A fjord is a long and deep inlet of the ocean. While fjords can be found in many countries, the fjords of Norway are particularly famous, numerous and easily accessible.
The fjord-dominated landscape runs like strip all around Norway's coast. In Western and Northern Norway, where fjords cut deep into the land, this strip of land is more than 200 km wide. In large parts of Norway the fjords create a particular kind of landscape, a wide tangle of islands and peninsulas, lakes and valleys. Along the south coast (Agder and Telemark) fjords are short and the "fjord-land" is a mere 30 km wide.
All major cities sit on the shores of a fjord. While the most picturesque fjords are less populated, most are easily accessible by road. The fjords increase Norway's coastline from a modest 3000 km to 30,000 km, islands add another 70,000 km – in total creating the most complex coastline in the world. Norway's fjord regions covers an area 10–20 times wider than the New Zealand's Fiordland. The Sognefjord alone has a coastline of some 500 km, more than the French and Italian Riviera combined. Norwegian fjords have twice been rated the best destination in the world by National Geographic Traveller. The typical Norwegian fjord was created by the work of glaciers over thousands or millions of years.
- Western Fjords: The most dramatic and famous fjords are largely in West Norway, approximately from Stavanger to Molde. Although the western fjords vary slightly in appearance they are generally relatively narrow, surrounded by steep rock faces, tall mountains and extremely deep (particularly the middle and innermost parts). These typical features of western fjords are most pronounced at the easternmost part where fjords intersect with the highest mountains (such as Jotunheimen). Melt water from glaciers flow into major fjords such as Sognefjorden. The fjords of western Norway (represented by fjords of Geiranger and Nærøy) is a UNESCO world heritage site. Some major fjords:
- Romsdalsfjord - picturesque fjord with famous alpine summits around Åndalsnes, several pretty islands, Molde on the north shore
- Nordfjord - surrounded by glaciers and picturesque lakes, notably Stryn and Olden villages (Sogn og Fjordane county)
- Hjørundfjord - picturesque fjord surrounded by breathtaking summits
- Geirangerfjord - the most famous and most visited
- Sognefjord - the longest and deepest fjord
- Hardangerfjord - the romantic fruit gardens
- Sunnhordland fjords, notably the great Åkrafjord, Hardangerfjord's little brother
- Lysefjorden - the most dramatic rock faces including Pulpit rock
- Nordland, Troms and Western Finnmark: These counties are also home to wild landscapes with alpine summits, islands and impressive fjords. The narrow strait into Skjerstadfjorden at Bodø creates the world's strongest tidal current, the Saltstraumen. Some notable fjords and areas:
- Lyngen fjord cuts deep into the mainland, surrounded by the Lyngen alps
- Senja island is a mini-Norway with wild fjords and gentle beaches
- Lofoten and Vesterålen archipelagos includes many fjords often surrounded by the spectacular alpine mountains
- Narvik sits at far end of the great Ofotfjorden with several arms and lakes attached, surrounded by alpine mountains
- Bodø sits at the mouth of Saltfjorden that is connected to Skjerstadfjorden by the incredible Saltstraumen current
- Mo i Rana is connected to the Atlantic through the great Ranfjorden
- Middle Norway: The fjords of Trøndelag, notably the large Trondheimsfjord, are less dramatic but still dominates the landscape.
- East Norway: The Drammensfjord is an important arm of the great Oslofjord. There are no saltwater fjords in the interior of East Norway, but there are countless lakes many of which resemble western fjords and are in fact called "fjord", for instance the long narrow Randsfjorden is a lake.
- The Oslofjord is key to the geography of lowlands and flatlands around Oslo, similar to the Trondheimsfjord. One ancient name of Oslfjord was Fold(in) ("the Fold"), possible meaning "the one that folds (out)" or "the wide one". Østfold and Vestfold counties are on either side of the fjord as reflected in their names.
- South Norway has some scattered fjords, but smallish compared to the wild fjords of the west and the wide Trondheimsfjord.
- The fjords of eastern Finnmark are far less dramatic but these long and wide fjords dominate the landscape.
There are well over 1,001 distinct (named) fjords in Norway. Some 10-15 major fjords are 100 km or longer from the ocean to the far end. The vast Sognefjord is some 200 km to the far end and includes a number of arms each about the size of Milford Sound. Fjords are several hundred meters deep, the deepest fjords are 700 to 1300 meters deep. Some fjords are characteristically narrow, such as Geirangerfjord and Nærøyfjord, others are wide like bays or enclosed oceans, such as Boknafjord or Trondheimsfjord.
In most parts of Norway fjords are the dominant landscape features, traditional districts are often identified by proximity to a major fjord and the district or region often have the same name as the dominant fjord. For instance Nordfjord is the district surrounding the Nordfjord, Sogn is the area surrounding Sognefjord. Orientation is likewise typically related to how far one is removed from the open ocean along the fjord, key words are "inner" and "outer" fjord areas. Fjords are often so deep and/or wide (particularly in western Norway) that they can only be crossed by ferry (a few daring bridges or tunnels have been built). Traditionally the fjords were the highways of large parts of Norway, because overland transport was often difficult, slow or virtually impossible. Today fjords remain as obstacles for roads and railways, only cruise passengers experience travel along these vast corridors.
In large parts of Norway the fjords create a particular kind of fragmented and complex landscape. There is often in very little continuous land, instead a wide tangle of islands and peninsulas. These peninsulas are often connected to the actual mainland by (narrow) isthmuses (typically recognized by the Norwegian name "eid"). Such isthmuses are shortcuts between fjords and have always been important transport corridors. For instance Vikings pulled their ships overland at isthmuses to avoid treacherous stretches of the coast. Still today main roads often run across these such isthmuses. In the unusual case of Osterøy island (near Bergen) the isthmus connection to the mainland is gone and thus made Osterøy into a landlocked island. In many cases such isthmuses sits between a saltwater fjord and a freshwater lake (in effect an extension of the lake), for instance at Nordfjordeid ("Nordfjord isthmus") sits between Nordfjord and Hornindal lake, or Eidfjord village between the Eidfjord and the Eidfjord lake. An unusual example is Mofjorden between Bergen and Voss. This fjord was a freshwater lake until 1743 when a flood eroded the river bed and allowed sea water to flow in at high tide. Eventually the lake became a saltwater fjord through the narrow channel Mostraumen that can be visited by sightseeing boat from Bergen.
Several fjords have narrow straits or entrances that create strong tidal currents, such as the world's strongest maelstrom at Saltstraumen (Bodø). Near Ørland at the mouth of Trondheimsfjord there is a strong current that creates good fisheries. Borgenfjorden at the inner part of Trondheimsfjord is connected to the main fjord by very narrow current.
Adjacent valleys and lakes are parts of the complicated fjord landscape. The largest valleys typically begins at the inner most end of the fjords. Where the major rivers of these valleys flow into the deep fjords characteristic deltas are created. Such deltas offer some of the best ground for farming, enjoy mild climate and were traditional points for transfer between land and sea transport. Key villages and towns such as Åndalsnes, Lærdal and Trondheim developed in these places. Valleys are basically extensions of the fjords further into the mainland. Many valleys are home to lovely fjord-like lakes such as Jølster lake or Sandvin lake (at Odda). Valleys are typically separated into two or more sections or levels by tresholds where rivers dig deep gorges, such gorges can be seen near Borgund church in Lærdal or at Gudbrandsjuvet in Valldal. The most alpine mountains are found in conjunction with fjords, for instance at Hjørundfjord or Lyngen. The valleys extending from Sognefjord in fact cut deep into the bedrock at western Jotunheimen. Together these landscape features form a fascinating and sometimes confusing maze far beyond the fjord itself, and covers most of the fjord area.
Norway's climate is very mild for its high latitude, largely because of the gulf stream. The relatively warm ocean in particular keeps the fjord area relatively warm throughout the winter. Fjords generally don't freeze over in winter. The innermost sections of some fjords, such as the Oslofjord or the fjords of East Finnmark, may freeze over under particular circumstances. Summer temperatures also depend on the distance from the larger ocean, the outer parts and the island belt has moderate temperatures in summer while the inner, sheltered parts often enjoy relatively long and warm summers. This conjunction of the mild Atlantic and sheltered fields of the inner fjords allow fruits and berries to be grown commercially far north. Most of Norway's apples are in fact produced on the slopes of the Hardangerfjord, just below the eternal ice of the Folgefonna glacier.
The outer part of West Norway fjords have on average temperatures above 0°C (frost) in January, while the inner parts have average January temperatures close to freezing. Nordland and Troms outer part of fjords have january temperatures below 0°C (around -3°C), while the inner parts are relatively cold typically around -6°C or colder into the valley.
July average in inner part of West Norway fjords are typically around 14°C, but with considerable variation. Summers are relatively warm in the inner parts of Nordland and Troms fjords with July average around 13°C, with considerable variation, in rare cases well above 30°C.
Also in terms of precipitation the fjord area of Norway has distinct climate. Because of the predominant south-west wind from the Atlantic and the high mountains rising around most of the fjords, most of the rain falls at the outer or intermediate fjord areas. For instance the outer part of Sognefjord gets almost 4000 mm (3 to 4 meters) rain annually, compared to a mere 500 mm at Lærdal at the inner part of the fjord. The innermost section of fjords typically get moderate rainfall or is even dry such as Lærdal. The fjords of Finnmark and East Norway in general get moderate rainfall.
There are countless glaciers in Norway, mostly small valley glaciers or cirque glaciers. The large glaciers such as Jostedalsbreen are plateau or sheet glaciers resting on a mountain plateau. Most of the glaciers are found in the mountains adjacent to fjords (fed by heavy snow falls), but these glaciers do not reach the fjord itself as do glaciers in Svalbard and Greenland. One exception is the Engabreen arm of Svartisen glaciers in Nordland county almost reaches sea level. A fjord's proximity to a glacier can be seen by its emerald-turquoise color, typically at Olden or Luster.
Longest and deepest
- Sognefjorden – 204 km
- Hardangerfjorden – 183 km
- Trondheimsfjorden – 126 km
- Porsangerfjorden – 123 km
- Lyngen – 121 km
- Oslofjorden – 118 km
- Kvænangen – 117 km
- Ullsfjorden – 110 km
- Nordfjord – 106 km
- Very deep fjords
- Sognefjorden 1308 m
- Tysfjorden 725 m
- Hardangerfjorden 860 m
- Bindalsfjorden 724 m
- Boknafjorden 719 m
- Storfjorden 672 m
- Trondheimsfjorden 617 m
Many freshwater lakes in the interior are called fjords, for instance Randsfjorden and Tyrifjorden, even lake Mjøsa is called "the fjord" by locals. These lakes are very similar to saltwater fjords with a typical elongated shape and also mostly deep. Mjøsa for instance is 450 meters deep such that most of the lake is in fact below sea level even if water surface is 120 meters. Several lakes in Western Norway are in fact extensions of the main fjord and some were in the geological prehistory part of the saltwater fjord itself. For instance the surface of the very deep Hornindal lake is only 50 meters above sea and separated from Nordfjord by a low isthmus. These western lakes are often so similar to the fjord that only the lack of salt reveals that it is indeed a lake.
The Norwegian word fjord has been adopted internationally. The old Norse origin means "to travel from one shore to the other" or "a place for travel", this latter meaning suggest that the fjords were the highways for the old Norse people and the Vikings, while land and mountains were obstacles. The word is also related to Scottish firth, Swedish fjärd and Icelandic fjörður. German Furt and English ford (shallow crossing of river) are of the same origin. Old Norse also used the word or prefix "-angr" (modern "-anger") to indicate a fjord or a narrow bay. For this reason lots of Norwegian places or areas have the prefix "-anger", for instance Stavanger, Hardanger, Geiranger and Varanger - these names for fjords have given name to the cities and entire regions.
Slartibartfast, planet designer in the science-fiction novel The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, said about his design of Norway "that was one of mine. Won an award, you know. Lovely crinkly edges ... doing the coastlines was my favorite. Used to have endless fun doing the little bits in the fjords.” The Norwegian fjords and surrounding settlements inspired Disney's movie Frozen. The Indian movie Maattrraan was partly shot on location in Aurland, Geiranger and Trollstigen. The Chevy Chase movie Spies like us was partly shot on location in Sognefjord area.
As there are fjords all over Norway there is little general advice about entry points or how to get in, advice mostly depends on fjord region. The Hurtigruten offers transport from fjord region to fjord region mostly along the very coast. Many visitors arrive by cruise ships departing from Denmark, the Netherlands or the UK, a cruise ship can navigate the entire fjord thus offering direct transport to the iconic inner parts of the most popular fjords.
Because of difficult landscape there are no railway lines across the great fjords. Railway construction is also difficult in the east-west direction, only the Bergen railway (Bergensbanen) runs through the mountains and fjords until the ocean. The Bergen railway was an engineering achievement when it was constructed around 1900. The Stavanger line (Sørlandsbanen) circumvents the central mountains and terminates in Stavanger just south of big western fjords. The Rauma railway (Raumabanen) terminates at the Åndalsnes, the end of the Romsdalsfjord, further transport on water or by road. The Iron Ore Line (Ofotbanen/Malmbanan) also runs through difficult terrain to reach the fjord at Narvik port.
- By air: Stavanger, Haugesund, Bergen, Ålesund and Molde international airports are all convenient entry points.
- By car: Roads E39, E16, E136, 55, 15, E134
- By rail: Three railway lines run from eastern Norway:
- By boat:
- Regular ships (ferries) from Denmark to Stavanger and Bergen
- Cruise ships - the western fjords are popular destinations for multi-day cruises, often departing from foreign ports
Nordland and Troms fjords
- By air: Bodø, Evenes (Narvik/Harstad) and Tromsø are convenient entry points (several secondary airports for regional and domestic traffic)
- By rail:
- By car: This area stretches some 1,000 km south to north, driving is rewarding but time consuming
- road E6 runs south-north
- several entry points from Sweden
- By boat: Hurtigruten covers the coast
Middle Norway fjords
The key access point is the city of Trondheim.
- By air: Trondheim international airport at Værnes, small airport at Namsos.
- By road:
- the E6 connects Trondheim and Oslo, and continues north along the Trondheimsfjord
- road E14 from Sweden
- By rail: Dovre line from Oslo and Lillehammer, Nordland (Bodø) line from the north
Because of long distances, air transport is often recommended for the northernmost areas. Road access is often quickest and easiest through Sweden or Finland. There are no railways.
- By air: Alta and Kirkenes has long distance domestic connections, several several secondary airports for regional traffic
- By road:
- The E6, Norway's main road, runs to Kirkenes
- Access through the interior from Finland
- Access from Russia
- By boat: Hurtigruten covers Norway's coast from Bergen via Trondheim, Bodø and Tromsø until Kirkenes
Historically boat transport was the only possible transport in many fjord areas. Even after the introduction of cars there were several hundred car ferry crossings throughout the fjord region, Møre og Romsdal alone had some 50 ferry crossings on the road network. After the construction of many new roads during the last 50 years mostly ferry crossings at the most narrow points remain. Ferry docks and crossing points are often located in remote places with nothing but the dock and a car line up.
- By boat:
- Hurtigruten runs along the coast where most great fjords meet the ocean. The Hurtigruten does not however visit the inner part of the fjords, instead the ship mostly runs across the mouth of the fjords. Exception to this rule is visits to Geirangerfjord (summer season) and regular calls at Molde and Trondheim.
- Car ferries (ferje/ferge) are part of the road system and not a separate means of transport.
- Express passenger boats (hurtigbåt) travels like buses in some fjord areas with limited road transport
- By private boat. Motor boat is usually the easiest. Sails can be difficult to use because wind is unpredictable or absent in these largely sheltered waters. Kayak is a fine and peaceful mode of transport, but mostly for sightseeing on shorter stretches, kayakers should be cautious at steep cliffs as rocks may plunge to the fjord.
- By car: Driving is (to the surprise of many first time visitors) an excellent way of getting around and at the same time sightseeing. Many roads run along the shores or on "shelves" (corniches) at the steep rock faces offering great and ever changing panoramas. Car ferries offer a nice break and a mini cruise for 10, 20 or 30 minutes across the water. Car ferries (ferje/ferge) are part of the road system and not a separate means of transport, on main roads these ferries run so frequent that planning is hardly needed.
- By rail: Because of the complex topography, rail is in general not an option, except for the stretch of Bergen line with the famous arm to Flåm, and the Bodø line (Nordlandsbanen) that runs from Trondheim to Bodø.
- By bicycle. Bicycle is a nice and friendly mode of transport. Cyclists should however be aware that in the fjord areas roads often include mountain passes with steep and long climbs, horizontal roads on the other hand often run through long tunnels where cycling is not recommended or forbidden. Read maps carefully and check each leg for tunnels. Tunnels can in many cases be circumvented along old roads.
- By walk. The fjord region offers a great opportunity for a hiking holiday. Mount Skåla offers amazing views of the stunning glaciers and fjords. A list of all hiking trails can be found here.
The fjord areas cover large parts of Norway. Activities specific to fjords include kayaking and other boat sports. Fjords are generally sheltered and waves are moderate and rare, sea breeze can occur on hot summer days. Fjords are generally very deep and in some areas there may not be beaches, just steep cliffs rising directly from the water. Fjords generally do not heat substantially during summer, although some shallow bays may be warm enough for pleasant swimming. Rivers pour cool melt water to middle and inner parts of fjords during most of the summer.