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The World’s Most Beautiful Voyage

Why you need to take a cruise down Norway’s western coast

It was an hour or so after dinner service had ended when murmurs started circulating around the ship that the Northern Lights had been spotted not too far from where we were currently sailing on the Norwegian Sea. It was the fourth night of a cruise on Hurtigruten (a passenger and freight line that has been voyaging up and down Norway’s western coast since 1893); we had crossed the Arctic Circle heading south more 36 hours ago, so I had mostly given up hope that I would see the Northern Lights during this trip. We were too far down, and it was a fairly cloudy night—seeing the Lights seemed nearly impossible.

But I went up to the deck with my coat (it was February, and it was freezing) to join a dozen or so other chasers hoping that perhaps tonight would be the night. I stomped around trying to keep warm, feeling deliriously hopeful, nearing a level of desperation that could only be described as fanatical. The other passengers around me all had their giant National Geographic-approved cameras with them, taking practice shots at the sky—I had a cup of tea.

At first it was just a faint glimmer of light. No one knew what was happening, but everyone was atwitter that maybe we were seeing what we all wanted to see. Then the green came, and it started to dance. That’s when the crew made the announcement that the Lights were out. And I burst into tears.

They never reached that impressive level that you see in pictures, when the sky resembles the manic medley of colors that you would normally only experience at an EDM concert. What I saw were soft shades of greens, maybe a bit of yellow, lightly flashing in the black sky.

They say that a cruise on the Hurtigruten is the world’s most beautiful voyage. When you get to experience the Northern Lights while you’re on one of its ships, it’s hard to argue against it. But even if you don’t see the Lights (during the summer, you’re treated to midnight suns instead), there’s still plenty to support the claim. Hurtigruten’s ships aren’t massive (the largest can only accommodate 1,000 people), allowing them to easily navigate through coastal Norway’s unique landscape. The craggy geography glaciers left behind has created topographical drama that plays a large role in why travelers are so taken by this journey. Imagine giant mountains with pointy peaks, tall waterfalls and islands everywhere. 

As the ship sails along, it’s one unforgettable sight after another. Take the Torghatten, a granite mountain with a hole in the middle of it. Legend has it that the troll Hestmannen was chasing after a beautiful girl, and when he realized he would not catch her, he shot an arrow. To save the girl, the troll-king Sømna threw his hat to block the shot. The hat, according to legend, is now the mountain and the hole the arrow made is the hole that you see.

Most Hurtigruten ships have a panorama lounge outfitted with floor-to-ceiling windows, here you’ll have to compete for seats; the world’s most beautiful voyage doesn’t come without its fans.