It’s nearly impossible to envisage the scope of Norway's fjords. Many of us have seen photos of the country’s most famous fjords—the Geirangerfjord, Lysefjord, Sognefjord, and Hardangerfjord—but even the best images can’t do justice to their grand scale. The bodies of water are immense, the walls tall and sheer, with snowmelt and rain tumbling downward in a continuous cycle of replenishment. These truly are some of the world’s great natural treasures.
There are many ways for travelers to experience Norway’s fjords. Time permitting, certain places should not be missed: the Geirangerfjord and Nærøyfjord are UNESCO World Heritage sites and well-deserving of the honor. Lysefjord is home to gravity-defying Pulpit Rock, one of Norway’s premier viewpoints. Sognefjord and Hardangerfjord are so big that you’ll most likely come across them whether you intend to or not.
As impressive as the best-known fjords are, perhaps even more so is the number of fjords in Norway. There are an estimated 1,190 in total, which cover virtually the entire length of the coastline but are concentrated in the bottom one-third of the country. The heart of “Fjord Norway”—from Lysefjord in the south to Kristiansund in the north—is a world unto itself of long, snaking waterways. The small hamlets and farms lining the shores are as idyllic and Norwegian as anywhere in the country.
The famous fjords have significant tourist infrastructure that makes them easy to visit. If you’re lucky, a regular ferry service will conveniently pass through some of the most scenic sections. Norway wisely has slowed down the boats and added audio commentary to provide an informative tourist experience. The full range of cruises geared specifically for sightseers are readily available. Shorter trips leave from the fjords themselves and longer trips depart from bigger cities such as Bergen and Ålesund. And a multitude of outdoors activities beckon including world-class kayaking and hiking.
Fjord Norway also presents ample opportunities to get off the beaten path. Each fjord has numerous arms sprouting out as they wind their way inland. By driving the back roads you will discover smaller but equally inspiring waterways that few people see. The big cruise ships don’t reach these places and they remain free from the hustle and bustle. Take your time—the slow, windy roads will help ensure that you do—and find a quiet place to soak up the majesty. This is what the fjords of Norway are all about.