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Cruising the Norwegian Coast with Hurtigruten

It may not come as a surprise to many of you that I’d never been on a cruise ship before my trip to Norway. As someone who gets seasick easily, the thought of being on a boat for days on end has never appealed to me; plus, I like active vacations where I see more than just the open sea and the inside of a cabin.

MS Nordnorge in port in Tromsø.

The MS Nordnorge in port in Tromsø.

Yet, when I came across the Hurtigruten as a transport option between my rather spaced-out destinations along the Norwegian coast, I jumped at the chance. What is the Hurtigruten? According to their website, “Translating as ‘fast route’, it was the quickest and most reliable passage into the remote lands of northern Norway, regardless of weather conditions. Indeed it was not until 1893 that the mail delivery was finally entrusted to road and air routes.”

Their fleet of ten ships, varying in age from 10-50 years old, carry holidaymakers, short-distance travelers, and freight daily from Bergen in Norway’s south to Kirkenes in Norway’s far northeast (next to the Russian border). They have daily departures from all 35 ports year round, and the full voyage takes 6 days one way or 12 days round-trip.

Finssnes, one of the many ports where the Hurtigruten stops.

Finssnes, one of the many ports where the Hurtigruten stops.

35 ports does sound like a lot, and the ship does stop reasonably often. I think that’s a good thing though — you’re never stuck on the ship for too long before you can stretch your legs in yet another scenic village (or city). Plus, it’s kind of cool knowing you’re part of the coast’s lifeline; without the Hurtigruten, many of the stops in the north would face much longer shipping times for everyday deliveries.

So why did I jump at the chance to sail with Hurtigruten? Well, I’d only be spending a night at a time on the ship, and it would be like taking a floating hotel from place to place. The idea appealed to me much more than sitting in a bus for hours on end, which was already part of my itinerary in spades. Plus, I’d get to see the scenic Norwegian landscape from a very different angle.

Seeing the Norwegian fjords in a different light.

We definitely got to see the Norwegian fjords in a different light!

Two overnight trips of about 18 hours each were enough time for me to get comfortable with the way of life on the ship (although it probably would have been nice to stay another night on one of the trips and get more settled in). Life on the ship was pretty regimented, and a few times I felt like I was a sheep being herded. On a ship that large, this was clearly needed, but it was still difficult to get used to as it was so completely opposite to my travel style on the rest of the trip.

However, it was all run like a well-oiled machine and we were broken up into groups efficiently, to the point that I didn’t even realise how many people were on the ship until we all tried to disembark at once.

The 13th century Trondenes Church near Harstad.

The 13th century Trondenes Church near Harstad.

Some people plan their trips based on which ship they will be sailing on (the descriptions of which are all available on the Hurtigruten travel planner), but as I had a set schedule, I just took the luck of the draw. The MS Midnatsol (which I sailed on from Svolvær to Tromsø) and the MS Nordnorge (which I took from Tromsø to Honningsvåg) were both great ships that were comfortable and had everything you could possibly need for a trip through the Norwegian fjords. “Everything you could possibly need” included some of the best food I had on my trip. There was a great selection and I think the salad I had for dinner one night was the best one I’ve ever had. My opinion may have been influenced by the heaping pile of bacon on top of it!

In this case, you do make friends with salad.

In this case, you do make friends with salad.

MS Midnatsol

Cruising on this ship first spoiled me. The MS Midnatsol, whose first sailing was in 2003, was a gorgeous ship that was absolutely full of midnight sun motifs (which makes sense, since its name means midnight sun). Occasionally interspersed with the midnight sun were vivid images of the northern lights — even my cabin carpet had green lines dancing across it).

Inside the MS Midnatsol

The main lobby area of the MS Midnatsol.

Much larger than the MS Nordnorge, the MS Midnatsol had nine floors, six of which were accessible for passengers. One of my favourite parts of the ship was the two-floor lounge on the bow side of floors 8 and 9, which allowed a nearly 180 degree view around the front of the boat through its giant glass windows. It was a perfect place to watch the scenery without having to brave the wind that comes with being out on the sea. There was also a small concert here by a local band just before we disembarked in Tromsø.

The panorama deck of the MS Midnatsol.

The panorama deck of the MS Midnatsol.

My other favourite spot on the ship was the massive roof deck on floor 9. A very conveniently placed bar sits just inside folding doors and leads out to so much deck space that, when there was a party there shortly after I got on board, it still didn’t seem crowded. In the stern of the ship, this deck actually opens out to a massive helicopter pad, next to which there sit a lot of lounge chairs. If you think you can brave the temperatures and wind it’s a great place to watch the snow-capped fjords go by. I sat in one for about 30 minutes after checking out, although I will admit that it was much more comfortable when we were in port!

The roof deck of the MS Midnatsol.

The roof deck of the MS Midnatsol.

My cabin in the MS Midnatsol was about what I expected; a single bed, a couch, a desk, and a bathroom. I didn’t feel cramped at all and the rocking of the ship was enough to put me to sleep quickly. I loved the fact that the bathroom had heated floors too — it was very nice for warming my feet after I snuck out on deck in just my flip flops.

MS Nordnorge 

As I mentioned above. the MS Nordnorge is much smaller than the MS Midnatsol. It only holds 623 passengers vs. the MS Midnatsol’s 1000 — a fact that I keenly noticed since there weren’t any cabins available when I booked. As a result, I ended up sleeping on a couch in one of the bar areas that was empty for the night. The fact that I didn’t sleep as well there didn’t have to do with being on the couch, but was more because the ship, now on the open seas, spent the entire night on a roller coaster of waves. Even though I didn’t get a brilliant night’s sleep, I didn’t get seasick either…and that was much more important to me!

The bar/my bedroom for the night on the MS Nordnorge.

The bar/my bedroom for the night on the MS Nordnorge.

Because of this roller coaster, I really missed having the large outside decks of the Midnatsol. When there was an announcement that the northern lights were visible, only a few of us were game to try going outside on the deck that wrapped around level 6. I tried to see them but was blinded by the falling snow, and I felt like one slip might send me overboard — not what you want in the Norwegian Sea.

The purser waving the Norwegian flag.

The purser waving the Norwegian flag.

My favourite part about the MS Nordnorge was the purser that made the regular announcements. He was one of the jolliest people I met on my trip and always had a cheeky remark to offer. When we were getting ready to disembark in Honningsvåg, he announced that “If 200 people pile into a very small space like deck 4, it will get very hot and then you will get problems with your heart. You don’t want that.”

When we all managed to disembark, he was bouncing around outside, dancing and swinging a giant Norwegian flag over his head to help guide us to our buses. As soon as enough of us were within earshot, he pointed up above the town at the many rows of fences on the side of the mountain and said, “See, those are the Honningsvåg vineyards! You really should try the wine!” (In actual fact, they were fences to help stop avalanches on the treeless hillside).

I think cruising on the Hurtigruten was the best way I could have been introduced to cruising. We stayed along the coast, getting amazing views in the process, and I got to taste the cruise experience a little bit at a time instead of being thrown on a boat for a week and finding I really didn’t like it after a day. I highly recommend it as an alternative to flying or bussing around northern Norway; even though it takes longer, it is a much more relaxing and scenic way to travel.

Between Tromsø and Honningsvåg

The view from the MS Nordnorge from somewhere between Tromsø and Honningsvåg.

So, are you a cruise person? Does a cruise on the Hurtigruten appeal to you?

I traveled from Svolvær to Honningsvåg courtesy of Hurtigruten, but all opinions stated here are my own. Overnight trips, full cruises, and shore excursions can be booked through their website. You can also check out live maps of where each ship is on the coast in their travel planner (which is good for giving to curious family members following your trip!).

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