In the second half of July we departed for a cruise to explore one of the most beautiful natural sites which are Norwegian fjords. We booked a one-week itinerary with our ship departure and arrival from German port in Kiel.
In this post I will show how such journey looks like and is it a good way to see Norwegian fjords. On the map below you see our itinerary:
Why did we choose this particular cruise?
It is worth noting that ports where the ship embarks can be very different. Most of European cruises to Norway depart from Germany and the UK, but the itineraries differ, with some of them including Danish cities like Copenhagen, Aarhus or Skagen or going North straight away and stopping in the area of Oslo and other Southern towns of Norway.
We have decided to book this particular cruise because it offered 3 full days in fjords area whereas the other we have seen included stops in ports around Oslo and Bergen which were not our focus that time. Below I will give you a detailed description of our trip so you can decide if visiting fjords on a cruise is the experience you would like to have!
We have departed on our journey from Kiel in Northern Germany, which is a popular port town for European cruises to Norway, Denmark, Baltic countries, etc.
- When booking your cruise you normally can opt for arrival to the port on your own or have it arranged by a cruise company and buy in this case a package with flight/transfer from your city/country. This of course cost more, so make sure what is the price difference to decide to do it on your own or through the company. Note however, that in case of delays, the ship will wait for you only if you booked the transfer through the cruise company so in case you arrange the trip to the port of embarkation privately, make sure you will be well in advance and have good backup of time for potential delays.
- When choosing your cabin, take into account the destination of your trip and the climate of places of your visit. For the Northern destinations like Norway we don’t consider cabins with a balcony since it’s simply too cold and windy to properly enjoy this perk. If you want to spend some time outside it’s perfectly fine to just have a walk on an open deck. Relaxing on balcony for a long time it’s not quite possible so think well if you really want to pay extra for it.
- Before booking the excursion from a cruise company, check all the ports of disembarkation yourself. Some of places are very easy to see on your own with a much smaller cost.
- If you book a cruise to Norway/Island check out the weather prediction before packing. Even if the weather is not very predictable and changes fast in these regions, you will still have some impression what temperatures to expect. The best way to prepare for Scandinavian weather is to take with you clothes to create layers, don’t forget to take with you waterproof and windproof jacket.
- Note that Norway is Schengen area but is not a member of European Union. This means that for instance EU phone providers will not have EU tariff in Norway so make you sure you switch your mobile data off when on the shore or buy a data package which works in Norway. Note also that Norway has its own currency.
- Since Norway is not a member of EU, EU citizens (and of course residents other countries) are eligible for tax free shopping. You request a tax refund in the last port you visit in Norway during your cruise.
Day 1, KIEL:
The first day was our embarkation in Kiel. It turned out that it is possible to board the ship already around noon, so you can already profit from the offer and attractions available to guests during their cruise. We opted for this option and started our exploration from lunch and then walked around checking out different decks.
However, if you want to spend your afternoon exploring the area of Kiel, you can opt for:
- visiting nearby Hamburg (you can see famous Speicherstadt, landing bridges and the 17th century Krameramtsgasse, visit historical St. Michael’s Church or discover Reeperbahn adult-entertainment district;
- in case you want to stay closer to the harbor, you can have a short tour in Kiel during which you can observe the canal that connects the Northern and the Baltic Seas. You can also go to Kiel Botanical Gardens or Kiellinie filled with cafes, restaurants and sailing club;
- alternatively, you can visit 1.5-hours scenic drive through German countryside and discover Lubeck with its UNESCO World Heritage old town, scenic XIX century alleyways and ground courtyards , enjoy some time around having sampling traditional German cuisine.
Day 2, COPENHAGEN:
The second day we spent in Copenhagen.
Generally, you have two options how to approach Copenhagen:
- official cruise excursion
This option gives you a compact and hassle free trip to see some of major sites of Copenhagen. Normally you have few options to choose, see some of museums and castles with a guide, have a bike trip or just guided tour along Copenhagen streets. If you don’t have much sightseeing experience or you’re very nervous to miss the departure of the ship, then official excursion is a good option. Note however that this comfort comes with a price, since excursions are much more expensive than if you would see the same sites on your own.
- on your own
Copenhagen is very safe and walkable city with very good public transport which will take you to most major tourist attractions. You can easily walk between museums and monuments since they are quite close to each other. Copenhagen is also very famous for being bike friendly. It is very easy to rent a bike to explore the city. However, pay attention, locals really know all the rules how to move on a bike in a busy city so if you’re mostly cycling in the countryside, be very attentive.
What to do during one day in Copenhagen?
One day in Copenhagen is enough to visit a museum, if you like castles you can explore Christianborg Palace which is a home to the Danish Parliament, Amalienborg which is the home of the Danish royal family or renaissance Rosenborg Castle were 400 years of royal treasures, and the Crown Jewels and Royal Regalia are featured. No visit to Copenhagen would be complete without a walk in Nyhavn which is one of the most famous streets in the Danish capital where you will find charming colorful 17th and 18th century houses, in the house N20 lived the writer Hans Christian Andersen after publishing his fairytales. You may also stop by the building N9 which is the oldest in the canal and dates back to 1681! Nyhavn is full of cafes and restaurants as well as many souvenir shops. It is quite expensive place but if you’re short in time it’s still reasonable to get there traditional Danish lunch which will consist of few smørrebrøds which are traditional open-faced sandwiches made of rye bread with butter, topped with herring, cheese, hams, vegetables and different spreads. Try them with cold Danish beer.
A nice walk along the coast will take you to the symbol of Copenhagen which is a sculpture of Little Mermaid, a character coming from one of the most famous fairytales of Hans Christian Andersen. Little Mermaid is a walkable distance from Nyhavn, however it’s a bit more far away from main city attractions. If you in the area, you can visit nearby Kastellet citadel which is one of the best preserved fortresses in Northern Europe.
Nyhavn, Little Mermaid, one of the museums and Kastellet will most probably fill all your time in Copenhagen during one day. However, if you want to go a bit more off the most touristic track you may choose other attractions to explore. You can spend few hours in Tivoli Gardens which are one of the oldest amusement parks in the world (the park is located close to the Copenhagen Central Station). If you like bizarre curious places you can discover freetown Christiania (read about it before to check if that’s the kind of place you want to visit). Area around Copenhagen has really beautiful nature and many cultural sites but before deciding to go there make sure you estimate well your logistics to be back on the ship at the departure time.
How to get to Copenhagen center from the port?
The ports where the ships dock are not very far from the city center, however not really walkable distance. The simplest way is to take one of the City Sightseeing Hop on/Hop off buses or taxis which wait for you in front of the ship, however this option is quite pricey. There also regular Danish buses but you need to get to the stop and check their schedule and frequency. Alternatively, you can walk to the closest metro station and from there go to the city center. The station which is pretty central is Kongens Nytorv so you may want to alight there for the city sightseeing. Metro system in Copenhagen is very frequent and reliable. This is also the cheapest way to move around Copenhagen. Personally, we have decided for the walk and then metro, but we had really good weather so it was very enjoyable.
Day 3, AT SEA
Time to get serious and swim towards Norway to reach the fjords! This day we spent fully on a ship on the open sea. This is a very good time to enjoy the amenities and attractions offered during your cruise. Normally every day you have a paper agenda listing all the events and opening hours of different facilities on the ship. You also can download an app through which you can search and save interesting events. We like swimming a lot so we spent quite some time in the pools and jacuzzi. Since we were heading to the North it became too cold to swim in the open pool, which is a great idea if you’re cruising in the warmer areas. During full day at sea, you will have probably more events, lotteries or small competitions in order to ensure you have plenty of fun onboard. I like the Behind the scenes tour during which you visit the Bridge, the Engine Control Room, Laundry and Provision areas (however, this tour is organized when the ship is docked). If you’re not into such activities you can also spend some time in the gym, go shopping, visit a spa or a casino. In the evening you can go for a show in the onboard theatre. Some of the activities are free, some extra paid, the price depends also on different cruise packages you bought before your trip. This is the day when probably a special night with a specific dress code (more elegant) is organized.
Day 4, HELLESYLT:
First day in the fjords! The village of Hellesylt is located at the head of the Sunnylvsfjorden which has 26km length. It is worth to wake up early in the morning (around 5am) to capture the moment of entering the fjord from the open sea. In the summer months the sunrise can be as early as just after 3am in the area so around 5am you can enjoy the landscape in the daylight. Then you can enjoy the majestic fjords just until docking in the village. The earlier you come the less people you have observing the nature on the open deck so this is really a very surreal experience to be surrounded by the wild mountains when on the lonely deck of enormous ship. I suggest staying on the open deck rather than on the private balcony so you can admire the fjords from both sides. The fact that you can start your day so early enjoying nature in Norway is one of the biggest pros of taking such a cruise. A journey to your next destination is a part of your experience since you can without any obstacles fully focus on taking in the amazing raw landscapes. Fjords are also best observed from the boat/ship.
We reached the village of Hellesylt shortly before 11am. The village is surrounded by scenic valleys and mountains. Personally, I find that one the biggest attractions when in the area is actually the few hour journey made by the ship to Hellesylt itself so you already in the moment of disembarkation had opportunity to enjoy the spectacular nature.
When in Hellesylt you can again choose the official excursions:
- Kayak adventure during which you embark a kayak and explore the nearby nature
- Cruise to Geirangerfjord which is described as one of the world’s most beautiful fjord, the fjord is also on the UNESCO’s World Heritage List
- Visit to Briksdal Glacier ( a massive glacier that flows down a mountainside into the Briksdal Valley). The track crosses the river and climbs in zigzag above the fall to the top where one enjoys the scenic view of the Jostedals Glacier. On the way back the drive leads via Stryn, Loen and Olden.
Trips on your own:
Since Hellesylt is very small it is difficult to find a way of transport to organize a trip to other villages or nearby nature parks on your own. The simplest one to do (and very scenic one!) is
- Cruise to Geirangerfjord by a public ferry and sightseeing the village of Geiranger
This is the easiest and very scenic activity you can do on your own. The public ferry departures from nearby pier just 5 minute walk from the ship. I advice to buy tickets online to skip the queue of people who don’t know about this option, most of the passengers are also from the cruise and generate serious traffic on these ferries. As mentioned before Geirangerfjord is one the most beautiful fjords in the world, it looks like a blue ribbon carved into mountainous landscape, the mountains are up to 1500-metre tall and the slopes are quite steep which gives an impression of very raw, untouched nature. During the cruise you pass spectacular waterfalls descending from the slopes, one of the most famous formations is the Seven Sisters Waterfall which pummels from the 300-metre cliffside down to the fjord.
I suggest to stay on the open deck of the ferry for better views even if the weather is whimsical. The ferry arrives to Geiranger village which is rather touristy close to the harbour. However, you can climb to nearby waterfall and from there visit the local church and walk around absorbing the views and enjoying the nature. Geiranger has few shops which are interesting for buying souvenirs, you can also go to one of small restaurants close to the harbour for coffee or some snack. Note however, that restaurants and cafes are quite expensive, a bottle of small beer costed us 10 euro.
We decided to take pre-last ferry back to Hellesylt to make sure to make it for our embarkation. This time we spent more time in the cosy interior of the ferry.
If you have time in Hellesylt, I still recommend to see the village a bit, go to nearby waterfall and walk along the valley behind the harbour to admire amazing views of the mountains. The route out of Geirangerfjord, back on your cruise ship is very scenic as well, make sure to grab your dinner table by the window or just stay few hours on the open deck to enjoy this natural beauty. The fjords discoveries go well into a very late evening, up to midnight.
DAY 5, ALESUND:
Alesund is a port town at the entrance of Geirangerfjord and it’s very famous for the art nouveau architecture. The city is reputed to be one of the Europe’s most beautiful harbour towns. You can admire the panoramic views at Alesund old town and the surrounding archipelago after climbing 418 steps up to Aksla mountain.
The city can be easily explored on your own, there is many nice spots in the old town, if you plan to buy souvenirs from Norway this is the best place to do it, you will have plenty of shops (also antique shops if you like vintage aesthetic) and the variety of products is the biggest out of all the places in Norway you will visit during this cruise. The full itinerary with recommendations of what to see and do in Alesund can be found in this post.
If you want to see more remote places outside of Alesund you may consider official excursion or use public transport (but verify well the schedule to be sure you return to the ship on time). Alternatively, when docking in Alesund, go straight to the tourist office and take a brochure with information how to get by public transport to interesting cities and nature parks in the area. Beautiful places you can visit from Alesund are:
- Trip to Runde which is a perfect place to all nature and especially birth enthusiasts. Runde is southern Norway’s biggest nesting site, with over 500 000 nesting pairs of seabirds. Cormorants and kittiwakes cling to the vertical rock face, whilst the puffin burrows well into rocks and tunnels. Birdlife on Runde peaks during the nesting period from end of May to July/August and May and June are the best month to observe birds, note that puffin like to retire to its tunnels in the evening.
- Round trip to Trollstigen and Valladal. During this journey you go first to Andalsnes before embarking on Trollstigen. This is a hairpin road which leads up to the summit 850 metres above the sea level, make sure you spend some time on Trollstigen plateau to enjoy the majestic views at take photos. The journey back leads through the valley of Valladal with amazing views at the surrounding mountains. Go for strawberry tasting if visiting in the season.
- Round trip to Molde and the Atlantic Road. If you want to observe how live the locals, you can visit Molde which is a small coastal town with 26 000 inhabitants. As many towns in Norway also this one transformed into urban area from fishing and trading village. From Molde continue your journey through the Atlantic Road which is equally scenic both in sunshine and calm weather as well as storms, wind and rain. The road connects Averoy with mainland via a series of small islands and islets and is in fact a national tourist route. Highly recommended!
Leaving Alesund, as you see the weather can be very dynamic and change within few minutes!
DAY 6, FLAM:
Similarly as when arriving to Hellesylt, it’s worth waking up early to observe the scenic route of a cruise ship through the narrow fjord ribbon. Flam is a village which sits at the end of Aurlandsfjord. You can explore the area and the valley surrounded by formidable mountains. Traditional wooden houses, 17th century church and nearby waterfall which you can reach after 20 minute pretty steep climb, gives you impression what a rural life in Norway looks like. But the main attraction of Flam is the railway, classified as one of the most scenic rail routes in the world.
The train journey starts in Flam and goes up to Myrdal on the Bergen Railway. Nowhere in the world is there an adhesion-type railway on normal tracks with a steeper climb. The ride provides a panoramic view of some of the wildest and most striking examples of Norwegian mountain landscape. Rivers cut through deep ravines, waterfall cascade down the side of the steep, snow-capped mountains. The train takes about one hour and half to cover the 20-kilometres long track, through 20 tunnels totalling a distance of 6 kilometres.
When arriving at Myrdal, spend some time in the area, and then take train back. If you like hiking you can get off at some of the earlier stations and descend on foot to Flam. Before making such decision check weather conditions and carefully estimate the time required for your hike.
As exciting as it sounds, there are some traps related to the journey to Myrdal. Of course, your cruise provider will offer the official excursion, however the price is more than twice more expensive than if you buy tickets on your own.
However, the trains don’t departure often enough so many people from the cruise will able to board it. It means that when you disembark the ship, most probably most of the tickets will be sold out! The railway is much less frequented on most of the days, but the infrastructure is not prepared to serve thousands of guests who come from the cruise! This was a very painful realization for us, since we didn’t manage to buy the ticket! A day before I was checking and I saw tickets available online. I didn’t suspect however, that all of them will disappear in the morning. The available places were only for those hours when it was impossible to make the trip back to the ship. This was a big pity and I really recommend you book the tickets on your own from official website for Norwegian railways few days ahead.One of the stations of Flam Railway and the schedule. Apart of busy days when the ship docks, the train tickets are easily available and the village is very calm and serene.
As far we were concerned, we just explored the area, climb to the local waterfall and hiked along the nearby valley. The views were breathtaking, one could also observe life of the locals in small and remote villages at the end of the fjords.I really recommend hiking up to the waterfall. The views at the surrounding area are just stunning!When walking along the valley you pass many small villages. This is a perfect opportunity to take a look how small communities live in the far away Norwegian mountains.When back on the ship but still docked in Flam, you can observe the end of Aurlandsfjord
This was the last port we disembarked in Norway, thus this was the moment to submit all customs forms for tax refunds for your shopping. Make sure you bring all your receipts, filled forms and passport. Credential of your credit card also will be needed. It’s important to remember it since there will be no other opportunity to claim tax refund. Make sure you come a bit earlier since the queue can be long, many other cruise guests also want to take this advantage.
When back on the ship, enjoy the scenic cruise on the ship out from the fjords to the open sea. It takes few hours of this spectacular journey looking and nearby mountains with steep cliffsides and the small farmsteads clinging to the rocky edges, absorb the formidable raw Norwegian beauty well into the late evening hours.
DAY 7, AT THE SEA:
This is the full day at the sea on the way back to Kiel. This is good day to just relax and enjoy all the amenities offered by your cruise ship. If you want to subscribe to the loyalty programme or ask about the future cruises offer, this is a good moment to inquire about it. This day you also need to settle you onboard account with all the expenses from your stay on the ship. During the last day I enjoyed some good swim, due to the fact that we were going to the South, at some point it was warm enough to go to external pool. If you didn’t have time before to do some activity or attend some attraction this is a good day to do so.
At the end of the day you find in your room detailed instructions about the morning check out. The rules are very clear, there are exact hours to leave your luggage (normally should be in front of your cabin before late night), you’re also explained how to tag your luggage correctly. When packing make sure to put items which you need in the morning to your hand luggage. The checked luggage will be taken from the corridor in the night before disembarkation.
DAY 8, KIEL:
This was the last day of our cruise. We had breakfast in the morning and then around 10 it was our group which was meant to disembark. The check out was done in a very organized and efficient way. People were divided into groups mostly depending on the decks where their rooms were. However, if you had booked transport like plane or train via your cruise company, they will prioritize check out of this guests accordingly to the hour of their flight.
After leaving the ship, there were rows of carry on luggage which you deposited in the evening, ready for pick up. Our experience was very smooth and fast and by 10:30 we had time for ourselves.
I think it is a good idea to use this day to sightsee Kiel, Hamburg or Lubeck, especially if you didn’t do it the first day during embarkation. In fact I recommend discovering these places now than at the beginning, since you can’t any longer enjoy the amenities of the ship (the first day you can access the ship just after noon), also you don’t have any time restrictions since there is no embarkation scheduled in the afternoon as it was always the case during the cruise.
Do I recommend doing the cruise to Norwegian fjords?
I think it is a good idea to see the fjords on the cruise, you have a very smooth ride between various destinations, admiring the fjords from the ship gives you also the best perspective to observe them. The prices of hotels, food and transport in Norway are very expensive, so ship can be more affordable way to see these miraculous natural sites.
However, the cruise won’t be very suitable if you want to do longer hikes, discover many places at one destination (going to many villages, taking your time to discover beautiful places), you’re very much limited by the ship embarkation and disembarkation schedule. Also you must be ready for crowds, queues and sold out entry tickets to attractions. Places you visit may be very different than what you see on the folders before your journey since you’re sightseeing among thousands of people who also took your cruise. Small villages, national parks and peaceful towns are often not ready for so many visitors and get quickly saturated whereas on every other day single travellers may fully enjoy the destination .