Geirangerfjord is one of two Norwegian fjords to enjoy UNESCO World Heritage status, and it is one of Norway’s most visited tourist attractions - and for good reason. It’s really that beautiful. The best way to see the whole fjord is by catching the hour-long ferry that travels from one end of this 15 km stretch to the other. Steep mountains line it on all sides, and waterfalls – some of them with drops of more than 1,000 m – are everywhere, particularly in spring and early summer as the snow begins to melt. Some of the area’s early inhabitants clearly did not want to feel crowded, judging by the isolated farms that dot the sides of the fjord – reachable only by boat and long, steep climb. There are lots of hikes around Geiranger, located at the head of the fjord, but the most rewarding trips are hikes combined with kayak or boat excursions. And a fjord swim is a must – but you’d be wise to choose a sunny day, as the temperature rarely climbs above very cold!
Hardangerfjord is the world’s third largest, almost 180km long. It is more a collection of destinations than a destination in itself – in it and along its shores you will find glaciers, fruit orchards, salmon farms, powerful waterfalls and some of the best hikes in Norway, including the famous Troll’s Tongue. The soil is more arable along Hardangerfjord than many of its northern neighbours, so in spring and early summer the cherry, plum and apple trees are in bloom. Snow persists in the nearby mountains until quite late, so if hiking (but not trudging through deep snow) is what you are coming here for you would be wise to wait until July. The town of Odda is the place to organize hikes, although much of it can be done independently. As with much of Norway’s nature, its attractiveness changes dramatically with the weather, so be prepared to hang around for a few days in the hope of glimpsing the sun – it really is worth it!
Certainly not for the faint of heart. One might say that clambering over sheer mountain faces for a strenuous 3-hour hike to reach a tiny boulder wedge between the rocks is fool-hearted enough. But to gain the courage to scoot onto the 5.3 m rock perched over a 984 m drop to the stunning Lysefjord below is a true test of courage. Not to mention it is undoubtably the most memorable photo-op in Norway. Although geographically close to the more famous Preikestolen, this hike is in a league unto itself. Prone to weather variations for sun to rain to snow in a matter of minutes, good preparation is paramount.
The wild and wonderful Lofoten archipelago, off the north-west coast of Norway, is an absolute treat for any hiker wishing to get away from it all. Stunning natural scenery, quaint fishing towns and spectacular bird watching all await the intrepid traveller seeking solace above the Arctic Circle. While 24 hours of daylight greet the summer visitor, winters can be a little extreme when it comes to weather. Getting there could be half the fun. There may just be no other better way to reach the islands than by the iconic Hurtigruten ship - although little ferries and planes make the trip too.
Lofthus is a sleepy little town that would not have much to comment it if it were not for a couple of things. It has the most stupendous views of Hardangerfjord, with plenty of roads and paths meandering up the mountains to provide even better ones. And in spring and summer, it absolutely abounds with blossoms, primarily cherry, plum and apple. While the village itself is not particularly different from many others in the area, it is a great place to go for a stroll, chat with local farmers and just sit in awe of Hardangerfjord with a foreground of pink and white flower blossoms. Simply charming!
Longyearbyen is the northernmost real town on the planet with university, supermarket, bank, library, and yes, even night clubs. The town is located so close to The North Pole (1300 km... yes, that's close) that it's in the dark half of the year and enjoys the midnight sun the other half. During autumn and spring, there is a good chance of catching northern lights waving up and down the sky in the most amazing hues of greens and violets. Svalbard has a big population of polar bears, so Longyearbyen is probably the only place on the planet where students are allowed to carry firearms to uni (we kid you not). Polar bear protection (firearms) also need to be carried when venturing into the amazing raw arctic wilderness, which lies unspoiled beyond the settlement. Just grab your ski, snowmobile, dog sled or hiking boots and off you go - just remember your rifle... or better, join a tour.
Northern lights (aurora borealis) are a natural phenomenon caused by solar eruptions. It is often associated to the far North and winter, but can be seen at any time of year and at almost any place. However, it's best observed during the dark winter months in a belt around the magnetic pole at a distance of about 2,500 km called the auroral zone, which includes parts of Canada, Alaska, Siberia, Greenland, Iceland, and Scandinavia. Svalbard, where the pictures are from, lies in the periphery of this belt, meaning the mainland of Norway actually is a better place to see northern lights. On the southern hemisphere, the similar phenomenon is called aurora australis and happens simultaneously with the northern lights.
About 3000 polar bears live on Svalbard, the highest concentration on the planet. Though the Svalbard archipelago is large, bumping into a polar bear is not that unlikely. Any journey outside the town of Longyearbyen requires you to carry a firearm - and know how to use it. A hunting rifle is preferred, but you should at least have a flare gun and spray. If you encounter a polar bear and it sees you, try to scare it right away. Jump, shout, growl and wave your arms. If that doesn't work, try to shoot the flare gun righ in front of it (not into the air), and in worst case scenario shoot the bear with the rifle you hopefully are carrying. Even inside town you are not totally safe, since curious polar bears have in the past ventured into settlements which can have dire consequences - and not just for the bear. So when come to Svalbard, take the polar bear danger seriously.
This place illustrates well why Norway is the king of fjords. After a couple of hours of scenic hiking, you finally reach the flat slab of rock that hangs dramatically with a 604 m sheer drop to the fjord below. Besides giving you a good dose of vertigo, it also offers a great view over neighbouring peaks and Lysefjord with its vertical walls to all sides. If you're lucky, you will even see the mad BASE jumpers throw themselves over the edge only with a parachute on their back.
Runde is a true highlight of the Norwegian coast. A stunning island, reachable by boat or bridge, it is a bird-watcher’s paradise, with as much as half a million sea birds present here during spring and early summer. With fewer than 100 people living on the island, you’re unlikely to feel very crowded. There are basically two things to do here: hike across the island on foot, or tour around it by boat. The weather here is, as one might expect, crazy: sunny one minute, heavy rain the next. But that provides some absolutely stunning ocean scenery, and the terrain is easy enough to navigate even in bad weather. While the climb to the top of the island’s 300 m centre is a killer, the sight of thousands of Atlantic Puffins crash landing against the cliffs is well worth the effort. There’s also a nearby ship-wreck that has yielded over 500 kg of gold, so if you feel lucky you can always pull on a dry suit and jump in the water!