Using the Hurtigruten as a local ferry in Norway

It is known internationally as a cruise, but Norwegians have used the Hurtigruten coastal route as a local ferry for generations. Here’s how you can do the same.

Taking the Hurtigruten coastal trip is a bucket list item for many travelers. Many of our Norwegian American readers have done the full trip, which takes 12 days to travel from Bergen to Kirkenes and back.

Illustration of the Hurtigruten ferry in Norway.

Some people do a one-way trip from Bergen to Kirkenes, which is a shorter and cheaper way to enjoy the coastline. Kirkenes in Bergen is another popular option as it is usually cheaper than the first half.

But while some Norwegians make the full trip, many others use the service as a local ferry. For generations, that’s exactly what the Hurtigruten was.

It’s only been in recent decades, with larger and more comfortable ships, that its popularity as a round-trip “cruising” experience has taken hold.

A critical transport link along the Norwegian coast

Norway’s coastline has long made land transport difficult. Even with recent bridge and tunnel projects, driving between two points along the coast can still be a time-consuming and/or difficult experience.

Hurtigruten ferry in Norway entering a fjord in winter.

Prior to 1893, traffic along the coast between Trondheim and Hammerfest was busy but unreliable. The authorities decided that a regular express road was necessary.

Captain Richard With and his liner DS Vesteraalen took up the challenge and Hurtigruten (“the fast lane”) was born. Soon the road was extended from Bergen to Kirkenes, and Hurtigruten became an essential transport link for goods and people.

Who uses Hurtigruten as a ferry?

Despite its name, Hurtigruten isn’t a particularly fast way to get around the coast. Even putting aviation aside, there are several speedboats operated by local councils that offer faster service, such as Trondheim to Kristiansund or Bodø to Svolvær.

But there are parts of the coastline where Hurtigruten is the quickest, or the cheapest, or just the easiest option.

When I did the full round trip on MS Vesterålen in January 2019, passenger numbers were way below capacity. This meant it was very easy to see if and when locals were using the service as a port-to-port ferry.

Hurtigruten sailing near the Norwegian coast.

The reasons were many and varied! A large group of students traveled between Tromsø and Svolvær for an arts festival. Further south, a person with a broken arm traveled from Rørvik to the regional hospital in Trondheim for a check-up.

I also used the Hurtigruten as a local ferry earlier this summer. With my parents, I traveled from Bodø to Svolvær. The trip took six hours, including a short stop in Stamsund, and was a pleasant and scenic alternative to the direct Bodø-Svolvær speedboat.

Advantages and disadvantages of traveling from port to port

It’s fair to say that there are very clear pros and cons to using the Hurtigruten in this way.

First of all, it’s often the easiest way to get between two places, especially the farthest ones. For example, Stamsund in Finnsnes, or Honningsvåg in Båtsfjord. Flying is usually possible with Widerøe, but it can be expensive and often requires changing planes.

Although you can still drive, not everyone owns a car. This is especially true for tourists traveling along the coastline. So if you are without a car, Hurtigruten is a useful option.

Hurtigruten coastal ferry on a cloudy fjord

Another important advantage is the possibility to relax during the trip. You can relax with a beer, enjoy the view of the coast or just sit back and read a book.

On the other hand, the Hurtigruten is relatively slow and often expensive. Availability can be an issue during the summer months. You must also pay for a cabin if the trip involves an overnight stay.

Planning is also an issue. The service does not operate more than once a day in both directions. For example, the southbound service from Bodø departs at 3.30am. This is not practical for most people!

Examples of schedules

Here are some sample itineraries currently available on Hurtigruten. Note that times vary seasonally and are subject to change, so this is for informational purposes only. Check timetables directly with the company if you are planning a trip.

Trondheim to Bodo: Depart Trondheim at 12:45 p.m. and arrive in Bodø at 1:05 p.m. the following day. In the other direction, depart Bodø at 3:30 a.m. and arrive in Trondheim at 6:30 a.m. the next day.

Hurtigruten ship sailing in Tromsø.  Norway
Hurtigruten ship in Tromsø.

Tromso to Svolvaer (Lofoten): Depart Tromsø at 1:30 a.m. and arrive in Svolvær at 6:30 p.m. In the other direction, departing from Svolvær at 10:15 p.m. and arriving in Tromsø at 2:15 p.m. the next day.

Trondheim to Alesund: Depart Trondheim at 9:30 a.m. and arrive in Ålesund at 12:30 a.m. the following day. In the other direction, departure from Ålesund at 8 p.m. and arrival in Trondheim at 9:45 a.m. the next day.

Remember that these times are adjusted according to the seasons and are provided as a guide only. To check the times applicable to your visit, use the Hurtigruten website.

What to expect using Hurtigruten as a ferry

The process of booking and boarding the ferry is a bit different when you’re not doing the full trip. When departing from Bergen and back, you check in and board from the departure lounge.

But if you use the service as a local ferry, you usually check in on the ship itself. This must be done 15 minutes before departure, or 30 minutes before departure when boarding in Bergen. As I understand it, short trips also need to be booked in advance.

Outdoor terrace on the MS Nordnorge
We were able to enjoy the terrace of the MS Nordnorge.

When we boarded in Bodø, we arrived about an hour before the ship’s departure. On boarding the MS Nordnorge we showed photo ID at the ship’s reception and were given ID cards. These are used when paying for things on board and when arriving/departing the ship.

The biggest difference when using the ships as a day ferry is the lack of a cabin. There is luggage storage available even though it was stuffed full of luggage. There was just about room for our bags!

The rest of the ship is at your disposal, including restaurants, bars, lounges and the solarium. During the booking process we were offered to book a meal at the main restaurant.

However, the three course meal would have cost us around 550 NOK each, not including drinks. We opted instead to eat at the bistro and pay on board. It was a much better option for us and the food was more reasonably priced.

Bistro MS Nordnorge
Bistro MS Nordnorge

I must add that for one-way trips including an overnight stopover, you must book a cabin. There is no option available to sleep in the lounges, for example.

How to book a port-to-port trip with Hurtigruten

It will probably surprise some people that you can use the Hurtigruten as a local ferry. One of the reasons for this is the promotion of return cruises on the English version of the website.

When using the website as a Norwegian, port-to-port options are presented to you much more prominently. These options are available on both the UK and WE versions of the site. Just dig a little to find them! Search for “short trips” or equivalent terminology, or use the links above.

The reservation process is relatively simple. You select both ports and then you are presented with date options. You select the cabin type (if applicable), whether you want to pre-book meals, and book.

Before leaving, you receive all the information you need about the trip by e-mail. You will be reminded, but it is important to remember to bring photo ID.

Arrival of Hurtigruten in Bergen, Norway
MS Vesterålen in Bergen.

Use Havila as a Coastal Ferry

Hurtigruten now has a competitor on the coastal route. Havila Voyages were plagued with issues when they launched (notably the global health crisis) but are now operational on some days.

The company also offers a port-to-port service and operates either vessel on days when Hurtigruten is not sailing. The ships are modern and feature similar equipment to the Hurtigruten ship.

So if you want to cruise port to port and there is no Hurtigruten departure available, check out the options with Havila.