North by Northwest: To the top of the world on Norway's Hurtigruten line

Departing year-round from the southern city of Bergen, ships of Norway's Hurtigruten ("express route") service trace this dramatic seaboard north to the remote town of Kirkenes, way beyond the Arctic Circle.

The 2,500-nautical-mile (4,700 kilometers) return journey takes 11 days to complete.

Frequently situated in stunning locations, Norway's coastal cities, towns and villages are situated on fjords kept ice-free by the warm waters of the Gulf Stream.

Begun in 1893, the Hurtigruten service has long been a vital lifeline for these otherwise isolated communities.

"Some of the smaller settlements in particular still rely heavily on our daily service," says Hurtigruten managing director Gordon Dirker. "We deliver mail and goods, as well as passengers."

Today the Hurtigruten fleet consists of 12 ships, each fully equipped with cabins and mod cons such as onboard Wi-Fi, restaurants, bars, gyms and laundry rooms.

Passengers are a mix of Norwegian locals traveling up and down the coast and international tourists on multi-day cruises. The latter are offered a range of excursions each day, depending on the weather, season and port of call.