As with the scenery en route, it is the sheer variety of sights, sounds, smells and surprises we experience which make the Hurtigruten Coastal Voyage such a delight.
Many of the stopping off points along the way are little more than tranquil hamlets ob tiny islands, whose inhabitants depend for their very existence on the Hurtigruten ships, bringing them essential food and supplies, or carrying them to the nearest town for shopping expeditions.
Other ports of call are long established, bustling towns, owing their prosperity to the fishing, mining or shipbuilding industries. Here are the main ones :
Founded in 1070, this vibrant city has long attracted travellers to its unique harbour setting and its ancient medieval streets still hark back to the days of the Hansa merchants, who turned this northern port into one of the pivotal centres of their expansive commercial empire. You can take a stroll through the labyrinthine streets and alleys of old Bergen, visit the traditional Hanseatic painted warehouses in the Bryggen district, or take in the hustle and bustle of its engaging fish market.
The city is also a centre for cultural excellence, with galleries, museums and theatres offering a wealth of opportunities to discover something of Bergen's rich and refined heritage. The city hosts an international music festival each year, the largest cultural event in Norway attracting devotees from around the globe. But this is also a city as much in tune with the present as the past, with an enviable array of fine restaurants, lively bars and engaging attractions to tempt the visitor and a trip on its Funicular Railway, to the top of Mount Fløyen, presents the city and its breathtaking surroundings in all their resplendent glory.
After it was destroyed by fire in 1904, this pretty little town was rebuilt in the fashionable Art Nouveau style of the era. So much of Ålesund is surrounded by water, that the town itself appears to be floating serenely alongside the vessel. Visit the viewing point at Mount Aksla for fantastic views of the town. Smoked wild salmon is a local speciality!
The town is also home to one of Northern Europe's largest aquariums, the Atlantic Sea Park is built into the coastal landscape, giving visitors a special insight into life in the surrounding waters. An open air museum features numerous houses and boats which have been reassembled from around the region, telling the story of days gone by set in tranquil natural parkland.
Geiranger is the crowing glory among Norway's fjord district's pearls of natural beauty. Majestic, snow-covered mountain peaks, beautiful and wild waterfalls, lush, green vegetation and the deep blue waters of the fjord - yes, it really is like something taken from a fairy tale.
Between 15 April and 14 September, you can voyage into the famous Geirangerfjord, recently established as an UNESCO World Heritage Site. Here you have the opportunity to join excursions ashore and weave through hair-pin bends to overlook one of the world's longest fjords. Waterfalls cascade down the cliffs that rise 1400m above the Norwegian Sea, into some 500m of water below. This is truly a mountain lover's delight.
Molde, also known as the 'City of Roses' is a thriving coastal town, set in magnificent scenery, and surrounded by 87 snow-capped mountains. Molde 'Old Town' has charming wooden buildings, and the town is host to an international jazz festival in August.
Originally an important harbour for Viking expeditionary forces, Trondheim became the ecclesiastical centre of Norway in 1030, as pilgrims from all over Europe came to 'Nidaros', as the town was known. Nidaros Cathedral remains one of Europe's foremost Gothic monuments. Today this city, at the mouth of the River Nid, is a visual delight thanks to its numerous wooden buildings, including the splendid Stiftsgården Palace. It's also a great cultural centre, with a famous museum of musical instruments at Ringve.
Like many towns in northern Norway Bodø was completely rebuilt after the war. It's a very modern town with a thriving commercial centre. The Norwegian Aviation Museum was opened here in 1994 and has quickly become one of the most popular museums. Off the coast is Saltstraumen, the world's strongest maelstrom.
The Lofoten & Vesterålen Islands
These beautiful, mountainous island chains, rising to 1,000 metres in places, are some of the oldest in the world, fjorded during the Ice Age. Many of the fisherman's cabins are built on stilts along the waterfront in the small settlements here. Trollfjord is one of Norway's narrowest and most spectacular, and many of the tiny islands, such as Røst, are home to nesting seabirds such as puffins, guillemots, kittiwakes, eider ducks, cormorants and sea eagles.
The birthplace of Hurtigruten, where an interesting museum explores its illustrious history. The original MS Finnmarken, dating back to the 1950s, rests in dry dock here and is open for visitors.
Originally a flourishing centre of the herring trade, Harstad has moved into the shipbuilding industry with equal gusto. Fertile farmland to the east supplies raw materials for the dairy and meat processing industries, whilst to the west, the offshore harvest of oil from the ocean bed has meant continued prosperity for this lively port town, which plays host to 5,000 vessels a year.
Cheerfully describing itself as the Paris of the North, Tromsø is familiar to filmgoers as the starting point for so many Polar expeditions. A university town, and blessed with a girdle of peaks reminiscent of Switzerland, Tromsø is one of the most pleasant of Norwegian coastal towns.
Hammerfest, the world's most northerly town, is at the same latitude as northern Siberia, but largely ice-free thanks to the offshore Gulf Stream. The fur trade and international trade with neighbouring Russia brought prosperity, as did the growing fish processing industry. Its strategic position made it the ideal base for Germany's fleet during World War II. Visit the amusingly named Polar Bear Club for a taste of Arctic history.
Honningsvåg & The North Cape
Honningsvåg is the largest fishing village in Finnmark and was completely rebuilt after the last war. It's the nearest port of call to the North Cape and from here, it is possible to take an excursion to the North Cape.
Kirkenes, turning point of the Coastal Voyage, has fewer than 10,000 inhabitants - but its airport handles around 100,000 passengers a year. Just 10 kilometres from the Russian border, the town was razed to the ground in 1944. The deep fjord in which the harbour lies limits the effect of the Gulf Stream, and in winter it can become iced over. Mining, saw mills and catering for the Russian fishing fleet all help to keep this vibrant little town alive and kicking, despite its remote location.