Easy access from Bergen makes the lush green surroundings of the Hardangerfjord a popular destination for tourists.
While not as long, deep or well-known as the mighty Sognefjord, the 179km-long Hardangerfjord is nevertheless an impressive waterway. To appreciate the fjord at its best, head inland where the fjord narrows as it passes the imposing Folgafonna glacier and National Park and approaches the vast Hardangervidda mountain plateau.
A popular detour for people driving between Oslo and Bergen, the fjord is a popular domestic tourism destination thanks to the outstanding hiking opportunities among the charming small towns, blooming orchards and stunning waterfalls of the Husedalen valley. Local farmers sell berries and other produce from stalls at the side of the road and in the small town centres.
A Hardangerfjord road trip
The Hardangerfjord is home to one of Norway’s 18 National Tourist Routes. The 158km route is split into four sections that skirt the Hardangerfjord and Sørfjord. Some of the route’s highlights include the Steinsdalsfossen waterfall, the Kabuso art centre at Øystese, and the Hardanger Maritime Museum at Norheimsund. For a completely different driving experience, the mountainous Hardangervidda route begins 69km south-east of Odda.
At the innermost point of the Hardangerfjord lies Eidfjord, a small community surrounded by mountains and water, and a perfect place to stop for lunch or stay the night on a longer trip. A short drive uphill brings you to the Hardangervidda Nature Centre, which profiles the environment of the vast Hardangervidda National Park that lies south-east of Eidfjord. The 20-minute panoramic film Fjords, Mountains and Waterfalls is a must-see especially if you are only passing through.
The Hardangerfjord region is known for having some of Norway’s most impressive waterfalls. The 182m-high Vøringsfossen has drawn tourists to the area since the late 19th-century, while Steinsdalsfossen is just as popular as visitors can walk right underneath the flow of water and still stay dry – usually!
Folgefonna National Park
Made up of three separate glacial plateaus, the Folgefonna National Park is a remarkable wilderness within easy reach of one of Norway’s most famous fjords. The largest glacial fingers Blomstølskardbreen, Bondhusbreen, and Buarbreen, provide several entry points to the park. Although appearing solid and safe, glaciers are dangerous places to be and an adventure here should only be attempted with a qualified guide and full safety equipment.
Other than a 19th-century timber framed church (only open during high season) that has an appearance of one many centuries older, Jondal is an otherwise unremarkable village but the best place to stay near the park. To enjoy some hiking away from the glacier, grab a map from the local tourist office and explore the surrounding area. The Vassenden-Vatnasete hike including Vatnasetevatn lake is a popular tour, with the four-hour roundtrip possible from May to October.
Not many of the world’s ski resorts are only open during the summer, so people of all nationalities take advantage of the unusual summer-only ski season at Fonna Glacier Ski Resort, 19km southeast of Jondal.
A dagger-like spur of the Hardangerfjord cutting 38km southwards into lush countryside, the Sørfjord (often referred to as Sørfjorden i Hardanger to distinguish it from others) is one of the few narrow fjords you can actually drive along. The roads along either side are narrow but both passing and parking spots are frequent.
Follow in the footsteps of Norway’s Queen Sonja by taking her favourite hike. The 8-hour hike high in the mountains between Kinsarvik and Lofthus offers terrific panoramic fjord views of where the Sørfjord and Hardangerfjord meet. Due to the high altitude, the hiking trail is only open from July through to mid-September. A shorter version of the hike starts in Røte.
At the end of the Sørfjord is the small town of Odda, the main commercial centre serving the inner Hardangerfjord region. While there isn’t much of interest in the town itself, it does provide several accommodation and dining options to break up an active vacation or road trip. The town is also the main overnight spot for travellers who wish to make the famous all-day hike to Trolltunga.
Fans of waterfalls shouldn’t miss the spectacular 165m-high Låtefossen waterfall just 14km south of Odda. The stone bridge and twin falls are known around the world. Be prepared to get wet as the water smacks into the rocks below, creating an immense roar and sprays of mist that can suddenly soak you. Kids will love the fairytale-like aesthetic, just keep a close hold on them!