The uplifting proverb ‘Bak skyene er himmelen alltid blå’ (‘behind the clouds the sky is always blue’) likely originated in the north of Norway but is equally apt for destinations in the south of the country. Although renowned as the part of Norway with the best weather, the south does have bleaker autumnal and winter days, all of which can be brightened by exploring the sights, sounds and various other attractions on offer in the region.
This year, my Cruise Norway familiarisation trip started on a cloudy day in Stavanger. Sadly, we had precious little time to explore this vibrant city, which was founded in the 12th century. Preikestolen, one of my all-time favourite Norwegian adventure spots, is just a short ride away. Happy memories of previous visits were easily recalled while strolling alongside the harbour and through the old town before we embarked on a tour to explore some of the key attractions in Norway’s southernmost cruise destinations.
Navigating the 250-metre-long quay to berth in Egersund is easy for cruise ships due to the harbour having effectively zero tidal range, although cruise operators may be disappointed if they don’t book quickly as the port can only accommodate one ship with a maximum length of 200 metres at a time. Of course, such limitations may elevate the appeal of the port for cruise guests.
During a walk around the town, our guide proudly described Egersund as ‘the wooden city’. But it offers so much more, not least a natural marvel created by a nearby amphidromic point and the Magma Unesco Global Geopark, which has been home since 1854 to Eigerøy lighthouse – the first in Norway to be constructed of cast iron.
Some of the other highlights on offer in Egersund include Berentsens Brygghus, a successful family brewery business that was founded in 1895 with a coffee roaster and a soda machine. Beer, whisky and gin have been added to its significant portfolio, which enables a range of tasting experiences for cruise guests.
Aside from the two big natural attractions, a jolly good brew and the captivating city walk, there is also a good variety of out-of-town adventures available to cruise guests.
Sogndalstrand, a 17th-century fishing village, is just a short bus ride away. Seemingly lost in a time warp, the village has a rich source of stories as endless as the river has salmon – 763 were caught in 1886 with an average weight of six kilos!
Just a few kilometres further on is the newly built Jøssingfjord Vitenmuseum, a striking new construction in a dramatic landscape that is intended to celebrate the meeting of nature, people and technology. The museum site sits in the shadow of the historic Helleren, the famous rock with an expansive overhang that provides a natural roof for two small houses dating back to the 1880s.
The iconic Lista lighthouse was our first stop in the municipality of Farsund. At 34 metres high, it was once the largest in the world and the automated lantern is seemingly now also a beacon for attracting thousands of birds that loiter in the surrounding wetlands to the delight of visiting twitchers. Of the more than 500 bird species that have been recorded in Norway, almost 400 visit Lista.
Outside the town, both the Nordberg Fortress and the Hangar Museum are sombre reminders of Norway’s more macabre past, meanwhile the Stone Age settlement of Farsund, and one-time pirate town, gives easy access to miles of beaches and countless outdoor adventures both on land and water. More sedentary folk will enjoy a gentle stroll around the town, though a walk up the hillside offers spectacular views of the town and out to the southernmost tip of Norway.
Cruise tourism practicalities have led to Farsund introducing a daily limit of one ship call and 2,500 passengers, although there appears to be some flexibility as Holland America Line’s Rotterdam visited carrying 2,600 passengers. Tender calls are preferred, with an 800-metre route to the enclosed city centre pier.
In the event of inclement weather, the tender pier at Lyngdal is a reasonable alternative to Farsund, though shuttle buses will be necessary for passengers. The big bonus of rerouting a cruise ship here is the proximity to the €13.5 million ($14.3 million) Kvåsfossen National Wild Salmon Center.
The building itself cost €1 million ($1.06 million), with the bulk of the remaining funds being used to construct a water ladder to enable salmon to bypass the waterfall and reach fertile breeding grounds further upstream. With Norwegian salmon numbers plummeting from close to 10 million in the 1970s to just half a million in 2023, this investment in a keystone species population seems entirely justified and has produced a deeply engaging educational and tourism facility.
A midway break in the journey from Lyngdal to Kristiansand presented our tour group with an opportunity to inspect the tender pier in Mandal. Surrounded by woods and boasting town centre beaches, Mandal has received six calls in 2023, including five tenders and one berthing on the 150-metre quay. It’s a picturesque 1,200-metre journey from the anchorage to the tender pier in the city centre.
The urban beach town of Kristiansand deserves its slogan as ‘the smiling capital of the south’ and has all of the facilities and attractions that cruise visitors would expect of the fifth biggest city in Norway, and more besides. It welcomed 130 cruise calls in 2022 and will receive a similar number in 2023.
Active pursuits are plentiful in Kristiansand. Speed sightseeing around the islands on a RIB boat with The Blue Centre is thrilling and kayaking from the city centre and along the coast with TrollAktiv is equally fulfilling. On land, Sørlandet Climbing Centre offers indoor climbing for every ability, or travellers can venture out to tackle a real ascent.
Food lovers can perfect the art of mackerel cleaning at restaurant 2 Knop, and then cook and eat the fish. A city walk should include a visit to the bakery at Posebyhaven for perhaps the country’s finest cinnamon bun. Alternatively, venture outside the city to Skråstad Fruit Farm to experience local life and very tasty fresh produce – perhaps also prepare a nistepakke for later. Inevitably there are countless other options to suit every taste.
Arendal is a small town with a big heart and beautiful people. On land there are abundant places of interest during a city walk, including Heimdal Chocolate Factory, Klöckers House and the glass elevator at Fløyheia with spectacular views of Arendal, Galtesund fjord and the Tromøy and Hisøy islands.
But to really appreciate the soul of the town, cruise visitors need to be by, or on, the water, whether they are relaxing in a waterside restaurant or exploring the archipelago by boat. Those in search of something more active can try coasteering, paddleboarding and kayak adventures at Trollpark Hove on Tromøya island.
Cruise lines will find it easy to curate shore excursion combinations in Arendal. The Kuben museum, Solverg mines and Næs Ironworks will appeal to more than just history aficionados. However, Fengselshotellet (the prison hotel) is arguably the most original tour option. A former inmate leads guided tours of the hotel, sharing fascinating stories of hard times spent here.
Until very recently, cruise ships less than 220 metres long could visit Arendal without a pilot, but this has been inexplicably reduced to 180 metres – hopefully just a temporary oddity.
Founded in 1567 by namesake King Frederick II, Fredrikstad is an immaculately preserved fortified town that can accommodate small 150-metre-long ships with a six-metre draught at its city centre pier. Countless artists and craftspeople have settled here, and cruise guests can easily find their work while walking through the cobbled streets. Alternatively, they can use the efficient electric ferry service to cross the water to the new town.
Located in the centre of Fredrikstad on an island between two rivers is Isegran, a living coastal culture park that is renowned for its food, culture, craft and recreational activities. The island’s boat yard is a storied facility providing traditional restoration services, including for vessels once constructed there. Now run by volunteers, guided tours of the yard’s current projects give cruise visitors a true appreciation of expert craftsmanship.
Building a compelling shore excursion programme can be challenging in a big vibrant city like Oslo, which has so much to offer, and so many companies touting their services. Thankfully qualified help from the companies in the Oslo Cruise Partners network is available to simplify the task.
The Oslo Cruise Partners network offers cruise lines with easy access to trusted service providers and attractions. For example, network members provide numerous ways for cruise guests to get around the city. Alna Ridesenter operates horse and carriage rides, Retro Tours provides motorcycle and sidecar trips, and visitors can hire bicycles from Oslo Bike Rental or join walking tours led by Oslo Hiking.
The network’s influence is particularly valuable for cruise lines seeking to create special events, like our out-of-hours private guided tour of the National Museum’s highlights, including the earliest version of Edvard Munch’s painting The Scream.
Norway’s special relationship with the sea dates back to the formation of the kingdom in the eighth century. Cruise passengers are fortunate to live in modern times, free from marauding Vikings and able to explore the countless wonders that have been crafted in the country by both nature and mankind.
This article was first published in the 2024 issue of Cruise & Ferry Itinerary Planning. All information was correct at the time of printing, but may since have changed. Subscribe to Cruise & Ferry Itinerary Planning for FREE to get the next issue delivered directly to your inbox.