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I traced the route around the Southern end of Norway to explore five of the cities along one of Hurtigruten’s many Norwegian Cruise routes. While traveling, I learned that the easiest way to understand Norway’s geography is to think of the country as the shape of a guitar. The wide lower section is comprised of many of the major cities you have likely heard of like Bergen, Oslo, Stravanger, and Kistiansand. Towards the top, where the tuning knobs on the guitar would be, is another wider section with many more fjords and islands jetting out from the Norwegian mainland. In this article, I share with you my experience in five of the lower cities. All the destinations reviewed in this article are a few of the ports along these Hurtigruten cruise tours:
- Follow the Lights | Oslo to Helsinki
- Follow the Lights | Helsinki to Oslo
- The North Cape Express – Full Voyage from Oslo to Bergen
- Arctic Circle and Norway’s Capital : Tromsø to Oslo Voyage
- Visit Tromsø and the Arctic Circle: Northbound
The best way to book Norwegian Cruises is directly through Hurtigruten. You can use the links above for easy access to the cruises that stop at the destinations talked about below.
History of Norway
Historians have shown that early humans arrived in Scandinavia around 10,000 BCE. With the thawing of the ice age and abundance of food on the coastlines, nomadic groups began to settle along the coastline of what is now Norway.
The most popular era of interest for visitors to Norway is the Viking Age. Beginning in the mid-700’s, with attacks on the British Islands and continued for over 300 years. Using curing age technologies for their time, the Vikings were able to conquer massive amounts of land and greatly expand their territory. Not phased by rough seas, the Viking long boats were able to transport soldiers quickly to new regions. A lesser known fact to many is that Vikings were actually the first to reach North America, 500 years before Christopher Columbus, in the year 1000.
When not out on expeditions, Viking life was similar to other parts of the world at the time. From farming to hunting, the subsistence lifestyle was a tough daily chore. One major difference is that the post work happy hour for the Vikings consisted of mead rather than beer. Mead, which is a beer-like brew, is sweetened with honey and still enjoyed today in Norway.
About 200 years after then end of the Viking Era (Year ~1000), the legends and stories around Trolls in Norway began with the publication of Edda. Today, towns like Trollpikken are popular tourist destinations for viewing the massive stone Trolls. Learn more about Norway Trolls and where to find them here.
Best Arctic Expedition Cruises in Norway
The Arctic Circle wraps the globe at the latitude of 66° 34′ North. A few dozen ports around the world offer expedition cruises that each offer unique experiences. In this article we focus on Norwegian Arctic cruises. Norway is very well known for its cruise industry because of the dramatic fjords and stunning Northern Lights. Because many of the main towns in Norway are located along its coastline, a Norwegian cruise blends sightseeing with immersion in local communities.
Hurtigruten is the premier cruise company in Norway, and for good reason. For the last 130 years, Hurtigruten has pushed the boundaries of luxury expedition cruises. The company is at the forefront of GreenTourism as well. Their new concept vessel is wind and solar-powered and looks amazing – check out the video below.
Best time of year for a Norway Cruise
If you are hoping to see the Northern Lights, cruises in late September will give you the best chance. These “late season” cruises are at the tail end of the high-season that runs between late April and early September. The weather will be a bit colder but the chances of seeing the Northern Lights is much higher. Cruise companies like Hurtigruten offer a Northern Lights Guarantee that guarantees you see the lights or they will provide you with a voucher to come back on the cruise for free to try again.
During the high season, May to August, expeditions above the Arctic Circle will be faced with the midnight sun. This means you will have 24 hours a day of sunlight. While great for soaking in the spectacular Norwegian coastline, it is difficult to get used to. Hint: Bring a blackout sleep mask if you go on one of these cruises.
Being a fan of the cold and a good night’s sleep, I personally would opt for an earlier (April) or later (end of September) cruise.
Why Hurtigruten is the Best Norwegian Cruise
For over 130 years, Hurtigruten has been leading expedition cruises in Scandinavia. The companies roots started in connecting locals to different cities along the Norwegian coastline. Through years of navigating the many channels and fjords, Hurtigruten grew to become the household name in Norway for cruises.
Today, the fleet of Hurtigruten cruises provides guests on what can be described as, “the experience of a lifetime.” What separates Hurtigruten from other cruises is the passion for excellence and focus on expedition travel. On a Hurtigruten vessel, you are embarking on an expedition, not just a cruise. The Northern Norway destinations are so remote that the best way to visit is by the expert captain’s navigation aboard a Hurtigruten cruise.
Must-See Cities In Norway Below The Arctic Circle
Established in 1070, Bergen has been an important trade harbor since its formation. Located in the South Western region of Norway, Bergen – like many Norwegian cities – has accessible waterways which make for easy access by boat. This accessibility fueled the city’s growth and made it a hub for fur traders. Still today, Bergen is one of the most important ports in Norway.
The best way to arrive in Bergen is by Cruise Ship. Norway’s history was built around navigating the water. So, if you want to transport yourself back in time, take to the seas when sightseeing. While 1500 years ago you would be doing the paddling yourself, today you can enjoy authentic Norwegian cuisine in the comfort of your temperature-controlled suite on a Hurtigruten Cruise ship. Soak up all of the same beauty and dramatic landscapes that await as you glide into Bergen’s harbor.
Things to do in Bergen
Want to really experience a fjord up close? Why not jump in for a swim… a new startup in Norway has built Saunas on one pier in Bergen. These Saunas open up to the fjord so that guests can jump into the water for a cold plunge and then get right back into the toasty hot sauna after. If you are a strong swimmer and have a craving for adventure, this might be just the activity for you. Probably a good idea to check with your doctor before doing something like this – read on to hear my experience and you’ll see why.
I was in Bergen early November 2023 and gave the cold plunge a go. It was 0-degrees centigrade outside, with some small patches of snow and ice. There was ice in the water so it was still above freezing. Walking out of the hotel in a pair of boardshorts seemed odd to me but no one else gave it a second thought.
My Cold Plunge Experience
I started with just my feet in the water, it took just a few seconds to start to feel tingling and the extreme cold. Knowing that I had to take the plunge now or I wouldn’t do it, I hyped myself up. Gradually, I slid up to about my waist and then lunged forward into the dark waters. There was an instant shock to my system and my breathing shot through the roof. I felt like I was going to lose all motor function within just a second and turned back to the granite stairs that I pushed off from. Getting out of the water, I felt so cold that it was hot. It was a similar feeling to have just taken a super hot shower.
After a swift power walk back inside I did pushups and jumping jacks to try and get warm. I was worried that I’d shock my system if I went straight into the hot shower. My muscles felt great from the cold water. It was like a massive flush of my arteries and I was now operating at 100%.
If you’re not ready to take the plunge into the frigid Norwegian waters, don’t worry, there are plenty of activities on dry land. The best thing to do in Bergen is explore the downtown. With an abundance of restaurants, pubs, and museums you can spend a whole day getting lost in the beauty of the town.
While exploring, be sure to visit the medieval wharf of Bryggen which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The wood plank road and colorful buildings transport you back hundreds of years and give you a sense of what life was like for early Norwegians.
Where to Eat in Bergen
Being one of the busiest harbors in Norway, the city of Bergen offers tourists a taste of what life is like for Norwegian locals. Experience a day-in-the-life as you wander the streets and watch what life is like working in this coastal town.
Before going out to eat, study these translations from Norwegian to English that will help you when searching for restaurants and ordering meals. Afterall, you don’t want to guess on the menu and accidentally order a Gavekort thinking it’s an entree – when in fact it is a gift card!
- Bestill board = Reservations
- Gavekort = Gift Card
- Selskap = Company
- Meny = Menu
- Barnemeny = Children’s Menu
- Lunsj = Lunch
- Forretter = Starters / Appetizers
- Fisk = Fish
- Skalldyr = Shellfish
- Kjøtt = Meat
- Vilt = Game
- Vegetar = Vegetarian
Baker Bun Cafe (https://bakerbrun.no/)
Warm up with fresh out of the oven Norwegian sweet breads or a hearty breakfast sandwich. There are Baker Bun locations all over Norway.
Norway to English Translations for popular breakfast items from Baker Bun:
- Frokost Rundstykker = Breakfast Roll: Often the bread of choice for breakfast sandwiches (Egg, Cheese, Meat) and afternoon sandwiches (Lettuce, Tomato, Meat).
- Ostehorn = Cheese Horn: Looks like a croissant but not as flakey and has cheese inside.
- Skillingsboller = Penny Buns or more notably, Cinnamon Rolls.
This is the place if you are looking for classic Norwegian food and authentic Norway ambiance. The menu includes freshly caught seafood from the nearby fjords as well as locally sourced meat and game – or Kjøtt & Vilt as it is translated to in Norwegian.
Activities Near Bergen
If you have extra days before or after your cruise, and are looking for adventure, take a trip to Odda. The best way to get there is by bus. You can drive, but, having done it myself, I strongly advise against it. The roads are super narrow with massive drop-offs. And if that wasn’t enough, the weather can change on a dime. Being sunny one minute and white-out snow conditions the next.
Stay at least two nights in Odda so that you can experience one of the amazing activities and enjoy the local cuisine after. Read about my recent trip to Odda here.
The home to the Viking Kings, Haugesund is located on the North Sea in Rogaland County. A main stop on most cruise ships, the town of Haugesund is very walkable from the port and offers a wide variety of activities. One of the main attractions is the Haraldshaugen – an obelisk that was erected in 1872 to celebrate the unification of Norway 1,000 years earlier. There is an abundance of museums as well as cute oceanfront walkways to stretch your legs on. And, if you are hoping to see the colorful buildings along the water that Norway is known for, you are in luck. Haugesund has some of the most beautiful waterfronts in the country.
While there are many ways to arrive in Haugesund, the best is via the Hurtigruten Cruise Ship. Hurtigruten is the oldest cruise ship operator in Norway and offers the most state-of-the-art vessels. Haugesund is one of the stops on many of the Northern routes.
Things to do in Haugesund
Once the home of the Viking kings, today Haugesund offers visitors fun experiences like music/film festivals, great restaurants, and lots of shopping. Locals utilize the strategic port for a variety of businesses, especially fishing. Needless to say, you must try some of the seafood when you are visiting Haugesund.
Take a step back in time and walk the Viking Footsteps on the island of Karmøy – located just across the water from Haugesund. The village has been home to Viking Kings dating back to the early Bronze Age. This is a truly amazing experience that transports you back in time thousands of years.
Where to Eat in Haugesund
Haguesund is home to the first sushi restaurant to get Michelin Star Status in Norway. Sabi Omakase is run by sushi master Roger Asakil Joya. His dishes use Norwegian ingredients in a traditional Japanese style. Chef Roger Asakil Joya has another restaurant in Stavanger called Sabi ENSO.
For an even more elevated experience, try RE-NAA, a 2-star Michelin restaurant by Sven Erik Renaa. The restaurant is a unique concept that puts customers next to chefs. The space is described as a “Chef’s Playground” and only accommodates 22 guests.
Looking for something a bit more casual? Hekkan Burger Stavanger serves up tasty burgers in a relaxed atmosphere. All of their burgers are grilled over organic charcoal, the bread is baked locally, and the fries are cut by hand. Their simple approach to cooking – using only natural and local ingredients – delivers a top-quality burger. After your run, check out Espresso House for their signature Rocky Road Latte.
Espresso House, Haraldsgata 96, 5528 Haugesund, Norway
If you only have a short time on land, the best activity is jogging the coast line. With bridges connecting the smaller islands off Haugesund, running is the perfect way to see this town. Similar to Bergen, art and music are big in the area. Going on a run is a great way to see the street art as well as get a speedup window shopping experience.
One of the biggest attractions in Farsund is the Parking Skrelia – a massive waterfall that flows from the 350-meter-tall mountain into the fjord below. It is the most popular tourist attraction in the area. Along the hike, there are a variety of sights to check out. Most notable are the ruins of a fortress from 500 AD (Source: https://www.visitnorway.com/).
When I arrived in Farsund I could barely see anything through the massive sheets of rain coming down. There were flash flood warnings blowing up my phone and I was soaked just walking from the car to the hotel. Once inside I called it a day at 4pm and found a comfy spot by the fireplace to relax and catch up on work. I stayed at Farsund Fjordhotel which overlooks the fjord and features a nice restaurant and lounge. I was happy to listen to the pounding rain against the windows while sipping hot chocolate by the fire.
The next morning the weather cleared and I was able to actually see more of the town. A local pointed me in the direction of his favorite bakery and I took his advice to check it out. The town felt a bit sleepy this time of year (November) and I didn’t see another person my entire walk over.
Once in the Bakery, I graded a donut and sat down to write. There was one other person in the shop and they seemed to know everyone who came in and they all knew her. I enjoy a great small town feel and it was nice to blend in like a local for a half hour over a coffee and donut.
The vibrant neighborhood city of Posebyen in Kristiansand is the place for great restaurants. Markens Gate is a walking only road that runs perpendicular to the shoreline and should be your first stop if you are looking for great food or shopping. At night, the street turns into a winter wonderland with holiday lights across the street and the smell of fireplaces burning.
Many of the restaurants use fish from the fresh fish market just down the street – which is all locally caught in the waters off Kirstiansand.
A foodies paradise, this neighborhood city is a hidden gem within the larger Kristiansand area. The bus system is phenomenal so don’t be discouraged if your hotel is not in Posebyen. Before grabbing lunch, I recommend taking a hike to the Odderøya Lighthouse located on the Odderøya peninsula by Posebyen.
The walking paths are gravel and easy to navigate, making this the perfect spot for a run as well. There are some more technical hiking trails that require navigating slippery rocks if you are feeling adventurous.
While the weather was near freezing in November, it looked like summers in Kristiansand can be incredible. I found a kayak club just outside of town with a private dock. Just outside of the harbor was some of the most beautiful coastline I have ever seen. Small solid rock islands with sparse foliage were scattered around the coast. I can only image on a hot summer day how great it would be to kayak or standup paddle board out to one of these isolated islands.
Read the article about my visit to Kristiansand here.