Put Norway and the spectacular Northern Lights on your holiday wish list this year
With remarkable mountains, stunning fjords and breathtaking vistas, Norway is unrivalled for its natural beauty. Winter time – October to March – is especially magical, as the landscape transforms into a glistening wonderland of snow-laden forests and dramatic glaciers. It’s also the prime time to catch sight of Mother Nature’s very own fireworks display – the Northern Lights. But as unpredictable as they are enchanting, this celestial show-stopper isn’t a guaranteed sighting, so it’s a good idea to carry out your very own Nordic adventure in style and comfort.
We went on a 12-night cruise on-board the Aurora with P&O Cruises, which sails from Southampton to the Norwegian Arctic Circle, stopping off at four ports, where there are plenty of activities to choose from. As well as chasing those elusive Northern Lights – also known as the Aurora Borealis – you can look forward to snow-mobile safaris, sledding with huskies and exploring many charming towns steeped in history.
Our first stop was the small town of Åndalsnes, situated on the edge of a beautiful fjord and surrounded by snow-capped mountains. It’s been dubbed the peak capital of Norway, so it’s the perfect excuse to put on those hiking boots. In a four-hour round trip, we hiked to the Rampestreken viewpoint, which is 580 metres above sea level, and offers incredible views of the valley. It’s a challenging and steep hike, so you’ll need good fitness levels, as well as plenty of water!
If hiking’s not for you, the Rauma Railway is a fantastic train journey with views of high peaks, cascading rivers and the impressive Trollveggen – Europe’s tallest perpendicular rock face.
The next place we visited was Tromsø, where there are lots of independent shops and cafés, as well as museums and a cable car (Fjellheisen.no/en/). But if you’re looking for more of an adrenalin buzz, you can go snowmobiling or whale watching on a rigid inflatable boat safari. All these activities are dependent on the season, so make sure you plan your trip accordingly. We spent a wonderful evening visiting the iconic Arctic Cathedral for a Norwegian recital. Inside, there is a huge beautiful stain glass window, and the acoustics of the performance were amazing, giving it spellbinding atmosphere. The recital excursion costs £52 per adult, and £34 for a child.
Our next stop was Alta, which thanks to its inland climate and mostly clear weather, makes the perfect destination to see the Northern Lights. We advise going on an organised tour as local experts will take you to the best locations to potentially see them. Wherever the tour takes you, there will be facilities nearby and warm tents known as Lavvus, where you can enjoy a hot drink. Make sure you wrap up warm, as the temperature can be as low as -11°C in February. A four-hour excursion with P&O Cruises costs £135 per adult, and £96 per child.
Luckily, we were able to see the lights on our trip, but if you don’t, there are plenty of other things to do in Alta. You can go on a husky or reindeer sledge ride through the forest, or stay overnight at the enchanting Sorrisniva Igloo Hotel. Every year, it’s built out of pure snow and ice, and lasts from January to mid-April before it melts. As well as the bedrooms, there’s a bar, restaurant and chapel, and because the air is so crisp and clean, you will be amazed at how well you can sleep wrapped up under warm reindeer skin blankets.
Our final stop was the picture-postcard town of Stavanger. With its 18th-century wooden houses and narrow cobbled streets, the old part looks like something out of a fairy tale. It’s a great place to shop for knitted clothes and unique wood carvings, or you could just grab a beer or a bite to eat at one of the many bars and restaurants around the harbour.
Food and fun
Norwegian cuisine focuses on fresh ingredients sourced from its wilderness. A meal worth trying is Koldtbord, which features a variety of cold and hot dishes, such as smoked salmon, roasted meats, cheese and more. For a sweet treat, try the vafler (waffle) served with sour cream and strawberry jam. But be prepared – dining and drinking in Norway is pricey. Expect to pay the equivalent of £10 for a slice of cake and coffee, and £11 for a pint of lager. That’s why, if you’re on a budget, cruising is a great option, because food and entertainment on-board is inclusive. Excluding the main dining rooms, there are also three wonderful restaurants where a modest cover charge applies. They’re all worth trying if you can. We had a great “cook your own steak” dish at the Beach House, and a beautiful meal at Indian-British fusion restaurant Sindu. Our personal favourite was the Glass House, who offer up an informal yet classy contemporary menu with wines hand-picked by wine guru Ollie Smith. In terms of entertainment, there is a daily rota of activities, including dance lessons, talks, quizzes, bingo and more. There’s also a cinema, spa and gym, plus comedy, music and dance performances.
Need to know
· Norway and the Northern Lights from P&O Cruises is offering a 12-night cruise on Aurora (R921) from £999pp for an inside cabin. Departing 3 Nov 2019, the price includes full-board meals and entertainment on-board. Departing from and returning to Southampton, ports of call are Åndalsnes, Tromsø (overnight in port), Alta (overnight in port) and Stavanger. To book, visit Pocruises.com/r921, call 03453 555 111, or visit your local travel agent.
· P&O Cruises offer a three-hour excursion on the Rauma Railway in a traditional carriage for £84 per adult, and £42 per child.
· You can arrange an overnight stay at the Sorrisniva Igloo Hotel through P&O, costing from £389 per adult, and £385 per child.