When it comes to cruising Northern Europe, a Norway cruise should not be overlooked. From major cities like Oslo and Bergen to small cities and villages with unique museums and great local food, Norway has plenty of beautiful scenery and cultural appeal to make it a great cruise destination.
The star of any Norway cruise are the Norwegian fjords, along the nation's west coast. Expect dramatic waterfalls tumbling down verdant cliffs and mountain sides as well as amazing hiking and kayaking trips when closer to shore. If you're after something more adrenaline pumping, you can spot polar bears and the midnight sun on cruises into Norway's arctic reaches. And if you want to see the Northern Lights in Norway, that's on the cruise menu too.
With a wide variety of itinerary lengths and ship types, from mainstream to luxury and expedition, cruise travelers have a lot of choices to tailor Norway cruises to their interests. Read on for our expert tips and get inspired for your ultimate Norway cruise adventure.
June through August is the best time for a Norway cruise, but voyages begin in May and run into September. In general, Norway weather is the best in the summer months, with temperatures that are warm (and occasionally hot). Average daytime temperatures in Norway reach into the 60s and 70s and rain is less frequent than in the wet winter months. (Don't think that means you won't get wet -- Norway is still a rather damp place, even in the summertime). At Norway's northern extremes, you can view the midnight sun if you cross into the Arctic Circle during the summer. Norway's weather in May and September can be a bit chillier and rainier.
A few lines offer earlier spring or later fall cruises, and Hurtigruten sails year-round. Those off-season cruises will be the best time to take a Northern Lights cruise in Norway. The phenomenon is most visible between September and April.
Hurtigruten is the king of Norway cruises, with at least one ship departing daily on its coastal route (the line is based in Norway). Most major cruise lines and many expedition lines also visit Norway; the notable exceptions are Carnival and Norwegian Cruise Line. You might find a Disney cruise to Norway (sometimes including Iceland), though they are few and far between. Some major cruise lines only offer a few departures, while others -- such as Celebrity Cruises, Fred. Olsen, Holland America, MSC Cruises and P&O Cruises -- provide multiple sail dates and itinerary options.
Norway cruise itineraries depart from a variety of cities, though most begin in Bergen or Oslo. Other popular departure cities are found across northern Europe, including Copenhagen, Amsterdam, Hamburg and a variety of U.K. ports (Southampton, Harwich, Dover and others). Norway's Arctic cruises also embark in Svalbard (Spitsbergen). Below are some of the most popular Norway cruise itineraries.
Norwegian Fjords cruises generally range in length from seven to 14 nights. Bergen is the main city on most fjord itineraries, though some may include Oslo as well. What can you expect on a Norway fjords cruise itinerary? Scenery and towns that are postcard-perfect. Ships on these routes will head inland from Bergen, sailing between towering cliffs and mountains that plummet steeply into the sea. Cruises to Norwegian fjords generally include smaller, scenic ports like Stavanger, Geirangerfjord, Eidfjord and Flam.
Hurtigruten ships are popular for cruising Norway’s coastline year-round, roundtrip from Bergen, going as far north as Kirkenes and the Arctic Circle, and stopping at a myriad of ports, both large and small. You can expect stops in destinations like Alesund and Oslo on these itineraries, though you'll generally avoid playing the narrow waters of the inland fjords. While foreign visitors may treat these journeys like regular cruises, staying onboard for five, six or the full 11 nights, daytrippers use the same vessels as ferry service between ports, and crewmembers unload freight and mail at most stops.
For the more adventurous, a Norway cruise to the Arctic just might be the best option. However, you don't need an expedition ship to visit Norway's Arctic destinations, which include Tromso, Honningsvag and the North Cape, Svalbard (Spitsbergen) and the Lofoten Islands. Many mainstream and luxury lines offer itineraries to these ports, though the cruises typically last two to three weeks and may include some southern Norway destinations, too.
While Norway's coastline and fjords are idyllic emerald green and rock landscapes, pairing a cruise to Iceland with your Norway itinerary is a study in contrasts. The nearly vegetation-free, volcanic island nation is included on itineraries as short as 11 days, though some last two weeks or more.
Get Inspired: Polar Bear Cruises in the Arctic
Bergen, Norway: Both a homeport and a port of call, Bergen is rich in history and art, and it's easily navigated on foot or via public transportation. Top attractions include the old wharf area with museums, shops and restaurants; the Bergen Fish Market; an array of art museums; and a funicular, which climbs up Mt. Floyen to offer scenic views and hiking trails.
Oslo, Norway: Culture fiends will find that one day in port isn't enough time to see all of Oslo's attractions. You must choose from among the Nobel Peace Center, which lauds the achievements of the various laureates; the Vigeland sculpture park; and various museums focused on historical ships and nautical themes, Norway's architectural and cultural history, and the Expressionist art of Edvard Munch.
Flam, Norway: Flam is a tiny town, nestled between the Aurlandsfjord and snow-capped mountains. There, you'll want to take a cruise along the Aurlandsfjord and Naeroyfjord or a ride on the steep Flam Railway. On sunny days, it's a great place to hike, bike or kayak.
Geiranger and Geirangerfjord, Norway: You can traverse the teeny village of Geiranger in about five minutes, but the end-of-the-fjord port is a wonderful starting point for explorations elsewhere. Take to the water by boat or kayak to view the UNESCO World Heritage Geirangerfjord and its majestic waterfalls, or bus up to some dramatic scenic viewpoints. Hikers have plenty of options, as well.
Stavanger, Norway: Stavanger is the jumping-off point for boat trips into the Lysefjord, with its dramatic cliffs (including the towering Pulpit Rock) and gushing waterfalls. It's also home to some unique museums, including the Norwegian Canning Museum and the Norwegian Petroleum Museum. Don't miss a walk through the wooden houses of Old Stavanger or the harbor area with its seaside restaurants and local shops.
Svalbard, Norway: Rugged mountains and glaciers are just two of the many incredible sights in Svalbard, one of Norway's Arctic islands. Arctic foxes, polar bears and numerous other birds and mammals call the island home, making this a nature-lover's must-see destination.
Eidfjord, Norway: Situated deep inside Hardangerfjord, the tiny village of Eidfjord is a fantastic spot to explore the inland rivers and waterfalls that have cut through Norway's landscape for milennia. Sights include Voringfossen, which is one of the nation's most iconic waterfalls, Hardangervidda National Park and numerous places to hike and kayak.
How much is a cruise to Norway? Expect to pay around $1,000 per person for a seven-day Norway cruise, though prices will likely be higher than that if you're hoping to score a balcony room. On dry land, be prepared for sticker shock: Norway is incredibly expensive. Food prices especially are much higher than most travelers might expect. This means you might want to take most of your big meals on the ship, and save your spending money for more affordable snacks or special treats. You'll also want to budget accordingly for transportation and attraction costs.
Try local foods in Norway's ports. You don't have to have big meals out to sample Norway's unique foods. Fish markets in many ports sell more than just fish, and you can get samples of elk, reindeer and whale from the vendors. Or find a cafe serving Norwegian waffles with jam made from local berries or the region's caramel-flavored brown goat's cheese.
Check It Out: The Best Cruises for Viewing the Northern Lights
Be flexible with your Norway shore excursions. Norway is a terrific place for outdoor activities like kayaking, biking and hiking. However, rain is an often-unavoidable fact even during the country's drier summer months. Always have a backup plan for onshore activities and shore excursions in Norway in case of inclement weather. Take advantage when the sun is out, and, if it's raining, don't be afraid to push back an activity to later in the day -- often a rainy morning will turn sunny later on (or vice versa). Also be sure to pack a rain jacket and umbrella, and dress in layers.
Take the kids. Norway is family friendly, with lots of outdoor play structures and kiddie areas in museums and shopping venues. Aquariums, train rides and interesting parks all add to the appeal for children.
Bring an alarm clock. Many cruise ships enter the beautiful Geirangerfjord early in the morning. It's worth setting an alarm and getting up early to watch the ship sail in. While you'll retrace your steps at the end of the day, often with a slowdown by the famous falls, the light will be more photo-friendly in the morning, and fewer people will block your view. Plus, given Norway's notoriously finicky weather, there's no guarantee that rain won't set in before the ship departs.