Insider' s guide to the Fjords of Norway
There are few things as spectacular and breathtaking as the beautiful fjords of Norway. Travel through Western Norway bring you to places you thought only exists in fairytales. As you cruise between deep blue waters, towering mountain peaks, and majestic waterfalls it is easy to see why the Norwegian fjords are worth a trip across the world. And if you are lucky enough you might even see the northern lights!
So what are fjords? For those of you who haven’t nursed a lifelong dream to visit, or have it on your bucket list, let me tell you now – you should.
A fjord is formed when a glacier retreats, after carving its typical U-shaped valley, and the sea fills the resulting valley floor. Travelling through the fjords you will zig-zag between rolling green landscapes, cascading waterfalls and snow-peaked mountains. All while getting a big portion of exotic wildlife. The fjords of Norway are some of the most spectacular in the world and, I would say, the main attraction when it comes to exploring this beautiful country.
Costs and travel insights | Transportation | Accommodation | When to go | Do I need to be an experienced hiker? | Fjord cruise | Stavanger | Lysefjorden | The Pulpit Rock | Bergen | Flam | Sognefjord | Nærøyfjord | Fjærland | Geirangerfjord | Hardangerfjord | Top 10 Tips
Costs and travel insights
As Norway is the second most expensive country in the world you have to be prepared that this adventure doesn’t come cheap. But don’t despair! With some planning and the tips below, it actually is possible to do this on a budget!
Upon your arrival to Norway, it is most likely that you will fly into Oslo. Check out the blogpost about traveling Scandinavia for recommendations about the Norwegian capital.
However, if you only plan to visit the fjords while in Norway, I recommend that you look for flights straight to Bergen. Regardless of your starting position, once in Norway, you have a few options to reach the Norway fjords.
Get your train tickets at Vy for up to 90 days in advance. The good thing is that every month there are “mini price” tickets from 20 – 60 Euros on all departures. Beware that these tickets cannot be changed or refunded, but if you plan well in advance it is a great way to cut travel costs.
Travelling by car gives you more flexibility, but it is time consuming due to the distances you need to travel. Norway is way bigger (longer) than you think. In other words, choose another option if you are short on time. However, if you are set on a road trip, I recommend that you check out Rent-a-wreck for cheap used car rentals.
There are plenty of express buses Nor-Way – Skyss – Nettbuss – Kringom, which provides a good and cheap alternative to rental cars. The bus system is well developed and so are the buses, so the ride will be both smooth, comfortable and safe.
Hotels are not the most budget-friendly option, however, if you travel outside of the high season, you can get good deals. So make sure to call the hotel directly and try to bargain, instead of using booking sites.
The Norwegian Trekking Association’s (DNT) offers cabins and lodges, that make it possible to go trekking from cabin to cabin for several weeks. The prices and sizes of the cabins vary from just a few beds to large, fully catered cabins with up to 200 beds. There are options of single rooms and dorms and staffed lodges or not. Make sure to get membership online before your trip, this will give you a discount when staying in the cabins.
Really looking to become one with nature, or just save everywhere you can? Norway is your lucky place! Here you have the freedom to roam, or “Allemannsretten” in Norwegian, which gives you the freedom to access or pass through or camp on uncultivated land at all times of the year, provided that consideration and due care is shown. Keep in mind that this only allows for one night in the same place.
When to go
There is no right or wrong time to go to Norway. In the summers the days are long and the nights short, the mosquitos are plenty. The temperatures hit the pleasant mid 20 degrees Celsius range, you might tan or you might get hit by heavy rain. In the autumn and winter, the temperatures can drop way below zero degrees Celsius especially in the north. On the plus side though, this is when the glaciers are the most stunning and the snow and fairytale-like fog will add that extra mystique.
Do I need to be an experienced hiker?
It depends. Many of the fjords are possible to visit entirely by car, ferry or a smaller boat trip as well as by kayak for the more adventurous explorer. However, a big part of the charm with the fjords is, as cheesy as it might sound, to become one with nature. For this you need to feel the fresh air on your face, hear the waterfalls roar and feel the earth and rock under your feet. If you are not someone who likes nature, well then maybe the fjords are just not for you. Yes, even if you don´t leave the cruise ship, it will be spectacular. But do you really want to visit one of nature’s biggest wonders, without really visiting?
Some parts of the fjords, like Trolltunga or Pulpit Rock, demands that you leave your vehicle of choice. They also require a bit of stamina to visit.
You can choose routes at the beginning of most fjords depending on your skill level. Be prepared, if you are hiking, that this is nature and you are on your own. Bring a compass and map and know where you are at all times. Be prepared that parts of the hikes can be steep and physically demanding. Sometimes the hikes themselves might not be the most fun, but once you get to the top, it will be totally worth it!
If you are looking to splurge and combine travel with your accommodation, there is only one way, and it is pretty amazing – book your spot on a cruise ship. It truly is a remarkable way to travel. It is all-inclusive, meaning it covers your accommodation, all meals (breakfast, lunch, dinner), entertainment like theatre, bars and live music shows, and also transport to and from each port. Surprisingly, cruising is a reasonably affordable way to travel, that allows you to fall asleep in one city and wake up in the next, with the bonus of cutting the long travelling hours and giving you more time to explore what you came for – the fjords.
There are plenty of companies, all offering different tours and packages. Fjord cruises & tours in Norway – Fjord Travel Norway has a lot of different options to choose from, varying in length and price.
1. Starting your adventure in Stavanger
While Bergen is the most common starting ground for those eager to visit the fjords, I would recommend that you start your trip in Stavanger. This is if you plan on spending minimum of two weeks, preferably more, exploring the fjords and you want to cover as many as possible. Or if you only have a few days and just want to test the waters (pun intended).
Stavanger has a small-town charm with a fascinating mix of old and new. It has a beautiful harbour and some of the best-preserved wooden buildings anywhere in Norway, dating all the way back to the Middle Ages. If you visit in August/September don´t miss out on the international street art festival!
Lysefjorden is surrounded by light granite mountain walls and some pretty rough terrain, it is easiest to access by ferry from the harbor in Stavanger. It has an untamed charm, and the natural surroundings set it apart from the other fjords. As well as the unbeatable scenery of the fjord itself, there are a few attractions along its length you should not miss. Preikestolen is one of them, or Pulpit Rock (read about it below), an impressive cliff towering 604 meters above the fjord. Kjerag Mountain is a popular hiking and base jumping destination with spectacular drops from its 1,084-meter height. Al
you will also find the impressive 400-meter drop waterfall, Hengjanefossen.
3. The Pulpit Rock
This 604-meter high cliff with a perfectly square plateau at the top is among Norway’s most iconic landmarks. Preikestolen has been named one of the world’s most spectacular views and it truly is.
You can do this as part of visiting Lysefjorden, or if short on the time jump on the ferry from Stavanger to Tau and from Tau to Preikestolen Fjellstue (around 42 Euros per round trip in total).
Be prepared that there are no guards or rails around the cliff, so mind your step. The weather near Pulpit Rock is also extremely unpredictable and fast-changing, so wear layers and a raincoat! This means that even if you have to go there on a rainy day you might find clear blue skies and sunshine at the top and vice versa. The view, however, is stunning, regardless of the weather. So don´t skip it just because it´s a gloomy day!
4. Starting your adventure in Bergen
If you don´t have more than two weeks to spare, or if you just want to do the Upper Westcoast of Norway, I recommend you begin your adventure of the fjords in Bergen. Bergen is not only known as the gateway to the fjords but is also a beautiful, picturesque city. It will add value to your search for authentic Norway. Bergen might be the second-largest city in Norway, but with its cobblestone streets and colorful ancient buildings, it feels more like a village. It gives you a perfect sample of what Norwegians are about. …and smack dab in the middle of the city center, you also find a Unesco World Heritage site, Bryggen. Incredible!
You can easily spend a few days exploring Bergen itself as well as the surrounding mountains and forests.
Flam is easily accessible from Bergen. You can choose to go by train or car and it is a great place to start off your true wilderness experience. Head down to the harbour for a fjord safari. Make sure to dress well, as the boat trip might be hitting quite high speeds and the winds can get pretty cold. But the, sometimes bumpy ride and crisp air, is totally worth it once you spot your first seal. Or why not porpoises, lynx, wolverines, or golden eagles. Not only will you spot extensive and once in lifetime wildlife. With the emerald water, cliff drops and waterfalls, Flam is just a magical scenery to lose yourself in.
Stretching over 200 km inland, Sognefjord is Norway’s longest fjord in Norway and the third-longest in the world. Extending from the coast of Bergen to the mighty mountains of the Jotunheimen National Park and the blue ice of the Jostedalsbreen glacier it is also one of the most impressive fjords.
It’s easily reached by train, car or bus both as a day trip from Bergen or Flam. With its quaint fishing and farming communities nestled in at the base of the mountains, it is easy to find accommodation here. There are places to rent or get your own fishing rod and it both adds to the experience as well as puts dinner on the table, hopefully!
Widely considered one of the most spectacular fjords on the planet is the nearly 18-kilometre-long Naeroyfjord – an arm of the Sognefjord. With its tranquil waters surrounded by vertical mountain walls rising more than 1,706 meters above sea level, it is easy to see why. As many other fjords, it is on the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
The village Gudvangen is a great place to begin exploring this area. From here, you can join a tour, rent a kayak or, if you have the stamina and climbing skills, take a tough and steep but oh so beautiful hike along the mountains. The hike is pretty demanding, so I would only recommend it to experienced hikers.
Close to Jostedalsbreen, the largest glacier in Europe, and surrounding a branch of the Sognefjord you´ll find Fjærland. Fjærland is located where the glacier meets the fjord. The green water of the melted glaciers is something unique and it truly is an unforgettable sight!
There are plenty of organized hikes or tours to join, making it easily accessible for everyone.
Make sure to visit the Norwegian Glacier Museum or the Norwegian Booktown, a small and quirky town made up of book shops, quaint galleries and cozy cafés while in the area.
Due to its spectacular beauty, this fjord is, like many others on the UNESCO World Heritage site. It boasts 800-metre high cliffs, abandoned mountain farms and impressive waterfalls, such as the Seven Sisters Waterfall, the Suitor and the Bridal Veil.
To add a little extra to your stay in Geirangerfjord I would suggest a night at Westerås Farm. The farm has lamas, goats and sheep and the cottages are located with a spectacular view over the fjord. The farm also keeps an outdoor restaurant, where you can sample the most amazing local food whilst enjoying the breathtaking views.
The 180 kilometres long Hardangerfjord is the second-longest fjord in Norway and has seven tributary fjords. Due to its outstanding hiking opportunities among the charming small towns, blooming orchards and stunning waterfalls of the Husedalen valley, it is a popular destination for locals.
Passing through the lush area along the fjord you will find picturesque (that’s old-time language for Instagrammable) little villages along the route and farmers selling berries and local produce alongside the road. You will also come along some of Norway’s most impressive waterfalls. The 182m-high Vøringsfossen being the most popular one. I preferred Steinsdalsfossen because you can walk right underneath the flow of water and still stay dry!
Thrill-seeker or not, make sure not to miss out on the almighty Trolltunga (the Troll´s tongue). It is on the bucket list for hikers as well hikers as Instagrammers looking for that perfect pic for the gram. But be prepared, the 10-12 hour hike is tough but worth every step to reach that epic panoramic view.
Top 10 Tips
1. If you´re traveling in the summertime – bring sunscreen and mosquito spray. I can´t stress this enough.
2. Be prepared for any and all types of weather during your hike. Rain, shine, hail, snow, wind and a lovely summer breeze, all in the same hike. Dress in layers. Never forget a raincoat or extra socks and a sweater!
3. Even if you are just making day trips, pack your backpack with water, snacks and lunch. You are in the nature and there will be no place to buy food or drinks. Traditionally Norwegians enjoy the chocolate bar Kvikk Lunsj midst hiking. Give it a try!
4. Just as there won´t be places to buy food or drinks, in most places there are just bathrooms at the beginning of a trail.
5. Bring toilet paper or use moss or leaves to not litter unnecessarily.
6. Plan your trip in advance and inform others about the route you have selected. In case you go missing the search party will know where to start looking.
7. Adapt the planned routes according to your ability and check the weather conditions before heading out.
8. Norway has excellent local ingredients, high food quality standards and focus on animal welfare which makes it easy to enjoy Norwegian food. Even if you can´t splurge on restaurants, make sure to sample local foods at supermarkets or farms.
9. In Norway cash isn´t king and a lot of places doesn´t even accept cash. Bring your debit/credit card.
10. Be prepared for long distances! It is a vast country and along the coast, it’s a lot of up and down adding to the distance, so regardless of whether you are driving, taking the train, the bus or hiking, it will take time.
Which of these Norway Fjords would you want to visit first? Let me know in the comments below.
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