The region of Nordfjord, located in western Norway, should be on everyone’s travel radar. To say that it’s home to an exceptionally pristine landscape would be an understatement. Nordfjord is a strange brew of Viking legends, incredible glaciers begging to be explored, some of the best hiking in the world, a few heart-pounding rides, the friendliest horses imaginable, and the highest sea cliff in all of Europe. It’s not a combination you’ll find anywhere else.
Here are just some of the remarkable things you should experience in the area.
Let Your Stomach Swoop At The Hornelen Sea Cliff
At a heart-pounding 2,821 feet above sea level, the Hornelen sea cliff is the highest of its kind in Europe. Even if you haven’t heard the name before, you’ve probably seen photos of Hornelen on social media. Those clifftop views make for some pretty captivating images!
If you’re keen to experience it up close and personal and get some great images of your own, a steep hike that lasts about 4 hours awaits. There are a couple of routes to choose from, including Berleneset (from the southwest; a longer but easier route) and Hunskar (from the northwest, with a lake along the way that makes for a nice stopping point for a picnic lunch). Each route has its own benefits and drawbacks, but there’s no denying that this is a physically demanding hike.
However, some “visitors” have found an easier way to get to the top. Rumor has it that witches gather at Hornelen, using the top of the sea cliff as a resting point before flying up, up, and away! And before you pause at an interesting rock, be sure to look twice. If the legends are to be believed, it may just be a petrified troll that you’re checking out. This is definitely a spot that demands some double-takes.
Enjoy A Shortcut To The Sky
If a strenuous hike up to Hornelen isn’t your cup of tea, there’s a more accessible way to take in some of Nordfjord’s jaw-dropping views. The Loen Skylift, which happens to be the world’s steepest aerial ropeway, will take you up nearly 3,300 feet to the top of Mount Hoven in just a couple of minutes. A round-trip ticket costs about $65.
At the top, visitors are greeted with panoramic views, but there’s a lot to see and explore as well. A short walk brings you to the start of two massive zip lines over the Tungejolet gorge. There are also year-round hiking options, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing routes in the winter, and connections to the Via Ferrata climbing route (if you’re truly daring!). You’ll even find a fine-dining restaurant, Hoven. Be sure to try the local cod, which comes with sauteed potatoes, spinach, and Romesco sauce.
Prowl Around Europe’s Largest Glacier
Norway is exactly where you want to be if glacier exploration is on your bucket list, and Jostedalsbreen should be at the very top. At about 188 square miles, it’s continental Europe’s largest glacier and covers more than half of Jostedalsbreen National Park.
With more than 50 branches reaching out from the main glacier and spreading throughout Nordfjord, visitors are spoiled for choice when it comes to exploring. Whether you’re up for a serious physical challenge like ice cliff climbing or you’re more interested in family-friendly activities like nature walks or bird-watching, there’s a glacier-based activity for you.
One branch, Nigardsbreen Glacier, is extremely family friendly, and children as young as five can participate in tour programs that will get them up close to the glacier’s blue ice. Briksdalsbreen Glacier is another popular branch to explore, since it includes waterfalls and hikes of just a few miles long (though you can definitely go much farther if you want!). Note that nearly all glacier activities require a tour guide, both for guest safety and to protect the glaciers’ delicate ecosystem.
Take A Deep Dive Into A Legendary Lake
Nordfjord really is a region of superlatives — highest, tallest, and biggest are apt descriptors for just about everything in the area. You can add deepest to that list as well. Plunging nearly 1,700 feet below sea level, Hornindalsvatnet is Europe’s deepest lake. A combination of saltwater and glacier deposits, it’s popular for fishing, kayaking, and all kinds of water sports.
Even if you’re just exploring on the shore, you might want to be on alert. According to local legend, an elusive sea monster lives in the lake! In 2012, three local fishermen saw a Loch Ness-type creature in Hornindalsvatnet. While their reports cannot be officially corroborated, they have Viking folklore on their side. Tales of mysterious water creatures have existed here for centuries.
Marvel At Viking Might
If Viking history piques your interest, Nordfjord will captivate you. This area was once the place to be for everyone who was anyone in Viking warfare. While life in Nordfjord is decidedly peaceful these days, you can catch a glimpse of the area’s combative past by viewing a replica of the Myklebust.
The Myklebust was a Viking warship that was nearly 100 feet long — the longest of all the ships whose remains have been found in Norway. While the original ship was burned in a burial mound, its size was determined by the number of nails left behind. Woodworkers, historians, and archaeologists were part of the team that contributed to its reconstruction. You can take in the finished product and the entire story at the Sagastad, a learning center with interactive exhibits dedicated to the Viking Age.
Meditate On Medieval History
Even today, a visit to the 12th-century Selja Monastery requires a bit of a pilgrimage. Built on the island of Selja by Benedictine monks, the monastery is accessible by a 15-minute boat ride from Selje Harbour.
Guides will lead you through the monastery’s hallways and stairwells to a holy cave, and finally to a well with healing waters. This is much more than a well-preserved historic site. Selja Monastery is one of the oldest religious sites in Norway, and it honors the life and legacy of Saint Sunniva. While it was closed down during the Reformation, it was never deconsecrated, and so weddings and christenings still happen here.
Cuddle With A True Nordfjord Legend
No matter how friendly the locals are, in Nordfjord it’s the horses that will capture your heart and make you never want to leave. The endangered Norwegian Fjord horse has been beloved here for centuries. It’s one of the oldest breeds in the world — with a bloodline that goes back at least 4,000 years — and one of just three breeds that originated in Norway. The Vikings valued them for their strength and loyalty. Farmers prized them for their calm, steady disposition. And now, when it comes to trail rides, you couldn’t ask for a friendlier companion. The Norwegian Fjord horse is so smart and mild-mannered that it is even used in therapeutic programs. Just be warned — they’re so handsome, with their dun-colored coats and black dorsal stripes (and, in some cases, zebra-like stripes!), that they will steal the show in all of your photos!
If you’re an equestrian enthusiast, you can learn more about the Norwegian Fjord horse’s heritage and breeding at the Norwegian Fjord Horse Centre. The center also offers guided rides.