While all of Norway is beautiful, the fjords are breathtaking. It is surreal to be totally encased by enormous mountains in every direction. Waterfalls, vivid greenery, and small fishing huts line the mountainside and small, rocky shorelines, making you feel slingshotted into a Nicholas Sparks novel about a lady from the big city *who just can’t take it anymore*, who relocated to the remote countryside, only to meet the charming, handsome sheep farmer who just happens to be single.
All joking aside, visiting the Norwegian fjords really is like being in a fairytale. The only place I have visited in the U.S. that begins to compare is northwestern Montana and the panhandle of Idaho, near the Canadian border (although I’ve heard Alaska is just as incredible). It is difficult to translate into words the immense scale of the mountains which surround you. I’ve added some photos of a small sight-seeing boat that was going out for tours that hopefully helps.
We visited two of the more famous fjords, Storfjorden, where the village of Hellesylt and the city of Ålesund are located, and Geirangerfjorden, containing the village of Geiranger. Both villages were wonderfully picturesque, and the city was unique and fun, and I will cover them all extensively in my upcoming updated Norway blog, along with Norway’s 2nd largest city, Bergen (please stay tuned!).
A little geology lesson: according to the website Fjord Norway, “A fjord is a deep, narrow and elongated sea or lake drain, with steep land on three sides”. To be considered a fjord, and not a bay or cove, it must be longer than it is wide. The fjords were created during the several ice ages by large glacial “tongues” that carved through the mountains. They are quieter than the sea because of the large amounts of gravel and sand that have been carried down and deposited by glaciers as the fjords were forming, causing areas that are shallower.
Geirangerfjorden is one of the most famous fjords in Norway, and certainly the more famous of the two we visited. While the village of Geiranger is lovely and stunning, it’s not the main reason for this fjord’s notoriety; it owes that to the myriad of famous waterfalls that line its rocky walls.
There are countless waterfalls of varying size and intensity throughout Geirangerfjorden, with the most famous being De syv søstrene (“the Seven Sisters”), Friaren (“the Suitor”) and Brudesløret (“the Bridal Veil”). Of these three, by far the most famous is the Seven Sisters. Located about 4 miles west of Geiranger, it is the 39th tallest waterfall in Norway. It measures at 1,350 feet, cascading down an almost vertical rockface, with the tallest of the seven streams having a free fall of 820 feet.
Immediately across from the Seven Sisters is Friaren, the Suitor. It’s a lovely waterfall, but not as impressive as the Seven Sisters. Also, unfortunately, you can’t view both at the same time unless you are on a smaller boat (like a kayak or canoe), or on the upper deck of a large ship. This is because they are, quite literally, right across from one another. However, it’s one way in, one way out, so you have opportunity to view both. Just make sure you’re in the right spot, at the right time!
The Nordic people have many legends, and believe in many supernatural entities like trolls and giants, so naturally there is a legend associated with these two waterfalls. The legend (or story?) is that the Seven Sisters are coming flirtatiously and daintily dancing down the mountainside, playfully greeting the Suitor who gleefully dances back from the other side. Bridal Veil is immediately to the right of the Seven Sisters, however, if you didn’t know it was there, you might miss it. It’s very low volume and isn’t recognized as a waterfall by many. It’s more noticeable when the snow begins to melt in the Spring, where when backlit by the sun it looks like a thin bridal veil draped over the rocks. Sadly, it wasn’t visible when we visited.
Storfjorden is much larger, and in fact, encompasses Geirangerfjorden, kind of like a fjord within a fjord. “Inception fjords“, for those who have seen the movie Inception (highly recommend). Or, picture a tree (Storfjorden) with several different branches that splinter out into even more tiny branches (Geirangerfjorden and the several other fjords located here).
The name literally means “big” or “great” fjord, as it is the main fjord in the region (the Sunnmøre region of Møre og Romsdal county). It extends 68 miles, is the 5th longest fjord in Norway, and its deepest point is 2,228 feet. There are no bridges or tunnels connecting the 16 towns and villages within Storfjorden, and people must take car ferries (or people ferries) to visit. That’s not to say there are no roads, just no bridges that cross the fjord to the other side. The idea of building a bridge has longed been proposed, but due to budget issues, has yet to be built.
Lastly, the homes. People live in and on the fjords, and not just in the small villages or cities. There are numerous small homes, some no more than huts, that line the cliffsides. I’m sure some are permanent residences, while many are summer homes or fishing huts.
These homes sit high above, many accessible only by little carts attached to pull cables that take them from the top of the mountain down to the dock in the water. As mentioned above, there are roads within the fjords, but not everywhere, and many people who choose to call this place home understand that it comes with some extra work. Many who live within the fjords rely on boats as their main mode of transportation, boating to the nearby villages only when they absolutely must. For me, I think it would be amazingggg for 2 weeks, max, in the summertime. Any longer than that, and I would likely go crazy. Also, the winters are probably quite brutal.
If you ever get a chance to visit the Norwegian fjords, jump on that!!! I reiterate, there are very few places in the United States that can rival this majestic place, sans maybe the Pacific Northwest and Alaska, the only state with literal fjords (some sources argue that Washington State also has fjords, but it’s highly debated). There are few things that can compare to slowly and gently gliding through the crystal-clear turquoise water, entirely encased by soaring, pulchritudinous mountains that are completely littered with stunning, cascading waterfalls. I sincerely hope Norway understands just how much they lucked out in the geography department!