Waterfalls plunge down towering crystalline rock walls, wispy clouds shroud the soaring peaks and glaciers glisten beside blankets of lush emerald forests stretching down to the shimmering grey-green water. This stunning picture-postcard landscape is why cruising around the fjords in Norway is an experience for your bucket list.
Norway’s fjords are natural wonders carved by glaciers over a succession of Ice Ages. The Norwegian fjords are drowned valleys of majestic beauty with steep-sided walls soaring towards the sky.
- Norway cruising guide
- Cruising the fjords in Norway
- Main ports on a Norway fjord cruise
- Which fjord in Norway to visit?
- Norwegian fjords cruises – best time to go
- Cruise ships that cruise the fjords in Norway
- How to get to Norway
Norway cruising guide
Cruising the fjords in Norway
Two of the country’s fjords – Geirangerfjord and Naeroyfjord – are on the UNESCO World Heritage list but there are thousands of other beautiful fjords in Norway to cruise around.
The majesty of the fjords will seduce you into believing that they are the creation of Viking gods and goddesses that ruled the elements: Sol the sun goddess, Mani the mood god, Joro the earth goddess, Dagr the day god and Nott god of night.
Main ports on a Norway fjord cruise
Every port on a cruise in Norway is a visual feast, with glaciers, fjords, waterfalls, mountains, peaceful farms and tundra plains to see.
The towns and cities are straight out of a storybook, with markets, churches, museums and colourful timber buildings (many of these house local craft and jewellery shops!).
Most cruise ships offer a choice of cruise ship excursions in every port but in some places, like Bergen and Tromso, where many of the sights are within walking distance, it’s more enjoyable to wander around on your own.
In small ports, such as Geiranger, Olden and Honningsvag, joining a half-day or full-day excursion is essential as the most stunning scenery is a fair distance away and you’ll need to get those scenic attractions by bus or ferry.
Bergen’s historic Bryggen precinct is picture-book pretty at street level but the view from the top of Mount Floyen is jaw-dropping, especially on a blue-sky day when the sun is shining on Bergen’s sapphire-coloured harbour.
From the top of the Floyen Mountain, the Seven Mountains are a calming backdrop to the city’s red rooftops far below.
It’s worth taking the funicular up the mountain for the view and a bird’s-eye panorama of narrow alleyways lined with crooked timber buildings in Bryggen, which is Bergen’s historic wharf area and a UNESCO World Heritage-listed site.
Bryggen was part of the Hanseatic League’s trading empire between the 14th and 16th centuries.
Bergen’s waterfront has a medieval feel brightened up by colourful tri-level wooden houses, which were homes of the country’s first German merchants.
Although Bergen is a popular port to start a longer cruise in Norway, you can also do half-day or full-day fjord tours from Bergen such as these:
Check out some longer cruises departing from Bergen
Stavanger is the gateway for cruises to Lysefjord, which is another scenic fjord known for the dramatic cliffs of Pulpit Rock.
Stavanger is a peaceful town with whitewashed wooden houses, a medieval cathedral and a historic harbour.
Wandering around Old Stavanger, you’ll be charmed by a warren of cobblestone streets and old-fashioned lamp posts.
Old Stavanger is a living museum with Europe’s largest collection of 18th-century wooden buildings which house workshops, craft shops and private homes with neat flower gardens and cats curled up on doormats.
Two museums worth visiting are the Norwegian Canning Museum and the Norwegian Petroleum Museum.
Tromso is the gateway to the Arctic and many Arctic expeditions start here, so don’t be surprised to find a cute main street packed with cafes and souvenir shops.
The small colourful town is easily walkable during a shore excursion and among the things to do in Tromso are visiting the Polar Museum and the Arctic Cathedral.
Note: If you have time to do a longer trip in Scandinavia, read this post about the best time to visit Iceland.
Which fjord in Norway to visit?
Cruises last from six to 14 days and almost all fjord cruises in Norway offer an excursion in Geirangerfjord while a few continue north to the Arctic Circle. Here are some popular fjords you’re likely to visit on a cruise.
Hardangerfjord is an easy fjord to visit from Bergen and is definitely worth seeing if you have time as this is a breathtakingly beautiful region of Norway.
Geirangerfjord is World Heritage listed as part of the West Norwegian Fjords and a shore excursion from Geiranger to see the fjord from high up in the mountains is a highlight of any cruise.
From Geiranger, the bus twists and turns up narrow roads and hairpin bends to Mt Dalsnibba and Flydalsjuvet.
The view of the ship anchored in Geirangerfjord and surrounded by mountains is a memory that will be etched in your mind.
It’s a relaxing trip past snow-covered peaks, timber cottages and a myriad of gushing waterfalls.
The landscape has a diversity of plant species, including alpine plants that normally thrive at higher altitudes.
You pass old abandoned farms, high in the hills while listening to commentary about the region, its people, landscape and wildlife.
This fjord is home the rare clouded Apollo butterfly and stomping ground of four species of deer (elk, red deer, wild reindeer and roe deer).
Some excursions allow you to board a ferry at Hellesylt and cruise back to Geiranger past snow-covered peaks, timber cottages and a myriad gushing waterfalls.
Sognefjord is the longest and deepest fjord in Norway stretching for 200 kilometres through nine municipalities.
Attractions include Nærøyfjord, which is a stunning arm of Sognefjord, the famous Flåm Railway (it’s the steepest adhesion railway in the world running on standard gauge tracks!) and five of the oldest stave churches in the country.
Lysefjord is a 42-kilometre-long fjord with rocky vertical walls over 1,000 metres high in the Stavanger Region.
The fjord is long and narrow and as you cruise below Pulpit Rock, a flat natural plateau 604 metres above the fjord, look up to see the small shapes of people sitting on the rock far above.
Tysfjorden is one of the deepest fjords in Norway and is a breathtaking fjord with vertical walls soaring to the sky, small villages clinging to the rocky shores, birch forests and waterfalls.
Norwegian fjords cruises – best time to go
As Norway’s weather can be misty and rainy, the best time to go on a Norwegian fjords cruise is in summer for blue skies and warmer weather.
In summer, snow-covered peaks are a startling contrast to lush green forests, forming a backdrop as pretty as the picture-book seaside towns that dot the region.
The bad news is that cruise fares tend to shoot up in summer and the shoulder seasons are cheaper and there are fewer people on the ships.
Most cruises operate between May and September (June to August is peak time) and while the shoulder seasons may be cheaper, there might be limited tours, buses and ferries in spring and fall.
- June to August – Peak period for Norway fjord cruises
- May to July – Best time to travel to see the Midnight Sun
- October to March – Best time to see the Northern Lights
Cruise ships that cruise the fjords in Norway
Some of Norway’s fjords are so deep that huge ocean liners can cruise close enough to the coastline for its passengers to admire the fjord up close.
Cruise ships fall into these categories:
- The Hurtigruten Norwegian ferry
- Large cruise ships (I cruised Norway’s fjords aboard Queen Elizabeth II read about my experience below).
- Expedition cruise ships
Norwegian ferry cruise
What makes Hurtigruten unique is it’s a historic shipping line that has been delivering freight and post to remote communities for more than 100 years.
It’s also a passenger vessel that can accommodate cars, Hurtigruten ships call into ports that are not often visited by commercial cruise liners and is a fabulous way of cruising the fjords of Norway.
Hurtigruten has at least one ship departing every day along this coastal route and sails from Bergen to Kirkenes.
There are 6,7,11 and 12-day voyages to choose from (longer voyages have more stops). Check out the latest routes and prices here.
Why you will love cruising Norwegian fjords with Hurtigruten:
- Hurtigruten is considered the experts on the Norway coastline with 11 ships and 32 ports of call
- Onboard lectures and presentations daily
- 90 excursions with plenty of hiking and outdoor activities led by expedition teams
- Northern Lights sighting guarantee on a 12-day cruise from 1 October to 31 March (they will give you a six or seven-day Classic Voyage for free if the Northern Lights doesn’t show up on your cruise!)
Large cruise ships
As the fjords in Norway are incredibly deep, even the largest cruise ships are able to navigate them.
Most large cruise ships have nine to 14-day cruises from Southampton (London) return, stopping at Bergen, Stavanger and popular fjords.
Why you will love to cruise the Norwegian fjords on a large cruise ship:
- The experience of voyaging through a mystical land in a floating hotel
- Activities and entertainment and a chance to dress up and attend gala cruise dinners
- Most large cruise ships have options to combine cruising the fjords in Norway with other Scandinavian and Baltic destinations
Here’s an example of a 14-day cruise itinerary on a large cruise ship from Southampton:
Day 1: Depart Southampton
Day 2: At sea
Day 3: Stavanger
Day 4 and 5: Exploring the Fjords of Norway
Day 6: Olden
Day 7: At Sea
Day 8: Trondheim
Day 9: At Sea
Day 10: Honningsvag
Day 11: Tromso
Day 12: Lofoten Islands
Day 13: Alesund
Day 14: Bergen
If you’re not sure if large ship cruising is for you, I’ve written up an account of my experience onboard Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth II below.
Cunard has seven to 12-night cruises in the fjords departing from Southampton (London), Hamburg (Germany) and New York (USA).
Here’s my account of how I felt on Queen Elizabeth II while cruising the fjords in Norway:
I expect to be impressed by Norway’s scenery but it takes me by surprise that Norway’s majestic scenery is pushed to the background by the grandeur of Queen Elizabeth II.
As soon as I step aboard, I feel like I’ve tumbled through a looking glass into a fantasy world of ballrooms and big band music, sweeping staircases and cigar lounges where women strut around in fabulous ball gowns and men look dashing in their tuxedos.
There’s croquet, lawn bowls and daily afternoon teas served by white-gloved waiters carrying trays of cucumber sandwiches and scones.
It is a floating world of marble, polished brass, wood and glittering chandeliers that sweeps me off my feet.
There’s a bottle of French champagne, a bouquet of flowers and a basket of fruit waiting in my Britannia balcony stateroom, which is luxurious but compact (perhaps a touch small).
It has the furnishings and amenities of a five-star hotel room and the room is well designed with plenty of wardrobe and storage space.
There is an en-suite bathroom, a small sofa and lounge table, flat-screen television, minibar and writing desk.
A good-sized balcony with two chairs and a table is a handy spot to sit and watch the scenery float by.
There are high-quality toiletries, bathrobes, slippers and an attentive steward to make the bed, change the towels and keep the stateroom looking spick and span.
Remy, my steward, greets me cheerfully by name every morning and replenishes my fruit bowl, picks up my dry-cleaning and ensures that my gowns are pressed and hung in my wardrobe.
Yes, a dress-code applies from 6 pm each night and most people make the effort to adhere to it.
Like most guests, I’ve arrived with an extra suitcase packed with ball gowns and cocktail dresses for the three semi-formal and two formal nights.
On semi-formal evenings, its cocktail dress for women and jacket and tie for men while on formal evenings, men are required to wear tuxedos and ladies go all out to show off their best gowns.
All dolled up, I feel like I’m an extra in a 1920’s movie, clinking champagne glasses in the chandeliered Queen’s Ballroom as the dancers twirl around the floor.
After dinner, the three-deck 832-seat Royal Court Theatre gets a good workout with shows ranging from a double bill of scenes from Neil Simon’s The Odd Couple to West End-style musicals and dance extravaganzas.
The daily onboard programme is overwhelming.
From 6 am, the programme is packed with classes, competitions and social gatherings covering a range of subjects as diverse as bridge and paddle tennis, whiskey tasting and bingo.
There’s a book shop, casino, card room, a well-stocked library with 6000 books and a shopping arcade with well-priced clothes, souvenirs and jewellery.
Most nights, I dine with the majority of guests in the formal Britannia Restaurant but Guests in Britannia Club and Grill staterooms have separate dining rooms that are more intimate.
Alternative dining choices, available to everyone, include the fine-dining Verandah Restaurant and the cafeteria-style Lido Restaurant, which is on deck nine and has the best views.
As we dine and wine, Norway fills the ship’s picture-glass windows with a panoramic slideshow of its best scenery.
The ship is a spectacle in every port.
At 294 metres long and the equivalent of 21 storeys high, Queen Elizabeth is a floating city that dwarfs the low-rise timber buildings in every port.
In some places, it almost seems as if a space ship has landed.
With 2,068 passengers and 996 crew, the number of people on board is almost ten times the population of Geiranger, which has 300 people, and three times the population of Olden, a community of 1000 farmers and fruit growers.
Even in the bigger cities like Stavanger, which is wealthy from the discovery of North Sea oil, the ship is still a sight to behold. Locals rush out of their homes to wave, gawk and take photographs.
Stavanger’s whitewashed wooden houses, medieval cathedral and historic harbour wrap around the ship like an IMAX theatre on steroids.
On the starboard side, the view of Stavanger’s historic Straen reveals cobblestone streets, old-fashioned lamp posts and Europe’s largest collection of 18th-century wooden buildings filled with workshops, craft shops and homes.
Cats are small dots sleeping in the sun and people are tiny figures working in their flower gardens.
I peek at this storybook scene through big glass windows, feeling a lot like Alice in Wonderland.
Other large ships that cruise the fjords in Norway are:
Princess Cruises has eight to 14-day round trip cruises from Southampton with up to 10 ports of call.
Royal Caribbean has several seven to 13-night Norway fjord cruises departing from Southampton.
Other ships that have Norway cruising itineraries are:
- Holland America
- Celebrity Cruises
- P&O Cruises
National Geographic Explorer
National Geographic has a 14-night cruise from Bergen to Longyearbyen that combines the Norwegian fjords and the Arctic aboard National Geographic Explorer.
The ship carries kayaks and a fleet of Zodiac landing craft, so the experience on board is suited to active travellers who enjoy nature and culture.
Shore excursions include paddling and a range of hiking opportunities, such as walking to a tongue of the large Jostedalsl Glacier as well as more strenuous hikes accompanied naturalists on staff.
The ship also makes some unusual stops, including the island of Smola, the Lofoten Archipegalo where Zodiac excursions offer a close look at nesting seabirds such as Atlantic puffins and then on to the Arctic.
Here’s a sample itinerary for National Geographic Explorer:
Day 1: Bergen
Day 2: Nordfjord
Day 3: Smola
Day 4 and 5: Exploring the Fjords of Norway
Day 6: Lofoten Islands
Day 7: Tysfjorden
Day 8: Tromso
Day 9: Bear Island
Day 10 to 14: Exploring Svalbard
Day 15: Longyearbyen
Day 16: Oslo
GAdventures offers expedition cruises in Norway exploring the fjords and the Arctic.
How to get to Norway
Scandinavian Airlines (SAS) flies to Bergen in co-operation with partner airlines. A good reason to book SAS when travelling to Norway is Scandinavian Economy Extra has a generous baggage allowance of two 23kg bags.
If you’re not keen on cruising, check out these Norwegian fjord land tours.