With their calm, blue waters framed by steep, green slopes, Norwegian fjords resemble mountain lakes but actually consist of seawater from glaciers that have slowly carved their way inland, flooding Norway’s verdant valleys over 2.5 million years. The word fjord is a combination of ancient Viking terms, der man ferder over (where you travel across) and ferje (ferry). Sailing in and around fjords or observing them from afar, it’s easy to feel transported to another world.
Long, deep and branching out in many directions, more than 1,000 fjords wind their way into Norway, bringing history to life before your eyes with spectacular vistas that showcase the stunning beauty of vast, blue seawaters flanked by massive, verdant mountains with snow-capped peaks. Some fjord branches are even better known than the main fjord from which they originate. Above the water, quaint villages, goat farmers and livestock balance precariously on seemingly impossible slopes amid abundant fruit trees and simple ways of life that in many cases have changed little over centuries.
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), granted Norwegian fjords World Heritage status in 2005, and in 2006, National Geographic ranked them first among all the most popular international World Heritage sites, including the Grand Canyon, the Galapagos Islands, Machu Picchu and the Egyptian Pyramids. According to UNESCO:
The exceptional natural beauty is derived from the Norwegian Sea and extends 1,640 feet below sea level. The sheer walls of the fjords have numerous waterfalls, while free-flowing rivers cross their deciduous and coniferous forests to glacial lakes, glaciers and rugged mountains.
Aside from gaping in awe at their natural beauty, fjord regions are excellent locales for mountain climbing, hiking, year-round skiing, glacier walks and camping (options include cabins, lodges and backcountry bring-your-tent style). Kayaking, canoeing, fishing and other water sports are also popular. History buffs will thrill to the many national parks, historical sites and ruins, still populated historical villages and even Viking-culture demonstrations with reenactors teaching ancient arts and crafts. Visitors explore on their own or choose from wide-ranging guided tours.
Warmed by Gulf Stream air and surface currents, Norway’s fjords are ice-free, with a mild climate that allows visitors to ski in the mountains above and swim below in temperate waters—all within a single day. A few of Norway’s most beautiful and dramatic fjord attractions include Geirangerfjord’s famous waterfalls; the longest, widest and deepest “king of the fjords” at Sognefjord; the scenic views from Kjerag and Preikestolen at Lysefjord; Romsdalsfjord’s twisty mountain road at Trollstigen; Hardangerfjord’s historic townships; the small farms, waterfalls and narrow passages of Naeroyfjord; the secluded beauty of Hjorundfjord; and so much more.
Cruise ships regularly visit a mere fraction of Norway’s fjords (Gudvangen and Geiranger are among the most popular ports), but train access is easy and scenic, year-round ferries are an option, and various bridges and tunnels have made bus and automobile access much easier. Norway’s larger cities feature national and international airports, easing access to even the most remote fjords. However you prefer to travel, don’t miss the incomparable beauty of the fjords of Norway, where spectacular world history collides dramatically with the present, creating memories that last a lifetime.