Destination Guide: The Norwegian Fjords

With one of the largest coastlines in the world, stretching an astounding 25,000km and less than five million inhabitants, Norway is a large and sparsely populated country, making it easy to underestimate distances and travel time...

For the past 14 years, superyacht agent, Nord Ship Agency has been helping visitors get the most out of their Norwegian charters. The company is partnered with leading travel design agent, Heritage Adventures to provide tailored itineraries and excursion packages. Here Nord Ship Agency and Heritage Adventures outline the precautions, highlights and cruising grounds of the spectacular Norwegian Fjords.

The Lofoten Islands, Norway

Experience Norway’s abundance of fjords, high mountain peaks, glaciers and cascading waterfalls and marvel at the natural phenomenon of the Northern Lights and midnight sun. 

The Norwegians' passion for exploring their natural world has created one of Europe's most exciting and varied adventure-tourism destinations. World-class hiking, kayaking, skiing and dogsledding are just a few of the activities available to guests throughout the country.

Unarguably Norway's most famous attraction, the fjords attract millions of tourists every year. The most famous and UNESCO-protected Geiranger and Nærøy fjords are first on many visitors’ lists; however fjords are the predominant feature of the landscape in most of Norway, and can be experienced throughout the country. 

Along the shores of the fjords, visitors can experience the diversity of landscape types, passing through a number of latitudes, climate and vegetation zones including the land of the midnight sun above the Arctic Circle.

Glacier walking in Norway

Weather and climate

Although Norway covers the same latitude range as Alaska, most of the country enjoys a surprisingly temperate climate with average maximum temperatures for July hovering around 16°C in the south, and around 13°C in the North. In January, the average maximum temperature is 1°C in the south and -3°C in the North. However, extremes of temperature are always possible with temperatures of over 30°C experienced in the summer months, dipping below -30ºC in the winter. 

Similarly, precipitation varies greatly throughout the country. Bergen on the southwest coast holds the title for Norway’s wettest city, with 2,250mm of annual precipitation, whilst Rondane and Gudbrandsdal, which are protected by coastal mountain ranges, are among the driest districts of Norway.

Superyacht 'Daydream' at anchor in Norway

When to visit

Most visitors head to the Norwegian Fjords during the light summer months, but the greatest wonders are reserved for those travelling in spring and autumn. 

Norway is at its best and brightest for much of the period from May to September; daylight hours grow longer and most tourist sights are open but uncrowded. Be aware, that if you’ve come to Norway to hike, many routes won’t be open until late June or early July. Smaller mountain roads usually open in June.

The main tourist season runs from mid-June to mid-August, so expect it to be busy! This is when the weather is at its most stable and warmest with sunny, long and bright days. Late winter and early spring brings perfect conditions for outdoor activities such as tour and cross-country skiing.

The world-famous Northern Lights are visible throughout the long nights of the Arctic winter from October to March. Opening hours may be limited, but on request, tour operators are able to open a lot of Norwegian attractions.

The Aurora Borealis of Norway

Superyacht berthing

There are a number of berths available for luxury yachts in Norway, although most are commercial and are not necessarily suitable for superyachts. Currently, the only port that specialises in superyacht berthing is Rosendal, in the heart of the magnificent Hardangerfjord.

Located in the centre of Rosendal, the harbour has top modern marina facilities with several hundred meters of moorings, electricity, internet, launderette and fuel pumps. The marina is only a short distance from the town and is a great starting point for a number of picturesque hikes.

In low season, berths are not hard to find, but in high season it is best to book a berth as early as possible. It's always worth bearing in mind that the ports and waters around the protected islands of Norway are home to good anchor conditions, and yachts may wish to drop anchor instead of berthing alongside.

Hjorundfjorden from above

Sailing conditions and navigation

Although sailing in the Norwegian Fjords is very different to sailing in the Mediterranean or Caribbean, the largest difference unsurprisingly lays with the weather conditions. At the coastline, the weather can change rather quickly. When sailing in the fjords, be wary of strong gusts of wind from the mountains, however amongst the large number of well-protected islands, waters are generally calm and there is little wind. 

There are only a few areas where sailing conditions can be rough, exposing you and your yacht to the capricious nature of the North Sea, including areas such as Jæren, Sletta, Stad, Hustadvika, Folla and Vestfjorden. When it comes to navigating, the coastline is very well marked and the charts are good, however captains should remember that some of the charts are based on very old measurements, so stick to the regular sailing routes and be aware when navigating in shallow waters and close to shore. 

Norwegian internal waters are home to many bridges and overhead electricity cables, which may result in longer sailing routes for larger yachts.

Superyacht navigating the Norwegian Fjords

What not to miss

With over 2,500km of coastline to explore, there is a multitude of ‘must see’ areas and ‘must do’ activities. For the active visitor, Norway’s landscape provides a perfect canvas for both high adrenaline and more leisurely outdoor activities; take a RIB safari with orcas, or try your hand at kayaking, skiing and cycling.

For culture vultures, visit one of Norway’s world-famous stave churches, learn about the country, its culture and people at one of Norway’s many folk museums and art galleries. Or, take a more leisurely approach and appreciate the local food with a glass of Chateau Petrus whilst watching the sun set over the Nordic landscape, or if beer is more your thing, visit one of Norway’s numerous microbreweries and enjoy an afternoon of beer tasting.

Nord Ship Agency suggests that visitors should decide whether to explore a specific area of Norway, such as one or two fjords, or to see most of Norway, as an overview. Below are some of the country’s highlights, handpicked by the experts.

Kayaking in Svalbard, Norway

Southern coast

Apart from the popular Oslo, Arendal and Lillesand, The Northern coast boasts a number of picturesque villages and narrow skerries. Ensure you plan your route in advance as some areas are too narrow and shallow for yachts to pass. For example, the inner route between Arendal and Kristiansand can be a challenge for larger yachts; the alternative is to simply take the outside route.

For those visitors looking to be alone and experience the true wilderness, this is not the part of Norway to visit in July as most of the islands are populated with summer guests staying in holiday homes.

The guests of superyacht Salee enjoying a waterfall

Western coast

The West coast is a popular destination for yachts on their first visit to Norway, home to the magnificent fjords and waterfalls of Lysefjorden, Hardangerfjorden, Sognefjorden, Nordfjorden and Geirangerfjorden. 

Doing your research before visiting can pay off tenfold - find ‘secret’ places to avoid the most popular cruise destinations. For example, the not-so-well-known Hjorundfjord fjord, which cuts straight through the Alpine Mountains creating a spectacular secluded landscape. The western coast is also home to Norway’s largest fjord, the Sognefjord, and the second largest fjord, the Hardangerfjord - take time to explore the smaller fjords of this vivid landscape at your leisure without battling with cruise ships.

The Sognefjord area is home to the world-famous Urnes stave church, thought to be the oldest of its kind and the only stave church in the world to be included on UNESCO's World Heritage List.

The charming city of Bergen, also part of UNESCO’s World Heritage List, boasts a wide variety of activities ranging from the fine art galleries, to lively football matches at Brann Stadium.

Or for those feeling more adventurous why not hike, kayak or raft through mainland Europe’s largest glacier, the Jostedal Glacier.

Superyacht at anchor in Norway

Northern coast

With most yachts preferring to charter the more famous fjords of western Norway, the far north is currently a relatively unexplored coastline for yachts. 

The highlights of the North include the fishing islands of Lofoten; the short distances between ports alongside the traditional culture and variety of activities available make these unique islands a ‘must-go’ destination. Get your heart pumping on a water rafting adventure, get up close to orca whales and marvel at the wonder of the midnight sun – Lofoten offers something for everyone.

North of Trondheim is a coastline named Helgeland. At 433km long, the National Tourist Route runs from Holm and Godøystraumen and is home to Norway’s second largest glacier, The Svartisen Glacier and an impressive wide line of skerries and beaches. 

Steigen, north of Bodo is largely unexplored by tourists, yachts, and even Norwegians, but can easily be combined with sailing in Lofoten for those wishing to explore the area. Take the time to relax on a secluded fishing trip, enjoy spending the day hiking some of Norway’s most magnificent landscapes and dive in the crystal blue waters. The Lofoten islands are a magical combination of scenic beaches and Nordic history.

North of Tromso, the area of Lyngenfjord is a ‘must-see’ with specular mountains and glaciers. In Jøkelfjord, visitors can experience the only glacier on mainland Europe that calves into the sea. 

Superyacht Salee exploring the Norwegian Fjords

Svalbard

Known as ‘Land of the Polar Bear’, around one sixth of the world’s polar bear population lives in the Arctic North’s Svalbard. A dramatic landscape of glaciers, ice fields and icebergs epitomises the Arctic wilderness and is the perfect place for would-be adventurers. Hike under the midnight sun, explore by dog sled and witness giant glaciers fall into the icy sea.

The Governor advises all seafarers to keep a minimum of 200m away from the calving glacier fronts to avoid direct hits by ice and the biggest waves.  

Svalbard, Norway

Precautions/Regulations 

Although there are no special equipment requirements needed when visiting the Norwegian mainland, there are a number of regulations when visiting Svalbard, and therefore it is a good idea to plan this part of your trip well in advance. 

For your own safety, the Governor recommends that all sailboats are equipped with an AIS receiver and transmitter, VHF radio (25 W), Iridium telephone and certifies survival suits and life rafts. All vessels exceeding 24m LOA are subject to the requirements of position reporting to the NCA. Positions must be reported when entering or leaving the waters around Svalbard, on arriving at or leaving the harbor, arrival or departure from anchorage and every twelve hours when the vessel is underway.

Introduced in 2007, it is prohibited to bring or use heavy fuel oil in the Northeast and Southeast Svalbard Nature Reserve, Northwest and South Spitsbergen National Park and Forlandet National Park. Yachts entering these areas are required to carry DMA (in accordance with ISO 8217 Fuel Standard).

Originally written for MegaYacht News.

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