Few voyages offer such enchantment as cruises to the Norwegian fjords.
While Norway’s rugged western coastline and Arctic latitudes offer a magnificent mix of natural splendour, it is the serene fjords that are Instagram hotspots. Created during a succession of ice ages, when glaciers carved out deep chasms, these most spectacular geological formations are long, narrow inlets that reach deep into the surrounding mountains.
From the early days of cruising, voyages to the Norwegian fjords have been an essential part of many ships’ annual sailing calendar. Summer is a magical time of year to visit when the calm seas are an indigo blue and skies seem to go on forever. Cruise ships both large and small call these northern latitudes home between May and September as they indulge in leisurely sailings along the sculpted western coastline – some even venture as far as the North Cape and beyond.
There is no finer way to experience nature’s pageant than on-board a cruise ship that navigates into the very soul of this magical land. The fjords boast countless waterfalls that thread the dramatic cliffs then erupt into streams of dazzling water plunging hundreds of feet down sheer cliff faces. Far below, tiny farmsteads brim-full of trees heavy with scarlet apples cluster round humble stone churches reflected in the shimmering water.
You can get up close and personal to this placid terrain during excursions by kayak when you paddle right up to the mighty rock faces and enjoy a refreshing spritz from the icy mist of the waterfalls. Other, more sedate options include tours to myriad attractions on offer in this tranquil country that never short-changes on spectacular scenery and colourful communities.
The poster-child of Norway, Geirangerfjord is the very stuff of cruising. Cruise ships glide past the famous Seven Sisters and Bridal Veil waterfalls before reaching the tiny settlement that is the jumping off point for tours to Mount Dalsnibba – the highest peak in Sunnmøre. You don’t have to be an adrenaline-junkie to experience the Geiranger Skywalk viewing platform which only opened last year.
The village of Flam, at the head of the Aurlandsfjord, epitomises idyllic Norwegian life. Just a short stroll from the dock, you can board the Flamsdalen Mountain Railway for a 30-minute journey to Myrdal Station that climbs 2,800 feet past the spectacular Kjosfossen Waterfall. The Sognefjord is the longest and deepest fjord in the world. One of the branches of this legacy of the Ice Age is Fjaerlandfjord; another is the mighty Jostedal glacier.
Close by Eidfjord is the Skykkjedalsfossenk waterfall, as well as the breathtakingly beautiful Mabodal Valley. Stirring vistas of Romsdalfjord are on offer not far from tiny Andalsnes, from where you can visit the enchanting Stigfoss Waterfall and view the jagged peaks of Trollveggen.
Most fjords cruises include visits to a contrasting mix of cities and settlements. Bergen fuses the cosmopolitan with the al fresco. In Gamle Rådhuset, picturesque medieval houses line cobbled streets full of colonnaded shops and lively cafés. There is often nothing finer than a stroll around the old harbour’s famous Bryggen quayside and the Torget market. Music-lovers head to Troldhaugen where Greig composed many of his haunting melodies. If you are lucky, the ships tour will include a piano recital in the modern concert hall that overlooks the tranquil lake.
Appearing to float on its three islands, the picturesque port of Ålesund is the largest town on Norway’s northwest coast and overflows in art nouveau architecture and Nordic mythology. At the Sunnmøre Open-Air Museum, you can see the plucky fishing vessel Heland, a relic of the clandestine special operations for refugees during World War II known as the ‘Shetland Bus’.
With its captivating gardens and white painted wooden houses, Molde enjoys the nickname ‘Town of Roses’. Take time to discover the marketplace with its impressive City Hall and visit the iconic church, high above the city, richly decorated by some of Norway's leading artists.
Heading further north
A handful of longer summertime cruises venture inside the Arctic Circle where the Midnight Sun rarely sets in summer months. In the Lofoten Islands, timber-fronted and brightly painted houses - as well as old fishermen’s shacks - are picture-postcard perfect.
Surrounded by sculpted glacial peaks, Tromsø is a spirited town that, in summer months, stages street music and cultural events – it also has more pubs per capita than anywhere else in Norway. Must-see attractions include the Domkirke - completed in 1861; the modern iceberg-shaped Arctic Cathedral; and the Polaria Centre.
Honningsvåg lies only 21 miles from the North Cape - Europe’s most northerly point. At the Roof of Europe the stark grandeur stretches to infinity. A visit to the Nordkapphallen dramatically brings the four seasons to life on a panoramic, 225-degree screen.
Norway offers scenic highlights and pastoral gems in equal measure. For anyone looking for a tranquil holiday at sea combined with awe-inspiring scenery, a cruise to Europe’s northernmost country ticks all the right boxes.