church in Urnes.
Last but not least is Hardangerfjord, the fourth longest fjord in the world, and the second longest fjord in Norway. I love this fjord for its fruit trees and green gardens in the summer months. The village of Odda is a quaint town with a gorgeous backdrop, illuminating the region’s beauty. In Hardangerfjord you will also find one of the most striking waterfalls, Vøringsfossen, which, like most things in Norway, is best reached by hiking.
2) A cruise is a great way to see the fjords
I know, I know—cruises draw deep divides in people—you either love them or hate them. Generally, I veer on the side of not being a cruise person, but there is something so magical about seeing the fjords from the water. You can make your ultimate decision as to whether a cruise is right for you. Most cruises last seven to 14 nights, generally starting in Bergen. They tend to reach smaller, more scenic ports, such as Ålesund and Flåm. Some of the smaller boats that are highly renowned are: Seabourn, Ponant, Crystal Cruises, and Viking. A great middle ground is to take a day or half-day tour leaving from Bergen. One half-day cruise, lasting three hours, heads to beautiful Mostraumen, and provides a different perspective on the fjords without the commitment of a longer cruise.
3) Prepare to break a sweat
Norway is a spectacular landscape rivaled by the fact that Norwegians are just about the hardiest people on the face of the planet. They thrive being outside and active, and so much of this is reflected in their culture. When in Norway, be prepared to become active by hiking, kayaking, or even skiing to see the fjords. Incredible views can be found from high above, accessed by hiking trails, as well as actually exploring the fjords’ inlets by human-powered boat. There are a number of tour companies, such as Nordic Ventures, that facilitate day or multiple-day adventures complete with rentals. A useful Norwegian word to learn is friluftsliv, or open-air living. When you choose an active vacation, consider yourself on the way to becoming Norwegian.
4) The best time to see the fjords
Undoubtedly, the shoulder seasons are the best time to see the fjords, with fewer crowds to fight and a magic of their own. Springtime in Norway (May to June) and fall (September to October) are great windows of time to enjoy a quieter slice of fjord life. Notice, both seasons are quite short. Yes, winter reigns king in Norway. Certainly, Norway in the summer months will be beautiful. The midnight sun is around the summer solstice and the sun literally does not set in the northernmost region of Norway so days are long. However, I adore springtime when plants are getting ready to bloom, when water is melting and rushing, and everything is full of life. Also, it should be said you definitely can visit Norway in winter, as many people prefer. You won’t have to fight crowds, and if you love to ski, winter is the optimum time to visit.
5) A few random pointers
Just a few things to mention about Norwegian culture before you tread on Scandinavian ground. Currently, they currency exchange rate is hovering around $1 to NOK 9.18. That might sound like you’ve just earned a lot of bang for your buck, however, just to keep it in perspective, you might be able to buy one apple with that amount of money. An inexpensive meal for one will cost around NOK 180, about $20. A cup of coffee is about NOK 42, or $4.5. Overall, Norway is considered one of the more expensive countries to visit, so be prepared for prices that are higher than the rest of Europe.
Other pointers for Norway include the fact that most Norwegians are friendly and speak some English. Like most countries, the more urban you are, the greater chance that you will find an English speaker, nevertheless, most Norwegians generally try and help when asked. Norway is a very safe country, even in the larger cities. Though some small, pickpocketing activity in the summer months occurs, in general, you’ll find Norway a very relaxing and safe environment.
One other pointer is the incredible Norwegian concept of allemannsretten, meaning a person’s right to land access. Unlike the United States, where “stay out, private land” signs are common, it is permissible to pitch a tent anywhere in Norway. In addition, all public lands in Norway are free to access, a reflection of the Norwegian’s deeply ingrained love of the outdoors.
Norwegian fjords are unique to the country. A trip visiting the Norwegian fjords will forever be embedded in your mind as one of breathtaking landscapes and nature-loving culture. Though there are so many fjords to see and different ways to see them. I hope this article has helped you choose the best way to travel for yourself. At the end of your trip you’ll be uttering tusen takk (a thousand thanks) to the country and people of Norway. I know I do!
Marina Yoveva is originally from Bulgaria, but she considers herself a citizen of the world. Having traveled to more than 20 countries and counting, she loves writing about her adventures and tips on her blog, www.exploreist.com, and she has also written for other major online travel publications, including Trip101, Valnet, and The Clever.
This article originally appeared in the April 17, 2020, issue of The Norwegian American.