How to Plan a Coastal Cruise in Norway in 2023

Since 1893, Hurtigruten ships have been a staple along the Norwegian coast. To this day, the ships still carry local cargo and passengers, but are best known around the world for their round-trip cruise-like experience.

The classic journey from Bergen to Kirkenes and back to Bergen takes 12 days with departures available most days throughout the year. For passengers planning a trip in 2023, Hurtigruten is offering a few special itineraries to mark its 130th anniversary.

But the line now also has competition on the classic coastal route. With its brand new eco-friendly vessels, Havila points to the future of coastal travel and deserves consideration.

What to expect on a Norwegian coastal cruise

Something that intrigues seasoned cruisers about the Norwegian coastal experience is the significant difference in concept. It is important to understand that Hurtigruten and Havila ships are not cruise ships. They have more in common with the cruise ferries that shuttle between countries all over Northern Europe.

Although well-equipped, the ships don’t offer much of the entertainment you’ll find on more traditional cruise lines. The ever-changing Norwegian coastline is the star attraction.

Another important difference concerns the stopovers. As work ships, they call at many of the 34 ports for just a few minutes, just long enough to unload and load cargo and passengers.

Round-trip cruise passengers have a few hours to roam around major ports like Ålesund, Trondheim and Tromsø, but that’s still a lot less time than with traditional cruise lines. Organized excursions are available to help you make the most of limited time.

One thing coastal cruising has in common with cruise ships is an emphasis on high-end, sustainable catering.

Both Hurtigruten and Havila are pushing their local food concepts heavily, both emphasizing seafood and ingredients sourced from ports along the route. Most ships have a classic restaurant offering buffets for breakfast and lunch and table service for dinner, as well as an upscale dining option.

Hurtigruten or Havila?

While Hurtigruten’s historic brand is a big part of the allure of a coastal cruise, don’t ignore Havila for that reason alone.

Havila ships offer an almost identical experience with the added bonus of being able to cruise on battery power for hours on end. If you are concerned about the environmental impact of cruise ships, this may influence your decision.

That being said, Hurtigruten is also investing heavily in greener vessels. Its fleet is being upgraded with hybrid technology, while the company pushes ahead with its plan to introduce zero-emission vessels by 2030.

The line you choose may depend on the best dates for you, as the two lines always run on different days from Bergen. So if you have a specific set of dates in mind, the decision will be made for you.

Hurtigruten Special Routes for 2023

On the occasion of the 130th anniversary of the line, Hurtigruten has launched two new routes that stand out from the traditional coastal route. Both routes spend more hours in fewer ports for a more cruise-like experience.

The ‘Svalbard Express’ offers travelers a round trip from Bergen to the Arctic archipelago of Svalbard, while the ‘North Cape Express’ is Hurtigruten’s first route from the Norwegian capital, Oslo.

When to take a coastal cruise

Norway’s cruise season typically lasts through the summer months for fjord cruises and the winter months for northern lights cruises in the north. But because of its double life as local transport, cabotage is available almost every day of the year.

If you don’t mind having a full ship and paying a premium, summer is a wonderful time to visit the Norwegian coast.

The main reason to visit in winter is to see the Northern Lights. You’ll cruise for many hours away from light pollution, giving you a great chance of being spotted if the skies are clear. While the prices may be a little lower, it’s also a lot colder and of course the darkness means you’ll see less of the coastline.

Shoulder seasons are the best value for money. Fares are lower and ships will be quieter than during the busy summer, but the weather will be more uncertain.

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