Norway's epic landscapes rank among the most beautiful and varied in Europe, and the sheer drama of the fjords is alone worth the effort of coming to this remarkable country. Here, fjords of extraordinary beauty cut gashes from a jagged coastline deep into the interior, cliffs plunge down to barely populated shorelines, and vertiginous waterfalls drop from impossible heights. All the while, isolated farms occupy seemingly inaccessible pockets of green. Here is a guide to some of the most extraordinary fjords of Norway.
The 20km boat chug along Geirangerfjord, a Unesco World Heritage Site, ranks as the world’s most beautiful ferry journey. Long abandoned farmsteads cling to the fjords’ near-sheer sides and minty colored waterfalls twist, tumble and crash down to the emerald green waters below. Take the ferry from Geiranger and enjoy the calm as you leave this small, bustling port, and hop aboard at quiet Hellesylt.
Pulpit Rock and the Lysefjord:
The imposing granite walls of the Lysefjord, a short distance from the town of Stavanger, would be many a visitor’s favorite Norwegian fjord even without the remarkable, and frankly rather terrifying, Pulpit Rock. One of the key postcard images of Norway, this remarkable vantage point is a table-like piece of flat rock whose sheer sides tumble vertically down to the fjord waters some 604m below. It is the kind of place where non-vertigo sufferers suddenly realize that they are scared of heights after all.
One of the most awe-inspiring sights in the fjords region is not a fjord at all. The Jostedalsbreen icecap, which covers 487 sq km and is, in places, 600m thick, is the largest glacier in mainland Europe. The ice cap has numerous icy tongues protruding off it which can be visited from several places. The approach from Fjordland is the most popular, but for a quieter, and more scenic view, head to Nigardsbreen or Bodalsbreen. The best way to experience the ice is to don crampons, rope up and crunch slowly across this milky blue icescape on a guided glacier walk. These are available from most towns close to the ice.
While we would not describe Gudvangen, which sits at the head of the narrow Naeroyfjord, as a very appealing town, its setting, on the edge of glassy fjord waters leered over by cloud-scraping cliffs more than a kilometer high, is certainly worth travelling for. And when you do travel here make sure you come by boat. In certain places, with only 250m of water separating one cliff face from the other and waterfalls plummeting from the heights, you will not quickly forget this waterborne approach.
Not everything in fjord country revolves around submerged valleys. The Snovegen, or Snow Road, climbs from sea level, bending backwards and forwards up to a desolate and rocky high plateau separating the towns of Aurland and Laerdalsoyri before dropping just as precipitously back down again. It is a wonderful taste of Norway’s high country within minutes of the fjords.
While there are several ways to travel from the capital Oslo, to the west coast fjord region there is only one way to do it in style. The Oslo-Bergen railway is often cited as one of the world’s most beautiful train journeys. After passing through the forests of southern Norway, the train climbs up onto the horizonless beauty of the Hardangervidda Plateau and then descends to Bergen and the edge of fjord country.
Kayaking the fjords:
There are lots of places where you can see the fjords with an otter’s eye view by quietly paddling a kayak along the waterways. But at Lustrafjord, you might not actually paddle with otters but you will paddle past a colony of seals.
This fjord might not have the searing cliff faces, narrow channels, glaciers and waterfalls of the west coast fjords, but it does have one calling card that no other fjord has: a capital city at its head! In a country of astounding natural beauty, Oslo demonstrates that man can be pretty artistic too, and many visitors are surprised to discover that the city is home to world-class museums and galleries rivaling anywhere else on the European art trail.