Welcome to Norway's Nordfjord, home of glaciers, summer skiing, hiking trails, and relaxation aplenty.
Despite its size, the Nordfjord is probably the lesser-known of the big Norwegian fjords, but it's just as beautiful.
Introducing the Nordfjord
Puncturing Norway's west coast between the Storfjord (of which the Geirangerfjord is a famous arm) and the epic Sognefjord, the Nordfjord stretches 106 kilometres (66 miles) inland from some of Norway's wildest coastline to spectacular mountains, valleys and glaciers at the heart of the country.
Some people consider the fjord and its region to be Norway at its wildest. Nordfjord is also the name of the traditional district surrounding the fjord, which includes:
- The fjord itself, the sixth longest in Norway
- The fjordside villages including Olden and Nordfjordeid
- Parts of Jostedalsbreen, mainland Europe's largest glacier
- Hornindalsvatnet, Europe's deepest lake
- The village of Stryn
- Coastal areas including the Stadlandet peninsula and Vågsøy island
Around 32,000 people live in the district. Its name literally translates as the Northern fjord, somewhat curiously given it is south of the Storfjord and many other fjords in Norway!
What to do in Nordfjord
Like much of Norway, outdoor activities dominate the list of things to do. Not the outdoors type? Don't worry!
In Pictures: Living by the Nordfjord in 1900
You can always sit on the deck of a visiting cruise ship admiring the scenery, and/or spend some time strolling around one of the peaceful fjordside villages. There's no right way to enjoy the Norwegian fjords!
But for those who like their vacations to be a little more active, a trip to the Nordfjord could be right up your street. Whether its hiking, cycling or skiing, some of Norway's best experiences are to be found along the Nordfjord.
The mountains inland are also home to several ski resorts offering year-round skiing. Yes, I said year-round! Stryn Summer Ski Centre has to be one of the few ski resorts I've ever seen that's only open during the summer!
I'd been living in Norway for years before I'd heard of Olden. But as it turns out, this tiny village is one of the most popular cruise ports in all of Norway.
It sure is a spectacular location. In front, the shores of the fjord. Behind, the The lovely Oldevatnet lake, and beyond that the steep mountains, waterfalls and glaciers of Jostedalsbreen National Park.
Only a few hundred people live here but in spite of that, the village is home to two churches. The old white one pictured above, and the ‘new' red one, which looks just as traditional!
Despite it being called the old church, there were several previous churches in Olden that are no longer standing.
The most notable was a stave church that used to stand where the current ‘old church' does. Excavations in the 1970s discovered coins from the second half of the 13th century in the foundations.
“The church that stands today to be called ‘Olden Old Church’ has been built since 1759. It is the only cruciform church in the Nordfjord district and it has been built in a way to resist strong winds. What I found interesting when I walked inside was that the seating is arranged so that the aisles formed a Roman cross. Each pew are in boxes, each with a door, that symbolised a farm family in the region. Some may bear the family initials or mark” – Ed Rex, Rexy Edventures
Olden is popular not just with cruise passengers, but also with Norwegians and other tourists heading to see one of Norway's most accessible glaciers.
The Briksdal Glacier
South of Olden, the road skirts a number of lakes as it meanders through the valley towards the glacier, but for the best views you'll need to bring your walking shoes.
Hiking trails criss-cross the area but the most popular walk by far is the 3km trail from the mountain lodge to the glacier arm. Along the way, you pass the beautiful Kleivafossen waterfall.
If ever you doubted nature was in charge, come here and you'll soon change your mind! It's a popular location with photographers and it's not hard to see why! If you don't fancy or can't make the walk, you can join a trip by one of the 7-seater open ‘troll cars' to the glacier from the lodge.
For those who want more of a challenge, how about the ‘3 glacier hike' that also takes in the Melkevoll and Brenndal glaciers?
Just be aware that glaciers are unstable. There is a lot of movement within the ice, with a high danger of avalanches. For this reason you're not able to get too close without joining a guided glacier hike. At the time of writing, these are only offered at the Tystigbreen glacier.
On the northern side of the fjord lies the small town of Stryn. Norway's tourist authorities suggests that you can “join a rope team walking on a glacier, go summer skiing, and enjoy white sandy beaches all on the very same day.”
While that's technically true, you won't want to rush in these beautiful surroundings.
I already mentioned the summer ski centre, but much closer to town is a more traditional winter resort with four ski lifts and a choice of runs down the mountain.
A visit to the summer ski centre is a great reason to check out the Old Strynefjell Mountain Road, a vital 19th-century transport link that today is one Norway's national scenic routes. Old stone masonry and long rows of guard stones provide a constant reminder of the generations that have made this journey before you.
The farms around Stryn are well known for producing the Nordfjord brand of beef and pork products that you'll find in any Norwegian supermarket.
Between Stryn and Olden you'll find Loen, another small village that can act as your base for a Nordfjord holiday, but with one added feature.
Opened in 2017, the Loen Skylift takes you from fjord level to the top of Mount Hoven in a little over five minutes. The views of the fjord from more than 1,000 metres up are truly spectacular.
Nordfjordeid and the Eidsfjord
A small spur of the Nordfjord, the Eidsjord (not to be confused with the much more famous Eidfjord farther south) provides yet more accommodation options in the small village of Nordfjordeid, centre of the Eid municipality.
Here you'll find the pretty white wooden Eid Church, the fifth such church to stand on the fjord's shores.
How much tourism is too much?
Many people who live in the Norwegian fjords are becoming increasingly frustrated with the amount of visitors, especially from cruise ships. While visitors are generally welcome, the sheer numbers of people who fill these small towns whenever a cruise ship docks can overwhelm the local environment.
While protests against mass tourism haven't reached the levels of major European cities like Venice or Barcelona, one local politician decided to launch a rather unique solo protest in 2018.
Svein Ingvald Opdal, a 71-year-old member of Norway’s Green Party, stood naked facing a cruise ship from his home in Olden. His wife took the picture, which he later shared on his Instagram account before it was picked up by the world's media. Opdal says the protest was “a spontaneous act that I did mostly for fun”.
Where to stay around the Nordfjord
Accommodation options vary from traditional hotels to well-equipped cabins on campsites. The biggest town mentioned on this page is Stryn, which has the most accommodation options, but you'll find options all along the Nordfjord.
How to get to the Nordfjord
From Geiranger: As part of a road trip around the fjords, the Nordfjord is relatively easy to reach from the Geirangerfjord. Stryn is signposted from Geiranger village itself. The drive is a memorable one, and it's worth taking the short detour up to the Dalsnibba viewpoint en route.
From Oslo: From the capital, you can reach Stryn largely by following the same route as you would from the Geirangerfjord. Route 15 connects Stryn with the main E6 highway north of Oslo at Otta.
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