Everything you ever wanted to know about the Norwegian fjords and more!
One of the greatest joys of travel is celebrating the differences among us funny little humans — not to mention seeing our own quirks through the eyes of others. Meeting new people, trying exotic foods, learning about cultures that are different from our own — of course all of this is kind of the point of travel.
But for a lot of us, learning more about the family of humankind when we travel is one thing — learning more about the natural world we all inhabit together is quite another.
And for some avid outdoors enthusiasts, taking in the outdoors scenery in far-off lands—that is, really absorbing the landscapes and seascapes that make up this magnificent and beautiful world that we are all a part of—is always going to be the main priority when we hit the road.
And one place where you’re bound to find some of the most dramatic and spectacular landscapes on the entire planet is Norway.
First-time visitors to this amazing Scandinavian nation are bound to be impressed not only by the sleek grace of Oslo’s architecture, the deliciousquirks of Norwegian cuisine, and the kindness and beauty of Norway’s people, but also by the sheer epic scale of this amazing country’s terrain.
And if you’re going to talk about Norway’s landscapes, you’re going to be talking about the Norwegian fjords.
It’s just as simple as that.
The official count of fjords in Norway reaches over a thousand, 1,190 to be exact. So to discuss the natural beauty of Norway and never to bring up fjords would be a bit of an absurdity.
It would be like talking about Australia without mentioning the Outback, or discussing Nepal without the Himalayas, or talking about Hawaii without mentioning the beaches.
In fact, without bringing the fjords of Norway into the mix, talking about the rugged, icy natural beauty of this nation would be even more ridiculous than the examples cited above.
But before we explain why, and talk about just how integral the fjords of Norway are to not only the landscape but also the culture of Norway, perhaps it would be best to start our discussion of the fjords of Norway by defining what exactly we mean when we talk about fjords.
Norwegian Fjords: What even are they?
It may sound silly but there can actually be a lot of confusion about what exactly a fjord is. First of all, it’s pronounced “f-yourd,” so the word itself is clearly Nordic in origin.
But the fact is, fjords—whether they have another, more localized name or not—exist all over the world. Naturally, we might expect there to be fjords in other Scandinavian and Nordic countries like Denmark and Iceland where much of the terrain are similar to that of Norway.
But surprisingly, you can also find fjords from Alaska to Kamchatka, from New Zealand to Chile, on South Georgia Island and even in Antarctica.
At first glance, if you look at a picture of a fjord, you might think the word simply means any gash cut deep into the coastline, resulting in a sort of valley of ocean between two steep walls.
Well, yes and no.
Norway’s fjords—and everyone else’s for that matter—come from glaciers, something the northern countries of Scandinavia especially had in abundance at the end of the last ice age.
A true fjord is created when a glacier carves out a U-shaped valley through geological phenomena known as ice segregation and abrasion. (Don’t worry — there won’t be a test on this.)
The idea is that typically, most of the pre-glacial valleys had floors that gently sloped downward toward the ocean, providing a natural gravitational direction for the glacier to follow as it slowly moved over the course of millennia.
And that movement of the glacier over time, along with the water that melted from it and then refroze in the pores of the bedrock below, thus cracking it and breaking up the rock, that entire process then carves the valley floor even deeper.
Finally, when the sea floods in to the now-lowered valley floor due to the action of the glacier, a fjord is created.
The Fjords of Norway ARE Norway
In order to understand just how much the fjords of Norway are a part of the landscape here all you have to do is take a look at a map of the country’s western coast.
But let’s start on the eastern side of Norway, just to paint the full picture of the Norwegian fjords on the other side.
This northernmost of the three Scandinavian countries shares a border with Sweden on the east that stretches for 1,619 km or 1,006 miles, as well as sharing a border to the northeast with both Finland and Russia.
However, Norway also boasts a rugged western coastline that is generously sprinkled with islands, inlets, and of course fjords, with a coastal baseline that stretches for 2,572 km (1,571 miles). (Roughly speaking, a coastal baseline is the length of a country’s coastline if you imagined it smoothed out, with no inlets and bays and so forth.)
And as we noted before, the fjords of Norway number nearly 1,200.
So if you count the length of the ACTUAL coastline—including the coastline of all the fjords as they jut in and out of the sea—suddenly Norway’s coast is ten times longer, jumping from 2,572 km (1,571 miles) all the way up to 28,953 km (17,991 miles).
Now, hold onto your butt, because if you include all the coastlines of all the scattered islands that are also a part of Norway’s coast, suddenly the country boasts 100,915 km (62,706 miles) of coastline.
62,000 miles of coastline.
No wonder the very earliest settlers in and around the fjords of Norway were renowned as incredible seafarers — they didn’t have any choice but to learn how to work with the reality of the ever-present ocean for their livelihood.
And Norway is still wedded to the sea to this day; the fjords of Norway are integral to the daily lives of millions of Norwegians.
There may not be any Vikings anymore — apart from the armies of re-enactors you can find at any tourist stop across Scandinavia. But fishermen still ply the waters, along with cruise ships, kayakers and pleasure boats, taking in the natural beauty of the Norwegian fjords.
But in addition, cars load up on ferries for their daily commute across the Norway’s fjords, or they cross bridges spanning them.
That’s because you’ll also find that villages, towns and cities have been built overlooking the fjords of Norway — hey, given the sheer number of Norwegian fjords along this epic coast, its not like the early settlers who were here long before Norway was even a country had much of a choice but to incorporate them into their settlements!
So luckily, most of the fjords of Norway are accessible, either by car or by boat, and are well worth adding to anyone’s travel bucket list.
So let’s take a closer look at some of the most famous of the Norwegian fjords, and see what they have to offer.
Snapshots of some of the most famous Norwegian fjords
Perhaps one of the most photographed and renowned of the fjords of Norway is the Geirangerfjord.
This epic 15 km slice through the rocks of the Norwegian coast is a UNESCO World Heritage-listed site, and you’ll soon see why if you visit.
The sides of the fjord are forested in a carpet of green in summer, snow-dusted in winter, but always spectacular. The water stretches up the jagged crease in the coastline from the North Sea to the quaint village of Geiranger, perched at the foot of the looming Åknesfjället mountain.
Living with that incredible view is a double-edged sword for the residents of Geiranger, however, as geologists’ projections suggest that a good portion of the rocks of the mountainside are likely to fall into the water soon.
The ensuing tidal wave that such a catastrophe would produce would likely obliterate the village in the process. (Don’t worry though — the government is keeping a close eye on the situation, and evacuation plans are already in place, should the worst occur.)
But for now you can visit the town as well as a number of abandoned farms that have been lovingly restored.
Be sure to check out some of the most incredible waterfalls not only in the area but in all the world, particularly the Seven Sisters Falls which face the Suitor Falls just across the fjord.
Legend says that seven sisters—there are seven separate streams flowing down as part of the falls—dance and play along the cliff’s edge while a man who seeks to court them flirts from across the water.
If you’ve got any wee fans of Disney’s Frozen traveling with you, Nærøyfjord is going to be a must-see, or you’ll run the risk of unhappy campers. But it’s worth the visit, and not just for the sentimental value for fans of Elsa, Anna and Olaf.
National Geographic has rated it as the top natural heritage site in the world, and UNESCO concurs.
Any visitor to the area will likely be in agreement as well.
First of all, there is the tiny village of Gudvangen, home to 100 residents and 1,400 goats, located at the end of this, one of the narrowest of the more famous Norwegian fjords. You’ll instantly see why the creators of Frozen locked on to this fjord as well as parts of Gudvangen, this adorably quaint village to model settings for their film.
Another tiny village hangs perched on the cliffside over the fjord, Bakke, home to the famed wooden Bakke Church, which was created by Christian Henrik Grosch.
Plus there are tons of old abandoned mining caves in the area that have been carved out over the centuries, which make for a neat underground view of the area around this most gorgeous of the fjords of Norway.
Best of all, the mountains loom mightily over this narrow, 18 km-long canyon, creating one of the most striking and almost prototypical views of the magnificent Norwegian fjords.
To visit Hardangerfjord is to visit the place where modern tourism really began for the fjords of Norway.
Way back in 1875, a London visionary named Thomas Cook began running tours from England to Hardangerfjord, becoming in the process the first tour guide for Norwegian fjords.
If he could only see what his love for all things fjord-related has wrought!
Cook might lose his mind seeing all the massive cruise ships and other tourist-related conveyances that ply the fjords of Norway in the modern age, but he would still recognize features of this 178 km-long fjord, like the rock formation known locally as Trolltunga, or Troll’s Tongue.
It’s likely that the charming village of Odda, sitting at the end of the fjord has gone through some changes over the course of the last century and a half since Cook was last here, though probably not a whole lot.
Nevertheless it’s still there, awaiting visitors eager to try some Norwegian fjord kayaking, or set out on any one of the multitude of hikes readily accessible from there.
Well, we’ve visited the oldest of the tourist destination fjords in Norway, now it’s time to see the longest.
The Sognefjord is not only the longest of the Norwegian fjords — it’s also the deepest.
Cutting some 205 km into the coastline and spanning over 6 km in width in places, the Sognefjord also plunges to an icy depth of some 1,308 meters, which is over 4,600 feet or nearly a mile.
It’s referred to as the King of Fjords of Norway, and as a monarch it of course has a number of subjects: it branches off into a number of tributary fjords, that include Arnafjord, Esefjord, Sognesjøen, Nærøyfjord, and Lustrafjord.
Be sure to check out the end of Lustrafjord, as it culminates at the village of Skjolden.
The hamlet itself is lovely to visit, but it also serves as a convenient entry point to Jotunheimen National Park, a favorite destination for outdoors enthusiasts visiting the fjords of Norway.
Lysefjord is next up, and it is particularly notable for the light-colored granite that lines the walls of the fjord-side cliffs.
For avid hikers who are exploring the Norwegian fjords trails, a must-see destination is nearby Pulpit’s Rock. This stunning vista towers some 604 meters above the fjord and offers spectacular views for intrepid explorers hardy enough to make the ascent.
Lysefjord’s cliff walls are among the rockiest and roughest of all of the Norwegian fjords, meaning there are not only no roads that directly connect the two sides, there are also only a smattering of villages along the way.
Still, both Lysebotn and Forsand have a number of charming hotels and hostels, and either would make for a picturesque stay to write home about while exploring the area.
Lysefjord is also home to the famous 4,444-step wooden staircase called Florli 4444, so if you have any strength left in your quads after hiking to Pulpit’s Rock, consider giving it a go while you’re on your tour of the Norwegian fjords.
Also of note here is the Kjeragbolten, a massive boulder that hangs perilously suspended between two rock walls and is Instagram- ready for intrepid hikers.
If you’re ready to get off the beaten track of the most famous and most often visited of the Norwegian fjords, then the little gem of Hjørundfjord is for you.
This 35 km fjord is a tributary to the larger Storfjorden, and a neighbor fjord to nearby Geirangerfjord.
However, far from being the massive tourist draw that Geirangerfjord is, humble Hjørundfjord rarely brings in the cruise ships and hordes of tourists. Instead, she offers those who seek her out a quieter, yet still spectacular set of natural wonders to enjoy.
There are the steep rock walls, lakes, meadows, and remote mountain farms nearby to visit, as well as the villages of Sæbø and Øye at the most inland end of the fjord.
Visitors should consider seeing the town of Øye in particular, as the Hotel Union Øye there is famed for being home to a ghost named Linda who inhabits the “Blue Room.”
For more outdoorsy and less spooky adventures, nearby Mt. Slogen has a ton of hiking opportunities.
Here is another of the fjords of Norway that draws those who seek a slightly less overrun experience in Norwegian fjord exploration.
An offshoot of Sognefjorden, Aurlandsfjord branches off in turn to the Nærøyfjord, so there are parts of it that are considered to be under the UNESCO World Heritage site designation.
One of the biggest draws for those who do add Aurlandsfjord to their itineraries of Norwegian fjords to visit is the tiny village of Flåm. This hamlet of just 350 residents packs a great punch when it comes to sightseeing, however, as it is also the headquarters for one of the world’s most picturesque train journeys.
The Flåm Railway winds through the surrounding mountain vistas, twisting and plunging through tunnels and climbing steep inclines. You’ll also get to see the 738-foot Kjosfossen Waterfall before ascending to Mydral Station, a tiny cube on top of a mountainous plateau with little to offer visitors but a coffee — and unmatched views.
If you are running on limited time on your journey to Norway and still are hoping to see one of the magnificent Norwegian fjords, never fear, because you don’t even have to leave the capital of Oslo to see one!
While the Oslofjord isn’t exactly a traditional fjord in the geographic sense of the word, it is nevertheless one of the great fjords of Norway, and offers many of the same outdoor activities as you can find in other Norwegian fjords further afield.
There are nearby islands to explore, like Hovedøya with its captivating monastery ruins, or if you fancy camping try out the island of Langøyene.
For those of us who crave the outdoors but prefer an actual roof over our heads, there are awesome wood cabins on the islands of Lindøya, Nakholmen, and Bleikøya.
And hey, did you ever imagine that planning a trip to visit the fjords of Norway might include talk of beaches and swimming? The island of Gressholmen offers both of those with lovely hikes and vistas to boot.
Also worth a visit is a ferry trip out to the lonely Torbjørnskjær and Færder lighthouses south of Oslo at the mouth of the fjord.
FAQs on the fjords of Norway:
How many fjords are there in Norway?
The Norwegian fjords officially number 1,190. But you have to keep in mind that they are more like a network or a web of water rather than separate, distinct waterways. They branch into and out of one another, and there are also tons of islands in the mix.
It’s all gorgeous though!
Where are Norway’s fjords?
All over! Take a close look at a map of Norway and you’ll quickly see that there really isn’t a Norway without the fjords of Norway. They are completely intertwined and intermingled with the land, making Norwegians one of the most naturally seafaring peoples in the world.
Which is the best fjord in Norway?
Ooh, not fair. As you’ve seen in the very brief snapshots of just a handful of the Norwegian fjords above—only 1,182 left to go—each one has its own distinct charms and attractions.
It kind of depends on what you’re looking for: the grandeur and Instagram fame of popular Geirangerfjord? Or the whimsy and charm of Frozen as seen in the vistas of Nærøyfjord?
It’s up to you, as the fjord is in the eye of the beholder!
When should I visit the Norwegian fjords?
Summer is definitely the most popular time to visit the fjords of Norway, as the weather is likely to be the most pleasant.
But there is also a charm to a winter visit: seeing the fjords dusted in snow, enjoying the skiing of Norway, and the hush of winter hikes in the hills surrounding the fjords is also epic in its own way.
The locals call it Viking season, for the hardy tourist!
Are there fjords in Oslo?
You betcha. In fact, the waterway the city is built on is called Oslofjord.
This massive waterway, while not exactly a fjord in the geological sense, is nonetheless a vital part of the network of Norwegian fjords. Some 40 percent of the residents of Norway live within a 45-minute drive of Oslofjord, and there are tons of great sights to see in the area — including the namesake fjord itself.
How deep are the fjords of Norway?
Pretty damn deep. The deepest of all, the Sognefjord cuts nearly a mile into the ocean, bottoming out at 4,600 feet or about eight-tenths of a mile.
But much like the rest of the topography of the Norwegian fjords and how they all vary in length and width, so too do they vary in depth.
Many of the larger ones can easily accommodate cruise ships and other large vessels, while some of the smaller ones cannot.
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