Hurtigruten (The Express Route)
Thursday, 27th March 2014 by Ian Brown
Here at Google Sightseeing we love a chance to create a post about the scenic wonders of Norway1. Today we will explore the coastal regions visited by the historic Hurtigruten (The Express Route), a daily passenger and cargo service between Bergen and Kirkenes, operated by eleven distinctive white, red and black ships, including the MS Nordnorge, shown here in Bergen. Join us on the epic journey to the 34 ports served by Hurtigruten, looking at some of the scenic highlights, and seeing how many of the ships we can spot along the way, when Google’s Street View car happened to be in a location at the same time while collecting extensive coverage of the country.
The eleven-day round trip covers around 4,800km (3,000 miles) and is hailed as one of the most spectacular sea cruises in the world, though it is a relatively recent tourist destination. For most of Hurtigruten’s 120-year history, a number of small boats served only locals – providing access and freight services to previously isolated ports. Although air travel has made most of the country easily accessible, and despite tourists dominating the passenger lists on larger ships, many who live in the small coastal communities continue to rely on Hurtigruten’s daily service.
On the south-west coast, Bergen – where the trip starts and ends – is the largest city served by Hurtigruten. Before boarding the ship, tourists can visit Bryggen, a quayside area of wooden buildings, some of which were built in the early 18th century and which are preserved as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The first Hurtigruten vessel, DS Vesterålen, carried only a few dozen passengers2, whereas the MS Nordnorge (shown at the top of this post) carries over 600 passengers and close to 50 cars. It is one example of the larger ships introduced in the past couple of decades to meet tourist demand, while continuing to provide services to residents in the many small communities on the route. Only two older ships remain in the fleet – 1964’s MS Lofoten and 1983’s MS Vesterålen. A number of cruise lines use massive vessels carrying thousands of passengers to visit the same areas, but their size means they are unable to dock in many places.
From Bergen, ships sail north along the coast, with gentle hills giving way to gradually more spectacular mountains and fjords. The journey continues across the Arctic Circle to the low-lying islands of the north coast and almost all the way to the Russian border. The first stop is in Florø, a fishing town of around 8,000 people. There’s no sign of a Hurtigruten ship on Street View, but a couple of anchors near the port celebrate town’s maritime heritage.
During the summer months, Hurtigruten competes for space with around 150 cruise ships carrying several hundred thousand passengers visiting the tiny but incredibly beautiful village of Geiranger, which is home to a large troll!
The port is reached via a stunning fjord which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site – seen here from a precipitous mountain road beside some traditional turf-roofed houses.
By contrast, Hjørundfjord – sailed solely for the vistas – is secluded and peaceful; Hurtigruten claims that most cruise ships don’t come here.
… and Sandnessjøen, where we can see the MS Richard With, a 600 passenger vessel named for the founder of Hurtigruten which was launched in 1993 – 100 years after the captain’s first voyage.
… and then Bodø, where we get a good look at the MS Kong Harald, another 600 passenger ship, built in the 1990s.
…then Stokmarknes – home to a Hurtigruten museum which includes a 1950s vessel named MS Finnmarken, one of several ships to bear the name.
Then it’s a short hop to Vadsø – which has a very distinctive Church, and finally to Kirkenes, about 10km (6 miles) from the Russian border and the last stop before ships start the return journey to Bergen.
If you’re inspired to visit Norway after reading this, the Hurtigruten website has all the information you need.