Northern Lights on Norway Hurtigruten cruise

Visit Norway on a Hurtigruten Northern Lights Cruise

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Getting a glimpse of the Aurora Boreal is a dream for many people who live south of the Arctic Circle. We had a brief glimpse of them in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories in Canada previously, but were hampered by cloud cover. So when we got a great deal on flights to Norway we decided to try our luck at a Norwegian Coastal Cruise with Hurtigruten. And it turns out that the Hurtigruten Northern Lights Cruise would really live up to its name.

We started our Coastal tour of Norway in the town of Kirkenes near the northern tip of Europe. Our family spent a few days experiencing the splendor of Arctic Norway before our Hurtigruten cruise ship, the MS Vesteralen arrived in port to collect us. We stayed in a lovely apartment with Go2Kirkenes, and our host, Roar Anderson was our guide during our stay. He also made for a great local contact and friend. We will be writing more about our wonderful experience in Kirkenes soon.

Hurtigruten shore excursions - Kick sleds in Kirkenes Norway

What Is a Hurtigruten Coastal Cruise?

Hurtigruten is a cruise and ferry company that began back in 1863. Initially, they offered a link between coastal towns in Norway that might otherwise be inaccessible during the winter months. They carried people, cars, and supplies between many of the towns along their Norwegian coastal cruises.

Because of it’s unique “hybrid” cruise style, those traveling on the Hurtigruten ferry vary widely from international travelers on a 6-12 day Norway coastal cruise to locals traveling over a day or two between Norwegian coastal towns. This interesting makeup makes it a great place to meet locals and visitors alike.

Boarding the Hurtigruten MS Vesteralen in Kirkenes Norway

Norway Coastal Cruises

One of the most popular Hurtigruten cruises is their Norway Coastal Cruises. Dubbed “The Most Beautiful Cruise in the World”, the Hurtigruten coastal cruise in Norway goes between the towns of Bergen in the south and Kirkenes in the north.

Along the Norway coastline, the Hurtigruten cruise ships stop at 34 ports of call. These stops include popular Norway travel destinations like Hammerfest, Tromso, Svolvaer, and Trondheim. But, because of Hurtigruten’s ferry/supply ship backbone, the length and opportunities at each Norwegian port of call can vary widely. This can lead to some very rushed shore excursions.

Northern Lights with Chuch and Fish Racks in Svolvaer Norway Coastal Cruise

Northern Lights on the Hurtigruten

The Norway Hurtigruten Ferry isn’t referred to as a Northern Lights Cruise of Norway for nothing. Of the 6 days on board the coastal cruise, we were blessed with views of the Northern Lights 4 times. While most of the Northern Lights displays were fairly tame, when we were south of Tromso, we saw one of the most spectacular Norway Northern Lights shows we could have imagined. Generally, while the ship is north of the Arctic Circle, the chance to see the Northern Lights are greatest. The opportunities diminish the further south you travel.

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In fact, the Northern Lights on the Hurtigruten can be spectacular, especially due to it being at sea, far from the coastal city lights. Announcements are made through the intercom that can be heard throughout the ship, and visitors can adjust the in-room telecom in order to be notified for when they appear.

Norwegian Northern Lights Cruise on the Hurtigruten

Best Way to See the Northern Lights on the Hurtigruten Norway Coastal Cruise

The best way to see the Northern Lights on a Norway coastal cruise is when the boat is out at sea. The lack of lights makes the sea views perfect for aurora viewing. However, if you are looking to photograph the Northern Lights, it’s best to be on land to avoid fuzzy views from the movement and vibration of the ship.

Finding times when the Hurtigruten ferry is docked for about 30 minutes or more offers a chance for visitors to disembark and get some Northern Lights photos. You can usually see them from the deck of the ship before you land to get an idea of which direction you can head in order to get the best aurora photos when you dock.

If you are photographing the Northern Lights on the Hurtigruten, I found the best way to get shots was either pointing forwards or backwards on the deck of the ship. Photos to the side tended to offer too much blur of the lights on land. However, using the ship as a point of interest in the foreground can also yield some cool shots.

These are the stops that offer the best chances for seeing the Northern Lights on a Hurtigruten cruise. I’ve divided them into Northbound and Southbound as the boats dock at different times of the day depending on the direction of the Hurtigruten Northern Lights cruise.

Read: Making The Most Of Your Hurtigruten Shore Excursions

Northbound Ports on the Hurtigruten

Rorvik

Although this stop is short, there are some beautiful cliffs for which to shoot against. Rorvik is south of the Arctic Circle, and chances of viewing the Northern Lights begin to diminish after this.

Svolvaer

Svolvaer is a classic Norwegian fishing village that makes for a beautiful spot to see the Northern Lights. The fish drying racks and steep cliffs make for a fantastic foreground.

Fish drying racks in Svolvaer Norway

Southbound Ports on the Hurtigruten

Mehamn

There is a Hurtigruten excursion offered here to see the Northern Lights by snowmobile. This excursion is age-dependent and our children were too young to participate.

Tromso

Tromso is often considered to be one of the best places in Norway to experience the Northern Lights. The mix of classic Norwegian buildings and dark skies make for a great foreground to shoot against.

Svolvaer

Svolvaer is a classic Norwegian fishing village that makes for a beautiful spot to see the Northern Lights. The fish drying racks and steep cliffs make for a fantastic foreground.

Rorvik

Although this stop is short, there are some beautiful cliffs for which to shoot against. Rorvik is south of the Arctic Circle, and chances of viewing the Northern Lights begin to diminish after this.

Northern Lights on Norway Hurtigruten cruise

What is the Best Time to See The Northern Lights in Norway

Norway is one of the best places in the world to see the Northern Lights. But even so, it’s important to know that the Northern Lights are a natural occurrence. As such, they can’t be predicted with high accuracy. Typically the best times to see this solar phenomenon is between November and February. This is more due to the long, dark nights rather than an increase in solar activity. Although October and March are also quite good. Outside of these months, there is simply too much daylight for Northern Lights viewing.

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Our Hurtigruten Norway Northern Lights Cruise Experience

We boarded the MS Vesteralen in Kirkenes, Norway. This arctic town is located just 10 km from the Russian border. We checked in at the Hurtigruten reception desk, got our keys, and made our way to our stateroom. The room was well laid out and comfortable. Then we left the room to get to know the MS Vesteralen, which would be our home for the next 6 days.

Hurtigruten Cruise Lines MS Vesteralen docked in Hammerfest Norway

Getting to Know the MS Vesteralen Hurtigruten Cruise Line

Once we boarded the Hurtigruten cruise ship, we realized quickly that it was very different than past cruises we had been on. There was no live safety demonstration, no meet-and-greets, and very few social events. This was a working ship that had a few “luxurious” amenities to help tourists bare the up to 12-day round trip along the Norway coastal route.

Because the MS Vesteralen is one of the older Hurtigruten cruise ships, it also happened to be one with some of the least amenities. While some of the newer Hurtigruten ships have hot tubs or even small pools, the MS Vesteralen had none of these. This became very apparent when our children went to go check out the “playroom”.

Amenities on the MS Vesteralen

Playroom

The MS Vesteralen playroom is underwhelming. It consisted of a broken plastic slide (that might actually be dangerous for smaller children), a few sensory toys, a box of Lego and wooden blocks and a TV that played a local cartoon channel.

While the playroom location, at a quiet end near the cafeteria, is pretty good. It is also the location of the only door for one of the MS Vesteralen offices. This led to some annoyed staff who constantly had to step over playing children. They also made sure to “remind” the children and parents to “clean up when you are done here” every time they walked over said children.

Hurtigruten MS Vesteralen Playroom

Laundry room

There is a small laundry room near the reception desk. The MS Vesteralen laundry works on tokens bought from the reception desk. Surprisingly, doing laundry on board was very affordable.

Small library

There is a small library located near the front of the boat. It works on an honor system and seemed to offer a variety of history, science fiction, and fantasy novels.

Cafeteria

There is a well-stocked cafeteria aboard the MS Vesteralen. It offers both packaged and freshly cooked meals. The cafeteria is great for those on shorter cruise itineraries or those traveling Norway on a budget.

Hurtigruten Coast Cruise Cafeteria

Norwegian Coastal Kitchen

The Norwegian Coastal Kitchen is one of the most popular Hurtigruten packages. This takes place in the restaurant at the front of the ship and features delicious Norwegian food sourced from local towns along the Norwegian coastal cruise route.

Wifi

Wifi was not part of our package when we booked our Southbound Coastal Cruise. However, we were able to purchase wifi when on board. Each code was valid on two devices and allowed for internet access while on the ship.

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State Rooms on the MS Vesteralen

Hurtigruten cruises feature a variety of single, double, triple, and quadruple rooms. Some cruise ships even offer family staterooms but these are few and far between. In fact, we had only one of the two rooms on the MS Vesteralen for families.

Hurtigruten double bed state room Norway Coastal Cruises

Our Hurtigruten family room had a bunk bed and a queen-sized bed, a small couch, two chairs, a closet and a bathroom that included a shower, toilet, and sink. The room was very comfortable and well equipped for the journey.

Hurtigruten Norway family state room

Hurtigruten Cruise Itineraries

There are 34 stops on the Norway coastline route. But because the Hurtigruten acts as much like a ferry and shipping boat as it does a Norwegian cruise line, the time at each port can range from just a few minutes to a few hours. We had to be very selective with what Hurtigruten excursions and ports of call we chose to visit. Because as we would quickly learn, if you are even a few seconds late for the departure time, you might need to find your own way to the next port. We will be writing more about our cruise excursions on an upcoming post.

What Happens If you Miss Boarding on the Hurtigruten?

Trondheim is one of the most popular ports of call on a Hurtigruten Coastal Cruise. It also gave us our biggest panic! After completing our do-it-yourself tour of Trondheim, the boys each needed an emergency bathroom stop on the way back to the Hurtigruten Ferry. Time was getting very close to boarding, and it was becoming clear that the boys’ short legs might not be up to the task. I loaded up D on my shoulders and took off in a sprint.

Boarding time for the Southbound Hurtigruten in Trondheim was 3:00 pm. I arrived at 3:00:30 to the site of the loading ramp of the MS Vesteralen being raised in front of me. If I had been more than a few seconds later the Hurtigruten would have left without my family.

Missing the Hurtigruten Ferry in Norway

If you miss your Hurtigruten boarding time, then it is up to you to make it to the next port of call in time to meet that boarding time. This usually means getting one of Norway’s notoriously expensive cabs to take you on a long, expensive, and fast journey to another city.

How Do Hurtigruten Excursions Work?

Hurtigruten shore excursions can be done either on your own, with a private tour, or on one of the official Hurtigruten excursions. While many of the shore excursions are short, some of the main excursions allow you to move between ports on land and meet up with your Hurtigruten ship at a later port.

The advantage of using the Hurtigruten designated tours is that the ship guarantees that it won’t leave without you if you are late returning to port. If you decided to embark on a Norway shore excursion that isn’t run by Hurtigruten, make sure that it’s clear that they are responsible for getting you back on the ship.

Most Hurtigruten shore excursions are run by bus. The buses are generally waiting just outside the port. A Hurtigruten staff member is on the bus to ensure all those scheduled make the bus, and from there the Norway tour is run by a local tour company.

The official tours generally return to shore with a bit of time to spare to ensure that you aren’t panicking about missing the boat. This is great for those who head straight back to the ship, but if you use this time to explore, make sure to watch the clock!

Street Art in Sandnessjoen Norway

Is There a Difference Between Hurtigruten Shore Excursions Heading North vs. Heading South?

Due to the frequency of port stops on the Norwegian coast cruise, the Hurtigruten shore time at each port can vary widely. The only stops that are consistent are those where Hurtigruten has official shore excursions. Because of this, the ship can dock at various different times of the day.

Hurtigruten has set their schedule so that they are in different major ports on the northern travel than they are during the southern voyage. Because of this, unless you remain on board for the full 12-day round trip, you won’t have the opportunity to experience all of the major stops.

Hurtigruten Excursion Pricing

We found that there was little to no difference between the excursions offered by Hurtigruten and those offered by the local companies on-shore. Because of this, and the fact that the Hurtigruten will not leave without passengers who book a Hurtigruten excursion, I recommend booking Norway cruise excursions directly through the ship.

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Should You Pre-Book Excursions or Book On Board

From my experience, most Norway tours do not fill up and there were options for those on board to sign up for the excursion up to the day before. This, however, is not guaranteed. The other advantage with pre-booking is that you are guaranteed the pricing at the time of booking, where prices may have increased if you wait to book on board.

Arctic Cathedral in Tromso Norway

Top Views From The Deck of the Hurtigruten Northern Lights Cruise

Excursions on the Hurtigruten cruise line aren’t the only way of taking in the incredible Norwegian coastal cruises. The views from aboard the ship can be absolutely breathtaking in their own right. Here are a few of my favorite Norway coastal sites.

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Trollfjord

The extremely narrow and beautiful Trollfjord is a place of legend in Norway. Unfortunately, the MS Vesteralen was unable to navigate the narrow channel during our Norway cruise, but the views from the mouth of Trollfjord were enough to make us desperate for more.

Trollfjord Norway Hurtigruten Coastal Cruise

Norwegian Fishing Towns

Small fishing villages dot much of the Norwegian coastline. Tiny, colorful houses sprinkled throughout the rocky coastal shores were a favorite to snap photos of. They offered an intimate view of the hardworking fishing life that has shaped so much of Norway’s history.

Lighthouse near Bergen Norway

Norway’s Arctic Circle Monument

At 66Β° 33’ the Hurtigruten passes across the Arctic Circle. The Arctic Circle marks the border of the midnight sun. North of this line, life experiences periods of full-day darkness in the winters, and full-day sunlight in the summers. The Hurtigruten voyage celebrates the journey North with a champagne toast.

Arctic Circle Monument Norway

However, we were only on the Hurtigruten for the journey South. And we got to celebrate with … shots of Cod Liver Oil! The boys were not impressed. Although D did manage to keep his down. At least they gave us a nice commemorative spoon to mark the occasion!

Cod Liver Oil Ceremony on Hurtigruten MS Vesteralen

Torghatten: Norway’s Mountain With A Hole In It

Near the Southern end of the Hurtigruten coastal tour sits a really unique phenomenon. Torghatten is a Norwegian coastal mountain that has a hole straight through the center of it. It’s believed that the rock that once sat in this spot was pushed out during the glacial retreat of the last ice age.

Torghatten Mountain with a hole in it on a Norway Northern Lights Cruise

Hurtigruten Cruise Ships

The Hurtigruten Norway coastal tour has a fleet of 6 ships that pass along the same route. They are constantly in motion so Hurtigruten has created a live map to track where each ship is in the Atlantic. The ships range in age with the newest of the Hurtigruten ships, the MS Spitzbergern, being among the most elegant. The MS Finnmarken has been touted as the most family-friendly of the Hurtigruten cruise ships

The MS Vesteralen and the MS Kong Harald are among the older ships in the fleet. Their age shows and they don’t have many of the luxurious offerings that many cruisers have come to expect when spending large amounts of money on an expedition such as this. We were trying to maximize our family visit to Norway while minimizing the time off school our kids needed to take, and this led to our decision to take the MS Vesteralen rather than one of the newer Hurtigruten cruise ships.

Hurtigruten Cruise Ship Noronorge

Food and Eating on the Ms Vesteralen

Hurtigruten Norway cruises are served by one restaurant, The Norway Coastal Kitchen. All passengers that have paid for the full board price have reserved tickets for dinner. For those passengers without the full board package, it was possible to purchase food at the Cafe or if there is room, reservations can be made at the Coastal Kitchen restaurant.

The Norway Coastal Kitchen features local dishes made from products sourced from the coastal towns along the Hurtigruten route. Because of this unique setup, the Norway Coastal Kitchen offers as close to a farm-to-table approach as you can achieve on a cruise ship.

The Coastal Kitchen uses timed meal-times. You are assigned a meal-time and this becomes your designated mealtime for the length of your journey. While it is possible to adjust the time, it is dependent on table availability.

Foodie Norwegian Coastal Kitchen on the Hurtigruten Norway

What To Bring on Your Norway Northern Lights Cruise Expedition?

Norway coastal cruises are one of the best ways to see the Northern Lights. You are far from shore, often in remote areas with little to no light pollution. Because of these great circumstances, Aurora often appears brighter and bolder than they do in more populated areas. The disadvantage of being on a Norway Northern Lights cruise is that you are not on land. You are on something moving. And photographing at night from a moving base can be challenging.

You don’t need to have the best camera for travel to get a photo of the Northern Lights, but there are a few things that help. I was one of the few people on board our Aurora Borealis cruise in Norway that had a tripod with me. Of those who did, few had an understanding of their camera’s manual controls. To photograph the northern lights properly you need to have a steady platform for your camera and you need to be able to set your camera’s shutter (the length of time the light is able to come into your camera) to a longer period of time than normal.

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It’s also cold in Norway, even during the summer the nights can get very chilly. Make sure to bring a warm, wind resistant jacket, gloves, and a hat to help ensure that you aren’t running back for shelter when things get cold.

The Hurtigruten spends some time in the open ocean where waves can get pretty gnarly. I had a couple of times where I was rushing to the bathroom to revisit my last meal. Bringing some sea sickness medication is highly advised.

Trondones Church in Harstad Norway

Do We Recommend a Hurtigruten Northern Lights Cruise for Families?

A Norway Northern Lights cruise is a unique way to experience the Norwegian coastal route. For families of younger children, it offers an option to see the Northern Lights while allowing your children to sleep comfortably in the cabin. The food of the Norwegian Coastal Kitchen is delicious and a perfect addition for foodies looking for local fare. The added advantage of the flexibility of the Hurtigruten Ferry means that any of the stops could be a hop-on-hop-off option, enabling visitors to spend more time in Norway’s coastal towns.

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About the Author

Kevin Wagar is a creative designer and technology expert living in the Greater Toronto Area. His beautiful wife Christina impressed on him her love of travel and they have made exploring the world an integral part of their life. With the birth of their two boys, Kevin and Christina have made it their mission to show others that travelling with children isn't as scary as it sounds and that kids can benefit from experiencing the world outside of their front door and beyond.

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14 Comments

  1. Lovely to go on a colder weather cruise Christina. I’ve not cruised yet – by boat at least πŸ™‚ – but would prefer a cold weather cruise over one through the tropics. Nice change up. I do love spending time in the tropics but seeing such pristine spots in cold climes really floats my boat.

    Thanks for sharing πŸ™‚

    Ryan

  2. I have wanted to do a Hurtigruten cruise for so long, so loved reading this and seeing your photos! I have never seen the Northern Lights so I think this looks like the perfect trip.

  3. What an amazing experience – I would love to see the Northern Lights but although I’ve been to the Arctic Circle twice, I’ve always missed them so far. One day! Great tips on getting some good photos if you’re luckier than I’ve been as well.

  4. I’ve wanted to do a Hurtigruten cruise since I first learned about them when I visited Norway back in 2012. It seems like such a cool way to experience a lot of Norway.

    As far as what happens if you’re late to the ship and miss it, that’s true of any cruise ship that it’s your responsibility to get yourself to the next port in order to meet back up with the ship again. Always best to plan to arrive back at the ship early.

  5. I like that this cruise has so many port stops. It really does give you an opportunity to see the Aurora in different locations. I was up in the Yukon recently, but unfortunately, the sun never went down so I didn’t get to see the lights.

  6. This is my husband’s dream vacation. Seriously, a bucket list adventure that he and I hope to take next year. Saving this for reference.

  7. You got me at the Northern Lights! Cannot wait to go to see them! I am very much interested in the cruise. Thanks to you, I am considering the cruise option myself! Thanks πŸ™‚

  8. You can really see why the Hurtigruten coastal cruise has been names β€œThe Most Beautiful Cruise in the World”! I was wondering about photographing the northern lights on board, so it makes sense to dock to allow all those long exposures. I’d love to be out on the water watching them dance above me!

  9. Oh my – I love the Nordic countries in Europe, but I’ve never made it to Norway so far. I am not really a fan of cruises but I LOVE the idea of a Northern Lights cruise. I actually haven’t seen Northern Lights yet so might be a great excuse to try!

  10. This looks incredible! Sounds like my kind of trip. I have not been lucky enough to have the northern lights appear yet when I’ve been in the right places so need to find a way – this looks like a good one!

  11. Wow I really want to do this cruise! Seeing the Northern Lights has been on my list for a while now but I would be so worried to go there, spend a lot of money and not see it… This sounds like a very good option to make sure I would actually see the northern lights. πŸ™‚

  12. First WOW for the great photos although everything looks so cold. Pronouncing Hurtigruten might also be a challenge. I think the interactions with the diverse make-up of passengers would be really interesting. That you can also approximate a Norwegian farm-to-table dining experience is great. Would love to see the “lights”. Very comprehensive post, thanks.

  13. This sounds like an amazing experience. My kids would probably be looking for entertainment on-board as well, but I think that the most important thing is seeing the Northern Lights, and you had great sightings.

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