In the shadow of snowy peaks and near stunning blue-green fjords, Eidfjord is considered by many to be one of the most beautiful villages in Norway. Even though it has a population of less than 1,000, scores of visitors come here each year to bask in the area’s natural splendor.
Hardangervidda, near Eidfjord, is Europe’s largest mountain plateau as well as Norway’s largest national park. Interestingly, the legendary polar explorer Roald Amundsen, who led the first expedition to reach the South Pole, and Fridtjof Nansen, who made the first successful crossing of the Greenland interior, both used Hardangervidda to prepare for their expeditions. Walking, hiking, cycling and cross-country skiing are popular, and the area is home to Europe’s largest population of wild reindeer.
Numerous canyons, including the famous Måbødalen Valley, lead south from the Hardangervidda plateau to the fjords along the coast, and about 10 miles south of Eidfjord, visitors can see the dramatic 597-foot-tall Vøringfossen waterfall. In the center of Eidfjord stands the 14th-century stone Eidfjord Kirke, while outside town the famous Kjeåsen Mountain Farm sits on a ledge 1,968 feet above the Simadalsfjord.
Scenic Cruising Hardangerfjord
From easy guided hikes and the summer-skiing resort on the Folgefonna glaciers to the serious hiking trails that encompass waterfalls and panoramic vistas, Norway’s Hardangerfjord region offers truly exceptional outdoor experiences. Norway’s Queen Sonja is known to favor the hiking trails around the village of Kinsarvik so much that a tough 10-mile hike is named after her.
At 100 miles long, the fjord is the fourth-longest in the world and plunges down almost a half mile at its deepest point. Take in the best of the landscape from the unique vantage point provided by the fjord as you sail inland from the island of Stord toward the ever-more-imposing mountains of the Hardangervidda National Park. Waterfalls, islands and shoreline villages dot the journey. Dangling more than 2,000 feet above Lake Ringedalsvatnet is the Troll’s Tongue, a unique rock formation and one of Norway’s most famous hikes—and photo opportunities.
The deep waters of the fjord are home to plentiful stocks of fish, while brown trout and wild salmon fill the rivers and lakes of the region. The mountainous national parks east of the fjord are the natural habitat of wild reindeer herds, elk and the mountain fox.
Beautiful Bergen, Norway’s second-largest city, is one of the most popular ports of call on a cruise up the fjords. Step off the ship into the medieval Bryggen wharf area, a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1979, where small boats line the harbor and wooden gabled buildings stand proud along the waterfront. Bergen’s rich maritime tradition goes back nearly 1,000 years, including the years the town played an important part in the Hanseatic League, the trading empire that dominated maritime commerce in the region between the 14th and 18th centuries. The city is one of Europe’s oldest settlements, and its cobblestone streets and narrow alleyways lead to emerald-green parks, medieval cathedrals and stone fortresses that kept enemies at bay centuries ago. It’s also eminently walkable, with historic buildings and excellent markets selling everything from fish and produce to trinkets and souvenirs.
Surrounded by mountains and thick forest, and sitting halfway between Geiranger to the north and Stavanger to the south, Bergen offers plenty to do outside the city too. Whether you sign up for a guided excursion or venture out on your own, you’ll be sure to fall in love with Bergen.
All of the stunning beauty you associate with Norway is on display in Molde, a city roughly 240 miles north of Bergen with white clapboard houses sitting alongside a sparkling fjord. On a clear day, more than 200 peaks are visible from this part of the Romsdal Peninsula. (The Varden Viewpoint, 10 minutes by car from the center of town, is the best place to take in the breathtaking panorama.) Even when the weather is less cooperative, there is plenty to do, with cozy cafés, boutiques selling woolen sweaters and the Romsdal Museum, an open-air folk museum where you can literally stroll through the region’s history and traditional homes. Molde is also one end of one of Norway’s most beautiful coastal drives, the Atlantic Ocean Road (in Norwegian, the Atlanterhavsvegen), which crosses spectacular bridges and a number of islands. Around every bend, there are magnificent views of mountain peaks, the Atlantic and the fjords that notch Norway’s coast. From mid-June through August, Molde lives up to its nickname—the City of Roses—with flowers blooming everywhere, from the roof of the town hall and the university grounds to the picket fences around houses.
Although a popular cruise destination, Norway’s Viking capital is often overlooked by other travelers in favor of Oslo and the fjords. Yet Norway’s third-biggest city has plenty to offer those who make the time to explore.
The compact city center, enclosed by the Nidelva River, is easy to get around on foot. Within a couple of hours you can explore the main downtown sights and still have time for a bite to eat. The medieval Gothic grandeur of the Nidaros Cathedral is a must-see, as is the historic riverside Bakklandet neighborhood just a few steps away.
Despite so much history, the city has a youthful feel to it, thanks to the dominance of NTNU, Norway’s leading technology university. The presence of thousands of students means Trondheim scores well on café culture and shopping.
Music lovers will feel right at home here. The Rockheim and Ringve museums chronicle the importance of music to the city’s past, while vinyl stores and basement bars showcase the present.
For many travelers, the sparsely populated settlement of Honningsvag is nothing more than a pit stop en route to the North Cape, the northernmost point of continental Europe. (The North Cape is rightly an iconic bucket-list destination with postcard views across the open ocean.) But amidst its colorful buildings, Honningsvag has a lively cultural life powered by local spirit and an economy driven by shipping through the Barents Sea, which is ice-free year round thanks to the warming influences of the Gulf Stream. The town’s several notable cultural institutions include a museum and a busy cultural center.
Honningsvag is also a terrific base for exploring the rest of rugged arctic Norway, whether on foot, all-terrain vehicle or on the water. Back in town, be sure to stop by the statue of Bamse, the Saint Bernard dog that became the mascot of the Free Norwegian Forces during World War II. The city was destroyed in bombing during the war and the harrowing experiences of that period are documented at the church, which gave temporary shelter to the residents.
Scenic Cruising North Cape
The Nordkapp (North Cape) is a 984-foot-tall headland in northern Norway, commonly known as the northernmost point in Europe. The views offered from the cape and an enjoyable visitor center keep that reputation intact, even though it’s not technically true; clearly visible from the North Cape, the slim peninsular Knivskjellodden is actually almost 1,500 feet farther north. Sticklers for detail argue that because both points are on the island of Magerøya, neither should count, as the Norwegian Arctic archipelago of Svalbard is even farther north.
Yet the attraction of the region is more than just a quirk of geography. The starkly beautiful, barren and often intimidating coastline of Finnmark contrasts with the majestic fjords to the south, and rare species of seabirds have made the few grassy islands their home. The region offers opportunities for sport beyond hiking, skiing and fishing: Sea rafting, in particular, is popular with locals. The North Cape served as the finish line for the 45 runners who completed the 2009 Trans Europe Foot Race, an ultramarathon that began in Bari, Italy (2,787 miles, away), and ended here 64 days later.
Alesund, a quaint fishing town of approximately 45,000 in western Norway, has been called Norway’s most beautiful city. A fire in 1904 destroyed much of it, resulting in the town being rebuilt in the Art Nouveau style—also known as Jugendstil—that was popular around the turn of the 20th century. A year after the fire, Norway gained its independence from Sweden, which led to a campaign to build a “Norwegian town” to mark the creation of the new nation. The colorful buildings feature castlelike turrets and spires with intricate facades of ornamental flowers, gargoyles and Viking-inspired decorations.
Bordering the Norwegian Sea, this area is also famous for its mountain ranges and fjords. For those looking for a more active visit, Alesund offers great hiking, mountain biking and kayaking. One of the highlights is climbing the 418 steps that lead up Mount Aksla for a spectacular view of the city and the Sunnmøre Alps. Nearby is the Geirangerfjord, a UNESCO World Heritage Site known for its beautiful waterfalls. This is also home to Atlanterhavsparken, or the Atlantic Sea Park, one of the largest aquariums in Europe.
Surrounded by steep hills and stunning waterfalls, Skjolden is located at the head of Sognefjord–the world’s longest navigable fjord. Visit Urnes Stave Church, the oldest stave church found in Norway, included on UNESCO’s World Heritage list, and take a hike in Jostedalsbreen National Park for views you’ll never forget.
Scenic Cruising Sognefjord
Norway’s Sognefjord is the longest and deepest fjord in the world. Imagine 127 majestic winding miles of beautiful villages, centuries-old architecture including wooden stave churches, towering mountains with snow-covered peaks, cascading waterfalls and panoramic views. It is also a region known for its traditional food, folklore, music and rich culture. Set in the southern part of the country, centrally located at the heart of Fjord Norway (as the region is known), the fjord reaches depths of more than 4,291 feet. It also soars to the sky, with rugged cliffs rising to more than 5,577 feet. This is nature at its most dramatic. In fact, one of the Sognefjord’s arms, the Nærøyfjord, is on UNESCO’s World Heritage List. The Urnes Stave Church, which was build around 1130 is also included on UNESCO’s World Heritage List. As the poet John Keats once wrote, “The poetry of earth is never dead,” and within the Sognefjord lie many sonnets of life. Be inspired by its treasures. All you have to do is sit back and watch the spectacular wonder of this destination.
Before this port city on Norway’s western coast earned its status as the epicenter of “black gold” and the extraction of North Sea oil, it was a shipbuilding and fish-canning town. Fuelled by its wealth as one of the world’s top energy capitals, it’s now home to top-notch fusion restaurants and a bustling nightlife that caters to a never-ending influx of expatriates.
Amidst this financial boom, though, Stavanger has managed to hold on to its heritage and soul: Archaeological museums and reconstructed settlements pay due reverence to the city’s Viking past. The cobblestoned Old Town is a well-preserved core of white wooden cottages near an Anglo-Norman cathedral, the oldest in Norway. Natural beauty abounds, too, with the nearby Lysefjord and its impressive Preikestolen (“The Pulpit Rock”) drawing a steady stream of visitors during the summer.