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A picture perfect glimpse of the past
The UNESCO-protected fjords are symbols of the beauty of traditional Norway. Places where time moves in its own pace.
A person paddling in the Nærøyfjord
Kayaking in the Nærøyfjord.
Photo: Øyvind Heen / Visitnorway.com

There are more than a thousand fjords in Norway, all along the coast. But most of the iconic ones – those you may have seen on the postcards, like the Nærøyfjord, the Sognefjord, the Lysefjord, and the Geirangerfjord – are located in Fjord Norway.

The fjords resemble still blue lakes, but consist of saltwater – they are prolonged arms of the seas, often reaching deep inland with majestic cliffs towering above on both sides.

Even though the fjords are often intertwined and you can sail from one fjord to another or back into the sea, visiting the fjords can make you feel like you are in a secluded universe.

However, the key to understanding why the fjords are perhaps the most important symbol of Norway – and amongst the country’s most popular attractions – lies in what they represent.

More than anything the fjords and the surrounding areas evoke images of a Norway of the past: A time when people lived as farmers in impossibly steep and rocky surroundings (in certain places they still do). A time when you could harvest from the blossoming fruit trees, and a sheep’s head was considered a delicacy (it still is).

If the landscapes may seem untamed and wild, the fjord areas are nevertheless easy to explore both on your own and through guided tours. There are small villages spread throughout, and trails for both glacier walks and mountain hikes are plentiful.

Things to do by the fjords

The fjord landscape is ideal for combining activities, whether you just want to inhale the famous peace and quiet or get an adrenaline rush.

Start off with easy hiking and relaxing village and city walks, or take guided tours to viewing points and other vistas of fjords, mountains, and waterfalls.

More demanding hiking includes uphill walks with rewarding views at the top. You can also explore by kayak, SUP (Stand up paddling board), rafting, glacier hiking, rock climbing, and via ferrata climbing routes. There are guided fishing tours on the sea, the fjords, rivers and lakes.

Go skiing all year round whilst looking down on a fjord, for example in the Sunnmøre Alps. Summer skiing is a popular activity that may be combined with swimming in a fjord earlier or later on the same day.

History buffs will find many historical sites, remnants of old buildings, art and folklore museums, open air museum, and Viking vestiges. Unesco World Heritage sites include Bryggen in Bergen, Urnes Stave Church, the fjords of Nærøyfjord and Geirangerfjord, and the surrounding landscapes.

There are several national parks in the area with marked trails, self-service cabins, staffed lodges, wild animals, lakes, rivers, glaciers, and visitor centers.

A part of the World Heritage

The fjords of Fjord Norway, exemplified by the Geirangerfjord and the Nærøyfjord, were granted World Heritage status by UNESCO in 2005.

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In 2006, National Geographic put together a panel of experts to rank and reward the most popular World Heritage sites. The Norwegian fjords emerged as winners, above competitors such as Galapagos, the pyramids of Egypt, Grand Canyon, Angkor Wat, and Machu Picchu.

“This seems to confirm that Norwegians tend to take excellent care of their places compared to the rest of the world. These are skills that leaders in other places would do well to study and adapt to their own situations”, says Jonathan B. Tourtellot, Director of the Center for Sustainable Destinations, National Geographic Society.

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