Contrary to popular belief, "fjord" isn't just what The Swedish Chef answers when he's asked a question. No, fjords are glacially formed valleys of water that run between mountains, and they're some of the most spectacular geological formations on the planet. From Alaska to Norway and Greenland to Chile, here are a dozen of the world's most beautiful in all their wide-angle splendor.
Hordaland County, Norway
The fourth-largest fjord in the world sits in Western Norway and runs 111mi from the Atlantic Ocean to the Hardangervidda mountain plateau. Popular with tourists since Thomas Cook started cruising there from London in 1875, it's best experienced by climbing the treacherous 2,000ft ascent at Devil's Tongue. Or, you can just check out the powerful waterfalls that power the fjord-side settlements.
The best place to see a whale in America? Probably the Kenia Fjords in South Central Alaska, where orcas, grey whales, and humpbacks are more common than boats. And if the whales aren't playing one day, you can venture into the 600,000-acre Kenai Fjords National Park and hike America's largest ice field and its 38 glaciers; it's also a great place to spot sea lions, porpoises, and 191 different species of birds!
Fiordland, New Zealand
New Zealand has an entire region on the South Island called "Fiordland" that's largely considered the most beautiful part of the country. It boasts around 14 fjords, but only one is accessible by car -- the most famous, Milford Sound. The best way to appreciate it is on a two-hour cruise. Or, with an oxygen tank on you back, as it's the rare fjord where you can scuba dive.
Chances are if you've ever had a friend who took an Alaskan cruise, you've seen a picture of Misty Fjords on their Instagram. This cruise-ship favorite is also a national monument and sits in the Tongass National Forest near Ketchikan; the second largest wilderness region in the nation at 2.3 million acres, it's surrounded by rainforest and 3,000ft rock walls that jut out of the water. And if admiring it from the lido deck isn't going to cut it, you can also enjoy it via seaplane or kayak.
If you live in Miami and would like to visit the water that'll be paving your streets in 50 years, head to this fjord in western Greenland. The 25mi stretch is essentially a river of icebergs breaking off the Greenland ice sheet, many which are too big to move with the current. The glacier that sits beside it, Sermeq Kujalleq, is considered one of the fastest-moving in the world at 60ft per day.
Fiordland, New Zealand
Compared to the venerable tourist trap that is Milford Sound, Doubtful Sound is practically a remote natural getaway. Sure, it's the second-most famous of the Fiordland fjords -- and also the deepest -- but its isolated tranquility has earned it the nickname, "The Sound of Silence." Penguins humming Simon and Garfunkel is the only noise you're likely to hear.
Kind of like Boca Raton, but way less obnoxious, this fjord on the Mediterranean is known simply as "Boka" to most. It was once a massive river that flowed through the Orjen mountain range, but through tectonic movement is now a series of bays, gulfs, and channels in the Adriatic Sea. The settlements along the coast originated in Medieval times and sport some of the best examples of centuries-old Mediterranean architecture. One of the most fascinating is the Saint George Benedictine monastery, which dates back to the 12th century and sits on an islet in the middle of the water.
The Patagonia region of Chile (known for its glaciers and mountainous terrain) is home to this almost tropical-looking fjord, a turquoise waterway that flows through lush green hills and waterfalls. There are even beaches along the coastline, warm-water tidal pools, and the Porcelana Hot Springs where you can recover from hiking to the top of some of Comau's 6,000ft peaks.
No visit to the famous fjords of Norway is complete without a trip to Sognefjord -- "The King of Fjords." It's actually a meta-fjord made up of a bunch of smaller branches, the most dramatic of which is the 11mi Nærøyfjord. Named a UNESCO world heritage site, its waterfalls, racing rivers, and steep cliffs can be enjoyed by boat, bike, or on foot, and easily in one day.
This fjord located 40mi from Alaska's capital city is actually named after 19th-century Secretary of the Navy Benjamin Franklin Tracy. Known mostly for its picturesque Sawyer glaciers, Tracy Arm is also one of the best places in the world to spot deep-sea wildlife, as the cold waters allow creatures that usually dwell too deep for human observation to hang out near the surface.
Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
One of the most scenic drives in Canada is the trip up Route 99 from Vancouver to Whistler. Why? Well, you're driving into the Coast Mountains for one thing, but along the side of the road is Howe Sound. The "sound" is really more of a collection of fjords (the southernmost in the northern hemisphere), islands, and channels off the Straight of Georgia. The only fjord accessible from a major city, it begins in Lighthouse Park and boasts some of the best views of downtown Vancouver.
The other Norwegian fjord to top NatGeo's list of best world heritage sites? This place, possibly the most visited fjord in the country and home to three dramatic waterfalls -- Seven Sisters, The Suitor, and Bridal Veil. You can kayak right up to the base of all three, or hike up as far as 5,000ft for a full panoramic view. If that's too active for you, a car ferry runs between the towns of Geiranger and Hellesylt, or you can navigate 11 hairpin turns and drive up 2,000ft on the famous Eagle Road.
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