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Cruising the Norwegian Fjords from Bergen to Kirkenes with Havila Voyages

Saturday, 9th March 2024


From the historic city of Bergen to the Arctic wilderness of Kirkenes, award-winning writer and broadcaster, Abigail King recounts her day-by-day experience of cruising the famed fjords of Norway aboard the environmentally-friendly, Havila Capella.

By Abigail King

There’s something poetic about setting sail for Arctic waters. About boarding a ship in a lively city, foaming past the unapologetic green of Norway’s fjords and watching the landscape slip, slip, slip beyond the tree line into the northernmost part of Europe. It’s an adventure filled with nature, the promise of reaching the ends of the earth.

And so it was with our Havila cruise, a 7 day trip from Bergen to Kirkenes. Gulls swooped overhead, whales flirted at the surface and mile after nautical mile of water seemed to glide by as we soared ahead, the kings of the world.

Yet on reflection, while the time at sea filled our hearts, our minds and our camera storage, that was only half the story.

The rest was like a well threaded necklace of city breaks, taking in the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Bryggen in Bergen, the Art Nouveau architecture in Ålesund, the cathedral of Trondheim and the street art at Tromsø.

For Norway’s coast is surprisingly urban, too, even beyond the Arctic Circle. Those isolated fishing villages of the Lofoten Islands exist, of course, but don’t make the same mistake we did and assume that isolation is all you will find.

norway havila castor sailing at sunset

Day 1: Bergen

Every trip to Bergen should start at Bryggen, the old wharf area and UNESCO World Heritage site. Its narrow alleyways and colourful wooden houses reflect the power of the Hanseatic League. Its waterside location and kooky cafes and shops make it a gorgeous place to browse around.

Everyone also told us to ride the funicular railway up to Mount Fløyen. The panoramic views of Bergen and its surrounding fjords from the top are legendary – but only if the weather allows. For our visit, a cloak of mist made the funicular invisible, so we busied ourselves exploring the alleyways of Bryggen in more detail and snacking on Norwegian tapas. As a learning experience, of course.

Then, onto the ship, gleaming and shining and welcoming. As Havila Gold passengers, we were greeted with sparkling wine on the spectacularly designed observation deck.

Floor-to-ceiling glass both there and in the dining room and lobbies gave glorious views of the surrounding Norwegian landscape.

Over our very first dinner, we watched the city of Bergen slide away into the soft, bubbling waves.

norway bergen bryggen waterfront view istk

Day 2: Ålesund

Ålesund is an Art Nouveau town ,a compact collection of arches and swerves and a museum in a former pharmacy that adds coloured glass and period trinkets to the architectural collection.

A fire destroyed the city in 1904 and its rebuilding and rebirth remains a source of pride for this part of Norway. Havila’s excursions include a guided tour of the most important Art Nouveau landmarks, as well as entry into the museum.

The next excursion took us to the wild and windswept Atlanterhavsparken Aquarium for an up-close encounter with marine life. Expect to find seals, otters, starfish and the mighty reach of the aptly named king crab.

Inside tip: on this day, depending on the time of year, you can skip Ålesund and visit the UNESCO listed Geiranger site instead, one of the most famous natural sights in Norway with towering cliffs and cascading waterfalls.


Day 3: Trondheim

As the capital of Norway during the Viking era, Trondheim has a formidable presence. The magnificent Nidaros Cathedral sits squat on the stone, the northernmost medieval cathedral in the world. Elsewhere, the iconic Old Town Bridge (“Gamle Bybro”) to Bakklandet marks the entrance to Trondheim’s old town.

We took part in a quirkier excursion, trundling through Trondheim on a vintage tram to a secluded lake that overlooked the city.

Day 4: Crossing the Arctic Circle

Crossing the Arctic Circle is a surprisingly silent affair. This is counterbalanced, in its entirety, by the raucous Viking feast which follows.

The Arctic Circle marks the northernmost point at which the sun appears above the level of the horizon on the winter solstice. In the summer, when we travelled, it marked the ethereal sounding midnight sun.

Our first stop within the Arctic Circle was on the Lofoten Islands, a world of jagged, soaring peaks and short, rust red households.

Havila took us to a reconstructed Viking Longhouse where costumed bards greeted us and a Viking King and Queen feasted with us, serving hearty meat and mead. Sounds kitsch? That’s what I thought before I got there. Now it’s one of my favourite memories of the trip.


Day 5: Tromsø

Tromsø, the ‘Paris of the North’, treats visitors to an Arctic Cathedral, Polaria Aquarium, and a surprising mix of street art and Scandi hot dogs.

We’d noticed in Reykjavik, as part of our Iceland itinerary, a love of and appreciation for hot dogs in a different way to home. And so it was in Tromsø at the self proclaimed tiniest bar in the universe with the best hot dogs in the world. Hot dogs come with a choice of beef, pork, soy or reindeer.

Our Havila excursion took us along a similarly kooky path. An actor portrayed different characters throughout Tromsø’s history, telling tales of brave female explorers and stories of sailors lost at sea.


Day 6: The Northernmost Point of the European Mainland

The standout moment on day six came in the form of the small village of Honningsvåg. While various excursions allow you to visit the UNESCO-listed Meridian Column or famous Nordkapp landmark, this sweet little village, the northernmost city in mainland Norway, has a quieter charm.

It’s perfect for gentle walks and even gentler birdwatching. Plus, an open-year-round Christmas shop sprinkles Scandinavian sweethearts and cinnamon into a colour coordinated world.

norway north cape landmark sunset ap

Day 7: Kirkenes

Seabirds darted across the clear Arctic sky as we moved towards Kirkenes. The place lies right by the border with Russia, a border easily forgotten when looking at maps folded flat.

In winter, you can walk between the ice sculptures and snow suites of the Snowhotel, go sledding with huskies or chase that adrenaline rush on a snowmobile safari. In summer, excursions include fishing for king crabs in a RIB boat and visiting the Sami, to learn more about the local population.

Most of the passengers on our trip were staying on for the return trip to Bergen – but for us, it was time to pack our bags and go.

Rich in the knowledge that while we had voyaged to the Arctic, civilisation had well and truly voyaged there first.

Inside tip: most flights from Kirkenes connect in Oslo before heading back to the UK. If you have time, spend time in Norway’s number one city before heading home.


Read more thoughtful travel stories from around the world on Abigail’s blog at www.insidethetravellab.com.

Feeling inspired?

If you’d like to follow in Abigail’s wake, cruising the Norwegian Fjords, get in touch with our Travel Specialists by calling 01737 214 250, or you can send an enquiry.