Hurtigruten is a daily passenger and freight shipping service, which travels along Norway’s western and northern coast. With eleven coastal ships, it sails almost the entire length of the country, completing the round-trip journey from Bergen to Kirkenes and back again in 12 days. The Hurtigruten fleet is the lifeline for many Norwegians, especially for those in remote communities, who await their post and other goods; this can be the only form of accessible transport. With relatively small ships that are easily manoeuvred, Hurtigruten voyages give passengers the opportunity to visit many unique places other ships simply cannot reach. I had the opportunity to experience a taste of Norway’s stunning coast, on board the famous Hurtigruten ship Kong Harald, where I was lucky enough to experience the Northern Lights.
Hurtigruten cruises are casual and comfortable, with functional cabins that are warm and cosy in the winter, and include all the facilities you might require. Food was top quality, with fish and seafood, literally fresh from the sea. Although the menu is set, if you'd prefer something else, simply let the headwaiter know and an alternative will be arranged for you. Generally drinks can be expensive in Norway, so if you like a bottle of wine with dinner, I would advise taking the drinks package that Hurtigruten can offer. On board there is a tea and coffee shop, as well as a bar area and newsagent style shop, for any small goods you may have forgotten.
Hurtigruten offers Explorer voyages in Antarctica, Greenland, Iceland, Spitsbergen and across the Transatlantic, but one of the most popular is Norway’s western and northern coastlines. With so many wonderful ports and stunning landscapes, it’s no wonder the Norwegian coast has been described as the “World’s Most Beautiful Sea Voyage”.
Our journey began with a flight to Tromso via Oslo, where we were met by the transfer team and swiftly taken to the quayside hotel Rica Ishavshotel. Here we enjoyed some dinner as we waited for the arrival of our vessel – what a surprise when it pulled up at around 9pm, right outside the hotel!
Tromso is known as the gateway to the Arctic, and is easy to get around, even walking across the Tromsobrua Bridge to the famous Arctic cathedral is an easy distance. While in Tromso, I would recommend pre-booking a ticket to see the midnight concert in the cathedral, with its incredible acoustics by candlelight; it was a truly magical experience. Another excursion I enjoyed was the Polar History Walk, as this city was the starting point for many explorers.
The most memorable outing for me, by far, was the Wilderness centre, where you don your winter survival gear and thick boots, to meet the huskies for a sledge ride on the frozen landscape. Even in summer you can visit the huskies and their puppies here. We also enjoyed dinner here, in a traditional “lavu” or roundhouse, with a central fire, as we eagerly awaited the Northern Lights.
Right on time, around 9pm, the lights appeared as green and yellow wavy ribbons in the sky, and our hosts tempted us away from the log fire and the hot chocolate to compete for the best shot of the phenomena. It’s actually quite difficult to get a good photo of the Aurora, unless you have a more professional camera with a slow shutter speed, so I had to resort to taking a picture of the postcard I bought of the Northern Lights instead!
Another unforgettable experience is crossing the Arctic Circle, which is marked with a certificate for all guests on board, and the “King" of the sea douses you with ice water as part of a traditional ceremony at Trollfjord - chilly but fun. Sailing through the open sea up towards the Lofoten Islands can be choppy, but generally as the ships hug the coastline, sailing is smooth even in the winter months.
Our final point in the itinerary was Kirkenes, a remote border town, next to Russia, with an “edge of the world” feel. This is where you will find the Snow hotel from December till late April, and also where we experienced the King crab safari. These are monsters of the deep but very tasty, prepared and cooked for you at the end of the excursion. On my return journey, the highlight for me was Trondheim, an ancient city with the famous Nidaros cathedral and lovely views from the old town bridge. It’s easy to wander around on your own, or take a highlights tour with a guide.
On a Hurtigruten voyage you can experience some of the world’s most pristine and vulnerable natural landscapes, giving you an insight into places many people only dream about. With locally traded food and suppliers, Hurtigruten allows you to fully immerse yourself into the culture and lifestyle of each destination.