35 Cool and Unusual Ways to Explore Norway’s Rugged Coast

Picture the perfect Scandinavian getaway: rugged northern beauty, scenic wildlife, local fisheries where everyone knows your name, cozy hideaways, and warm fireplaces along the coast. Norway is seriously stunning, and you’ll be hard pressed to find an adventure bucket list that doesn’t include a life-changing trip to this fairytale land.

Renowned for its storied peaks and spellbinding fjords, Norway is a magnet for eco-pioneers, backpackers, luxury holidaymakers, and history buffs alike. Fall in love with all things wild as you stroll through the archipelago of fishing communities in the Lofoten Region, sample fårikål on a countryside farm, or sail through a labyrinth of scenic fjords.

Hamny Aurora 2016 1 preview
Credit: Hurtigruten.com

Discover the legends of the giants and trolls who live in the mountainsides, kayak alongside sperm whales, embark on a birdwatching safari in Honningsvåg, bite into a crisp, heart-shaped Norwegian waffle, or unwind in a hot tub: Norway is one of those vacations you’ll be talking about for decades.

If you are wondering where to begin or are looking for a little something extra to add on to your trip, scroll down for our insider tips and must-do activities. We’ll show you how to port-hop and see the forests, fjords, and legendary glaciers on Norway’s enchanting West Coast (and grab the perfect cup of coffee in town!).

Vacation should be relaxing. Exploration should be a delight.

How to Get Around

One of the best ways to see Norway is via boat. Norway’s steamboat system was developed in the late 19th century as a way to transport goods around the fjords, and, today, the system transports tourists, locals, and goods up the coast daily! Hurtigruten, is our cruise-ship steamer of choice, and  our favorite way to explore the west coast’s 30+ port cities.

Hurtigruten cruise ship norway
Credit: Hurtigruten.com

Dubbed the “World’s Most Beautiful Voyage,” by Lonely Planet, Hurtigruten offers daily departures and pre-planned itineraries, as well as hop-on-hop-off options, so  you can see the best of Norway at your own pace. It’s a cruise ship, but not a traditional one. There are no slot machines, hokey performances, or piña colada pool parties. Instead, you’ll find a down-to-earth community of smart wool-wearing travelers who appreciate the captain’s whale sighting announcements, fresh-fish dinners, and mother nature.

You’ll find locals onboard (often transporting their cars or other belongings across the country…or simply taking in the beauty), along with friendly faces who are there to make meaningful connections and have intelligent global conversations. There are also libraries, lounges, saunas, and hot tubs to unwind in and warm up the bones after an adventure-packed day.

MS Kong Harald Resepsjonsomradet HGR 50964
Credit: Hurtigruten.com

The best part about the Hurtigruten fleet is that the ships are smaller than  other cruise ship giants, and can navigate the fjords to enter the hidden port-gems that others simply can’t; this offers a more authentic Norwegian experience. There are also naturalists and a full expedition  team on board, each providing informational lectures (so you can learn about the sperm, minke and humpback whales who frequent the waters) and coordinate onshore excursions like dog-sledding, fishing village visits, fjord kayaking, cooking lessons, art walks, birdwatching, Northern Lights tours, and much more, to round out your trip.

Speaking of the Northern Lights, this natural phenomenon occurs when the solar wind is stronger than usual, and electrically charged particles from the sun hurl towards Earth. The particles, electrons, and protons form a magical light when they collide with gases in Earth’s atmosphere. Northern Norway is one of the best places in the world to see the Northern Lights, as it sits under the Auroral Oval, and winter is perhaps the most incredible time of year to catch their display in the sky. On a 12-day cruise from October 1, 2018 through March 31, 2019, Hurtigruten guarantees the lights will appear. If they don’t, they will offer a 6- or 7-day cruise FREE of charge!

MS Finmarken Norge HGR 42257
Credit: Hurtigruten.com

We recommend the 12-Day expedition from Bergen to Kirkenes and back. This cruise provides the perfect itinerary and timespan to explore Norway’s 2,500 miles of rugged coastline, venture north of the Arctic Circle, and connect with like-minded travelers along the way. You’ll pass through ancient fjords, glide alongside the tallest waterfalls you’ve ever seen, and sail through secret fishing villages. This voyage hits all of Norway’s highlights and bonus towns: Bergen, Ålesund, Trondheim, Geirangerfjord, Lofoten, Trollfjord (the narrowest fjord, Hurtigruten visits during summer itineraries), Tromsø, Hammerfest, and the North Cape! For intelligent, low-maintenance, well-traveled people — this experience is a must.

Hot Tip: If you find that it’s less expensive to fly into Oslo and have an extra day to spare, consider taking the Bergensbanen, a stunning 7-hour train ride from Oslo to Bergen; this way, you’ll pretty much cover the entire country between trains and boats! And, when choosing a cabin onboard the ship, consider the season: It’s light all night in the summer so if you don’t mind the Midnight Sun or want peer out the window for puffins, you’ll love an outside cabin. If you are cruising in the winter, don’t miss out on the dog-sledding excursion in Kirkenes (wayyy up North!) and be sure to bring shoes with good grips on them—Norwegians don’t always shovel!

Below, you’ll find all of our tips and recommendations for making the most out of your time in Norway’s West Coast port cities.

Must-Dos in Bergen

Before setting off for the land of the fjords, take some time to appreciate this cultural gem. Friendlier and more welcoming than Oslo, this underrated, colorful city is a Scandinavian Seattle! Pack an umbrella and prepare for quirky cafes and beautiful scenery. With the mountains and sea just a few strides away, this unique town is a walker’s paradise and a music-lover’s stomping grounds. Here are a few insider tips for things to do in town before you board your boat.

Climb Mount Fløyen

Jutting up just two blocks from the waterfront, Mount Fløyen is the place to be. Hike the switchbacks from the city center or take the funicular to the top. Reward yourself with an insta-worthy photo or a waffle and coffee from the 1925-built Fløien Folke Restaurant at the top.

Explore the Bryggen Wharf District

Step back in time as you explore this UNESCO World Heritage Site. Characterized by its wooden houses and well-preserved buildings, the Wharf District represents an important European trading port and honors the history of the Middle Ages. Explore the colorful wooden galleries and peruse the shops. If you feel a little lost, The Bryggen Museum is a good place to start! Be sure to wander behind the shops too — this maze of wooden buildings is where you’ll get your best pictures.

Discover Bergen’s Architectural Gems

Take a trip out to Tubakuba, a modern marvel of a mountain cabin designed by architecture students at the Bergen School of Architecture; or better yet, rent it out for the weekend! For a more luxe tour, visit Damsgård Manor, an elegant 18th-century summer house with superior Rococo architecture and exquisite gardens. To cap off your mini-architecture tour, pop by the fish market in town to see the captivating modern building designed by Eder Biesel Arkitekter.

Grab a Bite in Bergen

To escape the tourist traps, try Enhjørningen Fish Restaurant (The Unicorn Fish Restaurant) for stellar seafood or Bryggen Tracteursted on the Wharf for local cuisine and tapas in a rustic and historic social setting. If you prefer a bit of edgy charm, head to Apollon Platebar, half record store, half brewpub for a pre- or post-dinner beer.

Coffee in Bergen

If you’re a coffee snob and want a chic blue-velvet-boothed cafe, head on over to the award winning Kaffemisjonen, or for a more quirky experience, sip your latte underneath a wacky pick umbrella, live music, and string lights at the uber funky Barbarista.

Overnight trip to Fjærland

On either end of your Hurtigruten cruise, consider taking an overnight trip to the quiet eden of Fjaerland. Time stands still in this small-world town, and glaciers meet fjords. From old-fashioned wooden hotels, to endless book stores (seriously this place is THE Norwegian book town), to woodsy cabins and small-town charm, this place is off the main tourist route and well worth a retreat. It’s about 4 hours away from Bergen, but totally doable!

Must-Dos in Ålesund 

Renowned for its spectacular art nouveau architecture and iconic fjords, Ålesund is unlike any other Norwegian town. Overflowing with towers, spires, radical balconies, and turrets, Ålesund is comprised of seven islands that are all connected by tunnels. The town is famous for its liver and codfish production.  It’s also a gateway to the beautiful Sunnmøre Alps and nearby fjords. This charming seaside town is definitely worth your time and you have to go off and explore this adventure playground when your ship docks!

Take an Art Nouveau Architecture Tour

Sign up for a walking tour to see the best (and most Instagrammable) architecture in Ålesund. Guided by a local expert, wind your way through enchanting city streets, through the fishing port of Bosundet, past the fisherman’s wife statues, and end in Ålesund’s famous shopping district. (Be sure to check out the hand-blown glasswork at Ingrid Glassverksted)

Visit the Atlanterhavsparken Aquarium

The Atlanterhavsparken is one of the world’s largest and most impressive saltwater aquariums. The saltwater is pulled directly from the sea, meaning nothing is treated! Feed the catfish, watch deep sea divers hand-feed the fish, explore Seal Bay (Europe’s largest seal construction), or learn about Humboldt penguins (the most endangered species of penguin on Earth). Perfect for families or those interested in learning more about our vast oceans and conservation efforts, this aquarium goes out of its way to use best practices and environmental regulations! Pair this with a Mt. Aksla Climb for the ultimate portside excursion.

Climb the Steps up Mt. Aksla

For the best views from town, climb the 400+ steps up to Mt. Aksla, and celebrate with an ice-cream cone at the top or meal at the scenic Fjellstua Restaurant.  

Sample ALL the Sweets

Are waffles whispering sweet nothings in your ear at night? Wafting their way through your dreams? Well, fortunately for you, Ålesund is home to a pretty awesome array of bakeries and sweets shops. Stop by the family-owned Martin Walderhaug Bakery for some to-die-for grovkake (spice cake with vanilla icing); this place has been cooking up Norwegian sweets since 1893. Or try the Apotekeren Cafe in the Art Nouveau Centre (and former pharmacy lab) for chocolate cake and a heavenly cappuccino.

Grab a Bite in Ålesund

Ålesund’s Fisketorget (Fish Market) is worth a visit! Grab a bowl of fish soup here for lunch and find a quiet park bench by the water to eat. Or head to XL Diner for dinner to sample some bacalao (salted cod-fish). For vegan/vegetarian options try the organic sister-owned Søstrene Fryd, or treat yourself to Maki, a Norwegian-Asian Fusion establishment in the uber-classy Hotel Brosundet (which, by the way, is amazing if you are looking for a place to stay…and if you’re up for a bit of mystery, ask for room 47, and you’ll end up with a quirky chic room in the bright red Molja Lighthouse.

Coffee in Ålesund

Jacu coffee takes the proverbial cake in town! Head here for an award-winning morning blend or to pick up some beans. Or try the quirky Invit Espresso Bar — half designer furniture store, half espresso bar where you can enjoy a cappuccino (or a slice of heavenly chocolate cake) out on a barge.

Must-Dos in Trondheim

Founded by Viking King Olav Tryggvason wayyyy back in 997, this ancient city boasts cozy cafes, university students, a bohemian vibe, and some of Norway’s best local eateries. Make sure you get off the boat and catch a live concert and dinner here!

Visit Nidaros Cathedral

Built on top of an important Norwegian Saint’s grave, this Gothic-styled church is a treat for the eyes. It’s the Northernmost Gothic church in the entire world, and has the architecture to match. Admire the intricate woodwork, see where all the Kings of Norway have been coronated, climb the 172 narrow steps to the top, or take a stroll through the graveyard (especially beautiful in the fall). If you are around during the holidays, there is a chance you can hear the chilling choir perform — or if you are visiting in the summer, combine your guided tour with a visit to the Rivnge Museum of Musical History, an old manor house where you can discover Norway’s musical history and wander through the adjacent botanical gardens. Book right from your boat or go on your own! For a bonus addition, opt to explore the Cathedral’s secret rooms — something many tourists miss on the regular tour.

Kayak on the Nidelva River

Kayaking on the Nidelva River is a sensory treat. Enjoy a relaxing guided paddle through the city’s center and glide past colorful buildings, graffiti-inked walls, and into all of Trondheim’s secret spots. Watch salmon swim below and kick back as your guide drops some local knowledge. Learn More! 

Snap the Iconic Trondheim Photo from the Old Town Bridge

If you only have a few minutes to get your Insta-worthy shot, stroll over to Gamle Bybroa, the Old Town Bridge that stretches over the Nidera River. Try going just before sunset for a flood of rainbow colors.

Take the Tram to the Bymarka Forest

If you want to get your blood moving, hop on Trondheim’s only tram and get off at Lian to hike along the lake and indulge in the true essence of Norway’s outdoor spirit. 

Visit the Graffiti Inked Little Christiania Neighborhood

Named after the Bohemian Christiania Neighborhood in Copenhagen, Little Christiania (also called Svartlamoen) charms visitors with colorful artwork, whimsical gardens, and stencil art. Take a stroll through this mini-hippie haven!

Grab a Bite in Trondheim

Trondheim is on the forefront of the food revolution. Vegetarians and vegans will find plenty of options in the town’s cafes and restaurants. For delicious salads, head to Cafe Ni Muser. For burgers (and veggie burgers) try the uber-hip Cafe Løkka. And for local meat, organic farm produce, and fresh seafood try Two Rooms and a Kitchen.

Grab a Coffee in Trondheim

Check out the popular Dromedar Kaffebar or wander over to the fair-trade Jacobsen Og Svart coffee shop for an espresso. To get some work done, play a little Nintendo, and grab a beer in a quirky, social setting try Work Work, a gamer’s bar and co-working space.

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Must-Dos in the Lofoten Islands

The islands of Lofoten and coastal regions of Vesterålen are among the most scenic landscapes on the globe. From staggering snow capped peaks to charming fishing villages, rolling green farms, white-sand beaches, and iconic red houses, this region is an ABSOLUTE must for any Scandinavian adventurer. Make sure your camera is out today. This village has recently become an Instagram sensation and has taken off with the younger (hiking, biking, adventuring) crowd – though it is still one of the most remote and hard to get to places on earth.

Take a Lofoten Islands Tour

To get the full picture of this glorious archipelago, opt for a bus tour. Travel from Svolvaer to Stamsund taking in the white-sand beaches, secluded bays, charming fishing villages, rolling green farms, contemporary art, and old caviar production plants along the way. To up the ante, saddle up (year-round!) and ride a horse down Lofoten’s viking-conquered beaches

Visit a Traditional Norwegian Farm

Nestled in an otherworldly landscape, the Ålands family farm offers an idyllic culinary adventure. Head to the countryside to sample organic herbs, fresh cheese, delightful teas, and to meet the farm’s animals (goats, ducks, sheep, and more!). Learn about animal husbandry, food production, and life in the Scandinavian countryside. 

Dine Like a Viking

Discover Norway’s storied Viking history at the local museum and round out the evening with a traditional Viking meal and meade! Discover how the Vikings praised the Norse gods and uncover the grim and gruesome tales they told their young ones.

Must-Dos in Tromsø

After brief stopovers in Risøyhamn, Harstad, and Finnsnes, head to Tromsø, the Arctic expedition launch pad and Paris of the North. Nestled alongside icy fjords and jagged peaks, this polar basecamp is chalk-full of outdoor adventures like reindeer sledding, hiking, kayaking, cross-country skiing, and opportunities to view the Northern Lights in the winter.

Take the Cable Car or Hike up to Mt. Floya

Constructed in 1961, Fjellheisen transports visitors up to a stunning city-overlook of the city. If you’d rather get some exercise, you can hike to the viewpoint on Mt. Floya. The walk takes around 50 mins from the base of the cable car house. Reward yourself with panoramic views and a Norwegian waffle at the cafe on top!

Test Your Mushing Skills with Some Dog Sledding (or Reindeer Sledding)

In the winter and spring months, travel to the remote island of Kvaløya for the chance to learn about the history of the native Sami people and embark on a polar dog-sledding expedition. Whiz through frozen tundra fields and get to know your pack of huskies by name. You can drive or sit back and let the guides take over (the choice is yours). After your Husky Safari, warm your hands inside a Sámi lavvo (similar to a teepee) and sip on a rich hot chocolate. It doesn’t get better than puppies and hot chocolate! If you want to take things a tad more Nordic (or learn how Santa does it) try out the Reindeer Sledding and Sami Cultural Excursion. 

Embark on a Midnight-Sun Summer Kayaking Adventure

Kayak through pristine glacial waters, paddling alongside seals, eagles, rolling farmland, jagged peaks, and Arctic nature. Explore the shoreline, just as the Vikings did in the old days and soak up the raw power of the Norwegian landscape!

Take an Overnight Trip to the Polar Park: Wolf Lodge

If you have some time to spare and don’t mind a bit of a drive, this authentic overnight adventure (located 2.5 hours from Tromsø) will knock your socks off. Head to the Wolf Lodge Polar Park to visit the northern-most animal park on the planet and come face-to-face with a majestic amber-eyed wolf. Spend the night in this luxe and environmentally conscious eco-lodge, while conserving wolves in captivity and feeling just a little closer to the Earth. 

Create Glass Art at Tove’s Glass Studio

Glass art is a popular form of Norwegian creativity! Pop by Tove’s Glass studio (located in an old school house) to blow your own glass or chose from an incredible selection of enchanting handmade glassworks to bring home.

Chase the Northern Lights on an Overnight Camping Tour

Tourists flock to Tromsø in the winter season (October through March) to see the bright Aurora Borealis dance through the sky. If you want to immerse yourself even further in the experience, book an overnight tour, where you’ll head out into the wilderness, set up camp with a knowledgeable guide, learn how to capture the dancing lights on your camera, and make memories that will last a lifetime. 

Grab a Bite in Tromsø

You can’t go to Tromsø without stopping by Emma’s Dream Kitchen in the harbor district for some klippfisk soup or specialty fish au gratin. For the best view in town, head to Fjellstua (only accessible by cable car). And because you can only eat so much fish in one trip, try the incredible lasagna and pizza at Pastafabrikken. 

Grab a Coffee in Tromsø

Stop by Risø mat & kaffebar, a family-owned coffee shop that serves up artistic foam cappuccinos and warm cinnamon rolls, or head to Smørtorget, a totally cozy cafe and antique shop with an artistic vibe. Pay a visit to Sivertsen’s Cafe for a cup of coffee, board games, and the only good vegan food in town!

Must-Dos in Honningsvåg and the Northern Cape

Sub-Arctic landscapes and polar expeditions await in Europe’s northernmost town. Located just over a thousand miles from the geographic North Pole, the Northern Cape is an end-of-the-world gem that captures the imaginations of adventurers and artists around the globe. Home to just 2,500 people, Honningsvag is a quiet but delightful fishing town that will inspire you to connect with mother nature.

Embark on a Polar Bird-Watching Safari

The Stappan Nature Reserve is home to some of the most accessible bird cliffs in all of Scandinavia. Experience the magic of the Arctic wildlife as white-tailed eagles soar above and  a large flock of puffins plays on the waves. Take to the high seas for the ultimate 90-minute bird-watching experience. Be ready to hear lots of screeches and get your world rocked by this wildlife haven.

Ignite Your Inner Adrenaline Junkie with a Snowmobile Trip

Cruise through spellbinding snow valleys on this once-in-a-lifetime snowmobile expedition that the whole family will love. Develop a deeper understanding for local folklore, Sami culture, and wildlife as you zoom through the crisp Arctic air and get that heart rate up. The guides are there to provide informational insights, route guidance, and all too corny jokes.

Tour the Fishing Village of Honningsvag and Connect with Local Artists

For an afternoon adventure, consider exploring the quaint fishing village of Kamøyvær. Explore traditional Nordic lighthouses, fishing fleets, and old fish factories to get a full picture of life in the polar regions. Balance harbor time with visits to local artisan studios like Eva Schmutter’s, whose gallery “East of the Sun” depicts the ebb and flow of seasons and pop in the year-round Christmas house with your guide.

Grab a Coffee in Honningsvag 

While you’re docked, make a quick trip to Honni Bakes, a Norwegian-French Veggie Inspired cafe and coffee house, that serves up strong coffee, delicious thin pancakes, and croissants for days.

Ready to Go to Norway?

Discover the fairy-tale like land of Norway, a vast adventure playground, celestial heaven, and idyllic landscape where nature soothes the soul and expeditions await. Ready to visit Norway? Escape on a 12-day West Coast Norwegian Adventure for an authentic Norwegian vacation you’ll never forget.

This post is written in collaboration with Blog Meets Brand. All opinions remain my own.

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