It’s the middle of the evening and a ship slips out of Bergen and turns north to cruise up the Norwegian coast. This happens every day of the year, as another vessel in the Hurtigruten fleet embarks on the coastal voyage from Bergen to the Russian border. The northbound journey from Bergen to Kirkenes requires six nights on board a comfortable vessel which will make over 30 stops along the way.
Slow travel at its best
Sounds like fun? It is. To our mind, the Norwegian coastal voyage is one of Europe’s finest slow travel adventures. In the words of Hurtigruten boss Daniel Skjeldam, the Norwegian coastal voyage is a unique experience made possible by Hurtigruten’s own special way of doing things. “We trade locally, respect traditions and value our cooperation with the communities that make an immense effort in welcoming our guests,” says Skjeldam.
Modern travel is all about dashing from place to place. Many of the journeys we describe in hidden europe magazine play to a slower tune. We place as much emphasis on the journey itself as the destination. That’s the essence of slow travel. If you are interested, why not read more about that in our Manifesto for Slow Travel? The Norwegian coastal voyage is very much a slow travel experience.
No-one boards a Hurtigruten vessel in Bergen because it is the cheapest or fastest way to reach Kirkenes. No, discerning travellers choose the Norwegian coastal voyage because they want to rediscover the pleasure of taking things slowly.
Some passengers make only a part journey. They might sail just from Bergen to Trondheim, which requires two nights on board. It takes 72 hours (so three nights on board the ship) to reach the Lofoten Islands. The choice is yours. Real stalwarts may travel all the way from Bergen to Kirkenes and then immediately return south again on the same vessel. The entire voyage from Bergen to Kirkenes and back requires 11 nights on board. Others prefer to stop off here and there along the way, taking time to explore ports large and small served by Hurtigruten ships on their long coastal journey.
The pure simplicity of the timetable allows travellers to create their own itineraries, confident in the knowledge that – wherever they alight along the way – another Hurtigruten ship will be along in 24 hours.
A cruise with a twist
The Hurtigruten vessels that ply the Norwegian coast provide essential links to ports along the way. The further north you travel, the more important Hurtigruten is as a key part of the local transport infrastructure. This is a shipping service that connects remote communities with the wider world. You’ll find locals joining a ship just to make a short journey to another port along the coast. This imparts a very special flavour to any journey on Hurtigruten.
But the Hurtigruten service can equally be used to create a tailor-made cruise. The ships are very comfortable. The specific services and grades of cabin vary from vessel to vessel. It is worth taking time to think about this issue. You’ll have a very different Hurtigruten experience on a small vessel such as the MS Lofoten compared with that on a larger vessel like the MS Midnatsol.
Whatever ship you opt for, it is just worth bearing in mind that these are not cruises in the conventional sense. You’ll find plenty of creature comforts on board but you’ll not encounter any of the pretensions that surround conventional cruise holidays. For example, there is not much by way of on-board entertainment. But who needs bingo, comedians and conjurors when some of Europe’s finest coastal scenery is slipping by beyond the window?
Finding out more
We are very happy to hear from subscribers to hidden europe who have made or are planning journeys on the Norwegian coastal route. We have gathered together our answers to commonly asked queries in our Q&A on Hurtigruten.
You may also find some of the following links useful:
- Get to know the ships deployed on the Norwegian coastal route (note that the very first vessel listed, the MS Fram, is an exploration cruise ship and does not sail on the Norwegian coastal route)
- Find out which Hurtigruten vessel is used on any particular sailing
- Learn more about the ports that you visit on the Norwegian coastal voyage from Bergen to Kirkenes
- Get to know the company that manages the Norwegian Coast Voyage
- See what awaits you at the dinner table on Hurtigruten boats