Norway is world famous for its dramatic fjords.
Just to give you an idea of why, imagine what Yosemite Valley would be like if sea water flooded the valley floor.
I’d even go so far to argue that Yosemite was nothing more than a singular example of the type of scenery that you would find all over Norway (especially its fjords along its western coastlines).
Indeed, these fjords have towering waterfalls, glaciers, sheer cliffs, and a unique heritage of living in such landscapes.
However, not everyone has the time nor the money to really explore the Norwegian fjords in all their glory.
So a natural question arises – which fjord(s) should you visit, especially on limited time and money?
I could argue that Norway has other beautiful fjords that give these UNESCO ones a run for their money.
Nevertheless, I’ll keep the focus on just the UNESCO-gazetted Norwegian fjords since they seem to get the most publicity as a result of their UNESCO status.
Since we’ve had the fortune of experiencing these fjords on separate occasions, we figured that we can sift through the noise and compare them from the lens of our shared experiences.
That way you can make the difficult decision of evaluating how you would prioritize visiting these fjords as part of your trip planning to Norway.
The Geirangerfjord (also spelled Geiranger Fjord or Geirangerfjorden) seemed to be the more famous fjord compared to Naeroyfjord.
Heck, I can argue that the Geirangerfjord probably holds the title of Norway’s most beautiful fjord (as well as it’s most famous one).
Does it deserve this reputation?
With its mountainous location, the Geirangerfjord had a lot going for it regarding its landscape, which I’ll delve deeper into why in the next section.
The Scenic Highlights of Geirangerfjord
The fjord’s scenic landscape highlights include sheer vertical cliffs flanking a narrow body of water while dotted with hanging farms.
These vertical cliffs gave rise to Geirangerfjord’s major waterfalls, which I’d say really sealed the deal in terms of making Geirangerfjorden a world class tourist attraction.
Indeed, this fjord featured several named waterfalls including the Seven Sisters, Friaren, Ljosurfossen, Bringefossen, Gjerdefossen, and more.
To give you an idea of how special the waterfalls are, we have composed a write-up discussing the Geirangerfjord waterfalls in greater detail.
That said, we’ve also visited and provided write-ups for other waterfalls in the immediate area (not necessarily spilling into the fjord directly) like Storseterfossen and “Geirangerfossen”.
In any case, we managed to experience most of these waterfalls from the very popular three-hour cruise tours that frequently ran throughout the day.
It really seemed like the cruise tour operators got this tour down to a science as they would typically hit all the major highlights while fitting all the narration where they needed to (and they did so in multiple languages).
Julie and I especially appreciated the narration because it helped us to better appreciate the human heritage and natural history of the Geirangerfjord.
The tour even stopped at a trail leading way up to the farm at Skageflå, which allowed hikers to spend a half-day to go up to the farm and back.
In addition to the cruise, we also witnessed vistas from accessible overlooks such as Flydalsjuvet and Ørnesvingen.
Moreover, we got additional vistas from doing the waterfalls walk between the Geiranger sentrum and the Norwegian Fjord Center (right across from the Hotel Untion).
And if we got too much saturation of the Geirangerfjord and the town of Geiranger, we could drive to other places within a reasonable day trip.
Therefore, we easily could have extended our stay for more nights to wait out bad weather or to at least diversify our experiences in and around the fjord.
If not for the well-connected ferry routes and the roads connecting the town of Geiranger, the Geirangerfjord easily could have been nothing more than a remote location that only the most determined tourists would reach.
However, given its status as part of the Norway’s National Scenic Routes system, we took advantage of such self-driving infrastructure, which made us forget about the difficulties of accessing this area in years past.
Moreover, we’ve noticed many organized tours at the Geirangerfjord, which have included this place as part of their itinerary.
Indeed, there was no shortage of ways to experience the Geirangerfjord regardless of whether we self-drove, went on a longer tour, or mixed and matched the two.
Finally regarding the self-driving option, I do have to mention that we had some anxieties finding accommodations as well as parking within the town of Geiranger.
This was the well-situated town positioned right at the head of the Geirangerfjord.
Given the fjord’s popularity combined with Geiranger’s small size, we had to book our room well in advance while paying a premium for it.
While our accommodation (we stayed at the Hotel Union) had parking for guests, it filled up pretty quickly by late morning.
And public parking closer to the sentrum of Geiranger was really difficult.
Heck, even trying to score parking between the late morning and late afternoon produced quite a bit of anxiety given how much difficulty we had to endure to find one of the limited spots from as far as the Fjord Center.
Traffic during the tourist season typically consisted of slow vehicles (mostly tour buses or inexperienced RV drivers) on narrow winding roads with limited opportunities to either pass or to scoot by oncoming traffic.
The Naeroyfjord (or Nærøyfjord) seemed to be lesser known compared to the Geirangerfjord, but it was also popular compared to the rest of the Norwegian fjords thanks to its UNESCO World Heritage status.
It sat in a very narrow body of water (even narrower than the Geirangerfjord) in the innermost reaches of the Sognefjord in Sogn og Fjordane County near the border with Hordaland County.
Like the Geirangerfjord, the Naeroyfjord’s landscape also featured sheer cliffs, towering waterfalls, and remote farms or villages.
However, it is well-situated in the heart of Fjord Norway as several other attractions and towns were well within reach close by.
As a result, I tend to think of the Naeroyfjord experience as being more spread out and not as compact as the Geirangerfjord.
Thus, Naeroyfjord’s accessibility and accompanying diversity of attractions allowed us to better appreciate more of the modern aspects of life in the fjords as well as more of the landscape’s characteristics.
The Landscape of Nærøyfjord
Just about every cruise that I know of that tours the Naeroyfjord includes the Aurlandsfjord so we really have to discuss the Naeroyfjord as part of this larger tandem.
We tend to think about the Naeroyfjord as being narrow (only 250m at its narrowest) while surrounded by towering mountains and cliffs nearly 1700m high.
Unlike the Geirangerfjord with its sprinkling of hanging farms, the Naeroyfjord featured many more remote villages, which cruises would make stops for.
However, its steep terrain seemed to make it more difficult to attain a top-down view into the fjord from the cliff tops.
Therefore, I was under the impression that we would have to hike long, vertical trails in order to get such views.
That said, such rugged terrain gave rise to unnamed, tall stringy waterfalls within the fjord’s narrow confines.
While most of these waterfalls lacked the grandeur of those in Geiranger, Naeroyfjorden’s Lægdafossen Waterfall definitely held its own as a somewhat thick and towering cascade.
Towards the head of the Naeroyfjord behind the town of Gudvangen, we also noticed the Kjelfossen Waterfall (though we could easily see this waterfall from the road as well as the terrace of the historic Stalheim Hotel).
At the opposite end of the fjord, the Nærøyfjord confluences with the Aurlandsfjord near a sheer rock mountain that seemed to have a history of being scarred by landslides (underscoring the inherent dangers of the fjords).
Although this fjord didn’t quite have the dramatic scenery as the narrower Naeroyfjord, it did feature more unnamed and named waterfalls (e.g. Voldefossen and Midtfossen just north of Aurland).
One major contrast to how the cruises operated here versus at the Geirangerfjord was the lack of narration on the more modern (and spacious) cruise ship that we went on.
Although the operators here seemed to have made a conscious decision to let the tranquility of the fjord do the talking, the lack of narration made us miss out on some of the questions or curiosities that we had going into this tour.
For example, we wanted to know more about the Naeroyfjord’s history and heritage as well as any major features that we should have paid attention to.
Nevertheless, both the Naeroyfjord and Aurlandsfjord seemed to enjoy being neighbors to many other major attractions such as the Flam Railway, a top down view of the Aurlandsfjord at the Stegastein Lookout, and the steep Stalheimskleiva serpentine road.
Since we self-drove whenever we experienced these fjords, we also got to experience places like the Borgund Stave Church, the nearly 25km-long Lærdal Tunnel (Lærdalstunnelen), the convenient Tvindefossen, and even the unregulated waterfalls of the Utladal Valley.
Indeed, the Naeroyfjord and Aurlandsfjord tandem offered much in the way of diversity of scenery as well as convenient transport.
Unlike the Geirangerfjord, the Naeroyfjord and Aurlandsfjord tandem had many different options when it came to touring, accommodations, and even routes.
For example, we’ve experienced the fjords here by starting our cruise in Flam and ending in Gudvangen before taking a bus back to Flam to complete the loop.
If we wanted to, we also could have done the loop in reverse by starting and ending in Gudvangen.
This loop allowed us to park the car in the fairly large car park near the Flam Railway, where we could technically fit in a railway journey on the same day that we would do the cruise.
As far as accommodation options, we managed to stay at a very convenient place right next to the Flam Railway at the Brekke Apartments.
So it definitely felt like we didn’t have to bend over backwards to visit the Nærøyfjord.
Nevertheless, the fjord still managed to retain its quiet and tranquil nature, which made it all the more amazing considering how much tourist traffic that can occur in the surrounding area.
Given what we had to say about both the Geirangerfjord and the Nærøyfjord, I would say which one is better completely depends on what you would prefer in your trip.
If you care about our opinions, then I would conclude the following.
Regarding the scenery and especially the waterfalls, I’d prefer the Geirangerfjord.
That said, I’d only give it a slight edge over Nærøyfjord because Geirangerfjord has the better waterfalls (which we have a bias towards since we are the World of Waterfalls after all).
The scenery between the two fjords (not considering the waterfalls) was more of a wash.
If you want to learn more about the heritage and natural history of the fjord, I’d say the tour operators did a better job of answering those questions at the Geirangerfjord.
Maybe there does (or will) exist narrated cruise tours of the Nærøyfjord for a better learning experience, but we just didn’t get to experience that when we’ve done the cruise.
However, if you want more things to see and do outside of the fjord, I’d say the Nærøyfjord has a more favorable location to base yourself.
After all, it has more of the blockbuster attractions in the immediate vicinity of Nærøyfjord like the Flam Railway and the Stegastein, but we had to drive further to experience blockbuster attractions away from Geirangerfjord.
Finally, if you want less of a hassle finding parking and places to stay, again, I’d say the Nærøyfjord provided way more options and could better handle the tourist traffic than the more compact and remote Geirangerfjord.
Nonetheless, you really can’t go wrong with either of these fjords, and I’d always try to find a way to visit them both.
And if you think trying to pick between two beautiful fjords is difficult, consider trying to pick out of thousands of famous as well as not-so-famous hidden gems throughout Norway!
If you browse through our pages concerning the waterfalls in Norway, then you’ll have a pretty good idea of just how beautiful this country is.
Indeed, I find this country to be one of the most beautiful in the world, and you really have to take your time here to do it justice (especially given how fickle the weather can be).
Alas, that’s life in a world of constraints.
You can’t have it all, and hopefully what we’ve written here can help you plan your own dream trip!