Norway — Europe’s Land of the Midnight Sun — is a hot travel destination for adventurers looking to cross a once-in-a-lifetime trip off their bucket lists. And we can’t blame them: the majestic fjords, Northern Lights, and ancient Viking culture are enough to inspire anyone to break into “Let it Go” at the top of their lungs. If you’re planning a cruise along the country’s rugged coast — by far the most cost-effective way to see the most of Norway — remember that the terrain, and the experience, is highly varied. Here’s what you need to know before you set sail.
1. Know when to see the sights
If you’re hunting the Northern Lights or Midnight Sun, keep in mind that you can only see each phenomena at certain times of the year, and the farther north you go, the better chance you have to see them. Choose a cruise itinerary that includes stops above the Arctic Circle, like a Norwegian coastal cruise that leaves from Kirkenes. Above the Arctic Circle, the Midnight Sun shines 24/7 from June 21 to July 1 (and longer in towns farther north). And though it’s never a guarantee, your best chance to see the Northern Lights is from September to March.
2. Pack for all weather
The weather varies hour to hour, so you’ll need to pack for wind, rain, and sun. That means you’ll need weather-proof hiking pants, hiking shoes, and layers, even in the summer (especially since it can get windy and cold on deck). If you cruise in the summer, you’ll want an eye mask in case your blinds don’t block the constant sunlight.
3. Passing the Arctic Circle is a big deal
Don’t be surprised if your cruise makes a big to-do about passing the globe-like monument marking this invisible line, which cuts Norway in two at 66°33′ north latitude. On Hurtigruten ships, for example, you can participate in a celebration on deck, complete with a shot of cod liver oil for health and a certificate documenting your achievement.
4. It’s expensive
Norway is notoriously pricey, so don’t be surprised if you pay, say, almost $15 for a sandwich at the airport. It’s best to take out money at an ATM when you’re on land, so you get the best conversion rate. They’re generally easy to find in every major city on your cruise. It’s also good to note that most cab drivers prefer cards and that tips are not expected here.
5. It’s all about nature
Though your cruise line might offer the occasional city bus tour or cathedral visit, the best way to immerse yourself in Norway’s natural beauty is through outdoor, hands-on activities. Be prepared for adventures like kayaking and hiking in the summer, or dog sledding and snowmobiling in the winter.
6. You’re going to eat a lot of fish
As you might expect in a coastal country, local seafood is a huge part of the cuisine. We recommend locally caught salmon and arctic char. You’ll also find reindeer, and a brown cheese called brunost on local menus. And since water quality is good here, don’t be afraid to fill up your bottle from the tap.
7. The locals are hospitable
Maybe it’s the cool mountain air or the great quality of life, but the Norwegian people are usually very friendly — if reserved — and are willing to help travelers. Almost everyone speaks English, though they appreciate the effort of tourists trying to use simple words like, “Takk.” That’s “thank you” in Norwegian.
8. You’ll embrace the old (and new) culture
You might take a trip to Norway’s past when you visit, say, isolated Vega island, where families have harvested eider duck down for 10,000 years, and where even today there are only two grocery stores. Or, you’ll get a taste of Norway’s current way of life too, for example at a craft beer tasting at Tromso’s Mack Brewery, where rock music is served up with every pint. You might even get a chance to chat with locals on a cruise, especially with Norwegian-based line Hurtigruten, which, in addition to hosting visitors, has ferried locals along the coast for more than 120 years.