6 Norwegian Fjords Cruise Tips: How to Cruise to Norway the Right Way

When I started planning my Norway trip, I knew there was only one way I wanted to do it: by Norwegian Fjords cruise.  Being in the midst of it all — tumbling waterfalls, dramatic cliffs, and narrow bends — is only possible when you’re on the water.

But quickly, I realized there were other advantages to cruising too: the ability to see many towns without packing up and moving every night (especially in Norway, where most towns are small enough to experience in a day) and major cost savings compared to the cringe-worthy prices of food and local transportation.

Pros and Cons of a Norway Fjords Cruise:

Obviously cruises aren’t perfect, although I think a Norwegian fjords cruise can be the right choice for a lot of travelers, especially first-time visitors to Norway.  The trick is picking the right cruise, managing your time wisely, and avoiding a few pitfalls that cruisers accidentally fall into.

6 Norwegian Fjords Cruise Tips

1 – Pick the Right Cruise to Norway

Unlike tropical cruises, on a Norwegian fjords trip, the emphasis needs to be on the ports.  A lot of itineraries include other European cities (like Gothenburg or Warnemunde) which means you’ll have less time scheduled in Norway itself as well as fewer scenic sails in and out of the fjords. Make sure you pay attention to this when you’re choosing the right fit for you!

When you’re checking itineraries, I’d recommend picking a ship that visits at least four ports in Norway and at least one scenic sail.  My favorite stops were Geiranger, Stavanger, and Flam.

Scenic Cruising through Geiranger Fjord
Scenic Cruising through Geiranger Fjord

Hint: Some cruise lines specifically advertise the scenic sails while others don’t mention them.  This is the time to pull out a map!  If the only way in and out to a port is via a fjord, you’ll obviously be sailing through it even if it’s not specifically mentioned.

Then, the trick is just to make sure the hours directly before or after your port stop are times you could comfortably be on deck watching the scenery.  Chances are, your cruise will hit some gorgeous areas.

2 – The Best Time to Visit Norway Fjords is mid-June through Early September

Norway isn’t known for having great weather, but visiting in the summer gives you the best shot at blue skies and warm-ish days.  Even then, you’ll need to be prepared with rain gear and warm layers (in July, the average high in Trondheim is 67°F but it can easily get colder).

Shoulder season has fewer crowds and lower prices, with most cruises operating May through September.  If that sounds better to you, double check operating schedules before paying your nonrefundable deposit: some tours, buses, and ferries run weekends only or a limited schedule during the spring and fall.

That said, I’ve learned the hard way on other trips: if you plan on hiking, it’s better to go later in the season as opposed to earlier when there can still be snow on the trails!

>>>>> Norway is beautiful in the rain, too!  Check out 45 photos of Norway to inspire your trip.

3 – Book an Inside Cabin

The key to a busy day in port is getting a good night’s sleep before and after!

Midnight sun is a reality of travel through Norway. It kept me up a few years ago in Sweden and it kept me up again on this cruise.  When the sun never sets, it is difficult to sleep, especially if you’re adjusting to jetlag on top of that.

midnight sun norway
This is the darkest it ever got at night on my Norway fjords cruise.

This is the one time when booking an inside cabin can help — with no windows, you’ll have a perfectly dark place to rest when you’re tired.

4 – Explore with Purpose

In my experience, there are two types of cruisers:

  1. Those who leisurely go on shore to hit 1 or 2 hot spots before returning onboard
  2. Those who get off at the first chance, pack in as much sightDOING as they can muster, and board at the last possible minute

By being in the second group, a single day in port is plenty for most Norwegian towns.  For one thing, most ports are relatively small (less than 500 people live in Flam, for example) and port days tend to be 8-12 hours since ships only have a short journey to the next day’s destination.

That said, a little bit of research and planning goes a long way in Norway.  Popular activities may only run once or twice a day and they do sell out.  To use your time efficiently, you’ll need to line up schedules and make reservations.  You’ll also want to get outside of the central port area, which can be super cheesy and overcrowded.

bergen cruise tips
The shopping area in Bergen was busy, but leave the central area and you’ll find streets all to yourself.

>>>>> Related Post: How to Avoid Tourist Traps

5 – Budget for Meals in Port

A bowl of soup for $18?  Catch of the day $40?  Pint of beer $9?  Yikes!

alesund fish soup
My fish soup in Alesund – worth the money.

It’s easy to understand why I didn’t want to pay for three meals a day in Norway, but even still, I think it’s important to budget for a few on-shore meals.  Food is a huge part of culture, not to mention that bars can be a great place to chat with locals.  Even a walk through the grocery store provides great insight into traditional Norwegian food.

Throw $100 toward your budget to split between a few meals or snacks and make sure you sample a few local flavors.

What to Eat in Norway:

  • Brunost (“brown cheese”) – I don’t know how to describe it, other than maybe a carmelized Velveeta? Like nothing else I’ve ever eaten and strangely addicting
  • Weird seafood – like lutefisk (cod soaked in lye), klippfish (salted and dried cod), or rakfisk (salted and fermented trout)
  • Waffles – thin Norwegian waffles, traditionally topped with jam, are an affordable and popular snack
  • Reindeer – particularly a “finnbiff” stew of reindeer, mushrooms, bacon, juniper, and sour cream
  • Aquavit – the Norwegian version is a potato liquor flavored with caraway, dill, or other herbs (for sipping, not shots)

6 – Go Outside (It’s the Norwegian Way)

What do locals do during the summer?  Hike, bike, and kayak!  There are opportunities to try any or all outdoor activities just about everywhere you go.  Norwegians tend to be fit, active people so you’ll find buses that take you to trailheads as well as plenty of kayak rentals, organized tours, and one-of-a-kind adventures.

naeroyfjord kayak
The Nærøyfjord, near Gudvangen Norway, is the narrowest fjord in the world (250 m at it’s narrowest point). With mountainsides towering 1660 meters above, hanging valleys, snow-capped peaks, and small hamlets, this was the perfect place for a paddle.

The one thing that caught me off-guard is hiking time estimates within Norway.  In general, they tend to be very optimistic, especially if you’re the type of traveler who likes to take lots of photographs along the way and/or catch your breath along the way.

To fit in with the locals, you’ll need to be prepared for fickle weather.  Cloudy mornings give way to gorgeous afternoons and vice versa, so grab a raincoat, sweater, and boots no matter where you’re headed.

Best Norway Cruises for 2020:

If you’re in the market for a Norwegian fjords cruises, here are a few itineraries to look into:

For travelers who want to pack a lot of ports into limited time — One Week on the Crown Princess

This trip is super convenient for travelers since it leaves from Southampton, England (easy to get to from all London airports) and runs from a Saturday to the following Sunday, which means you just need one week off from work.  You’ll visit Stavanger and Geiranger (my favorites) as well as Alesund, Bergen, and Olden.  I’ve sailed on this cruise ship (albeit in the Caribbean and not in Norway) and thought it was very comfortable.

For travelers looking for the full Norway cruise experience — Two Weeks on Holland America Veendam

Can’t decide where to go?  This Holland America cruise visits several of the most popular Norway cruise ports (Eidfjord, Bergen, Trondheim, Molde, and Alesund) before stopping in the Lofoten Islands (Leknes), crossing the Arctic Circle and sailing through the North Cape, and hitting northern Norway (Tromso, Honningsvag, Harstad, Bronnoysund).  If you have the time, the variety on this makes it one of the best Norway cruises!

For travelers who can’t decide between cities and nature — One Week on Costa Fascinosa

I was focused on the scenery and outdoors, but if you’d prefer a mix of culture and adventure, Costa does a great job blending the two in this itinerary.  You’ll spend a day each in Copenhagen and Gothenburg for great, walkable city centers.  Geiranger is super scenic and outdoors-focused, while the final stops of Bergen and Stavanger can be bases for city or nature, depending on how you feel.  Spend the weekend in Berlin afterward to round things out.

A Quick Note on Hurtigruten

You’ll see hundreds of Hurtigruten “cruises” listed for Norway, but this is more of a ferry than a traditional cruise experience. Yes, there are onboard restaurants and you can book a cabin to sleep in. However, many port stops are less than 30 minutes long (just long enough to load and unload passengers), so if you want to spend time anywhere, you’ll need to formally disembark and check into a hotel for the night and then re-board a ferry the next day.

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After I wrote this, I got a TON of emails asking what to pack for a Norway cruise, so I created the perfect Norway packing list.  Check it out before you head out on your trip!

Is a Norway cruise right for you? Evaluate the pros & cons and then use these Norwegians fjord cruise tips to plan the perfect trip.
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31 thoughts on “6 Norwegian Fjords Cruise Tips: How to Cruise to Norway the Right Way”

  1. Hey there! Great post! I’ll be cruising the Norwegian Fjords this September. What are your recommendations for Flam? I’ll be in port from 7am-5pm! Thanks!

    1. @Michelle, This is 100% dependent on your interests, but a few options that appealed to me (I did #1):
      1) Ferry Flam – Gudvangen (super scenic, part of the famous “Norway in a Nutshell” route) / rent a kayak in Gudvangen / bus back to Flam
      2) Hike Aurland Valley, there are a few routes with the most popular being Østerbø to Vassbygdi (6ish hours, not including bus to/from trail)
      3) Bus/train to Voss for any of the adventure activities like whitewater rafting

  2. Hi,

    Thinking of cruising to fjords in July 2019 with Parents and kids. Can you please advise on possible cruise lines worth considering, an ideal itinerary and how would you rate the fjord cruises and journey to Norway with young kids ranging from 2-9 years.

    Thanks

    1. @Megha,
      I’d make sure (at minimum) your cruise hits Stavanger and Flam. Both are lovely for walking around and have plenty of tour options for kids.

      I’d also stick to cruise lines with kids clubs onboard — it’s quite likely that you will want an hour or two to yourself to sit on deck and watch the scenery but the kids might not find that exciting!

      Some options I’d consider:
      My top choice if you can spare time for 9 nights – Costa Meditteranea from Amsterdam (easy to get to with kids)
      With 7 nights – Holland America Nieuw Statendam, also from Amsterdam. This is the same ship I’ve recommended to EVERYONE above but a 7-day itinerary instead of the 14-day option.

      1. @Bev, I think 14 days would be magnificent but in the comment above they were traveling with young children in which case I would lean shorter (unless they are experienced travelers).

  3. I’m looking at 2 7-day cruises, both with Holland America. One leaves from Amsterdam on 6/2 for Oslo (Oslofjord), Kristiansand, Slavanger, Sofnefjord, Flaam, Amsterdam. The other leaves Rotterdam on 5/11 for Eidfjord (Hardangerfjord), Alesund, Geiranger (Geirangerfjord), Bergen, Rotterdam. Any recommendation of one over the other, and why?
    Thank you.

    1. @Dennis, I’d lean toward the one out of Amsterdam on 6/2 because I really think that the May weather will be so cold/wet/muddy that it may impact your impressions of Norway. Be aware that Oslo & Kristiansand aren’t classic fjord destinations (they’ll be great as European cities to walk around but not the dramatic fjord scenery).

  4. Hi Becky, great article thanks! Do you have any tips for meaningful but shorter cruises, like in the 3 to 4 day range? Thanks!

    1. @Eric, I’m not aware of any cruises that are shorter than a week, to be honest. For 3 or 4 days, you’d likely to need to book hotels and perhaps some day cruises down the fjords.

  5. We are looking to go to Norway in 2020 with 9 family members 3 children 15, 12, 10. The children’s great grandfather was born and raised there. Looking at the P&O cruise out of SouthHampton 8/1/20 and doing some siteseeing in London before the cruise. Can you comment on this cruise. Any suggestions are greatly appreciated

    1. @Lucille, That cruise wouldn’t be my preference because of the short port times (particularly in Bergen), but it would give you a small taste of what Norway has to offer. I’ve never cruised on P&O so can’t speak to their onboard service/amenities.

  6. Hi Becky, I read your post then had to go back and re-read all your tips! Thanks! We’re going on Holland America 7 day cruise: Oslofjord, Oslo, Kristiansand, Stavanger, Sognefjord and Flam. I was wondering where you suggest booking excursions? We’re the 2nd type of traveler – want to see as much as possible without missing the cruise boarding time.

    1. @Wendy, Depending on what you do, a lot of “excursions” can be done on your own (i.e. it’s really easy to take public transportation or even walk in Oslo to see the museums, historical attractions, etc.). If you’re looking for a guided tour, I like the GetYourGuide platform for searching and booking: they have good local partners in Europe and make it easy to schedule. You can, of course, google for specific ideas in each port and then book directly with the supplier, although that obviously takes more time. I haven’t been to Kristiansand, but I very much liked Oslo, Stavanger, and Flam.

  7. Do you have an opinion on Costa Pacifica? Friends are cruising on June 11, and we are considering joining them. However, I see some quite poor reviews, especially of service and food, and it is not clear to me what size ship this is and if we will be able to get close enough to land to see everything.

    1. @Brenda, I don’t see any Norway cruises on Costa Pacifica on June 11 (I checked 2019 and 2020). Are you sure that’s the right information? I’ve never been on Costa but I could comment on the ports.

      1. I’m a different Brenda, but the Costa Pacifica cruise is June 7-18, RT Kiel. Not what I would have chosen, but joining friends. Are you familiar with the itinerary and sailing route? I’m not clear on whether this constitutes a fjord trip! Thanks!!

  8. I would like to take a Norwegian Fjord Cruise but am not able to walk very far. I wouldn’t be taking any land tours. Do you need to go ashore to appreciate the fjords? I would book a cabin with a balcony with the hope I could view the Jory’s.

    1. @Richard, In fact, the best places to view the fjords is from the water! You will want to pick an itinerary that includes lots of scenic cruising as you sail into ports (ports like Flam instead of Kristiansand). Be on deck for sailing in and out, which might mean you’re up very early in the morning and napping while others go about their day. If you’re up for it, there are also many shore excursions that include train rides or bus trips to enjoy the scenery that shouldn’t involve any/much walking.

  9. Do you have any hiking/outdoorsy recommendations that you really enjoyed while there? I will be stopping in many of those ports and I love active things outdoors. Thanks for a great article!

  10. Barbara randi

    Hi Becky…. a couple of quick questions; Northern Lights, what’s your recommendation on when to book to have the best chance to see them? We traveled Iceland in winter and saw nothing spectacular. I think being on water for the whole if our trip will provide the best opportunity. Second, do cruise lines provide insulated coveralls for guests to stay comfortably warm?

    1. @Barbara, I also had zero luck with Northern Lights in Iceland (in December), so I feel your pain!

      It’s hard to do Northern Lights on a Norway cruise since most of the cruises are seasonal (summer) when the midnight sun means it’ll never get dark enough to see the aurora. You’d need to travel in months of darkness, fall/winter/beginning of spring. On top of that, the coast tends to get a lot of clouds and rain which can further obscure your view.

      As far as I know, other than the Hurtigruten ferry, there are only a few, limited itineraries that travel during this time period (look at Cunard or P&O). There are also high-end, specialty “Arctic” voyages (usually spring through fall, so the ships don’t have to fight ice in the water).

      PERSONALLY, if you are primarily focused on the Northern Lights, I’d head into the interior of Norway instead of a cruise. The interior is more likely to have clear skies. If your priority is visiting Norway, with the aurora just a bonus, then the coast (and cruising) is lovely. Just choose as early in the season or as late as possible to increase your chances of seeing the northern lights. Time permitting, do both 🙂

      No coveralls unless you’re on high-end voyages (think Quark Expeditions, not Holland America). Of course, you’ll need to budget accordingly for that type of experience.

  11. Hi Becky … finalizing our activities for our HAL tour departing 6/23 to Eidfjord, Skjolden, Alesund, and Bergen. Any experience with the first three ports? (I’ve seen you mention Bergen in the past.)

    Here’s what I’ve planned so far:
    In Eidfjord, we’ll be taking the bus to visit Voringfassen Falls.
    In Skjolden, we’ll be doing a RIB tour of the fjord.
    In Alesund, we’ll be visiting the local islands (Giske and Godoy)
    Bergen is open … thinking about a Segway or walking tour. Suggestions?

    Thanks!
    Stuart

    1. @Stuart, I haven’t been to Eidfjord of Skjolden, but I did regret not taking a RIB boat somewhere so I hope that’s as enjoyable as I expect!

      Alesund…I stuck closer to town and enjoyed it very much. I actually hadn’t heard of the islands until you mentioned it, but they look lovely (at least in good weather). This area is prone to rain and fog, which hopefully won’t mean you miss out on the views. You may want a last-minute backup plan, just in case.

      Bergen – This self-guided walking route is a good one. At stop “K”, you can take the funicular up (as they mention) but there are also miles and miles of lovely forest trails, past alpine lakes and with nice views…plus an excellent chance to get away from the crowds. You can also hike up/down instead of taking the funicular if you are physically able to handle the steps. I found Bergen to be quite busy, so I would think that navigating a segway through the sea of people would be challenging.

      1. Becky … this is wonderful! Love the self-guided walking tour in Bergen. What would you suggest as “back-up” activities in Alesund?

      2. @Stuart, I loved the walking tour that leaves from the visitor center – there is a lot of things you’ll walk right by without someone pointing it out (e.g. heated benches!). Great art deco architecture, if of interest, and the visitor center can point you to a downloadable app to explain everything. Can’t remember the name of it, but it works based off your phone GPS so when you get close to something, a photo of it will pop up on the app and you can push play to listen to the facts. The town’s Art Noveau Centre was decently well-done and includes admission to the art museum (not my personal taste, but that’s subjective). Also kayak and paddleboard rentals right in town. Had a great lunch along the main drag as well.

  12. Becky – I am planning a trip to Norway for a party of 4 during July 2020 with the help of a Scandinavian booking agent. We plan to use the Hurtigruten ferry system for touring fjords between Bergen and Tromso. I’ve created a short list of 5 stops we’ll be making between 8 am and 10 pm in case we wish to hop off to extend our stay on land. Would you suggest a 1-night hotel (or inn) stay at any of these stops in particular? The list includes: Alesund, Geiranger, Stamsund, Svolvaer and Finnsnes. (From the schedule our agent provided, it looks like we’ll have a reasonable amount of time to tour Trondheim and Bodo without having to stay overnight. Once we reach Tromso, we’ll stay at a hotel before flying back to Oslo.) I’d appreciate any advice you might be able to give us.

    1. @Marie, Without knowing your interests or the specific ferry schedule, it’s hard to give you a definite answer.

      Alesund & Geiranger are both worthy of 8+ hours, so I’d aim for that in both ports. I’d be tempted to get off the ferry in Alesund and make my own way to Geiranger via the Trollstigen road with a one-way rental car (so skipping that leg by ferry entirely). Spending the night will allow you to take in both ports at leisure + drive Trollstigen at off-peak hours to avoid congestion and have plenty of time for photo stops without crowds in your pictures. I’d personally spend that night along the route in Åndalsnes because there’s a lot of outdoor activities (and mountain scenery) that cruisers don’t really get a chance to see.

      Stamsund and Svolvaer are both relatively compact, but most of the attraction in the Lofoten Islands is hiking, which of course takes time. Because of that, you may want a night in one or the other. Or if you’re hoping to roadtrip through all the small fishing villages.

      For what it’s worth, I hadn’t heard of Finnsnes until your comment, so you’ll need to ask someone else about that one!

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