Norway Coastal Cruise: Hurtigruten & Havila Voyages Explained

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The historic Norwegian coastal ferry route offers visitors a ‘cruise-like’ experience, but it’s not for everyone. Here’s what to expect on Norway’s coastal voyage.

Since 1893, various cargo and passenger vessels have operated a scheduled service along the Norwegian coastline. Hurtigruten and Havila ships still carry both cargo and local passengers, but they are best known outside Norway for their roundtrip voyages aimed at tourists.

Landscape on the Norway coastal cruise

When I first moved to Norway, I quickly got to hear about Hurtigruten despite living in Oslo. As I began to travel around the country, I soon began to recognise the iconic vessels.

But it took me almost eight years before I finally set foot on a Hurtigruten vessel myself. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and learned so much about the history, the benefits of the voyage—plus the kind of people who won’t enjoy it.

So if you're considering taking a coastal voyage or that intro has piqued your interest, this article is for you.

Introducing Norway’s coastal voyage

While it's possible to take the Hurtigruten port-to-port as a local ferry service, the full coastal voyage is what we're concerned with in this article.

Havila Castor on the Geirangerfjord.
Havila Castor on the Geirangerfjord.

Norway's classic coastal voyage from Bergen to Kirkenes and back to Bergen takes 12 days. Departures are available on most days throughout the year. Many tourists with limited time take a one-way trip and fly the other leg.

Hurtigruten Norway: Check the latest fares and availability on the Norwegian coastal cruise.

For a few decades, Hurtigruten has been the sole operator of the coastal route. But following a government decision to introduce competition on the route, tourists now have some choice.

With its brand new eco-friendly ships, Havila Voyages points towards the future of the coastal voyage and is well worth consideration as an alternative to Hurtigruten.

What to expect on a Norwegian coastal cruise

Hurtigruten and Havila are not necessarily marketed as cruises, rather as “voyages”. Nevertheless, they are considered ‘cruises' by many in the travel industry and often referred to as such in the media.

Norway coastal ferry cruise photo

While spending a week or two on a coastal voyage has a lot in common with a more traditional cruise, there are some key differences that often trip up even seasoned travellers.

Cruise ships vs. Norway coastal vessels

First things first, the ships. The vessels from both Hurtigruten and Havila are not cruise ships. While they are well fitted out, the ships don't offer a lot of the entertainments you’ll find on more traditional cruise lines. It's the ever-changing Norwegian coastline and multiple port calls that are the main attractions.

In fact, I would suggest that Hurtigruten ships have just as much in common with the cruise ferries that shuttle people between countries all over Northern Europe, albeit without the emphasis on partying and duty-free sales.

Port calls

The other biggest difference from a cruise is the number of port calls. Most traditional cruises have one port call per day, if that.

Norwegian coastal voyages are still working ships that transport cargo between the 34 ports along the route. They call at many of the smaller ports for just 15-30 minutes, just enough time to unload and load cargo and local passengers.

Norway's coastal ferry in the winter landscape.
The coastal voyage runs year-round.

Roundtrip cruise passengers do get a few hours to wander around bigger ports like Ålesund, Trondheim and Tromsø, but that’s still much less time than with traditional cruise lines.

This arrangement is a double-edged sword for tourists. With so many port calls, the ships are never far from the coastline, which is why the views of the coastline are so famous.

But if you're the kind of person who likes to spend a lot of time on land, this may not be for you. That being said, organised excursions are available to help you make the most of the limited time in port.

Onboard dining

One thing that the coastal cruise does have in common with cruise ships is the focus on premium, sustainable dining.

Both Hurtigruten and Havila push their local food concepts heavily. Both lines understandably place an emphasis on fish and seafood, together with local food and seasonal ingredients obtained from the various ports along the route.

Final lunch on the MS Vesterålen
Final day lunch on the Hurtigruten voyage.

There are a few differences though. Hurtigruten ships feature a classic restaurant with breakfast and lunch buffets and table service for dinner alongside at least one premium dining option. Havila offers table service for all three daily meals.

The food on Hurtigruten is outstanding with no need for snacks between meals! On my recent trip on the Havila Castor, I was able to enjoy breakfast and lunch. The small dish concept is excellent and means you can easily adjust what you eat based on your appetite.

Both lines also operate speciality restaurants at an extra charge, although this is included for suite guests I believe. Alcohol is expensive on both lines, and many people I sailed with chose not to partake in alcohol during their voyage.

Port highlights of the Norway coastal voyage

As mentioned, there are several ports along the route where the ship docks for several hours. Ålesund, Trondheim and Tromsø are particular highlights.

But it also spends an hour or two in some intriguing places. That's enough time for you to have a wander around. These include Bodø and Svolvær among many others.

Hurtigruten ship MS Nordnorge docked in Trondheim
Hurtigruten ship MS Nordnorge.

Some of the shortest port calls are well worth being out on deck for, such as Stamsund in Lofoten and many of the other small ports in Northern Norway.

If you want to get an idea of what to expect, consider wading your way through my Hurtigruten Diary from my 2019 trip! It's a day-by-day account of my full roundtrip voyage. Just bear in mind it was done in January at one of the darkest times of the year!

Hurtigruten or Havila?

You can read more about the famous name on the route with this introduction to Hurtigruten. But while Hurtigruten’s famous brand is a big part of the appeal of a coastal cruise, don’t ignore Havila for that reason alone.

Hurtigruten Norway: Check the latest fares and availability on the Norwegian coastal cruise.

Havila's vessels offer an extremely similar experience with the advantage of being brand new. They can also sail on battery power for hours at a time. If you’re concerned with the environmental impact of such voyages, this may sway your decision.

That being said, Hurtigruten is also investing heavily in greener ships. Its fleet is in the process of being retrofitted with hybrid technology, while the company pursues its plan to introduce zero-emissions vessels by 2030.

Havila Voyages ship in a Norway fjord.
Havila Voyages have introduced brand new ships.

Ultimately, the line for you may come down to your preferred dates. Daily departures on the coastal route are shared between Hurtigruten and Havila. So, if you have a specific date in mind, the decision on which line and which ship will be made for you.

Hurtigruten’s special itineraries for 2023-24

To mark the coastal route’s 130th anniversary, Hurtigruten has launched two new itineraries set apart from the traditional coastal route. Both routes spend more hours in fewer ports for a more cruise-like experience.

The ‘Svalbard Express’ offers travelers a return trip from Bergen to the Arctic archipelago of Svalbard, while the ‘North Cape Express’ is the first ever Hurtigruten itinerary to depart from Norway’s capital city, Oslo.

Sister company Hurtigruten Expeditions (soon to become HX) offers expedition cruises to Svalbard, the Norwegian fjords, Iceland, Greenland and many other destinations around the world. Many of these utilise newer expedition cruise ships.

When to take a coastal cruise

Typically, Norway’s ‘cruise season' runs from May to September in and around the fjord region. Some cruise lines offer northern lights specific cruises in the winter months.

Read more: The Best Time of Year for a Norway Coastal Voyage

But it's a different story on the Norway coastal cruise. The route's double life as local transport means the voyages run year-round.

If you don’t mind a full vessel and budget isn't much of a concern, the summer is a wonderful time to visit the Norwegian coastline. The vessels tend to adjust their itineraries to spend time in the Geirangerfjord as an added bonus.

Retired Norwegian looking at the Geirangerfjord.
Hurtigruten and Havila call at the Geirangerfjord in the summer.

The main reason to take the voyage from October to March is the opportunity to see the northern lights. Or perhaps I should say the possibility. This is never guaranteed of course, but spending almost a week north of the Arctic circle mostly away from city lights gives you a good chance–if the skies are clear.

Prices tend to be lower, but it’s also much colder and of course, the darkness means you’ll see less of the coastline during the daytime.

Hurtigruten Norway: Check the latest fares and availability on the Norwegian coastal cruise.

For me, shoulder seasons are where the best value lies. Fares are lower than in the summer and the ships may still be quieter. Of course, the weather may still be uncertain.

A few Hurtigruten employees have told me the autumn is their preferred time. The landscape is golden and you can watch the seasons change as you sail. Plus, most itineraries in the autumn include a sailing down the scenic Hjørundfjord.

About David Nikel

Originally from the UK, David now lives in Trondheim and was the original founder of Life in Norway back in 2011. He now works as a professional writer on all things Scandinavia.

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16 thoughts on “Norway Coastal Cruise: Hurtigruten & Havila Voyages Explained”

  1. David, I took the Hurtsgurden 12 day trip 4 years ago and took
    the expeditions offered. There were three gentleman who conducted
    these. All were very knowledgeable. I was happy when I heard
    Norweigen spoken even though I didn’t understand. Made me feel
    I was away. I never got use to the beds were made. The duvets
    are certainly not between the sheets I was use to. Cabin was not the
    Cunard experience but I was expecting or wanting this. Have a successful new year. Hoping for some peace on earth. David Bray
    Sag Harbor, NY

    • David,

      Thaink you for the wonderful article. Can you suggest a cruise from Bergen that encompasses the Lofoten islands?

      I understand this might be a one way or possibly two separate trips.

      I met a deck officer on the Hurtigurten and she stated that the best time was November.

      Experiencing the northern lights would also be a priority, thank you.


  2. Hi David!
    It would be wonderful if you compiled an informational story on and about the Same people and their plight as a future report- might it be possible?
    Your little newsletter is absolutely wonderful to read, THANK YOU.

  3. I have sailed on the Hurtigruten Polarlys, Bergen to Bergen, in April and then on the Fram for Iceland and Scotland in the fall. These voyages are superb. The crews were attentive, my fellow passengers were a delight. Most of them were very experienced travelers from many countries. Dining is wonderful. Both voyages took me to places I would otherwise never see.

    I hope Havila is up to the Hurtigruten standard. The concept of competition is interesting. Are there enough travelers for both companies?

  4. Hello,
    Any truth in the rumours of the reinstatement of The Port of Tyne – Norway scheduled car ferry service? If the Government was serious about levelling-up northern England, this should be a priority.

    • agree . this route was my first introduction to norway, a coach trip from north w ales to catch ferry at newcastle and on to stavanger the ferry was DFDS I think and was excellent .i think. then coach all the all the way up tp Bodo and back, staying at various places on the way . a taster leading to going again to norway but using c ruise ships over a few years . Going up to svalbard twice and one year up to ny Alesund and Magdalenafjord also. That was superb but only expedition ships can do this now .

  5. Of course ,taking the identical trip on Hurtigruten and Havila and then comparing would be the most informative article along with pricing. We are scheduled to travel with Havila in May ’23 basing our decision largely on price and environmental considerations. Hoping for the best. Excited to see how Norway has changed after spending a year attending the university in Bergen some 50 years ago as well as connecting with old friends.

  6. Unfortunately, due to ageing, I will never visit Norway. My ancestors originated in Norway. At one point I saw a place called DOBYN and have been unable to
    locate it again. I look forward to receiving your publication, hoping some day
    it will mention the place DOBYN. Keep up the good work!

  7. Thanks so much for this! We’re doing research for a summer roadtrip that will include a few weeks in Norway and understanding the differences between the two lines is really helpful. I think we’ll drive up to Svolvaer and take the one way boat back down!

  8. My wife and I are beginning the planning stage for a holiday in Europe for late November through December.
    The plan is to use train travel to three or four Christmas Markets spending two nights at each stop.
    Following that we would like to fly to Bergen; spend two nights then take one of the ferry company’s north and the other south. We think that would give us a great comparison.
    Any suggestions?

    • Just bear in mind you’d need at least one night, maybe two, in Kirkenes (if doing the full route) if you want to experience the two different companies, as they depart on different days.

  9. Hi David,
    It’s me again with some more about me.
    When I was a young one, I sailed one summer on the old (and now moth balled) ‘Finnmarken’ ship, Bergen to Kirkenes.
    The stuart was my grand uncle and that’s how I got the job.
    The work was very difficult for some one who had not done that before but a grand learning curve for some one who had not been in a job like that before!
    My country is SOOO beautiful!!!!!!!!!!!

  10. Hi David
    I find your articles very informative & I enjoy reading them. My husband & I are planning a trip in Oct-Nov
    & we would want to experience the Havila cruise from Bergen to Tromso only. I know Hurtigruten has a 5-day tour from Bergen to Tromso but not sure about Havila. Do we have to pre-book our meals when booking the tour package with Havila? Or we pay onboard when ordering/purchasing the meals? Thanks

    • Hi, the Hurtigruten and Havila routes are identical. They provide exactly the same daily service, just on different days. When you book a longer tour, you’ll see the option to add meals (although I think Havila includes them automatically)

  11. Thank you for this information. I went to Norway in 2023 and visited via Train and hikes. Using a bus here and there too.
    Beautiful country- and Something about Bergen and the port made me want to get on a ship and head up further north! We had planned to fly to Trondheim but there was a fishing conference that exact same weekend and every hotel was full . Instead we flew over to Stockholm.
    But while in Bergen which is where our Norwegian adventure ended .. one of the Hurtigruten ships was there and I can’t remember the name. I love the idea of all of it! I love the legacy of the route! I love that it is functional not just beautiful.
    It’s a very far trip from the western United States but I’m planning to go in 2025 or 2026. Bergen to Kirkenes. Or possibly fly into Svalbard and depart from there. Or fly to kirkenes..etc. basically it seems like you can custom make any itinerary that you want because those ships stop in so many ports! Seems If you can meet a ship you can pretty much get on it.
    companies have very good websites and I have also found more information on YouTube from a travel representative from Hurtigruten.
    Thank you for the newsletter…


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