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Geiranger is a tiny little village, situated at the end of the UNESCO World Heritage-protected Geirangerfjord. The real draw is the fjord itself, with its green mountainsides, snowcapped peaks and fairytale-esque waterfalls. You'll get up close views of the fjord -- and the famous Seven Sisters and the Suitor waterfalls -- as you sail in and out of Geiranger; in summer, it'll be light out for both the early morning arrival and afternoon or early evening departure. The scenic cruising will be the highlight of a Norwegian fjords itinerary.
The town of Geiranger can be traversed from end to end in about five minutes. It's got the requisite souvenir shops, restaurants serving up reindeer and caramel-tasting brown goat cheese, a charming old church and the Fjordcenter to get your fjord 411. But mostly it serves as a jumping-off point for tours in the area. For a bird's-eye view of the fjord scenery, head up to scenic viewpoints like Dalsnibba or Eagle's Bend or take to the skies in a helicopter. Or go the other direction, and hop in a kayak to get closer to nature and feel the enormity of the mountains above you. For a bit of history and culture, visit a mountain farm and learn about how people live in this remote area.
About 150 to 200 cruise ships visit Geiranger every year, bringing more than 700,000 tourists during the May-through-September tourist season. With up to five ships in port at a time -- you wouldn't think the harbor could fit that many -- tours book up and the streets in town get packed. If you've got your heart set on a specific tour, do your research and consider booking in advance. Geiranger is such a beautiful place, it would be a shame not to see it to its fullest.
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Other Baltic & Northern Europe Cruise Ports:
Aarhus • Alesund • Amsterdam • Bergen • Bremerhaven • Copenhagen • Flam • Gdansk • Geiranger • Hamburg • Helsinki • Kristiansand • Moscow • Oslo • Reykjavik • Riga • Rostock (Warnemunde) • Spitsbergen (Svalbard) • St. Petersburg • Stavanger • Stockholm • Tallinn • Travemunde (Lubeck) • Tromso • Trondheim • Visby
In Geiranger -- as in most Norwegian ports -- you can buy the country's signature (and expensive) knitwear, as well as troll figures and other souvenirs. For a local-to-Geiranger buy, head to Geiranger Sjokolade and purchase some chocolate made in the factory on-site. It sells funky chocolate flavors such as brown cheese, aquavit and cloudberry, and you can taste before you buy. You can also buy local jams, such as molte syltetoy (cloudberry jam). If you can't wait until you get home, the cafe there makes and serves coffee and hot chocolate, baked goods and, of course, its own chocolate -- and sells Kulinaris ice cream, a Norwegian brand. Geiranger Sjokolade is located in the Holenaustet boat house off the main pedestrian shopping street. (Open daily April to September 10:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.)
Norwegian is a varied language, with two written forms --Nynorsk and Bokmal. When speaking, Norwegians use their own regional dialects but generally can understand each other. Most people speak excellent English, as kids learn it in school from an early age. A few key phrases to know include: hallo (hello); tak (thank you); ja (yes); and nei (no).
Currency & Best Way to Get Money
Currency is the Norwegian krone (NOK). Check www.xe.com and www.oanda.com for current exchange rates. An ATM is located at the supermarket, and you can exchange currency at the Fjordbuda souvenir shop.
Where You're Docked
Ships tender to the Geirangerfjord Cruise Terminal, three short piers side by side. Amazingly, given the tiny size of the town, a maximum of five ships can call in Geiranger in one day, with a limit of 8,000 cruise visitors.
Nothing in Geiranger is too far away. The area immediately adjacent to the pier offers a tourist office (where you can book day-of tours), toilets, a post office, souvenir shops, bus pickup, taxi stand and food.
On Foot: Geiranger proper is about a five-minute walk end to end. If you want to reach the church, Fjordcenter, Hotel Union or hiking trailhead, it's a steep 10- to 15-minute walk up Geiranger's one real road.
By Bus: A City Sightseeing bus takes independent travelers to Geiranger's two scenic viewpoints, Flydalsjuvet and Ornevegen (Eagle's Bend). The tour takes 90 minutes, and unlike the company's omnipresent hop on hop off buses, the Geiranger version does not let passengers come and go as they please (though there's a 20-minute stop at each overlook).
By Taxi: Taxis are available on the main road by the pier if you wish to head up to Westeras Farm or another destination. They take both cash and credit cards.
Watch Out For
Norway is very expensive. Be prepared for sticker shock if you're planning on dining in town or doing any shopping.
Also, the weather in Norway can be changeable, though bad weather can linger for hours before clearing up. Wear layers and bring rain gear -- even if it seems nice when you're preparing to debark. If you're booking any kind of tour in advance, make sure you're willing to go even if the weather is overcast or wet. On our day in Geiranger, many people reported the scenic overlooks to be fogged in with no view to be had.
Geirangerfjord: The S-shaped Geirangerfjord was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2005. Its high cliff sides and stunning waterfalls create a landscape so beautiful and surreal, you almost expect to see unicorns dipping their horns into the mountain waters. You will see much of the scenery -- including the famous Seven Sisters Waterfalls and their counterpart, The Suitor -- as you sail into and out of the port of Geiranger, but sightseeing cruises, RIB boat (rigid-inflatable boats, a la Zodiacs) and kayaking tours are also available. You can book them through your cruise line or independently at the tourist office (but visit early or book online, especially if there are several ships in port).
Norwegian Fjordcenter: The visitor center for the Geirangerfjord, the Fjordcenter is a small museum depicting the history and culture of life in the fjord region. Step aboard a rocking steam ship, peer into quayside and farm buildings, and dodge an avalanche in the interactive exhibit. (Open May to August daily 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.)
Scenic Viewpoints: Cruise line and independent tours (including the City Sightseeing Geiranger bus) travel to the three scenic viewpoints overlooking the Geirangerfjord. Take the steep, hairpin Ornevegen (Eagle's Bend Road) to the Eagle's Bend viewpoint, or head the other way out of town to Flydalsjuvet or Dalsnibba (4,500 feet above sea level) for dramatic mountain and fjord views.
Hiking: Several good hikes leave from Geiranger. Take the main road to the trailhead located just beyond the Hotel Union (across from the Fjordcenter's bus parking) for a two-hour roundtrip hike to Westeras Farm. Tack on an extra half hour to go the Westerasfjellet viewpoint. Or, from the farm, set out for the Storseter Waterfall, which you can safely walk behind. It's about an hour from the farm to the waterfall. More-adventurous hikers, with plenty of time in port, can take water transportation to Skagehola then hike up to the Skagefla fjord farm with beautiful view of the Seven Sisters Waterfalls. Some cruise ships offer guided hikes, often with bus transportation to Westeras, or you can buy a hiking map at the tourist office.
Been There, Done That
Geiranger Church: Geiranger's octagonal wooden church, dating from 1842, is worth a visit for its scenic charm as much as its interior. It's situated up a hill, surrounded by neat rows of gravestones and colorful flowers, with views directly over the fjord. Inside, it's quite small, with wood carvings based on the designs of Per Vigeland (nephew of Gustav Vigeland, of Oslo sculpture park fame).
Helicopter tour: It's a pretty pricy 15 minutes, but if you want a bird's-eye view of the Geirangerfjord, plus the mountains, lakes, farms and waterfalls in the area (with some views not available by any other tour type), you can book a helicopter flightseeing tour at the tourist office.
Fishing: Ever fished in a fjord? During the peak of the summer season, you can book a fishing tour through the tourist office. As you sail on a 53-foot wooden cutter boat, you will hear about the history of the community, then try your hand at fishing (all equipment provided). If you're lucky enough to catch something delicious, your guides will barbecue it onboard.
Herdalssetra Mountain Summer Farm: Located 30 minutes from Geiranger, this mountain farm has been in operation for 300 years. Visit old and new farm buildings, taste traditionally made goat cheese, make friends with the various farm animals (goats, cows, sheep and horses) and sample local foods at the on-site cafe. It's best to take a ship's tour there, as a cab ride will be rather expensive.
Norwegian fare centers around fish and local meat, as well as berries from the area such as cloudberries, strawberries, raspberries and lingonberries. Fish is often served cold -- think gravlax (salt-cured salmon) or lutefisk (fish steeped in lye) -- or as fish soup; meats might be reindeer, elk or even whale. A yummy, and affordable, treat is a Norwegian waffle served with jam and sour cream, or even the caramel-flavored brown goat's cheese.
You can find cafes and food stands in Geiranger's shopping area, or head to the hotels for a more formal repast. If you make the climb to the Fjordcenter, consider stopping at the Hotel Union for coffee or drinks with a view.
Cafe Ole: For a casual bite, slip into the charming Cafe Ole. Grab a coffee and a pancake or order off the "Nordic Tapas" menu for goat, lamb, venison, salted cod and cured salmon. They also sell sandwiches to go. (Open daily June to August, coffee and gift shop only May and September.)
Friaren Bistro: The Hotel Geiranger's a la carte restaurant serves up local and international dishes along the main pedestrian shopping area -- no need to climb up to the hotel's main entrance. Try aquavit sausage pizza, Geiranger tapas (local cheeses and cured meats), fish soup or medallions of elk. (Open daily 12:30 p.m. to 10 p.m.)
Brasserie Posten: Housed in Geiranger's old post office, the restaurant features inventive local cuisine and indoor/outdoor seating. The head chef used to work at the Hotel Union's restaurant. (Hotel Union is the big hotel and spa up the hill near the Fjordcenter.) For Norway, it's good value for your money. (Open Monday to Saturday 11:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m., Sunday noon to 9 p.m.)
Restaurant Westeras: Westeras is a farm up in the mountains with an on-site restaurant offering a rustic atmosphere and scenic views. You can get there by taxi or work up an appetite with a 4-kilometer hike.
Staying in Touch
The tourist office provides free Internet use, but not Wi-Fi. You can purchase Wi-Fi access at the supermarket (15 NOK for 30 minutes) or access the Wi-Fi at Cafe Ole if you spend 50 NOK on food.
Best for Sightseeing: A 3- to 3.5-hour Geiranger Highlights tour will hit two scenic overlooks: Mt. Dalsnibba (4,500 feet above sea level) and Eagle's Bend. In between, you'll have a chance to explore the Fjordcenter.
Best for Active Travelers: The four-hour Hike to Storseter Waterfall tour begins with a bus ride to Westeras. From there, you'll hike 1.5 hours each way along sloping dirt paths to the Storseter Waterfall; you'll even get a view behind the falls. On your return, you'll be rewarded with coffee and homemade waffles at Westeras Farm.
Best for an Up-Close View of the Fjord: A three-hour Kayak on Geirangerfjord tour will have you paddling all the way to the Seven Sisters Waterfalls. Kayak guides will talk about the area at scenic points along the way. Single and double kayaks are available. (If kayaking is too strenuous, opt for a RIB boat tour instead.)
For More Information
On the Web: Norwegian National Tourist Board, Geiranger Tourist Office and Visit Geirangerfjord
Cruise Critic Message Boards: Northern Europe and Baltics
IndependentTraveler.com: Europe Travel Guide
--by Erica Silverstein, Features Editor