Norway was recently ranked as the best place in the world to live, scooping the top spot for an amazing 12th year in a row in the United Nations Annual Human Development Report. Such an accolade isn’t awarded lightly but we can certainly see the appeal of a country that has captured the heart of many a cruiser. Norway and its fjords offer visitors something totally unique, but could it be that the region also deserves the title of ‘best cruise destination in the world’? These three cities certainly put forward a strong case.
Nicknamed ‘Gateway to the Arctic’, thanks to its position less than 250 miles from the Arctic Circle, the city of Tromsø is a lesson in everything that is great about Norway, its people and its culture. Many venture here in search of the majestic Northern Lights, a phenomenon best witnessed from the serene shoreline of Telegrafbukta Beach, located a scenic 30 minute walk away from the centre of Tromsø. The season of the Aurora Borealis also brings with it the whale watchers, bound for the aptly named Whale Island (Kvaløya) between the months of November and January, their eyes peeled for all but guaranteed sightings of humpbacks, orcas, fin whales and harbor porpoises, plus an odd white eagle or seal sighting thrown in for good measure. Other boat trips from Tromsø will take you to some of Norway’s most impressive fjords, including the pretty Erdsfjord and Grotfjord, one of the quietest yet most beautiful of them all.
Hiking, fishing, kayaking and dogsledding promise to show you the very definition of the great outdoors, but Tromsø’s appeal doesn’t stop there. Visit the Domkirke, built in 1861 and remaining one of Norway’s largest wooden churches, or make the trip to the northernmost Botanical Gardens in the world. The Storsteiner cable car will take you 1,378ft above sea level and show you views of Tromsø’s snowy peaks and twin bridges from the top. Venture ten minutes further and you’ll arrive at Ishavskatedralen, the Arctic Cathedral. This impressive concrete and glass structure somehow manages to fit in perfectly with its wilderness surroundings, its iceberg-like appearance illuminating the waterfront with an icy blue glow each night.
Arctic adventures call for optimum sustenance and you’ll find yourself spoilt for choice in Tromsø. The multi-cultural city is home to over 100 nationalities, meaning you’re just as likely to find a great steakhouse or authentic Italian pizzeria as you are local cuisine and arctic ingredients including reindeer (sorry Rudolph).
Bergen is Norway’s second largest city and despite a record for 275 rainy days each year, its pretty towns and stunning scenery more than make up for the cost of buying a decent umbrella. Seven fjords and seven mountains surround the city, making for a mighty impressive view from the summit of Mt Floyen, reachable via Scandinavia’s only funicular railway, the Floibanen. Back down at sea level sits the UNESCO World Heritage Listed Bryggen, a wooden city comprising the last surviving buildings of the 13th century Haseatic League. Rebuilt after the Great Fire of 1702, this maze of narrow alleyways, overhanging galleries and quaint wooden buildings sits at the heart of Medieval Bergen and time spent in the city is incomplete without a visit.
Bergen’s location offers its visitors the opportunity to see the spectacular Sognefjord first-hand, thanks to boat tours that depart from the city on a daily basis. You’ll call at pretty shore side villages including Vik, Belestrand and Leikanger along the way, before arriving at a fjord that is Norway’s largest and the world’s longest. Those in search of the infamous Trolltunga (Troll’s Tongue) should embark on a tour to Hardanger, home to the infamous rock ledge that perilously juts out 2,300ft above Lake Ringedalsvatnet. Celebrate coming back down to earth with a meal of freshly caught seafood or the local speciality, Smorbrod – an open sandwich of rye bread topped with cold meats, salmon or cheese. All of the above should be washed down with copious glasses of schnapps, of course.
From Viking roots, Stavanger has grown to become one of Norway’s most visited destinations, thanks in part to its most infamous resident, Pulpit Rock. Preikestolen, as the world’s most famous rock is officially known, hangs almost 2,000ft above the magnificent Lysefjord, a sight so spectacular than over 200,000 people complete the arduous hike required to see it each year. The mountain plateau has stood strong for over 10,000 years, having been formed during the Ice Age, and you will find no fencing or security measures standing between you and the edge of a viewing platform awarded the accolade of ‘world’s most breathtaking’. Those lacking a head for heights or the legs for a hike can see the imposing site from a different perspective, down on the expanse of water that fills the Lysefjord.
Aside from its most popular attraction, Stavanger is a keen photographer’s dream. You’ll dock right beside Gamle Stavanger, the picturesque Old Town, surrounded immediately by 200-year old white wooden houses – Northern Europe’s best-preserved wooden house settlement. Pretty market stalls, art galleries and craft shops fill the white-washed buildings, cobblestone pathways and vibrant rose bushes adding a touch of colour to their doorways. If it’s colour that you’re looking for, Øvre Holmegate will paint you a rainbow. Every building on this street, be it a restaurant, café or shop, is painted in a different shade of the spectrum, making for some seriously Instagram-worthy shots and a colourful take on the pub crawl. Soak up the atmosphere with tea and cake or stick around until evening, when twinkling red, green and blue fairy lights add to the kaleidoscope of colour.
Photo Credit: Guillaume Baviere
Photo Credit: Sten Dueland
Are you planning a cruise to Norway in 2016? Click here to see a few of our favourite itineraries to whet your appetite