Hurtigruten has the tag line of “the most beautiful voyage” and after experiencing their classic coastal Norway cruise, I couldn’t agree more. I witnessed Norway’s famous fjords with majestic mountains on every side of me and quaint villages spotting the shorelines with bright colors that made me feel like I was inside a postcard. Hurtigruten stands out from other cruise lines that explore the Norwegian coast because it was established over 120 years ago to link Northern & Southern Norway to carry mail, cargo, and people from port to port along the coast – and is still transporting guests and goods along the very same coast. The name, Hurtigruten, means “the fast route” and that’s exactly what it was in the late 19th century, so coastal exploring is literally in Hurtigruten’s DNA, and no other cruise line will bring you closer to nature, locals, and authentic Norwegian culture.
Our journey started in Bergen, Norway, where the “Classic Voyage North” begins. Bergen is an incredible town full of color, life, and history. Bryggen is the “old town” and contains old wooden and colorful Hanseatic trading buildings that line Bergen’s marina. There is so much to do in this town that we had a difficult time squeezing it all in two days. We had a tour of the city on our first day, which provided an explanation of the rich history and the ‘ins and outs’ of local life. The next day we hiked the Stoltzekleiven trail to Mount Floyen. This “trail” consists of about 800 steps to the top, but rewarded us with an incredible view of Bergen and provided us with many more trails, lakes, and parks once we were at the top. There was even “Troll Forest,” which is a park full of troll-themed playgrounds and statues. We quickly learned that trolls are a big deal in Norway and they are everywhere! For those who don’t want to hike to the top of Mt Floyen, there is also a funicular you can take so you can enjoy the parks and trails at the summit. We chose to enjoy the funicular on the way down to relax and take in the scenery. Bergen also has a famous Fish Market where you can taste the freshest delicacies from the sea. We sampled everything from smoked salmon to king crab to whale. We also enjoyed other museums and sites, including the Bergenhus Fortress, the Bryggen and Hanseatic Museums, and beautiful Byparken.
The next day, it was time to board our ship. I had eagerly been waiting for this voyage for months, so I was giddy as we took the taxi to the Hurtigruten port. Check-in was seamless as they gave us our keys, an information packet, and sent us on our way to the ship. We excitedly boarded and started exploring all the nooks and crannies of our vessel. The Explorer Lounge quickly became our favorite spot, as there were 360° floor-ceiling windows and great lounge chairs to lay in and watch the beautiful coast go by. The first event on board was a welcome buffet dinner and after eating all the salmon, king crab, lamb, and reindeer we could eat, we knew the food on the ship was going to be fabulous. Hurtigruten calls its cuisine “Norway’s Coastal Kitchen” and it is so fresh – the fish was most likely caught that day and the produce was probably picked up from a local supplier at one of daily ports.
There are 34 ports throughout the journey, but the length of time we’re in port ranges from 15 minutes to 6 hours, so you pick and choose when you want to get off the ship. Our first lengthy port was Alesund, which is famous for its Art Nouveau architecture. In 1904, most of Alesund was destroyed by a fire, so the town was rebuilt consistently in art nouveau, a fashionable style of the time. We walked around the city and took photos of all the beautiful buildings, then hiked up Aksla Mountain to get beautiful views of the city. It started snowing as we began our climb and as we got further and further up, the snow fall got heavier and heavier. Once we reached the peak of the mountain, we couldn’t see much of a view, but we had a great time playing in the snow along the way. Once we came down the mountain, the sun came out, the skies cleared up, and we could enjoy a little more of the enchanting town before returning to the ship.
Our next big stop was Trondheim, the Viking capitol of Norway. Trondheim has an iconic strand of houses called “The Wharves,” which are colorful old wooden storehouses flanking both sides of the river. Trondheim is also home to the breathtaking Nidaros Cathedral, the northernmost cathedral and a very important pilgrimage site in the Middle Ages. After enjoying the Wharves and the Cathedral, we made our way to Kristiansten Fortress, built high on a hill to protect the city against attack from the east. We spent the rest of our time in the city up on the hill, exploring the fortress grounds and taking in the panoramic views of the city.
The next morning, it was time to cross the Arctic Circle. A ceremony is held on every voyage to initiate you into the Circle as King Neptune baptizes you by pouring ice down your back. This was one of our favorite events on the ship as everyone joins in and laughs and screams and enjoys the torture one another are going through. Later that day, we all received certificates outside our cabins officially welcoming us into the Arctic Circle. The “postman” also came aboard the ship to stamp postcards with official Arctic Circle postage.
Later that day, our long port stop was in Bodo, where we had our first official excursion. We chose to do the “Winter Hike in Bodo” and trek across glaciers, through ancient Viking territory. We first got “laced up” with ice and snow traction cleats, then headed to the hike. I’ve never worn ice traction cleats, so it was so fun running and jumping on ice with absolutely no slippage or problems. We trekked through the snow-capped mountains and iced covered lakes, enjoying stories about Vikings and indigenous people of the land from our guide.
That evening, we reached the Lofoten Islands, and had a “Viking Feast” at the Lofotr Viking Museum. Our tour group congregated inside an exact replica of the largest Viking building ever found. The original chieftain’s house was established in about 500 AD and was inhabited until about 900 AD. Actors in authentic Viking attire invited us to join them for a traditional Viking feast with unlimited home-brewed mead in the banquet hall. During the winter, the Vikings made a sacrifice to ensure the return of the sun, so we could experience the prayers and chants the Vikings would have conducted as they made a sacrifice to the Gods, praying the sun would return and to avoid “Ragnarok,” the end of the world.
The next day was the excursion I was looking forward to most and had been on my bucket list for some time – dog sledding! We ported in Tromso and were taken to a dog sledding camp full of traditional Sami huts and beautiful Alaskan huskies. The Sami are indigenous people of northern Scandinavia and their culture is dispersed throughout Finnmark, the county in the northernmost part of Norway. We first went into a Sami lavvo (tent) and had cake and coffee by the fire to get ready for our dog sledding adventure. Then we were let loose to play with all the huskies, arguably my favorite part of the excursion. I ran around and hugged, kissed, loved on, and took pictures with as many gorgeous huskies as I could. Finally, it was time for dog sledding and we excitedly climbed into the sled, let our guide take the reins, holler at the pups, and sprint off into the wild. We ran across Lapland, through forests, pass reindeer, up and down hills, and across the fresh powdery snow that leapt upon our grinning faces as we sped through the frozen landscape. Once we came to a stop, we didn’t have much more time at the camp, so I said goodbye to my new husky friends and headed back to the ship. To add on to an absolutely incredible day, we saw the Northern Lights that night for the first time! The greens, purples, blues, and yellows bounced off each other and swirled in the sky to create one of the most breathtaking sights I’ve ever seen. So many things to cross of my bucket list in one day!
The next day, we ported in Honnigsvag, the entrance city to the North Cape (Nordkapp). We took a bus through the vast snow-filled uninhabited land, passing an occasional Sami tent here and there, to get to Nordkapp. We spent our day exploring the grounds, playing in the snow, and taking photos with the iconic globe monument at the cliff edge of the northernmost part of Europe.
Later that day, it was time for us to Snowmobile through the Arctic. Once we ported in Kjollefjord, we met up with our tour guide and outfitted ourselves in extreme cold-weather snowsuits, snow boots, heavy duty gloves, goggles, and helmets. We got briefed on how to operate the snowmobile and then we were off to explore Lapland in the local means of transportation. We hit the snowmobiles at dusk, just in time to see the beautiful sunset across the stark white wilderness. We navigated ourselves under the stars and Northern Lights and enjoyed the incredible backlands of Finnmark.
Onboard the ship there were also demonstrations, lectures, and celebrations throughout the day or night. One day we had a blue mussel tasting on the top deck. Another day we watched a local fisherman ride up to the ship on a skiff, hop onboard, and deliver king crab. He also conducted a king crab demonstration on the outside deck and we were all able to hold the giant crabs and learn about authentic Norwegian fishing life. Lectures during the day included topics like Aurora Borealis, the Vikings, and the Sami people. Also, whenever another Hurtigruten ship passed us, the horns went off and we waved and cheered and celebrated.
Sadly, our journey came to an end the next day in Kirkenes. We disembarked in the morning and headed to our hotel for the night. Once we settled into the Scandic Kirkenes, we wanted to go directly to the famous Snow Hotel. I had seen pictures and videos of this unbelievable hotel all over Facebook and Instagram, so I was more than excited to experience it in person. Believe me, it did not disappoint. We entered the dome-shaped hotel and immediately arrived in the Ice Bar. The ice sculptures and design details of the bar were unbelievable and the chairs had gorgeous fur blankets to sit on. Past the bar and flanked on either side of the grand hallway were rooms decorated by theme and created solely with snow and ice. The hotel is kept at -4° C at all times, so it was quite chilly, but you really only use the bedroom when it’s time to go to sleep and they give you pajamas, socks, sleeping bags, and blankets to keep you warm throughout the night. Some people even said they got too hot with all the gear. While at the Snow Hotel, there is a beautiful lodge and restaurant to spend time in, plus the resort offers multiple activities like dog sledding, snow mobiling, ice fishing, and king crabbing. You can also stay in a luxurious cabin if you choose not to sleep in the ice rooms.
The entire Hurtigruten journey was unforgettable and I created memories that will last me forever. The sights I saw and the excursions I experienced were extraordinary and I’ll treasure Norway as the beautiful country full of incredible nature, wildlife, history, FISH, and culture. The Norwegians have a term, “Friluftsliv,” which means the “longing to be outdoors.” As a person who loves the outdoors and an adventurous and active lifestyle, I truly felt the love for the land and experienced how it is rightfully-so, a way of life and part of their cultural identity.
Thank you to Charlotte Filla for this incredible review of her Hurtigruten Cruise. If you would like to have an amazing experience like this, contact your FROSCH Travel Consultant today!