What is a fjord, anyway?

FjordPhoto: Tanya Tulupenko / Unsplash

We’re covering fjords, one of Norway’s most phenomenal natural wonders, from A-Z. Find all your questions, from how are fjords formed, to what are fjords anyway, answered here.

Chances are you’ve heard the word fjord at least once in your life. It’s one of the few Norwegian words that’s weaved its way right into English (and many other languages) in its original form.

You don’t need a dictionary to understand that in both English and Norwegian, a fjord is known to be one of the most beautiful natural phenomena in the world.

In fact, Norway tops the list of countries with the most fjords, along with Alaska in the United States, Canada, Chile, and New Zealand. The second and third-longest fjords in the world are both located in Norway, topped only by Greenland’s Scoresby Sund.

For all things fjord, including its basic geography, information on Fjord Norway, and some of the most in-demand spots to visit in Norway, read on.

What is a fjord, and how are fjords formed?

The word fjord comes from the Norse word fjǫrðr, roughly meaning to “go”, “pass”, or “put over on the other side”. The modern word fjord in its basic meaning denotes a place through which one passes, with the same stem as the English words “fare” and “ferry”. Both the modern and traditional meanings of the word pay tribute to glaciers’ key part in shaping the fjords.

Simply put, a fjord is a narrow extension of a body of water usually surrounded by ridges, mountains, or cliffs on either side. The body of water it stems from is typically either a sea or lake drain.

Fjords are created by millions of years of glacial movement and erosion. Through a process referred to as glaciation, glaciers move very slowly over time (typically under 25 cm/day), carving the landscape through their movements. Consequently, the trails these icy giants leave behind can measure up to thousands of meters deep.

Iceland’s “Glacier Lagoon”, adjacent to a glacier still attached to the land, shows how it looks when fragments of a glacier come off. Source: The Norwegian Standard.

A fjord’s opening towards the sea is referred to as the mouth, while the fjord’s inner part is called the sea bottom. More shallow parts of the fjord are formed by a glacier’s deposits of sand and gravel, creating underwater barriers, which are referred to as sea thresholds. If the fjord measures more in width than its length, it can be classified as a bay or cove.

Fjords have many other geological features as well that are lesser-known, yet fascinating and critical to the fjord environment.

Surprisingly, some of the largest coral reefs have been discovered at the bottom of fjords in Norway. One such example is the Røst Reef of the Trondheim Fjord. The Røst reef is the largest cold-water coral reef, and it’s home to an abundance of fish, plankton, and sea anemones. These creatures have adapted to living in total darkness and dealing with the severe water pressure at the bottom of a fjord.

Some fjords are also dotted with skerries, small and rocky islands that were created through glaciation. Boaters can struggle to get by skerries – it can feel like a minefield when there’s a lot of them. Still, fjord waters are usually calm and many are wide and sketty-free, so large cruise ships often frequent them.

What is Fjord Norway?

Fjord Norway is used to refer to Norway’s fjord region, located in Western Norway.

During the early Cenozoic Era (65 million years ago), the country’s first fjords were formed when the earth’s crust was lifted asymmetrically. This allowed for the Atlantic Ocean to seep into certain crevices. For a long time, Norway was covered by glacial masses of ice, up to three km thick, that stretched across Northern Europe over a period of multiple ice ages. The movement of the Cenozoic Era’s tectonic plates resulted in the large majority of fjords to be formed on Norway’s western coast, especially it’s south and central areas. 

Fjord Norway is thought to be split up into 13 regions: Bergen, Fjordkysten, Geirangerfjord, Nordfjord, Hardanger, Haugesund, the Northwest, Sognefjord, Stavanger & Ryfylke, Sunnfjord, Sunnhordland, Voss, and Ålesund & Sunnmøre.

Each region showcases a range of unique mountain ranges, valleys, rivers, waterfalls, and rugged coastlines, all curated by ancient glaciers.

Fjord examples in Norway


Sognefjord is Norway’s longest and deepest fjord, and it’s the second-longest fjord in the world. Sognefjord stretches for 204 kilometers from the Norwegian coast, reaching almost halfway to Sweden. It sits just north of Bergen.

Sognefjord’s deepest point is over 1300 meters, while, for reference, some Norwegian mountains tower over 2000 meters. The inner end of the fjord is blanketed by Jostedalsbreen, the biggest glacier in continental Europe.

The stunning Sognefjord. Source: Bambi Corro / Unsplash.

Sognefjord’s most narrow part, Nærøyfjord, measures as little as a mere 250 meters at its narrowest. Its unique characteristics have led the Nærøyfjord to be on the UNESCO World Heritage site.

Sognefjord is open year-round, so no matter what month you visit during, you’re bound to see something spectacular. Hop on a boat to partake in a fjord safari, visit a local picturesque village and take an architectural walk, or hike atop the 972-meter high Raudmelen while you’re there.


Don’t think that the second longest and deepest fjord in Norway comes second in terms of beauty and awe.

Hardangerfjord is home to amazing mountains, cliffs, waterfalls, and hiking trails, to name a few of its delights. Referred to as the “Queen of the fjords”, Hardangerfjord gracefully stretches for 179 kilometers in Norway’s Hordaland county.

Its maximum depth is more than 800 meters, while the fjord’s longest arm, Sørfjord, measures 38 kilometers. Hardangerfjord’s mountains also feature hiking trails and sites such as Trolltunga (Troll’s Tongue) and Vøringfossen waterfall, both must-visits.

Try a hike to Trolltunga. Source: Dong Zhang / Unsplash.

If you’re interested in visiting the fjord from Bergen, local tourist offices accessible online can help you customize this tour any way you like.

However, it is recommended to take the Bergen Railway from Bergen, and from there experience the sights and wonders of the fjord queen and Vøringsfossen Waterfall, located in the nearby town of Voss.

You can also incorporate a bit of the royal lifestyle of the Norwegian Royal Family into your fjord exploration by hiking one of Queen Sonja’s favorite trails, the Dronningstien Hike.

The 16-kilometer long trail begins at Røte in Kinsarvik and ends in Lofthus, where unspoiled views of the valley and surrounding mountains await you. Be prepared to hike for six to eight hours and bring lots of water, as the hike is quite steep and demanding.


While the name is catchy and easy to remember, the experience is impossible to forget.

Nordfjord is the sixth-longest fjord in Norway, measuring up to 105 kilometers. Its deepest point measures 565 meters.

The funky fjord is crouched in between two other fjords (Storfjord and Sognefjord), creating a heavenly escape surrounded by gaping, snowcapped mountains, blue waters, and endless woodlands.

A cruise ship floats down Nordfjord. Source: Steinar Engeland / Unsplash.

Nordfjord is perfect to explore by recreational activities or cruise ship. If you choose a more adventurous option, be sure to check out Lake Hornindalsvatnet, which at 514 meters below sea level, makes it the deepest lake in Europe.

Many additional lakes, hikes, and glaciers are available to explore and hike at Nordfjord, such as Briksdalsbreen Glacier, Jostedalsbreen Glacier, and Lake Oldevatnet and its corresponding valley, Oldedalen Valley.


While Geirangerfjord is among the shortest fjords included on this list, measuring at 15 kilometers, it’s the only one, along with Nærøyfjord, to be included on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

Gorgeous. Geirangerfjord. Source: Damir Spanic / Unsplash.

Its accessible location in Møre og Romsdal county makes for even more flocks of tourists to the highly requested spot.

With a depth of 260 meters and mountains towering up to 1700 meters, Geirangerfjord offers plenty of sights to see and things to do.

You may opt to take a fjord tour and gawk at the two most notable waterfalls, “de Syv Søstre” (the seven sisters) and “Friaren” (the suitor). The waterfalls face opposite each other and it’s said that Friaren is in constant action, trying to woo the seven sisters.

If you end up at the Geiranger Skywalk, you’ll be treated with unfiltered mountains, valleys, and the views of the entire fjord below.

Kayaking, canyoning, and rafting on the fjord are perfect summer activities to experience Mother Nature in its entirety.

Source: Norway Today


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