Exploring the Norwegian Fjords: The Sognefjord

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The village of Aurland on the Aurlandsfjord

Sometimes called the King of the Fjords, the Sognefjord is Norway’s longest and deepest fjord, stretching 204 kilometers (127 miles) and reaching depths of up to 1,308 meters (4,291 feet). It’s the second-longest fjord in the world, surpassed only by Scoresby Sund in Greenland.

The Sognefjord has several arms, one of which, the 17-kilometer (10.5-mile) long Nærøyfjord, is listed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List. A cruise on the Nærøyfjord is included on the popular Norway in a Nutshell touring itinerary, which also includes the scenic Flåm Railway and portions of the Oslo-Bergen rail route. Round-trip excursions on the Nærøyfjord from Flåm or Gudvangen are also available. Other branches of the Sognefjord include the Aurlandsfjord, the Lustrafjord, and the Fjærlandsfjord.

Along the Sognefjord are several of Norway’s 28 surviving medieval stave churches, including Urnes and Borgund, both located near the eastern end of the fjord. Further west, the Hopperstad stave church is the main attraction in the village of Vik, where you can also visit the TINE dairy and sample Gamalost, sometimes called the “cheese of the Vikings” – a thousand-year-old tradition that survives nowhere else.

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Kviknes Hotel in Balestrand

Passenger ferries travel the length of the Sognefjord, continuing on all the way to Bergen. Accommodations ranging from four-star hotels to campgrounds, cabins, and hostels are available all along the fjord, in communities such as Flåm, Aurland, Luster, Sogndal, Leikanger, Balestrand, Vik, and Høyanger. Some of Norway’s most historic hotels hotels are located along the Sognefjord, including Kviknes Hotel in Balestrand, which has been run by the same family since 1877 and has hosted numerous world leaders, including Kaiser Wilhelm II, who was a frequent guest. In fact, the Kaiser was at Kviknes in July 1914 when he received word that World War I was unavoidable – his chair is preserved in the hotel lounge. In Flåm, Fretheim Hotel dates from the same era as Kviknes, while on the Lustrafjord, the Walaker Hotel is said to be Norway’s oldest hotel – it’s a family-run business that dates back all the way to 1640.

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The Bøya Glacier near Fjærland

From Balestrand you can also catch a boat (June through August) to Fjærland at the far end of the Fjærlandsfjord. The village is home to the Norwegian Glacier Museum (Norsk Breemuseum), with exhibits about glaciers and climate change. The introductory film, though slightly cheesy in its storytelling, is visually stunning and provides panoramic views of the vast Jostedal Glacier (Jostedalsbreen), the largest glacier in continental Europe. From the museum it’s a short drive to a viewpoint where you can see the Bøya Glacier (Bøyabreen), an arm of the larger Jostedal ice sheet. Package excursions are available that include the roundtrip fjord cruise from Balestrand, bus transportation (with stops at the museum and the glacier), and museum admission.

Fjærland is also known as the Norwegian Book Town. A gold mine for secondhand book lovers, it has approximately 4 kilometers (2.5 miles) of shelves stocking books for sale in a variety of buildings all over town.Overlooking the waterfront, the Hotel Mundal is a historic property dating from the late 19th-century. A fun fact for U.S. travelers: The name Mundal is the origin of the surname of former Vice President Walter Mondale, whose paternal ancestors came from Fjærland.

Travelers seeking active adventures will find plenty of opportunities along the Sognefjord, from hiking and kayaking to mountain biking and glacier trekking.

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A fishing boat at anchor in Vik

RELATED ARTICLES:

The Cheese of the Vikings: A Long Tradition Lives on at a Single Dairy in Norway

The Stave Churches of Norway: Architectural Treasures from the Middle Ages

From Mountains to Fjord on the Flåm Railway

Hardangervidda High: Crossing Norway’s Vast Mountain Plateau on the Bergen Railway

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