The spectacular Norwegian coastline draws visitors in the millions every year. But believe it or not, no-one's quite sure how long the Norway coast really is.
Sometimes it seems like wherever you are in Norway, you're never far from the water. All the major cities are on the coast, while picturesque villages dot the rocky coastline and fjords throughout the country.
Norway's epic coastline
Stretching all the way from the Oslofjord down to the sunny south, around the land of the western fjords and then stretching out a long way north before bending around the top of the Scandinavian peninsular to meet with Russia: This is the epic Norwegian coast.
I am sometimes asked how long the coastline is, and indeed researched the topic when writing the first edition of the Moon Norway guidebook. What I found astounded me. No-one actually knows the answer!
The coastline paradox
Stay with me, because this is actually quite easy to understand, I promise! The somewhat counterintuitive observation that the coastline of a landmass does not have a well-defined length is known as the coastline paradox. Because of the fractal nature of a coastline, you can only define its length by using units of a specific length.
When the unit length differs, the total length differs – and the difference can be massive. This is best illustrated with an example, and thanks to our friends at Wikipedia, we have one right here. This is the island of Great Britain:
If the coastline is measured using 100 km units (left picture), the total length is approximately 2,800 km. But when you halve the unit length to 50 km (right picture), the total length is approximately 3,400 km. More than 20% longer, yet both answers are correct.
When applied to Norway, the differences are enormous. Along with Chile and the USA's Pacific Northwest, Norway is known as one of the best examples of the coastline paradox. Norway's coast is characterised by its rocky nature, mountains, and most applicable for this situation: the spectacular Norwegian fjords.
The Sognefjord alone is 205km long, meaning that if you include it in the coastline, your figure will jump up by at least 410km. Actually a lot more given the various arms of the fjord, but let's not complicate things even more! Now consider the number of fjords spread all across the country and you start to see the extent of the mathematical problem.
So, how long is Norway's coastline then?
Surely islands and skerries can't make so much difference, you may be thinking? They do when there is more than 300,000 of them! One thing is for sure. Because of crazy number of peninsulas, inlets, large and small islands and skerries, the Norwegian coast is one of the world's longest.
To account for these complex features, the official length was recalculated in 2011 as 100,915 km, including fjords and islands. If stretched out, this would circle the world two and a half times! Without islands, the length is a still impressive 28,953 km. Just don't be surprised if you find different answers from different places!
How to see the Norway coast
To fully appreciate even a tiny stretch of the coastline, you have to take to the water. Not only can you enjoy the scenery, it also helps to understand Norwegians lifestyle and their relationship with the water that little bit better.
The ocean-facing coastline around the Atlantic Road is very different from the sheltered waters of the Geirangerfjord, for example, so there are a huge variety of coastal experiences to enjoy. You don't even need to take a tourist boat.
The ship pictured above the Kystekspressen, a commuter ferry that runs several times daily between Trondheim and Kristiansund. While it's not the best option for sightseeing, it's just one example of the many public ferries sailing around the coast and across the fjords.
The Hurtigruten cruise
The most popular option to truly get familiar with the Norwegian coast is the Hurtigruten cruise. The full 12-day voyage runs from Bergen to Kirkenes and back, taking in some of Norway's most famous sights along the way.
You don't have to take the full 12-days though. A one-way trip (with a flight back) or a return trip from Trondheim are popular – and cheaper – options.
But before you rush and book a trip, the journey isn't like a regular cruise experience. Although they are marketed as a cruise, you won't find the classic highbrow cruise experience here. The entertainment is simply the spectacular natural Norwegian environment.
The vessels also serve dual purpose as ferries and a cargo delivery service for some of the many small communities along the route. Many passengers join the ship for just a few hours, so you're just as likely to see an elderly couple making their way to the next village as a couple from Germany on a cruise!
Prices for the full voyage vary massively depending on time of year and the specific ship. For a ride on the newer ships (which are substantially bigger) in the summer, you will pay up to four times what you'd pay for a ride on an older ship in the off-season.
A coastal cruise is also an outstanding way to see the northern lights in the winter, as you're well away from city lights.
Have you ever experienced the Norwegian coastline?
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