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Getting To Know Alta – Cruise Port Guide
Located almost 250 miles above the Artic Circle, Alta is one of the main towns in Norway for winter adventures on a cruise. Not many times would you visit Norway on a cruise in the depths of winter, but when you do Alta is the place to be as between November and March, it’s the best time to come here to be in with a chance of seeing the Aurora Borealis, better known as The Northern Lights. Let our Alta cruise port guide help you plan your time ashore.
Port Location and Facilities
The port at Alta is located near to the town’s airport, some 3.5km outside of the main town centre. This is a commercial port with no facilities and no services nearby. Most cruise lines will operate a shuttle service to the town centre, where you will find Amfi Alta, a large, enclosed shopping mall with plenty of amenities.
What not to miss
The Northern Lights
Okay so this isn’t a physical structure or attractions you can go and visit, but it is the main reason people come to visit in the winter. No one can guarantee you are going to see them, so be patient and understanding that this is Mother Nature at her finest. The Northern Lights are a natural phenomenon, so if you pay to head out with experts to go in search of them, go with an open mind that you may only catch a fleeting glimpse or maybe not even at all.
Northern Lights Cathedral
Located in the centre of the town, it is the main church since 2013 and designed to resemble the Aurora Borealis.
Sorrisniva Igloo Hotel
Rebuilt every year since 1999, this is the northernmost ice hotel in Europe and has 30 rooms and 2 suites you can book and stay in for the night. Each year the hotel has a different theme for its numerous ice sculptures that occupy the main public space inside. There is also an ice bar and an ice chapel for those who want to tie the knot underneath the ice.
The Sami are the indigenous people in this part of Scandinavia, and this open-air museum showcases their culture by stepping into a traditional Lavvu to see traditional clothing and items used by them. You can also meet their reindeer, as the Sami are traditionally reindeer herders, and you can even go for reindeer sledge ride when there is enough snow on the ground.
Alta is home to the longest sled dog race in Europe, the Finnmarksløpet, which starts and ends in the town and traverses the region of Finnmark for a total distance of 1100km. That is why there are so many sled dog camps and training sites located around the region, and you are able to visit most of them to meet with the dog trainers and even go on sled rides with the dogs in the winter time. No Fly Cruises recommends https://holmenhusky.no/en/en-home and https://www.stengelsenhusky.com
The original Alta slate quarry, now a campsite for Northern Lights expeditions and tours, but still offering a demonstration of the importance of slate extraction in the region and how successful and famous Alta slate has become worldwide.
World Heritage Rock Art Centre – Alta Museum
Just outside town are the famous Rock Carvings of Alta, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that is an open-air museum of over 6000 carvings dating to pre-history around 4200BC for the oldest. If visiting in winter the carvings are usually covered in snow, however the museum and interpretation centre are open to learn more about the area.
NoFlyCruises recommends https://visitalta.no/en/ the official tourist website of the town.
The currency in Norway is the Norwegian Krone. Norway has a reputation as one of the most expensive countries in Europe and the average price of a standard cup of coffee is around £3/$4. Budget accordingly if you plan to dine out each day, as meals are roughly around 110kr per person (£11/$13 per person).
If visiting in the winter most activities will run in extremely cold temperatures outdoors, so make sure you wrap up warm and pack extra layers. Average January temperatures are -11.9 degrees Celsius, and January usually experiences the most snowfall. It is advisable to take sturdy walking boots with plenty of grip and you may even want to invest in attachable crampons to deal with icy conditions.
Public transport is mainly used by locals and you’ll find that its best to arrange trips with independent providers or through your ship. There is a bus network that operates throughout all of Finnmark and for more information, including prices, routes and schedules, check out https://snelandia.no/
Safety whilst ashore
Being a small town, Alta is very safe and the locals very friendly and welcoming, although as always caution is recommended whenever you go ashore in new places, especially when there are crowds.
What to Eat
NoFlyCruises recommends the following eateries:
Sorrisniva, Sorrisniva 20, 9518 Alta, Norway
Combine a visit to the Igloo Hotel with a lovely, traditional Arctic meal at the hotel restaurant and you’ll be in for a treat. You can sample reindeer and moose, tuck in to Arctic river salmon and sample wild vegetables and berries. The menu is seasonal and every changing to tempt your taste buds.
Regular cruise line visitors
- Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines
- P&O Cruises
- SAGA Cruises
- Princess Cruises
- Celebrity Cruises
- Viking Ocean
Cruise Expert Insider 🔎 Alta Cruise Port by Neil Cron
The cruise port is a good two and half miles from the centre of the town so if you are not an organised tour, it’s a good idea to take the shuttle into town as there is not too much to see en-route.
Alta is arguably not as visually appealing as Tromso, given they both often appear on the same cruise itinerary, however this fishing and slate-quarrying town makes up for that with not only a number of fascinating attractions such as the Unesco-listed Alta Museum with its ancient petroglyphs, the stunning Northern Lights Cathedral and Northern Europe’s largest canyon, the Sautso-Alta canyon but it’s safe to say visiting Alta in the summer and in the winter are two entirely different experiences. And indeed, it is a call during the winter months when a visit here is truly rewarding.
The town’s location and its spectacular countryside really does come into its own during the winter where there is a great opportunity to engage with the colourful, ancient culture belonging to the Sami people, indigenous to the furthest reaches of northern Europe known as Finnmark.
My recommendation that will really allow you to fully enjoy their expertise is to book a reindeer ride along the frozen Alta river which takes you through an incredible winter wonderland. You simply sit back and relax on an old-fashioned sled as your Sami guide skilfully leads the reindeer along a snow-covered landscape and through woodland that runs alongside the river. If port times allow, book a ride at sunset for a truly enchanting experience.
Another popular tour of course and something I take every opportunity to take up when possible is the chance to go dogsledding. How can you not be thrilled by the sheer adventure of being pulled across an Arctic tundra landscape by a pack of baying yet incredibly friendly husky dogs. Whatever you do through don’t forget your camera so you can relive the excitement later in the warmth.
If, however, you are lucky enough to be on a cruise that is staying late or better yet overnight in Alta, this is when the real magic begins as an organised tour will offer the best chance of seeing the amazing natural phenomena of the Aurora Borealis. Alta enjoys a dry and stable climate, that offers many nights with clear skies, which gives the best chance to witness this awe-inspiring light show.
Best time to visit for the Northern Lights – October to March
Wrap up warm – sounds obvious but the key principle is to dress in layers, and it is worth investing in good base-layer clothing, good boots, warm socks, a thick woolly hat and good mittens.
Visit the the enchanting Sorrisniva Igloo Hotel, a truly remarkable structure which is made entirely of ice and snow. Whatever you do don’t forget your camera as the incredible designs inside are absolutely unique each year.
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