There is an unwritten rule somewhere out there that you should never go back to the same place again. Well, I can honestly say that Norway is not one of these places. Having visited the Fjords on a cruise in August 2019 and absolutely loving it, we have decided to do it again – this time introducing our teenage daughters to the stunning scenery.
AND WE ARE OFF…
We boarded P&O’s Iona in Southampton to make our journey over the North Sea to Norway. Iona is the fleet’s biggest cruise ship and you can definitely feel it. As the comedian Tom Binns said during his show on board of Iona, it is “like a floating Terminal 5 at Heathrow Airport”. It is a massive and very impressive ship and there are enough restaurants, bars, cocktails and sun loungers to keep you happy and occupied during the trip. You are one of the 5000 guests but it is never too overwhelming and you can always get a table in a restaurant or see a show in the theatre. My favourite place to watch the world and nautical miles go by was one of the two infinity pools – very relaxing and a great observation spot when docking and leaving ports.
We visited Stavanger on our last trip in 2019 (link here) and it is definitely one of the favourite places on Iona’s Norwegian Fjords itinerary. Unlike the previous visit, the sun was shining for us so we made the most of it. We started with Gamle, the older part of the town, lined with wooden white houses, some of them dating back to 18th and 19th century. The streets are immaculate and the inhabitants know exactly how to make the white houses stand out either by using colourful flowers or contrasting front doors.
If you have not booked a shore excursion to Pulpit Rock or a Rib ride down one of the Fjords, there is plenty to see in Stavanger.
You can spend a couple of hours meandering through the streets and spotting amazing and original street art. The town has its own annual street art festival, NuArt, which is held at the end of August and has artist from all over the world leaving their mark on the walls and buildings. Also, don’t miss the most colourful street in town, Ovre Holmegate, which, again creates a stark contrast against the white houses of Gamle.
Before you get back on the ship, don’t miss out on sampling the Norwegian waffles. The ones with the sweet brown cheese and strawberry jam are the traditional ones worth trying. What is brown cheese? Hmm… the best description would be dulce de leche but it is definitely a unique taste.
My best bits of colourful Stavanger are in this Instagram reel.
ON TO OLDEN…
Olden is a picturesque little village at the end of the Nordfjord and one of the best stops on the Fjords cruise itinerary. If you want to do it properly, the advice is to get up at 4.30am and, with a cup of coffee in your hand and with your coat firmly on, admire the views as the ship is making its way along the fjord. Apparently, the sunrise is unmissable.
We visited Olden during our previous trip and my reflections on the village can be read here.
There is plenty to do here. You can go kayaking, visit the Briksdal Glacier, take a short walk to the village and visit the two traditional Norwegian churches. However, if you are more adventurous, you can hop on the Loen Skylift, one of the steepest cable cars in the world, which will take you to the top of the Hoven mountain 1011m above the fjord.
TOP OF THE WORLD
The views from the top are stunning so make sure the weather is good before booking your tickets. You have the snow capped mountains in the distance, the emerald waters of the fjord down below -all merged by the vibrant green hill slopes making it exactly the reason why Norway is such an enchanting country to visit.
At the top, you can just sit and relax with a coffee and cake and take in the views or… you can follow one of the hiking trails. Gjølrunden trail is only 2.2km long and takes you round the summit. It is supposed to be an easy trail but I thought it was quite demanding with uneven rocky steps and some steep parts. There was plenty of snow lying around which was a great opportunity to stop and have a snow ball flight.
The Loen Skylift is definitely one to recommend when you are in Olden. You can either book this as a shore excursion via P&O or you can book independently with Olden Cruises and the price includes return transport and the tickets. One note of warning though… do not stand at the front of the cable car when going back down – it is a heart-stopping experience!
For my Olden best bits, please follow the link for the Instagram reel.
FJORDS NO MORE
Make sure you watch the ship sail away from Olden as this might be the last time you see the breathtaking landscape of solitary houses, waterfalls, windy roads or snow covered tops of the mountains surrounded by a low cloud.
Our fjord sail-by and the next stop of Hellesylt was cancelled due to bad weather so we made our way to Alesund instead.
Alesund is a port town on the west coast of Norway and due to its art nouveau architecture it feels like you are walking through the streets of Prague or Budapest. A couple of activities to recommend whilst on your stop here. Book on a kayak city tour if you are lucky with the weather or you can climb 418 steps up to the Aksla observation point for the panoramic views of the town centre and mountains in the distance.
Our last stop was Haugesund which was the home of the Viking kings and it was where Norway was united into a single kingdom around 9th century. It is a quiet little town with colourful buildings which seems to be a theme around Norway. Is it because it gets dark and cold in the winter months?
TILL NEXT TIME
I do believe it is not the end of our fascination with Norway and its stunning scenery and we will definitely be back. A road trip in a camper van sounds like a exciting option.
In the meantime, we made some new memories, spent some quality time together as a family and enjoyed these fabulous sunsets at 11pm at night.