CFR executive editor Jon Ingleton on the Arctic Coastal Walk excursion in Bodø, Norway
The expedition category is expanding as cruise operators seek to capitalise on travellers’ growing wanderlust and appetite for exploration. Historically, the term ‘expedition cruise’ suggested a robust ship with a research team sailing to remote or otherwise hard-to-reach destinations. Today, however, the term has a much wider definition. Remoteness is a stretch for some itineraries, but it seems entirely justifiable for a winter cruise in Northern Norway.
In recent times Norway has proven its appeal as a year-round cruise destination, with each season offering a uniquely different experience for visitors. Cold winter months might not traditionally be associated with the popular image of cruising, which is usually marketed via photographs of sun-kissed beaches. But the lure of snowy adventures illuminated by the northern lights is a sure-fire crowd-pleaser and including Norwegian ports on an itinerary makes any cruise worthy of the expedition moniker.
Narvik may previously have been somewhat hampered by the location of the old pier, but when the new city-centre pier opened in 2019, it became an instant hit. At 150 metres long, it is capable of berthing ships up to 350 metres long and has helped to elevate the port’s appeal among wily operators, particularly as the destination also has a well-rounded shore excursion product.
For example, the opportunity to come face-to-face with a wolf at Narvik’s Polar Park is an exhilarating adventure befitting of any expedition cruise. While it’s an absorbing year-round attraction, Polar Park really fulfils the promise of its name during the snowy months. Snowshoeing up Narvikfjellet evokes a similarly adventurous vibe and delivers a remarkable view of the city from the summit.
There are more sedentary shore excursion options that convey the history and spirit of the town and locale, including Narvik War Museum and the Ofoten railway. And there are several venues that offer a good opportunity for a well-earned beverage, such as Narvik Mountain Lodge.
Bodø is set to be the European Capital of Culture in 2024, a status that will enhance the city’s appeal for cruise visitors. It is an easy city to navigate on a walking tour with a range of noteworthy stops that can include a choir or organ performance at the cathedral. Meanwhile on the outskirts of the city, the Norwegian Aviation Museum offers the opportunity to learn about the country’s military and civil aviation history in a 10,000-square-metre facility – and this tour will interest more than just aircraft afficionados.
Elsewhere in Bodø, cruise guests can see a rare natural phenomenon: the tidal currents of Saltstraumen strait. They are a top-rated attraction, especially if witnessed close-up onboard a rib boat. The city’s arctic coastal hike may be a little less dramatic but it is exquisitely picturesque, and a guided tour can focus on history, geology, ecology, or a blend of the three.
Nordland National Park sits in between Bodø and Mo I Rana, almost equally accessible to both. It has a well-stocked visitor centre and an adjoining gallery which is primarily dedicated to the love shared between artists Per Adde and Kajsa Zetterquist and their extraordinary life stories. However, perhaps the biggest draw to Nordland is the opportunity to stride across the invisible line that marks the Arctic Circle – a rite of passage for every new explorer!
After the pandemic curtailed its first attempt, Mo I Rana has restarted its quest to become a recognised cruise port of call. Boasting a credible 265-metre ship limit and a wide, open pier, the port can accommodate passengers and coaches just as easily as its usual trade goods. Perhaps its strongest card is its clear willingness to be flexible and agile as it seeks out early cruise line partnerships.
Like Narvik, Mo I Rana has a strong industrial heritage – dating back to the 16th century. This is reflected in three of the town’s popular attractions: Rana Museum, Norland Science Centre and Mo Industripark.
While we did not have time in our schedule, the ‘Best of Helgeland’ excursion is ideally suited to nascent explorers. Within a mere six hours, this tour takes in whales, a glacier, fjords, waterfalls and mountain viewpoints, as well as a boat ride to the island of Vikingen where passengers can cross the Arctic Circle.
Heading south to our final call we stopped for lunch and a walk around Sjøgata, a historic area in Mosjøen on the banks of the river Vefsna. Vefsn Museum is an educational stop, home to a richly curated history of Sjøgata, from the consecration of a new church in 1735 to the current programme of refurbishment of the town’s listed wooden buildings.
The spirit and beauty of Brønnøysund and the wider southern-Helgeland region will ensure the town’s continued growth as a cruise destination of high merit. Set on a narrow peninsula and surrounded by over 10,000 islands, the destination is an adventurer’s playground.
Mythical tales about Torghatten Mountain provide the enthusiasm required to hike up to, and through, its famous hole. This feature alone is ample justification for a visit, but Brønnøysund has so much more to offer. I will have to return in future because aside from our hike, our short stay only provided the time for a port inspection, a walk around the city, a visit to Gåsheia Winter Park and a trip to the Norwegian Aquaculture Centre within the Unesco Vega World Heritage Area. This last stop alone could easily fill a happy week or more.
I have a great fondness for Norway – for both the adventures I’ve found there and for those I am yet to experience. These adventures are crafted by a breath-taking environment but delivered by wonderful people.
This article was first published in the Spring/Summer 2023 issue of Cruise & Ferry Review. All information was correct at the time of printing, but may since have changed. Subscribe to Cruise & Ferry Review for FREE here to get the next issue delivered directly to your inbox or your door.