We’ve done cities in Europe, the Canary Islands, the coasts of the United States, Canada and Mexico…even some islands in the Caribbean. Where next?
This year we chose to swap hot and sunny climes for a cooler and, what turned out to be, a wetter holiday destination. Norwegian Fjords have always been on our list of places to see so we grabbed the opportunity to explore these on a cruise ship. The weather forecast was showing rain and cloud and it felt like the perfect addition to the atmospheric landscape that was awaiting us.
We boarded the P&O Ventura in Southampton (yes, no planes!) and began our voyage to the Fjords. The sea was peaceful and the ship had plenty of activities and shows lined up to ease the time of sailing up the North Sea. Joseph star Jaymi Hensley put on some great shows, along with Sam and Mark and some great performances from Totally Tina.
Then, after 48hrs of sailing, we got our first views of the fjord coastline as we arrived in our first destination. Stunning!
The sun was beaming down on Stavanger reflecting light against the rows of white wooden houses of the old Gamle district. We were ready to put our feet on the solid ground and explore the town.
Stavanger is a beautiful little town with narrow and hilly streets lined with colourful wooden houses. The town was famous for its canning industry before the discovery of oil in the North Sea which became the town’s leading business.
A wander through cobbled streets of the Gamle area is a must. The white wooden houses here date back to 18th century when this was a working-class district. The houses are beautifully decorated with colourful flowers and hanging baskets which creates a contrast against the stark background. There are a few little workshops here selling Norwegian craftwork to passing tourists.
Stavanger town centre is full of quaint little shops and restaurants. Try to find a famous colourful street not far from the harbour which was created by a local business to attract tourists to this area and away from the Gamle district. There is also quite a lot of interesting street art in Stavanger so look at the walls whilst you are passing through the narrow alleys and streets.
And the most important tip when in Norway? Always carry an umbrella with you. We found the weather very changeable so while we stepped onto the Norwegian ground in full sunshine, we got completely soaked by a torrential rain by the end of our trip ashore.
Sailing through the Fjords
On route to the next destination we sailed through Sognefjord which is the most extensive and the deepest of the Norwegian fjords. During our sail through the fjord, the scenery unfolding in front was utterly stunning and mesmerising. High mountains surrounded us on both sides. They ranged from the ragged and bare ones to mountains covered in green trees with waterfalls cascading all the way to the fjord.
Some of the high peaks were covered in permanent snow which within minutes tend to disappear behind a floating low cloud. I particularly loved spotting the red wooden houses built precariously on the green slopes along the coastline and admired those who chose to settle in such a secluded but stunning place.
All aboard at Flam
Flam is a little village at the tip of the southern branch of Sognefjord nested in between mountains. It only has 350 inhabitants who predominantly deal with farming and tourism.
The one thing to do in Flam is to hop on the world famous railway which promises stunning views as it slowly climbs up 867m from the sea level. The railway is extremely popular so I would definitely recommend getting a ticket from the cruise excursion team.
The journey on this scenic railway is only 20km long but takes 1hr to complete due to its steep gradient. It passes through 20 tunnels so my advice – be really quick when taking pictures. The train makes a short stop at the beautiful Kjosfossen waterfall which crashes loudly down the steep mountain side.
Things to look out for on the Flam train apart from picturesque scenery are mountain goats grazing on the steep mountain slopes, Rallarvegen which is a windy road with 21 hairpin turns popular with the bike riders and a beautiful postcard view of Flam and its old wooden church.
If you still have time to spare while in Flam, explore one of the many hike routes available here or hop on a little tram that will take you round the village – at least you will won’t need your umbrella for this one!
After an overnight cruise on the calm waters of Nordfjord, we docked at the idyllic little village of Olden. Here, the scenery was even more stunning. The village was surrounded by high mountains which reflected its peaks in the deep green waters of the fjord and white, green and red houses, some with grass covered roofs, adorned the green hills around the fjord. It is vast, yet simple – the air is pure and the gushing, sparkling rivers are everywhere.
Whilst exploring the village centre it is worth looking inside the old white church dating back to the 18th century. The decor is very simple and everything is made of wood including the unusual antler like hat racks at the end of the pews made from the tree branches.
There is also another church just 10 minutes down the road if you fancy a walk. This church is newer dating back to 1930s and its red exterior creates a stunning contrast against the landscape.
If you are feeling adventurous and want to explore further afield there is a hop-on-hop-off bus which will take you around the area or you can visit the Briksdal Glacier around 25 km south from Olden. Kayaking is a must whilst in Norway and this activity is provided as a shore excursion via P&O or you can book session just outside the port. For thrill seeking tourists there is a new attraction in town, Loen Skylift. The cable car climbs 1,000 metres to the top of Mount Hoven, above the Nordfjord for some spectacular views.
I have to say Olden was my favourite port of the whole trip. Very atmospheric, green and dwarfed by the surrounding high mountains but still managing to look stunning in the rain. The fjords are as deep as the moutains are high.
After saying goodbye to wet-but-lovely Olden, we arrived at the last destination of this Nordic cruise and the second biggest city in Norway, Bergen.
And for the first time in seven days, the sun was shining!
The city centre is only a short walk away. You have high street shops, old theatre buildings, a buzzing fish market with fresh catch of the day on display and obviously the famous Bryggen which is the historic harbour district of Bergen dating back to the 12th century. If you walk further up the hill behind the old houses you will see some more pretty white wooden houses, cobbled streets and art galleries.
The one thing to do in Bergen is to go up the Mount Floyen in the funicular. My tip is to book your tickets online before you leave the ship, that way you will skip a massive queue. The views from the top are spectacular. You can see the city, the P&O Ventura ship in port, the fjord and Mount Ulriken to the left.
There’s a number of hikes you can take from here or you can just sit in a restaurant and enjoy a Norwegian waffle watching domesticated mountain goats perfectly posing for the photos.
When you jump back onboard, make sure you stay on the top deck when leaving Bergen. The landscape on both sides towards the North Sea is breath taking but the highlight is passing under the suspension road bridge with only metres to spare. As Captain Neil Turnbull joked on the ship’s tannoy “If I’ve done my sums right, we should just clear this bridge.”
Time to say goodbye
The week exploring the Fjords flew by. As we made our way back to Southampton there was time to reflect on our cruise. The beauty of the places we saw is impossible to describe or even capture on camera. Every place we visited was different. From tiny little villages nestled between towering snow covered mountains to bigger cities which made their riches from the resources around them. And most of all the constantly changing and stunning landscape of the fjord and their coastline as we sailed by.