Hutrigruten is the generic name of a fleet of ships that have been carrying freight, passengers and tourists from Bergen to Kirkenes for more than 120 years.
The history of Hurtigruten started in 1891, when the national steamship consultant, August Gran, presented the idea of an express route by sea from Trondheim to Hammerfest. The route would have regularity, sail all year round, be fast, and carry passengers, mail and cargo.
The Norwegian government was seduced by the idea but the 2 main problems were that maritime maps were pretty unreliable and that there were only a few lighthouses north of Trondheim at that time. Richard With, the captain and director of the newly established Vesterålens steamship company, and his friend Anders Holthe, took on the challenge of thoroughly mapping the sea along the Norwegian coastline.
And, on 2nd July 1893, Captain With and his boat the Vesterålen sailed from Trondheim to Hammerfest in 67 hours, arriving 20 minutes ahead of the schedule!
Hurtigruten, which can be translated in English as “Fast Route”, was born. It became the quickest and most reliable passage into the remote lands of northern Norway, regardless of the weather conditions.
This started a communication revolution, giving industries and coastal inhabitants better access to the outside world. Letters from Trondheim, which had previously taken up to 3 weeks to reach Hammerfest during the summer, and 5 months during the winter, could now be delivered in just a few days!
The Hurtigruten route expanded southward to include Bergen in 1898 and northward to include Kirkenes in 1908, covering a total 2400 km (1500 miles) of coasts.
Until the end of the 1970’s, Hurtigruten was for some villages the only link with the rest of the world, especially during winter.
But with the development of road and air transport networks, the economic importance of Hurtigruten has decreased. So, in order to stay afloat, emphasis has been put on tourism. New, bigger and more luxurious ships were introduced, with attention given to bars, restaurants, jacuzzis and other comforts.
Hurtigruten is now a compromise between a mission of important community service and a tourist’s sight-seeing experience.
Indeed, even if the transportation of passengers and freight remain Hurtigruten’s main task, it has become one of the most popular ways to explore the mountainous shores of Norway, one of the world’s most “maritime” nation.
For this reason, Hurtigruten can not be considered as a cruise strictly speaking but more as a comfortable journey.
The voyage is a simple but pleasant way of combining lodging, eating, drinking and transportation.
But unlike many other cruise ferries, Hurtigruten is not a place for partying, the major attraction aboard being scenery-gazing.
Hurtigruten travels continuously, making only short service calls day or night with tick-tock punctuality. However, a large choice of excursions is proposed to people who would like to experience Norway a bit further.
The current fleet consists of 11 ships and the biggest have a maximum capacity of 1000 passengers. Due to the lack of entertainment and the price, most tourists are mature people.
If you have time and money, I recommend to take the 11 days round-trip journey because the ports of calls that are visited by night on the journey northbound are visited by day on the journey south.
If not, for a first timer, I would recommend to take the northbound journey because you will feel more like an explorer, leaving the big town of Bergen for the smallest towns and villages of the north.
From my point of view, the choice of excursions is wider and more interesting during the summer months.
But if you prefer, you can also only take a portion of the route, be abroad for a few days or even a few hours, and disembark in any of the 34 stops along the way.
The nature in Norway is so generous that there is no better season to take Hurtigruten:
In summer, you will experience the endless nights.
In autumn, you will enjoy the wonderful colours in the trees.
In winter, you might have the chance to witness northern lights.
In spring, you will see the nature coming back to life and huge waterfalls.
Keep in mind that the weather in Norway is pretty unpredictable and can change very quickly. To give you an idea, the first time I took Hurtigruten was during the month of June and when I arrived to Kirkenes it was rainy, windy and only 4°C!
So be prepared and start planning one of the world’s most beautiful sea voyages!