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Hurtigruten ("the Express Route") is a daily passenger and freight shipping service along Norway's western and northern coast between Bergen and Kirkenes. Sometimes referred to as Norwegian Coastal Express, Hurtigruten ships sail almost the entire length of the country, completing the round-trip journey in 11 days. The trip has been described as the "World's Most Beautiful Sea Voyage," with highlights including the Hanseatic League city of Bergen, the Geiranger fjord (summer only), and the Lofoten Islands. The company has nearly 2% of the worldwide cruise market.

Vesteraalen near Bodø on its first round-trip in 1893.
Hurtigruten was established in 1893 by government contract to improve communications along the long, jagged coastline. Vesteraalen commenced the first round-trip journey from Trondheim on 2 July 1893 bound for Hammerfest, with calls at Rørvik, Brønnøy, Sandnessjøen, Bodø, Svolvær, Lødingen, Harstad, Tromsø and Skjervøy. The ship arrived at Svolvær on Monday 3 July at 8pm after 35½ hours and Hammerfest on Wednesday 5 July after 67 hours. She was captained by Richard With, considered the founder of Hurtigruten. At present (19 August 2014) Trondheim - Svolvær takes 33 hours, Hammerfest 41 hours 15 min.
Originally only Vesteraalens Dampskibsselskab was willing to sail the then poorly charted waters; the voyage was especially difficult during the long, dark winters. Hurtigruten was a substantial breakthrough for communities along its path. Mail from central Norway to Hammerfest, which had taken three weeks in summer and five months in winter, could now be delivered in seven days.
The 1982-built Narvik in Svolvær. The ship was sold in 2007. Encouraged by Vesteraalens' early success, several other shipping companies obtained a concession to operate the route, extended to run between Bergen in the southwest and Kirkenes in the far northeast. A fleet of 11 ships visits each of the 34 ports daily, both northbound and southbound.
Beginning in the 1980's the role of Hurtigruten changed; operating subsidies were gradually phased out and the operators put more emphasis on tourism. New, bigger and more luxurious ships were introduced, with attention given to hot tubs, bars, restaurants and other comforts. However, Hurtigruten still serves important passenger and cargo needs, and operates 365 days a year. The last two independent shipping companies, Ofotens og Vesteraalens Dampskibsselskab (OVDS) and Troms Fylkes Dampskibsselskap (TFDS), merged on 1 March 2006 as the Hurtigruten Group, a year later becoming Hurtigruten ASA. In addition to the coastal route, ferries, and high-speed regional express ships in Norway, the company operates cruises around Greenland, South America and Antarctica.
After Norway, the greatest number of passengers come from Germany, Britain, the Netherlands and other parts of Scandinavia. The classic coastal steamer MS Finnmarken built in 1956 and the superstructure of the first Finmarken are on land at Stokmarknes as a museum about Hurtigruten: a new Finnmarken has since been added to the fleet. One vessel of the oldest generation, MS Lofoten (1964), is still in use. MS Nordstjernen (1956) was also in use for Hurtigruten until she was sold in 2012 and at the same time protected as a national heritage in Norway. The other vessels in use were built between 1982 and 2003, most of them in the late  1990's or early 2000's.
MS Fram, named after Fridtjof Nansen's famous expedition ship Fram, delivered in 2007, is used exclusively on cruises, around Greenland during the northern hemisphere summer and around Antarctica during the northern hemisphere winter.

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