How to feed your inner Viking in Norway’s fjord region
By: Jacqueline Kehoe
In winter, shadows fall on Norway’s fjords. They get darker. Rawer. Grittier. And — most importantly — wilder. This is the land of Vikings, and this is their season. Are you ready to experience it? Are you ready to “Go Viking”?
Fortunately, the region is much easier to access than it was in centuries past. In the US, you’ll find direct flights to larger Norwegian cities like Bergen and Oslo, where the fjords are just a beautiful train ride away; there are also direct flights to smaller Fjord Norway hubs like Stavanger from many major European airports like Amsterdam, Copenhagen, and Paris. What you’ll encounter once you get here has changed a bit since Viking times as well (think more street art and world-class cuisine) — the unrivaled beauty of the land, however, has not.
But Norway’s coast is long and its mountains vast. Where does one begin? We’ve highlighted six areas of Fjord Norway that hold particularly true to the Viking spirit, where winter adventure is always just around the corner. Consider this your “Viking Season” itinerary.
The experience: The Nærøyfjord is nature running free. A UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2005, winter actually makes its waters clearer: They take on light teal and azure shades that expose, at the shallowest points, what’s not seen in summer: a carpet of starfish. An eco-friendly boat tour or an open-air RIB safari on the Nærøyfjord is an experience not to be missed. For something more involved, check out the Sognefjord in a Nutshell tour, which includes a ride on the super-scenic Flåm Railway.
The taste: The Cider House, in Balestrand. Their orchard produces 100+ fruit varieties every year, most of which are transformed into Sognefjord cider, brandy, or juice. Be sure to go inside — the restaurant exterior is made largely of glass, and the view of the water is a scene-stealer. (Pro tips: Pair your drink with some of that famous brown cheese from Undredal. And in winter, book in advance.)
The snapshot: Located between two of Norway’s mammoth national parks, Jotunheimen and Breheimen, is the fjord village of Årdal. Get their early in the day to beat winter’s afternoon sunset, and then hook up with Bulder & Brak Adventures for an unforgettable winter kayak adventure. It’s an otherworldly experience that will score you some otherworldly Instagram shots. Snowshoe hiking around Årdal is another solid option (remember to book in advance).
The experience: The Flåm Railway, one of the most beautiful train rides anywhere, starts right here at its namesake station, running 12 miles up (and up and up) to Myrdal. Once you tire of simply looking at the mountains, hit ’em with your skis at Myrkdalen, one of the snowiest places in the country. This is the best of both worlds.
The taste: Order the Viking Plank (and a flight!) at the Ægir Brewery. It’s five tapas-sized courses of some of the best Neo-Nordic cuisine in existence (vegetarians can also indulge), each paired with a different beer — a Viking’s favorite drink. Even beyond the exquisite presentation, it’s the kind of meal you’ll remember for years to come.
The snapshot: Not far from Flåm is the Stegastein viewpoint, one of the most famous in the country. It hangs precipitously over the Aurlandsfjord, and the stunning view doesn’t even require a sweaty hike to access (though the snowshoe tour is worth it if you have the time).
The experience: Bryggen, the district with the old, colorful merchant houses along the harbor, was designated a UNESCO site in 1979 (only 900 years after the city was founded, at the end of the Viking Age). Be sure to come both during the day and at night — in darkness, the golden lights start at Bryggen and climb up the hillside to the sky.
The taste: Bergen is a UNESCO City of Gastronomy. For the most iconic taste of Neo-Fjordic cuisine, beeline it to the minimalist and ultra-local Lysverket. Then stop at the OSS Craft Distillery, just south of the city. This is where Bareksten gin is distilled, waiting for you to decide for yourself if it truly is the “world’s best gin.” Or, for an even more epic dining experience, check out Fjord Cuisines, a fjord safari that ends with bonfire-prepared seafood.
The snapshot: Walk around the picturesque Nordnes neighborhood. Hop on the Beffen ferry to catch the city from the water. Climb up Mount Ulriken or Mount Fløyen. Visit the Fish Market or Gamle Bergen (straight outta the 1700s). Or use Bergen as your starting point for a Norway in a Nutshell winter tour and take your camera to the fjords.
The experience: The city is smack dab in prime Viking territory. Check out the Museum of Archaeology (where you’ll see actual artifacts from actual raids and burials), explore the 12th-century cathedral, and then fast forward to the circa-1700s Old Town. Finish up with a bit of modernism by wandering the alleys of street art — some of the country’s best.
The snapshot: First? Check out the manmade hues of Stavanger’s “Color Street” (it’s full of hip cafes, bars, and restaurants). Second? Soak in the colors of nature, cruising on the Lysefjord to Preikestolen, aka Pulpit Rock. To do more than see it from below, make the 3.7-mile round-trip hike to the top.
The experience: The Loen Skylift. It’s an aerial tramway that soars above the Nordfjord, terminating at the top of Mt. Hoven. Its 60° gradient makes it one of the steepest tramways in the world. (Dare we say it also has the best views?)
The taste: The Hoven Restaurant, at the top of Mount Hoven, is remarkably tasty — don’t skip out before the whiskey-marinated cloudberries arrive. Otherwise, Hotel Alexandra has been the place to stay in Loen since 1884. If you can, grab reservations to wine and dine in their 22-person restaurant, Markus Winecellar.
The snapshot: Once you’re at the top of Mount Hoven, you’ve got a million photo opps. Apart from the obvious — just gaping open-mouthed at the incredible view of the Nordfjord — you can also sled, snowshoe hike, or just walk around the snowy trails. Afterward, head back down to the fjord to ice skate. You can take a selfie while nailing a triple Axel, right?
The experience: In winter, the orchards freeze and everything becomes still. Visiting the Hardangerfjord this time of year means snowshoeing to frozen waterfalls, dining on Neo-Nordic cuisine by bonfire in a traditional lavvu, and slowing down to the speed of the snowfall.
The taste: The Hardangerfjord is home to idyllic little villages like Jondal, Lofthus, and Rosendal, all with cozy food scenes. Ulvik and Lofthus especially have farms where you can do a cider tasting — a regional specialty.
The snapshot: From what vantage point do you photograph geologic perfection? If Trolltunga isn’t an option (due to weather or otherwise; either way, you can’t make this hike in winter without a guide), scout out Vøringsfossen waterfall in Eidfjord — it’s one of the most famous in the entire country. The best way to get to either? The Hardangerfjord in a Nutshell tour. (If you opt for this tour, make a stop at Voss for a snowy adventure around the frozen waterfall, and don’t skip the wind tunnel…it feels just like you’re parachuting.)