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The history of Hurtigruten cruise line

The Norwegian Hurtigruten cruise line. Photo by Eileen Winfieldale, Hurtigruten

The history of Hurtigruten cruise line – With the Hurtigruten ships, exotic and unique destinations such as the Lofoten Islands, the Trollfjord, Skjervoy Island, Hammerfest and the North Cape became accessible to international travelers who wanted to visit the Land of the Midnight Sun.

Tourists came in their thousands, making Hurtigruten one of Europe’s greatest attractions. Today, this cruise is internationally known as “The world’s most beautiful voyage”.

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History Hurtigruten - Winter in Tromso. Photo by Shigeru Ohki Nordnorsk Reiseliv

The Norwegian Hurtigruten cruise line has a long and amazing history:
In 1891, August Kriegsman Gran, the national steamship advisor, came up with the idea of providing an express boat service between Trondheim and Hammerfest. Vesteraalens Dampskibsselskab, a relatively young steamship company based in Stokmarknes, took up the challenge. For some time, Captain Richard With and his pilots had been keeping accurate notes on courses, speeds and times taken to sail the route and felt that the service would be viable. A compass and a clock were the only navigational aids necessary in the Polar Night. In 1893, the government entered into a 4-year contract with Vesteraalens Dampskibsselskab, providing the company with the backing for a weekly sailing between Trondheim and Hammerfest during the summer and, Trondheim and Tromso during the winter. There were nine ports of call on the route.

Munkholmen island Trondheim. Photo by Rita de Lange, Fjord Travel Norway

On the morning of 2 July 1893, the steamship ‘Vesteraalen’ left Trondheim for Hammerfest. This started a communications revolution, giving industry and coastal inhabitants better access to the outside world. Letters from Trondheim, which had previously taken up to three weeks to reach Hammerfest during the summer, and five months during the winter, could now be delivered in just a few days.

Bergen Norway. Photo by Rita de Lange, Fjord Travel Norway

Once Richard With and Vesteraalens Dampskibsselskab had shown the way, several shipping companies followed. In 1894, Det Bergenske Dampskibsselskab and Det Nordenfjeldske Dampskibsselskab were granted permission to operate ships on the route. The number of ships serving the route constantly increased. In 1898, Bergen became the southernmost port on the Coastal Express’ route. Vadso was included on the route in 1907 and Kirkenes in 1914.

For a short period, there were weekly sailings from Stavanger, but from 1936 to the present day a ship has left Bergen daily heading north. This service was only interrupted by the war.

Lofoten Islands, Arctic Norway. Photo by Christian Bothner, Nordnorsk Reiseliv

From its conception, it was believed that tourism would form the basis of Hurtigrutens’ operations. Early on, brochures were printed in several languages promoting the Hurtigruten journey and the wild and beautiful Norwegian coastline. These were distributed to travel agents and individual customers abroad.  And they were right!

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