What is a fjord?
A fjord is a long, narrow, deep body of water that stretches far inland from the coast. To the first-time traveler intent on exploring the largest fjords in the world, fjords most often appear as a vast U-shaped valley surrounded by steep walls of rock on another side. The largest fjords in the world are found in Norway, Greenland, Chile, New Zealand, Canada, and the United States (Alaska). These glacier-carved, deep valleys filled with water can reach thousands of meters deep. Typically, fjords are deepest farther inland where the force of the glacier that formed them was the most potent.
An aerial view of the 70-km long Tasermiut Fjord in South Greenland. Photo: Sam Crimmin
The word "fjord" is Norwegian, and this comes as no surprise as the coast of Norway has the highest number of documented fjords. However, impressive fjords are also found in the Norwegian Arctic archipelago of Svalbard, thousands of kilometers north of mainland Norway, especially along the coast of Spitsbergen, which is the largest island in the Svalbard archipelago.
Fjords figure into the adventures of polar travelers, because, simply stated, the largest fjords in the world are found in northern locations. For instance, the 350-km long Scoresby Sund fjord is located in Greenland, followed by the 160-km long Sognefjorden fjord in Norway.
Visit some of the largest fjords in the world: Greenland and Norway
As mentioned above, Scoresby Sund (sometimes known as Scoresby Sound when translated into English), which can be explored on Quark Expeditions’ Under the Northern Lights: Exploring Iceland and East Greenland voyage, is the largest fjord in the world. It’s 350 kilometers long and in places, it reaches 600 meters deep. As one frequent Greenland visitor exclaimed, “Scoresby Sund holds the title of the largest fjord system in the world and simply needs to be seen to be believed. Scoresby Sund can be thought of as a system of fjords that are connected much like the branches of a tree—the various branches feed into the main body of the tree.” Scoresby Sund covers an area of about 14,700 square miles. While the main body of Scoresby Sund is roughly 109 kilometers, the longest branch is about 347 kilometers.
Fjords are known for the wildlife that inhabits their waters—as well as the surrounding land: whales (belugas and sometimes the elusive narwhal), walruses, and various species of seals populate the deep waters of the largest fjords in the world. While the cliffs bordering fjords provide safe harbor to thousands of cliff-dwelling fjords, the land near fjords also is home to wildlife such as muskoxen and polar bears. One of Quark Expeditions’ longtime expedition guides recalls encountering an incredibly large herd of muskoxen at Nordvestfjord, the northwestern-most branch of East Greenland’s Scoresby Sund.
Quark Expeditions guests admire the wonders of Scoresby Sund from the deck of their polar ship. Photo: Quark Expeditions
Prins Christian Sund Fjord
At 105 kilometers long, Prince Christian Sund Fjord (frequently shown on maps as Prince Christian Sound fjord), is a large network of fjords and channels in South Greenland. It’s marked by towering cliffs and rugged peaked mountains that provide a safe harbor to many species of birds, especially during nesting season.
The Sognefjord (also known in Norwegian as Sognefjorden) is the largest and deepest fjord in mainland Norway. And it’s the second-largest fjord in the world. Sognefjord stretches 204 kilometers inland north of the city of Bergen. It’s an ideal post-polar-voyage visit especially if you were to explore the fjords of mainland Norway after a voyage in Arctic Norway such as Introduction to Spitsbergen: Fjords, Glaciers, and Wildlife of Svalbard.
This popular fjord, estimated to be 55 kilometers long, is easily accessible from the town of Ilulissat on the west coast of Greenland. It’s often included on itineraries that stop at the Greenland Ice Sheet and Disko Bay. Designated in 2004 as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Ilulissat Icefjord is a preferred site to witness glacier-calving in Greenland.
Quark Expeditions guests kayak in Ilulissat Icefjord in West Greenland. Photo: Acacia Johnson
Bellsund and Hornsund, Spitsbergen
Travelers who join Quark Expeditions’ Introduction to Spitsbergen: Fjords, Glaciers, and Wildlife of Svalbard have the chance to explore several fjords. Bellsund, which is often referred to as a fjord but is more of a sound, attracts visitors who are keen to explore some of the polar history connected to Arctic Norway, as illustrated in this blog Escape the Crowds in the Arctic: Remote Spitsbergen. Guests are attracted to the 12-mile (20 km) long sound of Bellsund for the chance to visit Bourbonhamna and Calypsobyen, where there are remains of mining and trapper sites. They can also hike along the colorful tundra, where they’re apt to come across piles of old whale bones.
Polar travelers to Spitsbergen often have the opportunity to visit Hornsund, a fjord on the western side of the southernmost tip of Spitsbergen. One of the voyages that can include Hornsund in its itinerary is Arctic Saga: Exploring Spitsbergen via the Faroe and Jan Mayen. The fjord's mouth faces west to the Greenland Sea and is 12 kilometers wide. The length is 30 kilometers, the mean depth is 90 meters, and the maximal depth is 260 meters.
Quark Expeditions team member Alex McNeil on a Zodiac cruise in Tasermiut Fjord, South Greenland. Photo: Sam Crimmin
Tasermiut is the 70-km long fjord in Southern Greenland that figures prominently in Quark Expeditions’ helicopter-supported Greenland Adventure: Explore By Land, Sea, and Air voyage. Tasermiut is famous for its granite rock cliffs, which draw adrenaline-seeking climbers from all over the world. Tasermiut Fjord, among the most scenic and largest fjords in the world, stretches 70 kilometers not far from the southernmost town of Greenland, called Nanortalik, and ends where the massive Ice Sheet of the world’s biggest island begins. The fjord is an ideal place to trek, kayak, or go Zodiac cruising. Guests on this voyage can also sign up for overnight camping along Tasermiut Fjord.
Kangerlussuatsiaq Fjord is about 75 kilometers long and reaches up to 5 kilometers wide in places. It is located in the western part of Greenland. As one of the largest fjords in the world, Kangerlussuatsiaq Fjord has a tributary that flows into two different fjords, one in a southerly direction and the other in a northerly direction.
This well-known fjord in the eastern part of Greenland is 120 miles long, and it is 2 to 5 miles wide. It empties its water into the Davis Strait. It is important to note that the Kangerlussuaq Fjord does not have any tributary, but a relatively uniform coastline. The terrain is one of the tiny hills, highlands, and steep mountain ranges.
Also known as Isfjord, Isfjorden at 107 kilometers long is the second-longest fjord in the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard. It lies on the west side of Spitsbergen, an island in the Arctic Ocean about midway between Norway and the North Pole. The mountain of Alkhornet stands on the northern side of the entrance to the fjord, as does the coastal plain of Daudmannsøyra.
More great fjords to visit in Svalbard.
The list of the largest fjords in the world is seemingly endless. Svalbard is also home to the 108-km Wijdefjord, the 83-km long Van Mijenfjord, and the 64-km Woodford.
Fjords in the Antarctic
Of course, while not as prominent, there are fjords to be explored in Antarctica. Lallemand Fjord, for instance, is a fjord located east of Arrowsmith Peninsula and west of Pernik Peninsula on Loubet Coast, which is on the western side of the Antarctic Peninsula. Also in the Antarctic is Skelton Inlet, which is located in Antarctica’s Ross Ice Shelf and is considered the deepest fjord in the world at 1933 meters (6,342 feet) below sea level. It’s located at the terminus of the Skelton Glacier.
Fjords in Patagonia
To view wildlife and landscapes that may differ from traditional polar regions, you also have the opportunity to explore the stunning fjords of Chilean Patagonia on Quark Expeditions’ Essential Patagonia: Chilean Fjords and Torres del Paine.
What to expect from a trip to some of the largest fjords in the world
As with any polar expedition into the land of ice, ocean waters, snow-capped peaks, cold temperatures, and challenging climate, it’s typically the weather, ice, and wildlife factors that determine which fjords can be safely explored. Many of the largest fjords in the world can be explored on a small polar vessel, such as those used by Quark Expeditions, which never carry more than 199 guests. Plus there are Zodiac cruises that give visitors a water-level perspective of some of the largest fjords in the world. One of the best ways to explore some of the largest fjords in the world is by kayak which involves a fairly easy paddle with seasoned guides.
How to prepare for a trip to some of the largest fjords in the world
You’ll prepare for a trip to the largest fjords in the world much as you’d prepare for any other polar voyage. Packing tips, what gear to bring and all vital information can be found in these easy-to-follow polar guides: How to Travel to Svalbard, How to Pack for the Polar Regions, or The Ultimate Greenland Guide.
Best way to get to the largest fjords in Greenland and Norway
You’ll want to choose the polar voyage that best meets your needs—and preferably with a polar operator with an extensive and proven track record in polar exploration. For instance, while you’re longing to explore the largest fjords in the world, chances are that you’ll also have other must-see and do experiences on your bucket list. Perhaps it’s wildlife, icebergs, polar bears, or Arctic birds.
Fjords figure prominently in Introduction to Spitsbergen: Fjords, Glaciers, and Wildlife of Svalbard, while you can also see fjords of both Iceland and Greenland if you sign up for the voyage Under the Northern Lights: Exploring Iceland and East Greenland.
You’ll have a wealth of choices to experience the wildlife and landscapes of the Polar Regions—along with some of the largest fjords in the world.