Telemark Canal: A Historic Norway Travel Experience

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From a relaxed boat ride to a historic fairytale hotel, the Telemark Canal offers wonderful experiences to curious travellers. Here's what you need to know about this lesser-known waterway.

Norway, a country celebrated for its breathtaking fjords, northern lights, and rich Viking history, holds many secrets waiting to be discovered. Among its many treasures is the historic Telemark Canal.

Historic canal boat 'Henrik Ibsen' on the Telemark Canal. Photo: Dmitry Naumov / Shutterstock.com.
Historic canal boat ‘Henrik Ibsen' on the Telemark Canal. Photo: Dmitry Naumov / Shutterstock.com.

I grew up in England close to a canal so I've always been intrigued by these human-made waterways. From the bustling Kiel Canal in Germany to the many canals of Birmingham, England, these waterways offer a window into maritime history and culture.

Have you already seen the Norwegian fjords and picturesque coastal cities like Bergen and Ålesund? If you want something different on your next Norway travel itinerary, this could be just what you're looking for.

An introduction to the Telemark Canal

Carved into the heart of Southern Norway over a century ago, the Telemark Canal stretches 105 kilometres. The canal links the town of Skien to the picturesque Dalen, deep in the heart of Norway, via a series of lakes.

Map of the Telemark canal.
The Telemark Canal is a series of artificial waterways linking lakes.

Built in various sections, a workforce of more than 500 blasted their way through the mountainous terrain to create this engineering masterpiece. It is undoubtedly a defining picture of Norway's Telemark region.

By the time of the route's completion in 1892, Norwegians reverently referred to it as the “eighth wonder of the world”. The canal boasts 8 locks encompassing a total of 18 lock chambers. These old structures lift boats 72 metres between Skien and Dalen.

Today, traversing the canal is akin to stepping into a time capsule, as it remains largely unaltered from its original state. The tall natural stone walls, idyllic lock master houses, and towering manual lock gates transport you back to an era long gone.

Highlights of the Telemark Canal route

The full trip from Skien to Dalen is peppered with scenic and cultural highlights.

Canal boat at the Eidsfoss lock on the Telemark Canal. Photo: Dmitry Naumov / Shutterstock.com.
Canal boat at the Eidsfoss lock on the Telemark Canal. Photo: Dmitry Naumov / Shutterstock.com.

Skien: The birthplace of the famous Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen, Skien offers a rich cultural experience. The city marks the starting point of the Telemark Canal.

Norsjø: One of the large lakes connected by the canal. The Norsjø-Ulefoss-Lunde stretch is particularly popular.

Ulefoss: A picturesque village, Ulefoss is renowned for its beautiful Ulefoss Locks, one of the major lock systems on the canal. Additionally, Ulefos Hovedgaard, an 1800s manor house, is worth a visit.

Eidsfoss & Vrangfoss locks: Between Ulefoss and Lunge, these are the largest locks on the canal and undoubtedly a highlight for many. The five chambers at Vrangfoss lift or lower boats by a total of 23 metres.

Lunde: Another significant stop along the canal, Lunde offers beautiful views, and it's a place where travellers often switch boats or start their canoeing adventures.

Downstream of Vrangfoss locks. Photo: Ingrid Pakats / Shutterstock.com.
Downstream of Vrangfoss locks. Photo: Ingrid Pakats / Shutterstock.com.

Hogga locks: Located between Lunde and Kviteseid, this location also features a notable lock system.

Kviteseid: This village houses one of the canal's old lock systems. Kviteseid Bygdetun, an open-air museum with historic buildings, provides insights into the region's history.

Bandak: This is the highest lake on the Telemark Canal's route, offering stunning fjord-like views.

Dalen: Often referred to as the “national romantic village”, Dalen is a serene and picturesque endpoint of the canal. It's home to the historic Dalen Hotel, which resembles something out of a fairytale.

Telemark Canal cruises

Embark on an unforgettable journey on one of the classic canal boats like M/S Henrik Ibsen & M/S Victoria. These boats have sailed these waters for over a century and offer a front-row seat to Norway's countryside splendour.

During the summer season, various canal tours are available, from day trips on shorter sections of the route to a complete roundtrip. It's possible to do the roundtrip from Skien in one day by taking a canal cruise to Dalen, travelling back to Skien by bus.

Staircase locks at Vrangfoss on the Telemark Canal. Photo: Dmitry Naumov / Shutterstock.com.
Staircase locks at Vrangfoss on the Telemark Canal. Photo: Dmitry Naumov / Shutterstock.com.

For longer trips, including a return canal trip, there are many options for accommodation along the route.

If you're an eco-conscious traveller, there's a new option suitable for families and groups. The 100% electric boats for hire from Canal Boats Telemark promise a serene experience.

Other ways to enjoy the Telemark Canal

Of course, you don't have to join a cruise to enjoy the delights of the canal and the Telemark region. Here are some other additions or alternatives for your itinerary:

Dalen Hotel: If you're looking to augment your canal experience with luxury, consider a stay at the historic Dalen Hotel. It promises a fairytale ambiance that perfectly complements the canal's charm.

Longer trips on the canal often involve a stay at this historic hotel. Dining is very much a focus of this relatively remote hotel, with a two-course breakfast, lunch and afternoon tea with optional terrace dining, and a sumptuous 4- or 6-course dinner in the classic environment of Restaurant Bandak all available.

Adventurous activities: For those with an interest in the outdoors, the canal offers opportunities for canoeing, cycling, and hiking. Furthermore, the surrounding areas boast a myriad of museums, cultural monuments, eateries, and events.

Whatever you decide to do, I'm sure you're going to find the Telemark Canal a fascinating experience. It's a different way to see a part of Norway that relatively few international travellers visit.

Have you ever been to the Telemark Canal? Let us know your experiences in the comments below. If you enjoyed this post, please consider sharing it on Facebook or Pinterest so others can find and enjoy it too.

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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