Why you need to have the fjords of Western Norway on your bucket list
Norway fjords are truly a wonder of Nature — so much so, that several of them are UNESCO World Heritage sites. Created thousands of years ago as glaciers retreated due to climate change (after the end of an Ice Age, for example) and the sea filled the resulting valley floor, these natural marvels can stretch for hundreds of kilometers.
There are more than 1,000 fjords in the country, but some of the most spectacular ones are situated in western Norway, also known as “Fjord Norway”.
Whether you hop on a boat for a relaxing cruise along their serpentine shores or stop along the way to take in all the sites and live the fjord life, exploring a Norway fjord is going to be the experience of a lifetime.
Here are some reasons why you should definitely set time aside for some fjord travel during your Norway vacation.
The fjords are a veritable treasure trove of Norwegian history, spanning from the Bronze Age to this day. The soil itself is rich with archaeological findings, from flint arrowheads to ashes of ancient campfires, where the Norwegians of the Bronze Age hunted in these very grounds. How does it feel to travel through history?
There are several places along your fjord journey where you can learn more about these fascinating findings. Like the Folgefonna National Park near Hardangerfjord, where you can walk on century-old trackways, visit Bronze Age carvings, a boat-building museum and see how areas were used in the past. But there are historical treasures scattered everywhere. In the small town of Herand, for example, you can see prehistoric petroglyphs that depict symbols of the sun and boats — a testament to how important were the fjords (and good weather) for ancient Norwegians.
Even when not clearly marked as a site attraction, history is all around; it’s in the way things are done around the fjords, following traditions spanning thousands of years. For instance, did you know that in many villages, houses still have slate roofs, as they did since forever? The contemporary fjord life blends with the wisdom of ages past so seamlessly, you’ll be discovering new things in every turn.
The thing about fjord nature, is that it’s insanely diverse. Where else in the world would you be able to encounter hundreds of kilometres of azure waters,1,000 metre-long cliffs, cascading waterfalls, endless stretches of green, fragrant apple trees… and glaciers?
The best thing though is that this nature is 100% raw, unblemished and accessible. You can go hiking in the mountains, explore the valleys by bus or bicycle, go summer skiing, glacier hiking, you can roam around the National Parks... You can even go fishing, swimming, surfing or SUPing along the coast line if the weather permits.
And if you just want to pause for a second, be in awe and take some photos of the flowing waters and the unique rock formations that are so prominent features of fjord nature (like the Kjerag boulder and the Preikestolen Pulpit Rock near Lysefjord), you can do that too. Your Instagram will certainly thank you for it!
Perhaps the words “architecture” and “Norway fjords” in the same sentence may come off as confusing. After all, didn’t we just wax poetically about how unblemished fjord nature is? We did — and it is. But fjord architecture is yet another testament to the area’s rich history. It doesn’t just blend harmoniously with the vistas: it is part of the vistas themselves.
A great example of fjord architecture are stave churches. Made from wood and supported by large poles (which gives them their name, as “staver” means “poles” in Norwegian), these churches are the most important example of wooden Medieval architecture in the whole of Europe. Back then, Norway sported more than 1,000 stave churches. Today only 28 of them remain standing, built between 1150 and 1350.
When visiting the Norway fjords, you’ll have the opportunity to see some of the most breathtaking stave churches still around. In Sognefjord for example, at the picturesque fjord village of Vik, you’ll get the chance to visit Hopperstad Stave Church, which has been around for almost a thousand years. If you look closer, you’ll notice that its intricate roof resembles a Viking ship!
If you’re one of those people who love to travel for food, you won’t be disappointed by the culinary experiences that fjord travel entails.
Due to the unique climate in the fjords and the great and sudden changes in altitude from mountain-side to sea-level, the local produce around fjord areas is nothing short of remarkable. There are several dairy farms which produce local, awarded cheese — for example Vik’s Gamalost which has been voted the third best cheese in the world. The area of Vik is also famous for its berry farms, where you can taste some of the best raspberries in the country (fresh or in delicious jam form).
As for the fragrant apple trees we mentioned earlier? They’ve been here for thousands of years, their seeds brought to the area by monks. You can enjoy their crisp, fresh flavor as a snack on the go, or try them fermented in the form of local cider (with no or very low alcohol content). The village of Ulvik, in Hardangerfjord, is famous for their exquisite cider.
Fish and seafood offerings are also at their best all along Norway fjords, with salmon being the indisputable king (farmed sustainably, of course). So much so that many restaurants in the area have developed a new style of cuisine called “Neofjordic” which basically means that everything is fished/hunted/foraged from fjord to table. This trend became famous thanks to the attempts of an awarded chef in Bergen and has now set the tone for the eating facilities of Fjord Norway.
One thing is for sure: when you embark on fjord travel, you won’t go hungry!
The fjord life
Norway’s fjords have this amazing ability to make you feel like you’ve stepped back in time, when the way of life was slower and simpler. From picturesque villages with medieval churches like Vik, to small towns with quaint little houses like Fjearland, Herand, Utne, Ulvik and Jondal, fjord life is about taking it easy and appreciating the nature around you; savoring all it has to offer.
And let’s not forget boating, which is also a big part of fjord life. After all, for thousands of years, boats were the most common way to get around from village to village… Today, places like Skjerjehamn, an old trading post set on a small island right at the port of Sognefjord, showcase how the modern boating life still contains echoes of Norway’s glorious Viking past.
We saved the best for last. With all this talk about how great the Norway fjords are, you may be excused to think you’ll have to go on a special quest to encounter one… Well, guess again! Most of the country’s fjords, and certainly the most beautiful ones, are just a short trip from some of Norway’s biggest cities!
Sognefjord, for instance, the King of the Fjords, is only a 3,5-hour drive from Bergen, Norway’s second largest city. Hardangerfjord, also known as the Queen of the Fjords, is only a 1,5-hour from Bergen. As for the beautiful Lysefjord? At only 1,5 hour-drive from Stavanger, Norway’s fourth largest city, it’s a quick trip not to be missed.