Whether or not you’ve taken a cruise vacation before, take away that preconceived idea of a cruise vacation that’s in your head and you’ll discover the relaxing voyage of the Hurtigruten. Unlike the cheesy entertainment, endless eating and overcrowded rooms found in your typical cruise lines, the Classic 12-day Voyage along Norway’s coastline that takes travellers from Bergen to the city of Kirkenes, which neighbours Russia, and back again, is filled with beautiful scenery, exciting expeditions and a civil on-board experience — plus it’s one of the best opportunities you’ll have to see the Northern Lights.
En route the ship stops at a handful of ports, giving you the opportunity to participate in some extraordinary activities you can only do this far north — think dog sledding and sleeping in an ice hotel. While it’s not the kind of trip you’ll need your bikini or flip flops (minus for the hot tub), it is however a completely unique way to see this gorgeous European country. Read on to find out the must-see and dos on this incredible voyage.
You’ll reach the old royal city of Tronheim on Day 3. While you’ll only have a few hours here be sure to visit the Nidarosdomen Cathedral, which is also the country’s largest Gothic building. It’s also worthwhile to cross the Nidelva River to the east and explore the charming neighbourhood once occupied by the town’s working class, now home to quaint cafes, shops and homes.
Looking for a local brew? Stop into local microbrewery (Mikrobyrggeri, located on Prinsens Gate 39) for a pint. It’s not widely advertised destination, but according to the locals it’s always packed and if you can’t decide on one, opt for a selection of samples.
Also known as the Paris of the Arctic this northern city is full of history, as it was the starting point for many Arctic expeditions including one from the famous Norwegian explorer Roald Amudsen. If you love animals and nature, be sure to visit the Polaria Museum, which features a large aquarium and two bearded seals.
For great picture-taking, ride up the town’s 420 metre cable car for panoramic views of the city.
Want to say you’ve had a beer at the northernmost brewery? Then stop into Mack Brewery. They offer seasonal beers, tours and souvenir mugs. Don’t decide on just one — get a variety of samples, including the beer created for the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer.
The North Cape
On Day 6 you’ll reach the North Cape — the furthest northern destination in Europe. Here you can have opportunity to take an expedition to the North Cape Plateau. Here you can walk around the visitor’s centre, take photos with the globe and even the famous “Children of the World” monument. While it’s a 45-minute ride from the ship it’s a stunningly scenic ride.
The last port on the Northbound voyage, the small Arctic town of Kirkenes is close to the Russian-border and may just be your best chance at seeing the spectacular Northern Lights. This is also home to one of the few snow hotels in the world — the Kirkenes Snowhotel. Rebuilt every winter, this property includes more than just a hotel made of ice and snow. There’s a cozy log cabin restaurant Gabba, where your dinner and breakfast are served, a small sauna and shower area, a small reindeer park and a large pack of huskies, who are available for guests to book an unforgettable dog-sled ride with.
Sleeping in a snow hotel is a unique experience suited for those with a sense of adventure, however most will agree that once you’ve done one night, you’re ready for a real bed again. The temperature inside the hotel is between -4 and -6 degrees Celsius and your mattress is surrounded by a bed of ice (so you’re not literally lying on ice). You’re provided with an Arctic sleeping bag, sheet, woolen socks and a woolen hat — all of which you’ll need. We also suggest packing breathable thermal clothing and avoid heavy drinking pre-bedtime. After 20 minutes of wrestling to get into your sleeping bag, the last thing you want to do is have to get back out and in again!
While you’re on site, consider booking a dog-sled ride. It’s about a 20-minute journey, with 8 strong huskies pulling two riders in the sled and one guide directing the dogs. You’ll even get a chance to lead the sled for a portion of the ride too!
Another half-day expedition you can do in Kirkenes is called a King Crab Safari. This award-winning adventure starts with climbing into a wet suit and floating in the Barents Sea and ends with a king crab feast. Fished fresh from the ocean, you won’t forget this delectable king crab meal, which is simply served with white toast, butter, lemon wedges and a specially seasoned mayonnaise. While it sounds skimpy, you’ll fill up on the mouthwatering crab.
The full 12-day voyage takes passengers southbound back to the port of Bergen, but departing from Kirkenes and flying off to Oslo is a great opportunity to add another fantastic Norwegian city to your itinerary. The ports are the same as the northbound journey, but it gives you more chances to see the villages, and of course catch the breathtaking Northern Lights.
For more information on the cruise, visit hurtigruten.com.