Last Updated on 10/24/23 by Rose Palmer
I have always wanted to take a cruise along Norway’s coast, so when I saw a great last minute offer with no single supplement from Princess Cruises, I jumped at the opportunity. The cruise was at the end of August on the new Sky Princess, and you can read all about my experiences on the ship in my story Cruising Sky High – A Complete Sky Princess Review With Photos.
Since I booked late, the majority of the cruise shore excursions that I would have been interested in were already fully booked. But as I did more research, I discovered that at most of the port stops I could easily tour on my own.
In this post I describe each cruise port where we stopped and the various sights that I visited.
This was my Norwegian cruise itinerary:
Day 1 – embark in Southampton, depart 4:00 PM
Day 2 – at sea
Day 3 – Haugesund, 9:00 AM to 5:50 PM
Day 4 – Skjolden, 8:00 AM to 3:30 PM
Day 5 – Olden, 8:00 AM to 3:30 PM
Day 6 – Trondheim, 8:00 AM to 3:30 PM
Day 7 – at sea
Day 8 – Honningsvag, 9:00 AM to 6:30 PM
Day 9 – Tromso, 8:00 AM to 9:30 PM
Day 10 – at sea
Day 11 – at sea
Day 12 – Aalesund, 8:00 AM to 5:30 PM
Day 13 – Bergen, 6:00 AM to 12:30 PM
Day 14 – at sea
Day 15 – Southampton, disembark starting 7:00 AM
My Norway shore excursions
A day in Haugesund
The first port stop on my Norwegian cruise was the cute town of Haugesund. The cruise pier was an easy 15 minute walk from the harbor front and the pedestrian core of town, which is where I spent an enjoyable afternoon exploring on my own.
The Smedasundet Sound waterfront was lined with a variety of restaurants and cafés and was quite photogenic from the Risoy bridge. I headed uphill from the harbor toward the Var Freisers Church located in the heart of the town.
On my walk I serendipitously discovered the local yarn, craft and fabric shops (yes it was purely by accident). What caught my eye here were the samples of local traditional dresses and the beautiful, embroidered, fabrics that were for sale to make them.
I learned that these outfits are worn during confirmation and also on May 17, Norway’s Constitution Day. I was told that each region in Norway has its own designs and that the samples I was looking at were worn just by the locals in the Haugesund region.
Continuing on pedestrian-only Haradsgata I browsed the many shops and stopped for a treat at a local bakery where I tried kakestykke, a cake filled with strawberry cream and topped with marzipan.
On the way back to the ship I strolled along the harbor and discovered the statue dedicated to Marylin Monroe. Apparently, her father was a baker in Haugesund before emigrating to the US.
Much more interesting was the nearby replica sailing ship, the Restauration. The original ship was the first to take 53 Norwegians to the US in 1825 and is considered to be Norway’s equivalent of the Mayflower.
To explore the sights in Haugesund, pick up a free city map at the visitor’s center, either at the cruise ship pier or in town. The map is available in various languages and provided a walking tour of the towns’ highlights and points of interest.
A day in Skjolden and Sognefjord
Skjolden is a small village at the end of Sognefjord, Norway’s longest fjord, and the second longest fjord in the world. This little hamlet was really just some houses, a small market and the cruise ship pier which is why this was my favorite stop.
There were no gimmicky restaurants, no overpriced souvenir shops, no hawkers trying to sell you trinkets made in China – just a cute, authentic, local village surrounded by gorgeous scenery. It certainly looked like a page out of a fairy tale.
From the ship I just strolled for a few hours along the edge of the fjord, and then inland a bit to the nearby Eidsvatnet Lake. Ours was the only ship docked in town and everyone spread out so it didn’t feel crowded at all. I think the photos tell the story better than I could.
We had to be back on board by 3:30 which was more than enough time to explore the area on my own. This early departure also provided lots of daylight as we cruised through the stunning scenery of the Sognefjord for the rest of the day and into the late evening.
I spent the majority of the afternoon sitting on the balcony of my cabin enjoying a few cups of tea, just taking in the scenery. Fortunately, the weather was pleasant and not too cool. I took many, many photos, but I don’t think they really capture the breadth or the scope of the scenery we passed.
A day in Olden
When I opened the curtains on my balcony in the morning, I had another serene view of a cute Norwegian town at the end of a fjord. Olden has a population of about 1500, but it certainly did not look that large.
My goal for the day was to visit the Briksdal Glacier. At the pier, I purchased a round trip ticket for the Glacier Shuttle which left at about 9:30 AM. The 30 minute drive took us past emerald green lakes to the Briksdal Glacier hike starting point.
The Briksdal Glacier was a 45 minute hike uphill from the parking area where the shuttle bus dropped us off. I am a slow hiker, and we only had two hours here, so to save both time and wear and tear on my knees, I purchased a ticked for a troll car to take me uphill to the viewpoint. I planned to hike back down to the bottom, but you can get a round trip troll car ticket if you prefer.
Travelers tip: if you are visiting during peak summer season, you may want to make a troll car reservation ahead of time.
The Briksdal Glacier is a finger of the much larger Jostedalbreen ice cap, all of which are protected by the Jostedalbreen National Park. This is mainland Europe’s largest glacier, and even though for many years it was still growing, now it is also receding like many of the other glaciers around the world.
Once the troll car dropped me off at the top of the trail, it was another 15 minute walk to the glacier and its lake. Seeing the Briksdal Glacier up close, it was obvious that it had been much larger not too long ago. The rough, rocky amphitheater on each side of the ice bore evidence of the glacier’s recent passage, as did the opal blue lake at the base of the glacier.
With such a large ice cap just out of sight, the glacial meltwater fed a raging river and a thunderous waterfall, all of which I passed as I hiked back downhill. The trail passed right in front of the Volefossen waterfall which was quite a wet experience.
Traveler’s tip: There are two trails that start at the bottom and end up in the same spot at the top, both of which can be walked by people. The hiking trail is a little steeper. The paved route that the troll cars use is wider, and the switchbacks seemed a little less steep.
I am glad I left myself about 75 minutes for the downhill hike because I stopped often for photos and to enjoy the views. I made it back to the bus with just a few minutes to spare before the 12:30 departure.
Back at the pier I still had time before I had to be back on board at 3:30 PM, so I bought a ticket for a 1 hour tourist train ride around the Olden valley. Since I only had a few more hours, this was an efficient way to see more of the local scenery. The train conveniently left from right beside the ship and dropped us off there as well.
The tour took us around Lake Floen, the first of the three emerald colored lakes in the valley that are fed by the glacial meltwater. We also made a brief stop at the Laukifossen waterfall where the shacks that once held the river’s first hydroelectric turbines were still visible. The ride was pleasant with informative narration by our driver and I am glad I chose to do it.
Back on board, our ship took off at 4 o’clock sharp as we spent the afternoon cruising down the fjord back to sea. While this fjord was not as long as the one on the day before, it was still about 9 PM before we exited into the open water.
A day in Trondheim
Our ship docked at the pier right by the center of town. When I disembarked, local representatives provided free city maps that showed a recommended tourist route to see the major sights. Trondheim is Norway’s third largest city, but the area of interest for tourists is the city center which was a short walk from the cruise pier.
I followed the highlighted route on the map counterclockwise and headed first to the Bakklandet area so I could get early morning reflection photos of the colorful buildings along the canal. I spent quite a bit of time exploring this photogenic neighborhood before it got too busy.
My next stop was the impressive Nidaros Cathedral. This is Europe’s northernmost gothic cathedral which was built over St. Olav’s grave. Olav was the Viking king that founded Trondheim and also established the Church of Norway in 1024 ACE. Next to the church was the Archbishops Palace which is now a museum.
As I continued my stroll into the center of town, I also passed the Stiftsgarden, which is the official royal residence in the city of Trondheim. For a palace, I thought this wooden building seemed quite modest, at least from the outside.
I found the town center to be very pedestrian friendly. The center square with its St. Olav statue was surrounded by cafés and restaurants and it was easy to take a refreshment break here. Trondheim is also a college town and there was definitely a more youthful, hip vibe to the city.
I was surprised and pleased to also find a quilt shop on my way back to the ship where I found some Norwegian designed fabric.
Unfortunately, I didn’t leave enough time to visit the Rockheim (the Norwegian pop and rock music museum) even though it was right by the cruise pier. The museum is well rated, and it would have been fun to learn about Norwegian Rock and Roll history.
A day in Honningsvag
Honningsvag was our ship’s most northerly stop, well above the arctic circle. The town has about 1500 residents and the two cruise ships in port tripled the population. Despite these large number of tourists, the walk along the harbor didn’t feel too crowded. Most visitors focus on taking a tour to the North Cape, the primary attraction here.
The North Cape has the distinction of being the northernmost spot of land on the European continent. The easiest way to get to the North Cape from the ship was on a tour. I booked an afternoon tour with Blue Puffin Tours, a local company run by Monika and Sebastian.
Since my tour didn’t start till 2:00 PM I had plenty of time to walk around town and find a spot for a king crab lunch. I found my wished for meal at SNOY, a little café on the harbor front.
The minimum crab order size was 250 grams (cost 500 kroners) and took about 20 minutes as they prepared it fresh. The crab meat was tender and sweet and did not need any accompaniments though it came with bread, butter, mayo, lemons, and a little salad. It was most definitely well worth both the wait and the cost.
The afternoon guided tour to the North Cape took about four hours and included a total of 4 stops. The first stop was the small fishing village of Kamoyvaer where Monica, our guide, told us all about the fishing heritage in this area.
The primary catch is cod which is still caught by the local fisherman in small boats using long lines with hooks and the fish are then cleaned by hand. It’s a tough life as cod season is in the winter months of October to April when it is both very cold and dark.
Our second stop was in the village of Skarsvag where we learned all about the king crabs. A large tank held a number of specimens which Monica took out so we could see them up close.
We learned that King Crabs were artificially introduced into this region and thrive in the cold, food rich water here. They have the ability to become very invasive, so the population is strictly controlled.
Our drive continued north to the cape. The scenery was hilly with low growing tundra and dotted with fresh water lakes. Occasionally we saw reindeer grazing along the hillsides. The local indigenous people, the Sami, take care of the reindeer as it is their primary livelihood. We made a very brief photo stop at a Sami tourist outpost by the side of the road.
At the North Cape we had 90 minutes to explore the sights, which was more than enough time. It was cold, wet and only slightly foggy. Apparently, for that mornings’ tours the cape was totally shrouded in fog, and no one could see a thing so I felt fortunate that much of the fog had lifted for us by the afternoon.
Besides the views of the craggy promontory, there is also a large, modern visitor’s center with a restaurant, gift shop, cinema and dioramas about the history of the North Cape. You can buy a postcard and a stamp at the gift shop and then mail it from the post office next door which would make for a unique souvenir.
I really enjoyed this tour and would definitely reccommend it. Monika, our guide was very knowledgeable since she lives here, and as one of the owners of the business she made sure the tour went well for all the guests.
Going to the cape in the afternoon also had the additional benefit that it was not busy since the cruise ship excursions all go in the morning. Monica knew our ship’s schedule and also exactly how long each leg of the tour needed to be in order to ensure that we were back in time. We had to be back on the boat by 6:30 and the tour had us back in plenty of time (by 6:10).
A Day in Tromso
The day dawned cold, wet, and rainy so I was not in any hurry to get off the ship to explore town. The cruise pier was about 2 miles from the center of town and for a small fee, Princess set up shuttle busses from the pier that took us into town in 10 minutes.
Tromso is a large city above the Arctic Circle and has a population of about 70,000. The city has a number of museums in the center of town, which was a good option on this rainy day. I chose to go to Polaria, a uniquely designed building that is an aquarium with displays featuring the local sea life.
The highlight at Polaria was the sealion tank. The aquarium had two large bearded seals and two smaller harbor seals. Make sure to wait around and watch them feeding the sealions which was quite entertaining.
Other nearby museums were the Troll Museum, the Nordnorsk Art Museum, the Polar Museum, and the Perspective Museum. Closer to the ship and just across from the pier was the Alpine Botanical Garden (with free admission) which I would have enjoyed seeing if it wasn’t for the cold rain.
A day in Aalesund
Aalesund is known for its many Art Nouveau buildings. A fire in 1904 leveled all the town’s wooden buildings (much like the Great Chicago Fire). When the town rebuilt, it was inspired by the design trends of the period.
To get a quick flavor of the city, I opted for the 90 minute Tourist Train tour that started near the cruise pier. Yes, it was touristy, but it was a good overview with helpful narration. It was also an easy and quick way to get to the Byrampen Viewpoint for a great view and photos over the city without hiking uphill for 20 minutes.
Another option is the Hop On-Hop Off bus which also starts near the cruise pier.
Then I just ambled around the scenic center of town and along the harbor, taking in all the pretty details of the Art Nouveau architecture. There were lots of turrets, towers, curved lines, geometric designs, flowery decorations and colorful buildings.
I also checked out the Jugendstilsenteret museum which had displays describing the city’s Art Nouveau history. It’s in one of the first buildings rebuilt after the fire and was originally a pharmacy.
The ticket office was the original pharmacy store and has been restored to its original splendor – it’s worth going in just to have a look at this. The ticket for this museum also included entry into the Modern Art Museum next door which was worth a quick look.
It was a beautiful sunny day, so I took a long break at the outdoor terrace at the Apotekergate No. 5 restaurant with views of the canal and the surrounding buildings. Sometimes it’s good to just sit and chill, especially if it’s a longer day in port.
A day in Bergen
Our port day in Bergen was very short. Since we had to be back on board by 12:30 I got an early start so no lounging in bed or a room service breakfast. It was about a 20 minute walk from the ship to the historic center of town.
I first headed to the cable car station before it got too busy. A quick 5 minute trip on the cable car took me to the top and the sweeping views of the town of Bergen and the bay beyond. Despite the cloudy and overcast skies, the views were still impressive.
I am glad I did the cable car first thing in the morning because when I got back to the bottom there was a long line waiting to get on the cable car.
For the next few hours, I just ambled around the center of town, especially around the historic wharf front. This part of Bergen is a UNESCO World Heritage site and is called Bryggen. This historic harbor district is one of Northern Europe’s oldest port cities and was established as a center for trade by the 12th century.
As I walked around Bergen I was struck by the variety of the architecture. There was a mix of traditional clapboard houses and modern boxy buildings, yet somehow, it all worked together.
After a brief coffee stop, it was time to head back to the ship. This really wasn’t long enough to see Bergen, but I did get a feel for the city and hopefully I will have a chance for a longer visit next time.
I really enjoyed exploring these Norwegian cruise ports and seeing them on my own was not difficult. This cruise was a good introduction to the beauty and culture of Norway and whetted my appetite to hopefully see more of it one day.
Since I was cruising at the end of August I had hoped to get a glimpse of the northern lights while we were above the Arctic Circle, howerver the weather did not cooperate. There were some views of the aurora on the way back south, but I missed them since I was not up on deck at that time of night. The crew also did not see them either since the aurora was behind the ship, so no ship wide announcement was made to make us aware they were occurring.
For more information about my cruise to Norway please go to the posts Discover the Sky Princess Dining Options and the Chef’s Table Experience and Beautiful Storybook Norway Photos to Inspire Your Next Trip.
Please note that I received a media upgraded cabin from Princess. All content and opinions in this post are my own.
You can find more shore excursion cruising information in the following posts:
How I spent my cruise port day in Cartagena, Columbia: One Day in Cartagena, Columbia – A Colorful Independent Cruise Excursion
A unique excursion in Puntarenas, Costa Rica: A Costa Rica Cooking Class – Forging Local Connections On An Atypical Cruise Excursion
Guide to Alaska cruise excursions: Alaska Cruise Excursion Tips to Inspire Your Best Alaska Trip
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