First coined by Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen in the 1850s, the expression ‘friluftsliv’ describes a philosophy the nature-loving nation of Norway has followed for many centuries.
Literally ‘free air living’, for Norwegians it refers to a simple and sustainable life in nature, regardless of season or weather. The concept is tightly connected to ‘kos’, a Norwegian word associated with cosiness and the enjoyment of simple pleasures.
Norwegians’ love of the outdoors is reflected in many aspects of their lives, with hours devoted to activities like skiing, hiking, kayaking, cycling, fishing or simply picking berries. Norway’s forests, mountains, nature reserves, more than 1,000 fjords and picturesque archipelagos make it is easy for cruise operators to find destinations where their guests can experience the friluftsliv lifestyle.
Cruise Norway promotes the country as “the world’s ultimate nature-based cruise destination”, marketing 40 ports that offer cruise guests multiple opportunities to embrace their inner Viking and immerse themselves in nature. Here we profile a few of those.
The outstanding natural beauty of Geiranger, Hellesylt and Stranda
At the Unesco World Heritage site of Geirangerfjord in western Norway, cruise operators can berth at three locations: at the fjord’s entrance Hellesylt Port has a 143-metre cruise pier; Geiranger Port, with its moveable SeaWalk platform to serve tendering ships; and Stranda Port, a new facility with a 70-metre pier.
The region offers multiple activities to enable guests to experience an authentic sense of Norwegian adventure. Fjord Nature Hellesylt provides kayaking, e-biking, hiking and climbing around Geirangerfjord, Ålesund and Hellesylt, as well as ski touring or snowshoeing experiences in the Sunnmøre alps. Geiranger Fjordservice offers sightseeing cruises on the new Geirangerfjord II catamaran, guided kayak or RIB tours from either Geiranger or Hellesylt, a ‘Taste of Norway’ charter boat ride where guests can also sample local food and beer, and e-biking in the valley. Other friluftsliv-friendly activities include the Via Ferrata at Geiranger Nature Park, Nordic walking, the Hellesylt Mountain Farm and Waterfall tour, and guided hikes to sites such as Storfossen or Storseterfossen waterfalls, Mount Flofjellet and Mount Stranda Panorama. Visitors can also take alpine and cross-country skiing lessons in Stranda during the winter months.
Those looking to explore the region at a slower pace could visit the Stranda gondola, Geiranger Chocolate Factory, Geiranger church, the Norwegian Fjord Centre, and Geiranger Skywalk platform at Dalsnibba viewpoint, 1,500 metres above sea level.
Skjolden – Gateway to the National Parks
At the end of Sognefjord (Norway’s longest and deepest fjord), the village of Skjolden makes a great base for outdoor exploration due to its proximity to the Jotunheimen, Breheimen and Jostedalsbreen national parks.
Popular outdoor excursions from Skjolden include guided hikes on the Jostedal and Nigardsbreen glaciers, walking with llamas, kayaking on the fjord and glacier lakes, canyoning, rafting, a rigid inflatable boat tour on Lustrafjord (the innermost branch of Sognefjord), and hiking, skiing and climbing in the Breheimen National Park and Mørkrid Valley. A bus tour is available along Sognefjellet Mountain Pass or visitors can head to Breheimsenteret national park centre, Sengaberget viewpoint, the open-air Sogn Folk Museum, Sogn Fjord Museum or the cottage of late Austrian philopher Ludwig Wittgenstein. Other nearby attractions include the village of Lom, the Unesco World Heritage site of Urnes Stave Church, and Fjordstova Visitor Centre, which has a new excursion for 2023 that will combine a cultural walk with an exhibition about Viking ship Maria Suden and a food tasting session.
Cruise ships of up to 400 metres can berth at Skjolden’s 127.5-metre pier and the port authority aims to build shore power facilities in the future in cooperation with Norwegian firm Plug Shore Power. The port will join the Environmental Performance Index in 2023 and is collaborating with Luster Municipality to increase cruise traffic and strengthen its case for shore power.
Cultural and culinary adventures in Kristiansund
Famous for both clipfish (dried and salted cod) and opera, the small town of Kristiansund next to the Atlantic Ocean at the top of Fjord Norway is spread across four main islands with a central harbour. Ships of up to 300 metres can berth at two cruise quays in the town centre and within easy reach of attractions, restaurants, cafes and shops. Pre-pandemic, the port received 20-30 calls annually but is set to break records in 2022, with 36 calls scheduled by the end of the season. Although it does occasionally host ships with 4,000 guests, the port typically has one ship with up to 2,500 passengers in one day, so they can explore the town’s attractions without the crowds.
Popular excursions include the Kristiansund Opera house, the 1950s-style Patrick Volckmar café and coffee roaster, The Norwegian Clipfish (Bacalhau) Museum on Goma island, Mellemværftet Shipbuilding museum, Varden viewing tower, Kirkelandet church, Kvernes stave church, the island of Innlandet, Averøya island (reached via an undersea tunnel), and eco experiences at Tingvoll Eco Park. Cruise visitors can also join a RIB adventure in the Atlantic, take a seal safari, go diving, or board a boat tour in Kristiansund harbour or to the island of Grip on the historic Sundbåten vessel, which transported locals between the islands since 1876.
The main attraction is the Atlantic Ocean Road, named as one of the world’s most scenic drives and voted as the Norwegian Engineering Feat of the Century in 2005. Stretching from Kristiansund to Bud, the road includes eight bridges spanning a series of small islands and islets, and offers a series of designated viewing spots, such as the suspended walkway at Eldhusøya.
Mold, Åndalsnes and Ersfjord – one region, three unique ports
The Atlantic Ocean Road is also easily reachable from the Port of Molde, one of three cruise destinations on Romsdalsfjord (the others being Åndalsnes and Ersfjord). Cruise ships can berth at the 300-metre-long Storkaia Quay in the town centre or the nearby 130-metre-long Moldegård Quay. Almost 80 cruise calls are expected in 2023.
Molde’s attractions include the Bergtatt Marble Caves, Romsdal Museum, Molde Cathedral, Bud fishing village, Hjertøya island, and Varden viewpoint, where cruise guests can see the 222 peaks of the Molde Panorama. Adventurous guests can scale the Rørsethornet mountain, join a RIB safari in the coastal waters of Hustadvika, try stand-up paddleboarding in Moldefjord, hike to the limestone caves of Trollkirka (the Troll Church), or take a Viking ship to Håholmen Island.
The nearby Port of Åndalsnes welcomes vessels up to 330 metres at Tindekaia Quay, which expects to host around 60 cruise calls in 2023. Visitors can walk to the town centre and attractions like the Rauma Railway, the Norwegian Mountaineering Centre and Romsdalen Gondola, which takes passengers to the top of Mount Nesaksla. While in Åndalsnes, cruise lines can also take guests to Romsdalsstigen Via Ferrata, Trollstigen Road, Trollstigen Gjestegård cafe, Trollveggen Visitor Centre, Gudbrandsjuvet ravine and Trollveggen, the highest vertical mountain in Northern Europe. And to learn more about Norway’s farming traditions and sample or cook local foods, guests can head to either Bøstølen Summer Farm or Woldstad Gaard farm.
Smaller cruise ships and luxury yachts can sail down the narrow Landsfjorden to discover the village of Ersfjord, where guests can tour the old wooden settlement of Nauste or take a ferry to Mardalsfossen waterfall and Eikesdal village.
Ålesund – the adventure capital of the fjords
The art nouveau town of Ålesund has a cruise terminal in its centre, close to shops, galleries, cafes and museums that showcase the art, culture, history and nature of the region.
Ålesund Cruise Network works with 40 local firms to create memorable and sustainable experiences for cruise guests, including sightseeing on Hjørundfjord, the Bytoget city train, feeding fish at Atlanterhavsparken aquarium, the island of Giske, Fjellstua Ålesund on Mount Aksla, bicycle tours, and kayaking or paddleboarding in Brosundet canal. Visitors can join a guide to hear local folk tales and follow in the footsteps of Chieftain Rollo, who lived in Sunnmøre, or immerse themselves in local cultural by attending one of Ålesund’s many festivals throughout the year.
Culture meets nature in Oslo
Viking history can also be experienced in Norway’s capital Oslo, where guests can see some of the world’s best-preserved Viking vessels at the Viking Ship Museum on Bygdøy Peninsula, learn about Viking beer at The Beer Academy or head to Viking Planet, a museum that resurrects Viking life via interactive screens and virtual reality technology. Norway’s extensive maritime heritage and the exploits of past explorers and polar researchers can be experienced at the Kon-Tiki Museum, Norwegian Maritime Museum and Fram Museum.
Oslo has an abundance of museums, outdoor sculpture parks, art galleries, an iconic opera house and easy access to both the Oslofjord and Europe’s largest urban forest. Here, guests can try traditional Norwegian pursuits such as river fishing, cross-country and downhill skiing, and wild swimming, kayaking, or tour on RIBs, helicopters and seaplanes.
Other excursions take cruise guests to the royal palace and park, Akershus Fortress, Rose Castle, the lively Aker Brygge wharf, Holmenkollen Ski Jump and the Ski Museum, and Korketrekkeren toboggan run, or to sample Norway’s culinary scene at local bars and restaurants.
Oslo’s four cruise quays – Filipstad, Søndre Akershuskai, Vippetangkaia and Revierkaia – are in the town centre and the city is an ideal stop on any Norwegian fjords, Northern European or Baltic Sea itinerary.
With so much on offer, it can be challenging for cruise operators to choose their itineraries. Cruise Norway and Cruise Baltic have created a new Itinerary Planner tool to help plan routes in both Norway and the Baltic Sea region.
“Cruise lines can use the tool to create a draft of their preferred itinerary and check the availability of berths during the selected time frame, helping them to avoid congestion and quickly adjust their route if specific ports are fully booked,” says Inge Tangerås, managing director of Cruise Norway. “It makes it easier for cruise lines to adapt to the ever-changing circumstances we live in and ensure their guests experience the best of everything our beautiful country has to offer.”
Taking time out in Trøndelag
The city of Trondheim in the Trøndelag region has two cruise berths and a well-deserved reputation as Norway’s food capital. It has three Michelin-starred restaurants and the wider region’s economy is primarily based on food production, with sustainable farming methods delivering fresh, high-quality seafood, meat, vegetables and beverages to locals and tourists. This commitment, and the region’s innovative culinary scene, led to Trøndelag being named the European Region of Gastronomy for 2022.
While in Trondheim, cruise guests can visit the Archbishop’s Palace and Nidaros Cathedral, learn about salmon farming at the SeeSalmon Science Centre and on the nearby islands of Hitra and Frøya, or explore Norway’s music history at both Ringve Music Museum and Rockheim – the National Museum of Popular Music. Other highlights include bicycle tours and the opportunity to try the world’s only bicycle lift, a trip down the river Nidelva in a kayak or a traditional Viking Åfjordsboat, and hiking along the Trondheimsfjord.
“Trondheim has everything you expect from a big, lively city, but still has the welcoming atmosphere of a small town,” says Maria Kühnl Undheim, cruise marketing manager at Trondheim Port Authority. “The flat city centre is easily accessible to everyone, and visitors can discover a variety of cultural, historical and active shore excursions.”
It is perhaps the warmth of locals that makes cruise calls particularly memorable. “Locals are known for their hospitality,” says Kühnl Undheim. “Cruise guests are welcomed by locals handing out city maps at every call.”
This article was first published in the 2023 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 here to get the next issue delivered directly to your inbox or your door.
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