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Cruising the Norwegian Coast from Bergen to Kirkenes on Hurtigruten

by Barbara Rogers

Mar 4, 2020

Photo: Stillman Rogers


Norway’s North Atlantic coast is so rugged and irregular that, for centuries, towns perched at its edge depended upon ships for any contact with the rest of the world. Even today communications and commerce are provided by Hurtigruten, a combination cruise line and freight service moving goods and people on a continuous circuit between Bergen, in the south, and Kirkenes, high above the Arctic Circle on Norway’s Russian border.


The six-day journey between these two is not the usual cruise ship experience — it’s ideal for parents and adult children vacationing together. Mid-May to mid-July is the best time, when the Arctic nights are the shortest and passengers can enjoy the famed midnight sun. In the long winter nights you’re almost certain to see the Northern Lights.


The ship stops at ports all along the way, by day and night. As we walked along the busy street during a summer stop in Tromsø, couples were strolling, people sitting in outdoor cafés and children playing ball in a park; we could hardly believe the clock on the town hall meant midnight, not noon. Norwegians enjoy as many of the precious daylight hours as possible, so even on the late-night stops you’ll be tempted to join the fun.


Ancient Hansa buildings in Bergen, Norway. Photo: Stillman Rogers


One of our favorite stops was the small city of Ålesund, its downtown rebuilt in the Art Nouveau style after a devastating fire in 1904. Today it boasts one of the best collections of Art Nouveau buildings in the world. There’s also a fascinating museum there tracing the story of the Norwegian Resistance during the Nazi occupation in World War II.


Stops can be as short as 15 minutes while the ship picks up a load of local wood products or as long as an hour or more with plenty of time to walk around town and perhaps pick up a locally made woolen sweater or a wood carving. Sometimes local craftsmen bring their work to sell at impromptu tables on the dock. Most of these towns are attractive, compact communities filled with lively activity and, in some, inexpensive tours are offered. On some of the daylight stops a bus will take passengers on scenic excursions to a Sami village or historic site, rejoining the ship at the next port.


These frequent stops can be a break from too much togetherness and give family members as much or as little time together as they wish. They also offer a glimpse of how life in these remote towns revolves around their port. Traveling on the ship that brings the outside world to their door gives passengers a sense of being part of local life.


Bergen harbor, Norway. Photo: Stillman Rogers


So does sharing the ship with locals traveling between ports. While the full-voyage passengers will meet each other and strike up conversations, it is not a social cruise with an emphasis on shipboard life. Hurtigruten’s atmosphere is informal, with no dress code and no floor shows, orchestras or midnight buffets. While not lavish, cabins are stylish and comfortable.


Because the route hugs the shore and the schedule includes at least one stop a day, the ships are constantly in and out of the fjords and bays and among the coastal islands, so the everchanging scenery keeps passengers on deck or in the panoramic glass-enclosed lounges. Even the dining room is surrounded by glass, although the delicious local foods will hold your attention (think fresh-caught and smoked salmon, succulent shrimp, reindeer venison and Arctic berries). There are places onboard to relax together or curl up in an armchair with a book. Saunas and outdoor hot tubs and talks on local wildlife, fauna and culture offer more diversions.


What makes this cruise unique — along with the history and scenery — is, passengers also include local people traveling home, on business or on family and daytrips, so the opportunity for meeting them is abundant. Most Norwegians know English, and conversation is easy.


The six-day trip can be from Bergen to Kirkenes, or the reverse, with a flight between the two destinations. The full 12-day trip is worthwhile because the return trip visits ports that were skipped or visited at night in the opposite route.


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