Norway is a really expensive country. Visiting Norway can be cost prohibited due to the high costs of hotels and food. However, there is one way to really see Norway and not break the bank. This is the Hurtigruten. The Hurtigruten is a working ship that brings goods, people and post to places that are remote and beautiful. In every port you will see people getting on to use the ship as a ferry, and goods going on and off. Some places only stop for these reasons and these stops appear to be no more than a dock with a couple of buildings. What makes the Hurtigruten cost effective, is you can book the ship as a cruise, and in fact, most of the people on the ship are on it for the entire time. With an all inclusive ship (except drinks) you do not have to worry about spending $30-40 for a bad meal. It is included. You know what you are paying and you can budget the rest of your money for sight seeing and shopping. 1. Time of year: Well Planned Travel almost always recommends going on a shoulder season and the Hurtigruten is no exception. As long as you have the right gear a spring or fall trip on the Hurtigruten that goes into the Arctic should be no problem. The shoulder season trips are quite a bit cheaper and you can find many deals. While traveling in the shoulder season you can experience many seasons. I went in October and in Bergan where the ship left, it was quite warm. The ship went into fall type weather with leaves changing for the next couple of days and towards the end of the trip, we got well into the Arctic and the leaves were long gone. In Spring you can see snow on top of many mountains where as in the fall, the snow just remains on the glaciers. Birds and other wild life migrate during the spring and fall, I was able to see many pods of whales, reindeer migrate, eagles and many birds. The angles of light in the fall made for beautiful shadows. There are some shore excursions that are not available for the shoulder season, but the cost savings is well worth it. 2. Gear: Going on the Hurtigruten is a lifetime experience and making sure that you have the right gear is very important. Very few of the cabins have TVs in them so if you are one that cannot live without watching TV, then you need to bring an ipad, tablet or a laptop pre-loaded with what you want to watch. When I went, I had an interior cabin that had a television, while it had little on it, there was some shows, and my parents had an exterior cabin and that cabin did not have a television. The Norwegians are a practical people. I know this because I live in Minnesota where many Norwegians have migrated to. Many of the Norwegians dress like they just walked out of REI and I recommend doing same. A good pair of shoes are very important. I like to wear waterproof hiking shoes or boots. They give good traction, are comfortable and you do not have to worry about your feet getting wet in the rain. You can dress pretty casual as well, there is not dress code for dinner although some people do dress up a bit. A good winter hat helps for sitting outside when it is colder and windy. The most important is to have a good warm fleece and a wind breaker jacket to go over the fleece. This way you can layer at appropriate times and will have clothes that will keep you warm in the arctic. I have DSLR camera with many lenses, and usually I just travel with one lens to travel lightly. However on the Hurtigruten, a good zoom lens is a must. There is so much to see with wildlife, and on the shore that a good zoom lens will really enhance your trip. I also use my zoom lens as a binoculars so if you do not have a DSLR or a good zoom lens, then a set of binoculars are a most have item. 3. Ships There are 11 ships doing the Hurtigruten, so there is a ship departing every port every day. But it is important to know what ship you are getting on when you book your trip. The MS Lofoten is the oldest and smallest ship. It was built in 1964 and only has room for 340 passengers. While the ship was refurbished in 2003, it feels old. The rooms are smaller and exterior rooms can have the small round portholes for windows. You can find deals for this ship, so if you are on a tight budget, this might be the ship for you. But I recommend spending a little more money and go on one of the newer ships. There are several ships that were built in the 80s and 90s, but I recommend going on one of the newer ships. These have more modern amenities such as a spa, exercise room, nicer lounges and are a little larger. These will feel like small cruise ships with some of the amenities that you would expect. The one difference being that there is no large entertainment. However, I may add that this makes it even better. I recommend choosing either the Finnmarken, Trollfjord, or the Midnatsol. These are the larger, newer and more comfortable ships. The other ships do not have as much public space, spas or pool. When there is a north bound and south bound ship in port, you can tour the other ship and then can see what I mean. 4. Food and Drinks Unless you like pickled fish, caviar and smoked fish. Norway is not the best place to go to eat. It is very expensive and either fishy or bland. You also have to be careful because it is a country that eats whales and you can find it on the menu. It is also very expensive so having you meals on the ship is an advantage. Breakfast and lunch are a buffet lunch. No matter what you like, you can find something good. Most of the people on the ship are either German or English so they are somewhat catering to that crowd. On that note, since it is a smaller ship there is a sense of community on the ship and you really have a chance to meet people from other places. Dinner is somewhat a hit or miss. It is a fixed menu with no choices, you get the menu in advance so you can plan on having a larger lunch instead. There are two nights that are also buffet nights as well. The biggest deal is that beer, wine and other liquor is taxed very high and with the exchange rate you can expect to spend over $10 for a beer. While still expensive, I recommend going to a grocery store while on shore and getting snacks, and drinks. You only get coffee included for the meals so if you are one who is addicted to coffee, they do have an unlimited coffee package that is worth the money. 5. Ports Hurtigruten makes 34 stops, but most stops are only for around fifteen minutes. Going north and south is a different trip because what stops were at night going north are during the day and vice versus. Some of the stops are small and you can have a nice little walk even if it is only for 15 minutes. My tips are only for going north as I did not do the southbound trip due to time. The big stops are Ålesund, Trondheim, Bodø, Tromsø and Honningsvåg. Walk around Alesund, the ship docks very close to the town and everything you need to see is in walking distance. In Trondheim, I recommend reading up on the city before going. There are many sights to see there, but you have limited time so make sure that you have a plan before. The Cathedral is a must see and I recommend finding out the opening times before going and make sure that you give this sight enough time. Then I would walk around the old town looking at the beautiful wooden buildings. Walking across the old town bridge is a must see as well. You only have a short time in this town, so I recommend spending a little money and taking a cab from the dock. So if there is any town on the trip that you might want to do research to plan your time, it would be Trondheim. You can take a city tour, but if you plan well, you are better off doing it on your own. Bodø is a modern city and I found it boring, so what I would recommend is taking one of the tours that the ship offers. They have many different kinds so take what ever interests you. There is little to see just walking around the city so this is one of two places I really recommend taking a tour. Tromsø has many nicknames, "the arctic capitial", "Paris of the north" (which I can't see) but it is a very interesting place to see. The biggest sight is the Arctic Cathedral. It is an interesting and beautiful building, but not worth going inside. Basically the inside looks like a 1960s church. I got there by taking a public bus. I would also recommend going to the polar museum if that is something that interest you. I really enjoyed walking around the town and people watching. My favorite thing I did was a visit to the Mack Brewery. Mack Brewery advertises that they are the most northern brewery in the world. They offer tours, but it usually is not done during the time that the ship docks. It is a fun friendly place to hang out and you can taste many different types of beers. The last major stop is Honningsvåg and this stop feels very arctic. Taking a tour to the North Cape is worth it. You get off the boat and are able to see inland for the first time up in the arctic and we even stopped at a Sami home and saw reindeer. Most people say that the North Cape is not impressive (the top of Europe) but I really enjoyed it and if you were to take one tour on the cruise I would recommend this. 6. Scenery This is the whole point of the trip. There are only a small amount of times when there is not much to see. They give you a book that outlines what you are going to see and it is quite helpful. The ships cruise directors give announcements through out the day letting you know what sights are coming and if there is any wild life. I saw many birds, eagles, whales and even reindeer herds migrating on the shore. The ship will slow down sometimes if there is some special wild life and will go in certain areas for the views. A couple of tips would be to always have you camera where ever you are on this ship. You do not walk to have to rush to your room when a whale is passing by. Second would be, wake up early. I found the most beautiful photos early in the morning as the light is incredible up in the arctic. 7. Before and After Hurtigruten departs from Bergen and you want to make sure you have at least two days to see the city. Bergen is a beautiful city with much to do. There are many day trips that you can take from Bergen as well. If I were to go back to Bergen, I would spend several days there, but if your time is limited, two days as a minimum. The trip ends in Kirkenes which is at the border of Norway and Russia. If you are only going one way on the trip and are flying out of Kirkenes, don't bother staying any longer than you have to there. There is nothing there and is not worth a stay. There are a couple of budget flights back to Oslo and I recommend getting the first flight back to Oslo and spending time there instead of Kirkenes. Oslo is also a perfect way city to see as part of the Hurtigruten trip. I flew into Oslo, enjoyed Oslo for a couple of days and then took the train to Bergen. This train ride is described as one of the most beautiful train rides in the world. Unfortunately it was raining when I did it so I was not able to see the beauty of the ride. Depending on your flights, you can either fly into Oslo, see Oslo and take the train to Bergen, and fly back to Oslo from Kirkenes or the other way around, fly into Bergen, take the cruise, fly back to Oslo, enjoy Oslo and take the train back to Bergen. This is of course taking a one way trip on the Hurtigruten. But if you have two weeks to take your vacation and this is your big Norway trip, I would recommend taking the one way North and taking the time to see Bergen and Norway. If you have any questions or tips let me know.
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