The cruise along the western coast of Norway has been called the "world's most beautiful" voyage, and the ever-present spectacular scenery and fascinating ports of call make this designation difficult to refute. Hurtigruten's fleet of coastal liners sails 12-day, 2500+ nautical mile round trip voyages between Bergen on the southwest coast of Norway and Kirkenes on the northern coast of Norway. Kirkenes is so close to the Russian border that it can easily be visited (but not crossed).
Since a ship leaves 365 days a year from Bergen and Kirkenes, this adventure is available year-round.
The towns, fjords, wildlife, and breathtaking Norwegian coastline are magnificent, and travelers can sail year-round on Hurtigruten's fleet of coastal liners that serve as both ferries and cruise ships.
This photo gallery tracks the 5-day southbound route of the Hurtigruten MS Midnatsol as we sailed from Kirkenes to Bergen. I also sailed southbound from Tromsø to Bergen on the ms Richard With, and some of the photos are from that shorter voyage. Guests can board in any port, and I had a day and a half in Tromsø before boarding the ms Richard With. This allowed more time to explore Tromsø and to do some kayaking in a nearby fjord.
Vardø, Norway Harbor
This "Cod is Great" sign reinforces the way Vardø fishermen feel about this Norwegian food staple. The sign greets Hurtigruten ships at their first port of call after leaving Kirkenes.
Steilneset Memorial to the Victims of the Witch Trials in Vardø, Norway
In the early 17th century, government administrators at the Vardøhus fortress in Vardø, Norway held many witch trials. The Steilneset Memorial in Vardø is dedicated to the 91 victims of these trials. It was designed by Swiss architect Peter Zumthor and the French-American artist Louise Bourgeois. The Zumthor structure is a 400-foot long scaffolding, with tributes to each of the victims inside a suspended silken cocoon.
Interior of the Steilneset Memorial to the Victims of the Witch Trials in Vardø
The interior of the Steilneset Memorial is a single 400-foot long corridor with an oak floor. Along the walls are 91 illuminated windows, one for each of the Finnmark victims who were convicted of witchcraft and burned at the stake. Each victim also has a plaque telling his/her story. A total of 135 individuals were tried, and most of the 91 executed were women, but a handful were men.
Exterior of the Steilneset Memorial to the Victims of the Witch Trials in Vardø
This tiny glass box-like building sits next to the long scaffolding designed by Zumthor. This section designed by Louise Bourgeois is a stark contrast to the other building, and what's inside is even more memorable.
Second Builiding of Steilneset Memorial designed by Louise Bourgeois
The long cocoon-like structure was designed by Peter Zumthor, but the small box-like building of dark glass next to it was conceived by French contemporary artist Louise Bourgeois. This tiny memorial contains a steel chair surrounded by a concrete cone with a continually burning flame. The chair is surrounded by a set of circular mirrors. Entitled, "The Damned, The Possessed and The Beloved", the endless flame in this stark setting is impressive.
Zumthor used his part of the memorial to honor the victims and Bourgeois used her part to describe the horror of what happened. They both met their objectives.
Church in Vardø, Norway
This quiet church is located on the path linking the harbor where the Hurtigruten ships dock and the Steilneset Memorial and Vardøhus fortress.
Vardøhus Fortress in Vardø, Norway
The original Vardøhus Fortress dates back to the 14th century, and served as the seat of the regional government for hundreds of years.
Vardøhus Fortress and the Steilneset Memorial in Vardø, Norway
The contemporary Steilneset Memorial is a interesting contrast to the old fortress in Vardø. They both face the sea.
Tundra near Mehamn, Norway
A nighttime reindeer spotting excursion from the MS Midnatsol ran from 1 am to 3:30 am. The ride from Mehamn to Kjøllefjord was fascinating, filled with tundra, lakes, small cabins, and reindeer.
Reindeer near Mehamn, Norway
Our first reindeer on the nighttime/early morning reindeer spotting excursion from the MS Midnatsol of Hurtigruten.
Small Cabin near Mehamn, Norway
Although Mehamn has only a few hundred residents, many of them have small cabins out in the country like this one. Guess even village residents like to get away!
Sunrise Above the Arctic Circle near Mehamn, Norway
It's not even 2 am above the Arctic Circle in Norway, but the sun is starting to rise.
White Reindeer in Norway
White reindeer represent only a small percentage of a herd, and they are considered good luck.
Reindeer at Sunrise in Norway
It's 2:13 am above the Arctic Circle near Mehamn, Norway, and the sun has already brightened the sky. Great time to make pictures of reindeer silhouetted on the hilltop, isn't it?
Reindeer at Sunrise in Norway
Here's a last look at a reindeer before he goes over the edge of the hilltop.
Sunrise in Norway Above the Arctic Circle
It's August and about 2:15 am above the Arctic Circle. The sunrise is spectacular.
Cooking Reindeer Kebabs near Kjøllefjord, Norway
After riding across the peninsula from Mehamn, the group stopped about two hours later on a hilltop overlooking the small town of Kjøllefjord. We ate snacks like reindeer kebabs while waiting to see the MS Midnatsol arrive.
We watched the MS Midnatsol sail into the large harbor at Kjøllefjord, Norway, boarded the ship at about 3:00 am, and sailed soon afterwards for the next port of call at Honningsvåg.
Finnkjerka near Kjøllefjord, Norway
Leaving Kjøllefjord, the Midnatsol sailed close to Finnkjerka, one of Norway's most famous rock formations.
Nordkapp or North Cape in Norway
Nordkapp (North Cape in English) plateau is celebrated as continental Europe's northernmost point at 71 degrees, 10 minutes, and 21 seconds north of the Equator and less than 1000 miles from the North Pole. The actual furthest most point is at Knivskjellodden, which is at 71 degrees, 11 minutes, and 8 seconds.
Area near North Cape in Norway
We got very lucky and had a spectacular, calm day at the North Cape.
Reindeer near the North Cape in Norway
Many reindeer can be seen in the summertime on the drive to the North Cape (Nordkapp) from Honningsvåg.
Reindeer near the North Cape in Norway
Never too many reindeer photos! They are like penguins--so exotic and beautiful.
Drive to the North Cape in Norway
It was a beautiful summertime morning on our drive to the North Cape from Honningsvåg.
White Reindeer near the North Cape in Norway
Many reindeer are along the road from Honningsvåg to the North Cape in Norway.
Reindeer near the North Cape in Norway
I was surprised to see the white reindeer, but none with a red nose.
Promontory near the North Cape in Norway
The North Cape is surrounded by many other promontories or peninsulas, one of which is actually slightly further north. The North Cape is 71 degrees, 10 minutes, and 21 seconds; Knivskjellodden, a small point west of the Cape is at 71 degrees, 11 minutes, and 8 seconds. Not much difference, but important!
The Globe at the North Cape (Nordkapp)
The Globe was erected at the North Cape in 1977 and is now its symbol. I joined in the fun and had my photo taken at The Globe. We had a gorgeous day, but often the weather is very windy and cold, even in the summer.
Sami Man, Lavvu, and Reindeer
This Sami man posed for photos with one of his reindeer and a traditional lavvu, which is a Sami teepee. We stopped for a photo op at a shop that sold Sami-made handicrafts on the road to the North Cape.
It is interesting that the lavvu of the indigenous Sami of northern Scandinavia look much like the teepees of native North Americans.
Hammerfest is often called the world's most northerly town since it is the largest town over 70 degrees north. Other Norwegian settlements further north have tried to take the claim away from Hammerfest, but none are large enough to do so.
Hammerfest Polar Bear
The polar bear is the symbol of Hammerfest, and this statue greets visitors as they drive into town. Although Norway doesn't have any polar bears on the mainland, this one is a little disconcerting when suddenly seen from a vehicle!
Øksfjordjøkulen - Norway's Fifth Largest Glacier
The Hurtigruten MS Midnatsol sailed near the Øksfjordjøkulen, Norway's fifth largest glacier, on the route from Hammerfest to Skjervøy.
Skjervøy is one of many small towns visited by Hurtigruten ships on the western coast of Norway.
Lyng Alps of Norway
Sunset over the Lyng Alps is magical when the summer weather is good! This August photo was taken at about 10:15 pm.
Sunset over the Lyng Alps of Norway from the MS Midnatsol
What a magical evening as we sailed from Skjervøy towards Tromsø.
Tromsø Arctic Cathedral
One of the shore excursions on the southbound Hurtigruten itinerary is a midnight concert at the Arctic Cathedral in Tromsø.
The Trondenes Church dates back to medieval times, and those on the "Taste of Vesterålen" shore excursion from Harstad visit the church and the nearby Trondenes Historical Centre.
Vesterålen has some interesting farming country and rivers such as this one. A drive from Harstad to Sortland from the Hurtigruten MS Midnatsol features many lovely views of the Norwegian countryside.
Riding through the bright green fields and agricultural farms on Vesterålen is a nice shore excursion from a Hurtigruten ship.
Old Ship Finnmarken in Stokmarknes
Ship pilot Richard With got the idea of a Norwegian coastal voyage in Stokmarknes, so it is appropriate that the Hurtigruten Museum is in this small town. It's just off the pier, behind this old Finnmarken ship.
The narrow Raftsundet strait is one of the most scenic parts of the southbound route of the Hurtigruten Norwegian coastal voyage. It's about 15 miles long and features towering mountains and marvelous vistas.
The first time I visited Norway with Hurtigruten, I boarded a small sightseeing boat, and we motored through Raftsundet and the Trollfjorden while gazing at the magnificent scenery and looking for sea eagles. The second time I was in Norway with Hurtigruten, I took a much faster boat ride through the Raftsundet on a Rigid Inflatable Boat (RIB) with RIB Lofoten. This ride was more exhilarating, but fun and exciting. I would recommend either of these shore excursions to those sailing the coastal route with Hurtigruten or visiting the Lofoten islands.
While on the Hurtigruten MS Midnatsol, we boarded a small boat in search of sea eagles. We saw hundreds of sea gulls, but only a few sea eagles. However, I did get some great photos of the Midnatsol and saw some spectacular scenery in the Raftsundet.
Feeding Sea Gulls
We only saw a few sea eagles, but had fun feeding and photographing the sea gulls on our small boat sea eagle safari from the Hurtigruten MS Midnatsol. The spectacular background added a lot to those photos.
Trollfjord is less than a mile long and only about 100 yards wide at its narrowest point. Tall cliffs surround the spectacular fjord, and Hurtigruten ship Captains take their ships into the fjord to give guests spectacular views (weather permitting). Can you see the kayak at the base of the rocky cliff? This fjord is not as large as Geirangerfjord, but is almost as magnificent.
Svolværgeita or Goat Mountain in Lofoten
Goat Mountain overlooks the town of Svolvær in the Lofoten archipelago of Norway. Lofoten attracts a lot of mountain climbers, and some have been known to jump the 5 feet separating the two rocky goat horns. The next picture shows that even reaching the horns would be a difficult climb for most people.
Svolvær, Lofoten Islands
Many visitors to Lofoten use Svolvær as a base. Although tourism is one of the major sources of revenue now, fishing is still a major industry. Those who love outdoor activities love the Lofoten islands, and many have been known to climb Goat Mountain, which overlooks the town. See the previous photo for more information on the rocky goat horns that can be seen protruding from the mountain in the center of this picture.
Horseback Riding on the Beach in the Lofoten Islands
While in Svolvær in the Lofoten Islands of Norway, I took a horseback riding excursion to Hov Hestegård, where we rode for an hour on a sandy beach and over a fascinating trail. We rode on these gentle Icelandic horses. It was quite a memorable late afternoon, and we rejoined the Hurtigruten MS Midnatsol in Stamsund.
Lofoten Islands Sunset
While on our horseback riding excursion from Hov Hestegård, we watched the sun set over the Lofoten Islands of Norway.
Icelandic Horse at Hov Hestegård on Lofoten
Mimir was the Icelandic horse I rode on our horseback riding shore excursion at Hov Hestegård in the Lofoten Islands, which was from a 5-night Hurtigruten Norwegian coastal voyage from Kirkenes to Bergen on the MS Midnatsol. Their mild temperament makes them a good choice for inexperienced riders like me, and their excellent gait makes them a good choice for skilled riders, too.
Island in the Arctic Circle in the North Atlantic
Arctic Circle Marker between Ørnes and Nesna
The MS Midnatsol crossed the Arctic Circle at 66 degrees 33 minutes, and 44 seconds north latitude. The Arctic Circle is the southernmost latitude in the Northern Hemisphere at which the sun can remain continuously above the horizon for 24 hours at the June summer solstice and continuously below the horizon at the December winter solstice.
Cleaning Eider Down on Vega
Harvesting eider down from duck nests, cleaning it, and using the down to make bedding and clothing is a traditional occupation in the Vega islands of Norway. Learning about this fascinating industry was interesting for all of us on the Hurtigruten shore excursion from Sandnessjøen.
Would you pay over $4000 for a duvet? That's the approximate price for those made from the down of eider ducks. After learning about the process of taking care of the ducks, harvesting the down, cleaning the down, and making the duvets, I can understand why they cost so much. The Vega Islands of Norway are famous for their eider down bedding.
Village of Nes in the Vega Islands
The Vega group of hundreds of islands achieved UNESCO World Heritage status in 2004 for the way it reflects the work and culture of those living near the Arctic Circle, particularly the practice of eider down harvesting. Nes is a small village on the north side of Vega on the Helgeland coast and Vega is the largest of the 59 inhabited islands in the archipelago. Nes is home to the Eider Museum.
The tunnel hole in Torghatten Mountain is 480 feet long, 115 feet high, and 50 feet wide.
Nidaros Cathedral in Trondheim
The Nidaros Cathedral is one of the must-see sights in Trondheim, Norway.
Road from Kristiansund to Molde
The drive from Kristiansund to Molde is very scenic, with lots of interesting countryside, plus the Atlantic Road, a 5.2 mile civil engineering marvel.
Kvernes Stave Church
This beautiful 13th century stave church is very ornate on the inside.
Kvernes Stave Church
The Kvernes Stave Church dates back to the 13th century and is near Avernøy, Norway.
The Atlantic Road is a civil engineering marvel on the west coast of Norway. It stretches for about 5 miles and includes 8 bridges.
This bridge on the Atlantic Road in Norway looks almost like a ski jump, doesn't it?
Bergen - Gateway to the Fjords
All too soon our 5-day cruise from Kirkenes to Bergen was over. Our Hurtigruten coastal ship covered over 2300 nautical miles, stopped at 31 ports on our voyage along the western coast of Norway, and crossed the Arctic Circle. The lucky guests saw many unique places, enjoyed great fish, and chowed down on the best crab legs I've ever tasted.
My only regret was that we didn't get to sail back to Kirkenes on the 7-day voyage north. Many of the ports on the northbound voyage are different, and even those that repeat are seen at a different time of day or night. Since the Hurtigruten ships sail year-round, the voyage is likely to be much different in another season, too.