Fjords have been described as “nature’s own works of art”. They are formed when glaciers retreat, leaving crinkle-cut, u-shaped valleys that are then flooded with seawater. While most people associate fjords with Norway, there are fjords located in places as diverse as Alaska, Greenland, Chile, and New Zealand.
Where-ever you find them, the landscape of the fjord is ideal for activities, whether you just want to inhale the peace and quiet off the beaten path, or get an adrenaline rush from an adventure activity. Here are some top tips to help you get the most out of your visit to the fjords.
Visit outside peak season
Thanks to the warm Gulf Stream, the Norwegian fjords enjoy a mild climate and remain virtually ice-free year-round. However, the best time of year to experience fjords is in summer, when the days are long and the weather is ideal for hiking, cycling, canoeing, and cruising. Unfortunately, summer is also the peak season for cruise ships and many fjords, especially in Norway and Alaska, become crowded at this time.
A visit just outside the peak of summer, in May, June, and early September, is quieter and still stunning. Spring in Hardangerfjord, Norway’s second largest fjord, offers another bonus - the chance to view the blossoming of thousands of hillside apple trees.
Experience the landscape in different ways
Air, land, and sea all offer different and unique perspectives on the fjords. If possible, try to experience the fjords in a variety of ways. Hiking offers an up-close experience, while a cruise or boat tour offers the chance to view the majestic landscape from the sea.
Sailing, kayaking, rock climbing, cycling, and helicopter all offer the chance to view the fjords from different vantage points.
In Norway, the Sunnmøre Alps offer summer skiing with a view of the fjords. Ski in the morning, then swim in a fjord later the same day. Outside Norway, the Uummannaq Fjord in Greenland offers the chance to view the fjord by dog sled along the fjord ice.
The Norwegian fjords are home to an abundance of wildlife, especially the northern fjords. These waterways are home to walrus, Killer whales, herring, Grey seals, and the king crab.
The Norwegian fjords are also a birdwatchers paradise, with chances to spot sea eagles and puffins. If you are looking for fjord wildlife outside Norway, the Kenai fjord in Alaska provides a habitat for thousands of nesting sea bird, as well as marine animals like harbour seals, sea lions, Minke, Humpback, and Fin whales, and sea otters; and New Zealand’s fjords are home to the world’s smallest penguin – the Korora.
Enjoy local culture and history
The Norwegian fjords are filled with more than just nature. Visit art and folklore museums, Viking sites, and traditional villages and farms. Many fjord valleys are also home to a variety of tiny, waterside villages which evoke images of Norway’s past – of a time when people farmed in impossibly steep and rocky surroundings and cooked sheep’s head was considered a delicacy.
Visit towns like Undredal, near the mouth of the Nærøyfjord, to try Norway’s well-known brown whey cheese made from goat’s milk, see a stave church built in 1147, and visit the nearby Viking village of Njardarheimr.
Go for a hike
Norway’s fjord’s offer the chance to hike everything from the blue ice of a glacial arm, coastal mountains, to lush forests. For experienced hikers looking for adventure, there is Trolltunga (the Troll’s Tongue), a granite cliff that sticks out of the mountain like a tongue around 700 meters above Ringedalsvatnet lake. Harder still is Preikestolen, 604 meters over the Lysefjord, which offers one of the most stunning fjord views in Norway.
A bit less demanding is a hike to the 612-meter-high Langfossen waterfall in Åkrafjorden. The trail is steep but the reward is a stunning view of the fjord with every step.
View a wall of waterfalls
The Geirangerfjord, a UNESCO world heritage site, is one of the most dazzling of the Norwegian fjords. Visitors are treated to almost vertical mountainsides adorned with waterfalls and topped by mountain peaks that remain snow-capped all year-round. Three must-see waterfalls in this fjord are the De syv søstrene (“The Seven Sisters”), Friaren (“The Suitor”), and Brudesløret (“The Bridal Veil”).
The Geirangerfjord area can be reached by an attraction of its own – the Trollstigen mountain road, which passes many waterfalls as it snakes its way up steep mountain sides, its narrow surface edged with stone railings.