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Hurtigruten vs Havila

The Best Cruise for Northern Lights

The Norwegian Coastal Voyages operated by Hurtigruten and Havila have become a “must do holiday” in the same vein as the Orient Express and Route 66. After all, it is known as “The World’s Most Beautiful Voyage”.

The classic route is a 12-day voyage from Bergen to Kirkenes and back again. This 2,500 nautical mile journey not only takes you along Norway’s jaw-dropping coastline and into stunning fjords but also to the very heart of all things Norwegian. Shorter trips are also available.

Travel is all year and you can choose to journey in the winter for the Northern Lights or in the summer to see the Midnight Sun. In fact, using the four seasons of the year you can have four entirely different holidays on the same voyage!

The winter voyages are the most popular because of the opportunity to see the Northern Lights. In fact, when anyone asks me – “Where is the best place to see the Northern Lights?” – My answer is always Norwegian Coastal Cruise with Hurtigruten or Havila. Why? because they have all the ingredients to give you the best chance of seeing them!

However, the Coastal Express voyages are not like conventional cruises.

You will cruise in comfort but still be left feeling like an adventurer.

Why are these voyages different? And which cruise line you should choose – the ‘classic’ Hurtigruten or ‘new kid on the block’ Havila – Read on to find out.


What’s it like to cruise with Hurtigruten?

Sailing with Hurtigruten is so much more than a cruise and is different to what most seasoned cruisers would expect.

Calling at 34 ports and departing Bergen every day, the ships are in essence ferries.

They provide a transportation lifeline between cities and villages while exploring stunning fjords and UNESCO World Heritage Sites along the more than 1,000 miles of Norway’s pristine coastline.

This mixture of local encounters, spectacular scenery and additional optional excursions provides an unmatched opportunity to experience and interact with the beauty and charm of Norway and its people.

The ships have been built at different times as new ships have replaced old. But, in main they remain a similar size with only slight differences in design and passenger numbers (c500 passengers).

However, there is one ship that is older and is kept partly for nostalgic reasons and for those that appreciate the older style of sailing.

Unfortunately, that “older style” includes the rocking motion of an older ship, as there are no modern stabilisers!

This ship is usually a lot cheaper than the other sailings and, unless you are a seasoned sailor, is the ship to avoid.

What is the atmosphere like on board a Hurtigruten Ship?

Life on board is very informal and has a strong relaxed vibe, with no set dress code in the restaurants.

With the mix of adventure holiday makers and the local Norwegian people using the service as a ferry, dress code is very practical. You won’t feel out of place eating your fine dining meal in the restaurant in pullovers and walking boots!

So, when it comes to packing, your focus is on practical wear for the trip (comfy clothes and outdoor wear) without needing to worry about dressy clothes for the evenings (don’t forget if you are travelling in winter, you want to be ready to pop outside as soon as the Northern Lights appear!).

What are Hurtigruten cabins like?

This is not a cruise for those expecting the bling and glitz of traditional holiday cruising.

This is a cruise for those that want to explore on land as much as sailing to see more destinations. It is for adventure seekers and those that enjoy exploring and learning new things about a destination.

The cabins are in keeping with this kind of adventure. They are comfortable and warm but being compact and practical.

There is a choice from inside cabins to outside cabins that vary in price dependent on where you are situated on the ship. Also, outside windows vary from portholes in lower decks and a larger picture window in higher decks.

There are no balconies on Hurtigruten ships.

Polar and Arctic Superior cabins are the two more popular choice cabins and are similar in size. Arctic Superiors have better locations on the ship and come with a double bed configuration with a more updated décor. They also come with kettle in the cabin for a warming mug of tea.

There is one deck that has a promenade that circles the whole ship, so passengers will be walking past your cabin window if you are in an outside cabin. However, this isn’t too much of a problem as you are hardly in your cabin. Plus the deck (usually deck 5 on most ships) is convenient for all decks being in a central location.

I would also highly recommend booking the “Select” price band for complimentary coffee, tea and Wi-Fi.

Give me a call and I’d be happy to discuss the variations in the cabins and which would suit you most.

Arctic Superior Cabin

What’s included on a Hurtigruten cruise?

Full Board is included with your cruise and if booking “Select” grade cabins, then complimentary Coffee, Tea and wifi are included too. There are refillable water stations throughout the ships.

Drinks and excursions are not included. As mentioned in essence the Norwegian Coastal Express is a ferry service. As such the drinks are sold separately to the cruise package and are governed by Norwegian law and prices.

The food served in the restaurant is based on local-sourced foods picked up daily from the visiting ports.

The breakfast and lunches are generally buffet based, whilst the evening meal is fine dining served to your table.

There is also a café where more simplistic dishes or pastries can be brought should you want something between meals or something different form the included restaurant meals.

There are no gratuities needed or expected on Hurtigruten as staff are fully employed under Norwegians laws and get paid well for the work they do. If you did want to contribute there are gratuity stations at the reception, where they ensure gratuities are paid out evenly amongst all staff.

What currency is used on board Hurtigruten?

Norway has its own currency the Norwegian Krone. But Norway is virtually a cashless society and cards are taken everywhere. On board everything can be charged to your cabin number and settled at the end of your trip.

Are the excursions worth it on Hurtigruten?

This cruise is much about being on land, as it is about sailing through one of the most scenic areas in the world. So, excursions are very much part of getting the full experience of this voyage.

Excursions are offered in all the main ports, happen every day and can be booked whilst on board. You don’t have to take an excursion as many of the ports are easily explorable under your own steam.

Every day the cruise team will give a briefing on what the following day will bring, with an explanation of the excursions available. They are happy to discuss what you can do under your own steam.

It is advisable to book any excursions that you want to experience in advance before you travel, as excursions are subject to availability (the Husky sledging is very popular and is advisable to book in advance). Give me a call and I can advise on which excursions to book in advance.

Where do Hurtigruten ships sail from?

The classic Norwegian Coastal Route that Hurtigruten is most famous for is a 12-day roundtrip from Bergen back to Bergen.

The trip can be broken down into smaller voyages and Suitcase Travel can help with logistics in flying from the UK including regional airports to fit in with your proposed trip. Everything will all be ATOL protected.

The Classic Voyage should not be confused with Hurtigruten’s expedition cruises or Hurtigruten’s Iconic Norway Cruises.

These voyages are closer to traditional cruises in that they have more inclusions, such as drinks and excursions.

The Iconic Cruises that also sail the Norwegian Coastline may look similar and have more inclusions, but they do offer a different experience. If this is something that interests you, I will be happy to discuss the differences.

Do Hurtigruten cater for solo travellers?

Yes. In fact this is a holiday that a solo traveller can enjoy, as with a small ship and smaller number of people doing the same excursions etc.. it is easy to get talking to people and making new friends.

The crew and excursion team are also there to help you settle in and make sure you feel included.

From time-to-time Hurtigruten have no single cabin supplements so these are worth looking out for.

There are also group tour companies that we work with that offer Northern Lights tours incorporating Hurtigruten.

I can talk you through the options and book one for you at no extra cost to you.

Do Hurtigruten offer a Northern Lights Promise?

 Yes. Hurtigruten have a promise that if the Northern Lights do not appear on your 12-day cruise to Norway, they will give you a FREE 6 or 7-day Classic Voyage.

How should I book Hurtigruten?

Giving me a call at Suitcase Travel is the easiest way for several reasons:

  • I’ve travelled on Hurtigruten and know exactly what’s it’s like, so I can help you to decide if it’s the trip for you. If not, I can talk you through the other options for cruising, visiting the area or seeing the Northern Lights.
  • Getting the best cabin that suits you and your budget isn’t straightforward. I can help you to navigate that.
  • We are more flexible with flights arrangement and can help you to combine your cruise with land arrangements for pre and post stays too.
  • Hurtigruten has an international call centre which can be tricky to get through to. And, from time to time, things can get ‘lost in translation’.
  • It won’t cost any more to book with us. In fact, sometimes you can even save money with extra flexibility we have in making your travel arrangements.

Contact me to talk about your cruise on 01582 349480 or email me directly at [email protected]


What’s it like to cruise with Havila?

Havila is the new “kid on the block”. Hurtigruten had been the only provider of the Norwegian Government licensed ”Fast Route”. In 2021 the Norwegian Government opened up the route for more competitors and Havila started their services.

The Norwegian government’s aim behind this move was to protect the fjords and to achieve zero emissions for the route by 2030. Havila ships have been purposely built to run on LNG fuel with hybrid battery power for up to 4 hours.

(To be fair Hurtigruten have started to convert all their ships. Two of the Coastal fleet have been converted so far with the aim of converting or replacing them all by 2030.

The service and port visits provided by Havila are the same as Hurtigruten. The excursions are the same providers and experiences.

But the main difference is the newer and more modern ships that Havila offer.

The ships have been purposely built to suit the mix of freight, passengers and modern tourists and are much lighter and airier, making better use of space by designing from scratch.

What are Havila cabins like?

Havila Cabins are bigger and lighter with larger windows on outside cabins. They also have cabins that are better suited to families.

They have certainly given much thought to the modern tourist experience on the Norwegian Coastal Route – especially the fact that tourists spend longer on board than the locals – and have designed the cabins with this in mind.

Some cabins have balconies and all have coffee and tea making facilities.

Sea View Cabin


What’s included on a Havila cruise?

The same is included as Hurtigruten – full board, wifi and complimentary coffee/tea.

On Hurtigruten ships, breakfast and lunch service usually takes the form of a lavish buffet. In contrast, Havila operates an a la carte approach to almost all meals, which they claim substantially reduces food waste.

Havila menus for breakfast and lunch are based on a small dish concept, allowing guests to order as much or as little as desired.

Are the excursions worth it on Havila?

The experience is exactly the same as Hurtigruten and excursions are well worth going on, although as with Hurtigruten it is possible to do things under your own steam within ports.

Where do Havila ships sail from?

The 12-day voyage is exactly the same as Hurtigruten being a roundtrip service from Bergen to Bergen via the North Cape.

Do Havila cater for solo travellers?

This is very much a holiday that is ideal holiday for solo travellers.

Do Havila offer a Northern Lights Promise?

Yes. Havila have a promise that if the Northern Lights do not appear on your 12-day cruise to Norway, they will give you a FREE 6 or 7-day Classic Voyage.

How should I book Havila?

Havila do not hold a UK ATOL license so you’re only able to book cruise only through them.

However, we can book a full package for you including flights and pre and post stays if required.

Just as we have explained above with Hurtigruten there are plenty of advantages booking through us:

  • We are northern lights specialists so we can not only talk you through the pros and cons of Hurtigruten and Havila but, if neither is for you, we can run you through the other northern lights options.
  • Booking through us will not cost you any more. In fact, as we have access to all the latest deals and Inclusive Tour rates, we can make booking a package of cruise and flights cheaper than booking direct yourself!

Contact me to talk about your cruise on 01582 349480 or email me directly at [email protected]

Which is best – Hurtigruten or Havila?

  • Hurtigruten have established this route over 130 years, so for most tourists there is a nostalgic attraction to this classic brand.
  • Hurtigruten ships have been built with freight and exploration in mind, whereas Havila have a more modern approach with tourist passengers more in mind.
  • Havila cabins are superior in look and size. Hurtigruten, with exploration in mind, have comfortable and warm cabins, but style is more in mind for adventurers than for cruisers.
  • Both Hurtigruten and Havila have shown a commitment to environmentally sustainable practices in their operations. At present, Havila have the slight edge in that all their ships have been built for battery power and sustainable fuel power.

Your choice can also be based on budget. Though generally they are priced similarly, competition is bringing out more offers and promotions from them both. So your choice may be down to who is offering the best deal. Suitcase Travel receive regular updates from both companies that we can quickly help you with find the best price.

For Northern Lights sailings in the winter, Hurtigruten have special direct flights from various regional airports If you live away from a London airport then these regional options could steer your preference towards Hurtigruten.


Book your Hurtigruten or Havila cruise through us!

We believe we are a better option than booking direct for a number of reasons:

First Hand Experience

Hurtigruten and Havila are big companies dealing with enquiries from all over the world through their international call centres. This means the person you speak to won’t necessarily have first-hand experience of sailing on the ships.

However, I have sailed the Norwegian Coastal Route with Hurtigruten, so I can tell you exactly how it is.

I’ve also organised countless northern lights trips for happy Suitcase Travellers over the years.

Impartial Recommendations

I have no ties with any particular operators so you can be assured I wont “sell” to you but instead give you completely unbiased advice.

If Hurtigruten or Havila aren’t for you, we can run through other cruises or northern lights holidays that are more suitable. I only recommend trips which will give you the very best chance of seeing the lights.

A Totally Unique Trip

As well as your cruise, I can sort out your flights to Bergen from a wide range of regional airports.

Plus I can suggest and book any pre and post land arrangements to make your personal northern lights adventure totally unique.

Price Match Guarantee

If you find the same trip cheaper elsewhere, I’ll match the price – guaranteeing you the very best value for your experience.

Financial Security

Suitcase Travel is an independent family business, but we are aligned to the Hays Travel Group to give you 100% financial protection and the best commercial deals on the market.

Should anything go wrong with the trip, we have your back and we have the backing of Hays Travel to get it sorted.

Hear from happy Suitcase Travellers…

“Mike, Lyn and Penny guided us through some very difficult times to achieve the No.1 on our bucket list. We were given high expectations based on their own experience, but even these were exceeded by us. The Northern Lights are shining on this very helpful family business, who understand their customers’ needs, to provide a successful outcome.“

Wyn & Victoria

Thank you very much for organising our trip with Hurtigruten. We had a wonderful 12 days from Bergen to Kirkenes back to Bergen. Fantastic food, views of the fjords and trips ashore – we even saw Northern Lights! Friendly crew and passengers and plenty to do – barely had any time to read a book. Lots of interesting talks and other activities between the gourmet meals. It was a very reasonably priced trip of a lifetime so may be able to manage another in the future!


I was looking for a Norwegian cruise and wasn’t sure which to pick. Suitcase Travel came up on my browser and I emailed Mike who promptly came back to me with his knowledge of Norway. After a few discussions we decided on the 12-day coastal express from Bergen to Kirkenes and back again. I wasn’t sure what to expect…However the food was amazing, the accommodation on board was better than I expected and the staff absolutely great. Other travellers were like minded and were there for the nature and scenery which Norway offers.

The holiday didn’t cost any more than if I’d organised it myself, but it was packaged together and I was then ATOL protected.

Would definitively recommend using this family company when booking any travel.


Contact me to talk about your cruise on 01582 349480 or email me directly at [email protected]

Me playing with the Huskies before riding out on the Scandinavian Tundra!



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