Along the coastline with Hurtigruten
Relaxing, reading or taking pictures and at the same time enjoying a unique landscape sliding past on one of 12 cruise ships:
That is Hurtigruten
Last update January 2020
Hurtigruten - A special kind of cruise
To us, Hurtigruten is Norway! A fantastic cruise along Norways long and gorgeous coastline from Bergen in the Southwest up to Kirkenes in the very North - and back if you like.
The trip is packed with lots of Norway´s highlights: Bergen, Trondheim, Ålesund, Geirangerfjord, Lofoten, Trollfjord (the narrowest fjord, in summer), Tromsø, Hammerfest, North Cape ... just to mention a few.
In addtion to enjoying the landscape Hurtigruten offers excursions every day, with a different program in summer and winter, from sightseeing tours in cities to Viking dinners, sea eagle watching or dogsledding.
We have travelled with Hurtigruten half a dozen times so far, different sections and in different seasons - and our next tour is probably not far into the future.
The cruise ships - or post boats?
When we tell friends that we travel with Hurtigruten, they often raise their eyebrows because they immediately imagine a huge cruise ship that became so popular lately. But that would be quite wrong.
While the fleet does regularly get modernised and the newest vessels offer all kinds of amenities for the average, admittedly rather old customer, you still feel their origin as post boats: reliably delivering goods and transporting people up and down the coast, when there was no other affordable way to do so.
On most ships, the cabins are rather small (depending on the booked category of course), there are max 2 restaurants on board, always a cafe / canteen and while the food is fine and the kitchen is mostly using Norwegian ingredients, the service can be also be a bit Norwegian at times; meaning, a bit robust.
But all this, we consider it an enjoyable upside because this has its own charm that you don't find on another cruise line.
And then there is there is the beautiful landscape, frequent stops at mostly smaller cities and villages along the coastline or deep inside fjords, the relaxing atmosphere on board and various excursions, from dogsledding tours, to birdwatching, trips on speed boats, traditional dinners, horse rides on the beach, hiking - to visiting a fish farm for nerds (see box).
So our advice: Just relax: read, write, play cards, sleep, enjoy coffee or wine - and marble at the beauty of the landscape that glides along outside the panorama windows.
For enthusiasts: MS Lofoten
As mentioned, Hurtigrutens fleet has different ships, most of them built in the 90ies and later and similar to the one you see on the big picture.
But, there are two, MS Vesterålen and specially MS Lofoten (built in 1964), that are older and much smaller. They have kept the original style of the original post boast, but that also means that the standard is rather simple, not all cabins have an own shower or a toilet for example. On the upside, it still looks like a traditional ship, not a cruise ship.
It may sound strange but that makes it very charming for us as it creates a private atmosphere and allows a look back in time, how reasonably well off people travelled half a century ago.
Also, the MS Lofoten is the last one were no cars can be transported and it still loads good with an old-fashioned crane on the foredeck, so you can follow the loading and unloading of goods nicely from the front lookout directly next to the captain - and peek in his workplace.
The passengers are different here as well, more enthusiasts, less the ordinary cruise folks. The crew is even more relaxed and everything goes a bit slower, but in a nice way.
Facts and figures around the tour
You can book the whole tour from Bergen to Kirkenes and back (6 days per way), but also just parts of it (what we usually do). Boats leave every day from the different harbours. Taking a car on board is possible (except: MS Lofoten). By booking just a 2- or 3-day trip you can nicely integrate a cruise into your holidays and combine it with other activities. Or take Hurtigruten to go to the North instead of driving, which is clearly the better alternative.
All the bigger cities on the way have airports, so getting back to Oslo is usually not a problem.
Hurtigruten travels the whole year round. Of course, there are different actiivities in summer and winter, and partly different stops on the northbound and southbound journey (North Cape!)
When starting from / ending at Bergen you can take the Bergensbanen from / to Oslo - another highlight.
As everything in Norway, the trip on Hurtigruten is not cheap. You could start with a shorter trip to see if you like, travel a bit off season, take a windowless cabin, take advantage of special offers under www.hurtigruten.no/en - but let it not stop you from doing the trip, it will be a very memorable one for sure.
Kirkenes: Husky tour
In Kirkenes, we joined once the last dogsledding tour of the season. Although the ice was partly a bit patchy, the dogs were still super enthusiastic and very happy to get out for a run.
It wasn't quite the experience we had in Karasjok, but this tour gives you a great first feel wether you like that kind activity or not. Honestly, we figure everybody must just love it: Sliding through the landscape, watching the dogs trying to outrun each other, over lakes and through woods... you cannot get much closer to nature.
With introduction and a coffee & cake afterwards, it took around 2.5 hours.
Man overboard in the icy North Sea
During one of trips with Hurtigruten in Northern Norway, a little presentation was offered on board: A fishermen from the region we were just passing was supposed to explain a bit the marine wildlife here as well as showing how to prepare seafood the proper way.
He was brought to the Hurtigruten-boat by a fellow fisherman in a fast motorboat. This went as planned even though he boards while Hurtigruten never comes to a complete standstill. Little action for the spectators I guessed.
But after the motorboat dropped him off and left to get back to the shore, it was hit by a strong wave at an unfortunate angle - and the driver went overboard right into the ice cold water (4 degrees)! His boat did not stop and started circling around the fisherman, coming dangerously close the poor man. The crew of Hurtigruten noticed that immediately and lowered one of the rescue vessels to get quickly to the accident scene. Within a few minutes, the fisherman was on board, looked a bit shaken but was unhurt. At least, he was wearing a dry suit.
That was quite a shock and some people initially thought it was just an emergency exercise. It was definitely not. The seafood preparation demonstration actually took place, by a young fellow who did it for the first time, a bit nervous, but he did a great job under these circumstances.
An option to keep in mind: Further on to Murmansk
As Murmansk is kind of "around the corner" when you are in Kirkenes already, we thought this a good opportunity to gt to know it a bit and in particular to visit the atomic icebreaker Lenin, meanwhile a museum ship.
How it was? Interesting to say the least. Falling apart would be more accurate. If you enjoy such things, then here you can still experience the old Soviet Union - nothing fancy like in Moscow or St. Petersburg, but rather the real life.
Still: we had a nice driver, a great city guide, enjoyed Russian reindeer and Pelmeni and got a private guided tour in the first atomic icebreaker as we were the only English speaking visitors that day.
What do you want more?
Alternative excursion - Steilneset at Vardø
Steilneset is a memorial dedicated to one of the darker chapters of Norways history: The one about burning witches. The stop of Hurtigruten at Vardø just allows a taxi ride to the memorial, 30 min there and a brisk walk back again. Definitely worth it and a good alternative to the fortress nearby.
Alternative excursion - Struve geodetic arc at Hammerfest
Well, something for nerds: In Hammerfest you have enough time for a quick taxi ride (10 min) to Struves first geodetic arc. If this doesn't ring a bell, don't bother to look it up, it is more something for geographers - although it is also a word heritage enlisted site!
Highlights (difficult to list only a few here)
Leaving Bergen and going through all the islands north
Into the Geirangerfjord (in the summer only)
Going through the Lofoten, including the xy
Going around the North Cape from the seaside (you dont see a lot, it´s about the feel)
Enjoying a cognac or two in the bar while seeing the landscape slowly going by...
Our extra tip
Take the Bergensbahn from Oslo to Bergen (if you start in Bergen, that is)
Take an excursion here and there
Get of the boat in the various cities, would be a real shame to miss them
Good to know
The characters of the various ships are quite different so it´s worthwile to check them out on the net in beforehand
Click on the map to get to the larger, interactive one at Hurtigruten.no