From Norway’s Fjords to Iceland’s Watery Wonders
Where on earth could you find a deep-water coral reef teeming with life and a glacier bigger than the city of New Orleans? How about a volcano with slopes hot enough to cook eggs on and icy peaks gilded in permafrost? Only in Scandinavia. Norway and its North Sea cousin Iceland boast landscapes that linger long in memory, together composing one of Earth’s most dramatically diverse corners.
There’s Nowhere Like Norway
The Vikings made the waters of Norway famous and exploring by boat is still the thrill of a lifetime. Nowhere is that more true than among the magnificent fjords that have long defined this astonishing part of the world. Sognefjord is Norway’s biggest and best known, rising higher than the tallest skyscraper on earth and plunging a whopping 4,291 feet. At 127 miles long, it’s not only the longest in Norway, but the second longest on earth, and at its widest point, the span is nearly three miles across.
Humbler in scope but concentrated in its beauty, Norddalsfjorden (which you can cruise through on your way to the village of Eidsdal) is only 9 miles long but has been praised for its beauty since it was first mentioned in writing during the Middle Ages. Lined now by quaint villages and webbed with limpid rivers, Norddalsfjorden is idyllic in the extreme, a model of pastoral beauty.
If one had to pick a favorite Norwegian fjord, surely Geirangerfjord would be in the running. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is lined alternately with vertical rock walls rising from the pristine water and emerald green slopes lush with vegetation. Just when you think the vista couldn’t get more impressive here, you witness how (in the words of the mother-in-law of Henrik Ibsen, the famed Norwegian writer), “Foaming waterfalls plunge into the fjord from jagged peaks.” Local legend has a more romantic interpretation of the showers that plunge down the cliffs: The “Seven Sisters” cascades face the singular waterfall known as “The Suitor” across the fjord, and folklore says the spirit of The Suitor keeps trying to woo one of the Sisters to be his bride. If he succeeds, they don’t have to go far to prepare for their nuptials: Geirangerfjord is also home to a lacy waterfall known as The Bridal Veil.
For an entirely different perspective on Norway’s natural splendor, go high along some of the most memorable driving routes on Earth. From the Dalsnibba Lookout, you can see not only Geirangerfjord, but a dozen more fjords and snow-capped mountain peaks beyond. The highest vantage point in the region, this route was the handiwork of 300 men. The breathtaking Trollstigen Mountain Road, which was completed next, was built by 11 teams, one for each of its 11 hairpin bends. As you zigzag past waterfalls, you’ll be rewarded with views stretching miles from mountains to fjord.
Iceland: Wild at Heart
From the imaginary kingdom of Westeros in Game of Thrones to Ridley Scott’s alien landscape in Prometheus, Hollywood directors looking for the most eye-popping and otherworldly terrain head to Iceland. And no wonder: it’s striking at every turn.
A trio of unforgettable settings comprises what is famously known as the Golden Circle, a wealth of fantastic vistas that harken back to the world’s primeval origins. Thingvellir is the site of Iceland’s first parliament, which was called to order back in 930 AD. On the flat of a rift valley, lawmakers assembled in the open air to discuss clan business. It’s a wonder anyone could focus on the work at hand: the setting itself is a showstopper. Between tumults of rock, the verdant green plains are riven with gleaming pools that reflect the blue of the vast sky. Mountains overlook the scene and Iceland’s largest lake forms the far border. It’s a truly inspiring setting for Iceland’s National Shrine, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Just a forty-minute drive away waits Haukadalur, a geothermal hotspot where the hissing earth vents its emotions, continually letting off steam. This is home to the original geyser—or at least to the first place ever called “Geysir,” the jettisoning plume after which all others have been named. Geysir, first mentioned in 13th-century accounts, has lately been dormant, but its showoff sister Strokkur still regularly delivers scalding jets of water as high as 100 feet into the sky every ten or fifteen minutes.
At Iceland’s famous Gullfoss waterfall, the water cascades downward rather than spurting upward. These raucous waters plunge 100 feet into a ravine, a spectacular foaming curtain that seems to disappear into the earth. It’s a feast for the senses: the roar of the falls, the transient spectacle of rainbows in sunlight, the spray of the mist cooling your skin. According to locals, it’s so beautiful that when it was almost sold to foreign investors as a potential energy source, the landowner’s daughter threatened to throw herself into the crevice. Happily, she didn’t need to; Iceland bought the falls outright to protect them for eternity.
Few places on Earth match Norway and Iceland for their magnificent beauty and pristine wilderness shaped by glacial and volcanic forces. We invite you to join a Discovery Tours small group to experience them to their awe-inspiring fullness.