Sailing Norway
MS_Fram sailing right by an iceburg. Photo: Kim Hansen, Flickr.com

Hurtigruten, which translates into ‘The Fast Route’, is a Norwegian cruise line. It has become a traveler’s favorite — with good reason.

It is a fantastic and convenient way to see many of the small coastal towns of northern Norway, while getting to experience life on a real working transport ship.

History

Unlike what most people think when they hear ‘cruise ship’, Hurtigruten is rather informal.

There is no dress code, no samba lessons or evening cabarets. The cruise is on an actual a working ship — this fleet of ships has been an important part of the Norwegian post and transport system, serving the many small fishing villages along the coast up north for more than 130 years.

It is only recently that it has opened for tourism, and the ships are now featuring: jacuzzis, buffets, stocked minibars, and conference rooms.

One of the best adverts for Hurtigruten describes the experience perfectly: “It is not just a cruise ship, not just a bus service, not just a cargo ship. In fact, it’s all three, and that’s unique.”

The classic route — Running all year!

The classic Hurtigruten line, which most travelers chose, consists one of 11 ferries running between Bergen and Kirkenes near North Cape.

You can do it southbound or northbound — or round-trip.

If you choose the latter, the ports you are going to on the way back will be different than those on the way there. The ones you saw in daytime on the way there will be visited at night on the way back, and vice versa. You won’t feel like you’re going ‘there and back’, but the entire journey will be new impressions and sights.

It is also possible to only do segments of the trip, i.e. from Bergen to Tromsø, if you are short on time or want to spend longer in a certain port.

Loften
Cruise around here. Pure unspoiled nature. Photo: Florian Seiffert, Flickr.com

The route runs all year, and each season has it’s perks. Norway is a country of seasons, and when to go should be taken into account. The difference between summer and winter is huge, and the difference becomes more evident the farther north you go. A nice warm summer day in Northern Norway can be almost as warm as a nice warm summer day anywhere; then comes winter, where temperatures can drop to a staggering cold -40 F!

In summer, days are long. Adding to this, once you cross the arctic circle, you will see the midnight sun, in essence, where the sun never sets. The farther north you go, the more the night looks like days (the ‘sun set’ will stop higher in the horizon the closer you go to the North Pole), and the phenomenon occurs for a longer duration of time.

In the fall, you will see the summer colors fade into red and yellow. Days get shorter — and up north, the sun will start to dip beyond the horizon. Chances of seeing northern lights increase. Birds are migrating south, and you may start to see some early snow flakes.

The winter is the perfect time to see the Northern Lights.

Yes, you can technically see them all year, even in summer, but in winter you have the most favorable light conditions. The winter brings total darkness as opposed to the midnight sun in summer. As long as the sky is clear, you will see northern lights.

When spring comes, days get longer, but the winter and snow maintains its grip up north. You can still see the snow caps on mountains, but flowers and branches start to shoot up and the landscapes regains their colors.

It’s hard to say when the best season to go is, though I’m compelled to say in the winter, as this is the most exotic time.

Other routes

Hurtigruten also offers explorer voyages, or expedition cruises. These will take you to Greenland, Svalbard, Iceland, trans-Atlantic from Las Palmas to Buenos Aires, or even to Antarctica. These journeys are beyond the scope of this article, but I still thought it was worth mentioning (they’re all on my bucket list!). Anyways, you can read more here.

Excursions

Keep in mind that most people cruise the Hurtigruten as an experience in itself. As it is an actual working ship, it should be noted that the ferry usually only docks for 15 to 60 minutes at each port. Translation- you will unparalleled views of stunning coastal towns and surrounding sights, but you do not stop long enough in each town to explore.

Surreal Loften. Photo: Florian Seiffert, Flickr.com
What a place to dock! Surreal Loften. Photo: Florian Seiffert, Flickr.com

To address this demand, Hurtigruten organizes and offers multiple excursions, 24 northbound and 15 southbound, so that you can get a more well rounded experience of the cities. Options include: city tours, smaller exploratory cruises into the fjords, dog-sledding, and many more. Listings and availability vary, as some excursions are seasonal and not available year round. To get recent and accurate information your best bet is to order a brochure from here:

Keep in mind that some of these excursions will cause you to miss a port or two along route.

 

Reviews — What are people saying?

Hurtigruten has received great reviews both internationally and nationally in Norway. The peak season for travel is in the summer months of July and August, but when reading the reviews, it’s always the winter trips that have the most vibrant descriptions. Elizabeth Day, from the English paper The Guardian writes:

It is only when I get my first glimpse of the lights that I can truly appreciate this sentiment. The announcement comes over the ship’s PA system at about 4pm on the second day and I rush upstairs, shoes unlaced, to the top deck. It is a faint greenish glimmer at first, a pastel line drawn across the indigo sky. Then the lights grow brighter and brighter until they are almost fluorescent, shimmering like particles of magnetic dust that coalesce and separate, catching the light with each infinitesimal movement. It is something so inexplicably striking, so oddly moving, that it makes me catch my breath in wonder. Then, after about five minutes, the emerald dust disperses, the northern lights are blown away into the darkness and our ship continues its voyage, fading gently into the Arctic night.

Booking — where to find the best offers

Usually, if you book early, you can get some good early bird offers from Hurtigruten. On their website you will find a whole list of international sales agents for wherever you are coming from. When traveling outside of the season, such as in winter time, the ships won’t be nearly full, and the price is low compared to the summer. As Hurtigruten is also a transport ship, one of their goals is that at least one of the ships should stop by one of the ports once a day, again leading to a lot of departures. If you are looking for shorter trips on the ship, it is best do book while in Norway, as the official website does not easily accommodate this.

Prices

The below quotes are relative, as trips are subject to change depending on season, availability, cabin location, and other factors.

Bergen- Kirkenes- Bergen (round trip)

  • Journey duration- 17 days
  • Nkr9506/$1,532 USD ( low season)
  • Nkr14,056/$2,265 (high season)

Bergen- Kirenes 

  • Journey duration- 6 days
  • Nkr6654 to Nkr9839
  • $1,072- $1,585 USD

Kirkenes- Bergen

  • Journey duration- 11 days
  • Nkr 5228 to Nkr 7731
  • $842- $1,245 USD

Remember to inquire about reduced rates. Children aged 4-16, students, and seniors over 67 are eligible for heavily discounted rates up to 50%. Other discounts are available for a 21 day coastal pass for those between the ages of 16 and 26.

To cruise on the Hurtigruten is truly an experience. Get to looking at planning your trip today!