Lofoten islands of Norway is one of those places where you can literally feel you are at the far edge of this world. This was my first visit to Europe and was looking for someplace remote, rugged, wild with otherworldly charm and beauty. Guess what, Lofoten islands fitted the bill perfectly and didn’t disappoint me at all!
Once at Lofoten Norway you can travel through miles of the breath-taking landscape without finding a single soul around and still manage to feel completely safe. While driving here you will have that constant urge to pull over your vehicle every 5 minutes and capture the landscape.
You must witness the 2 most stunning phenomenon of the midnight sun and northern lights that occur in Lofoten Norway.
What are Lofoten Islands?
Lofoten is an archipelago located in the northern part of Norway well above the Arctic circle. It has seven major islands Moskenesøy, Flakstadøy, Vestvågøy, Austvågøy, Gimsøy, Værøy and Røst. Each one of these islands has a distinct charm to them. They consist of tiny picturesque fishing villages with red fishing huts called Rorbu/Rorbuer, dramatic pointed mountain peaks, calm arctic ocean and beaches, numerous hiking paths, skiing spots, kayaking (only during summer months), Viking history museum, Cod fishing museums etc.
Lofoten archipelago is relatively small compared to the diversity of the landscape it has to offer. East to west it takes about 4 to 5 hours to traverse through the main islands, leaving Værøy and Røst which needs a boat to reach. All the islands of Lofoten are connected by European highway e10 which even continues to Sweden.
Road Trip across Lofoten Islands
To do a road trip through Lofoten islands you can choose any place as your base or just start the journey and stay in a different village each day as you move along. If you are comfortable pitching a tent then that is the best way since you don’t need to worry about getting to the accommodation by night. Most places have strict check-in times after which no one will be present to check you in.
Though there are public buses along e10, anywhere off the main road it will be difficult to reach if you rely on public transport. Lofoten islands are best visited in a car where you will have more flexibility and also stop anywhere and anytime for photography! Though the roads are narrow they are mostly in good shape. In winters, it can be quite difficult with snow and slippery roads just like anywhere else during winter. Once you are comfortable with these roads it is quite easy since there will hardly be any traffic in the village roads except in peak summer months.
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Things to do at Lofoten Norway
Coming to the places of interest or things to do here, there are plenty of options. Every nook and corner is amazingly beautiful. You can even just drive randomly and spend time wherever you like the most. There are plenty of beaches, some are reachable by car and some only by the hike and others need a boat.
Beaches of Lofoten Islands Norway
Some of the beaches reachable by road which we visited include:
Haukland beach – This is a famous beach with typical white sand and blue waters and is quite stunning to watch the sunset. Arctic waters even in spring or summer are too cold for a comfortable swim. So, we just ended up strolling along the shore and rocks admiring the pristine beauty and soaking in it.
Unstad beach – Very scenic beach with small boulders on the sides and white sandy section in the middle and pretty mountains in the background. This beach is famous for surfing as well. Unstad beach is my personal favorite too, one can never get bored spending time here.
You can sit on small boulders on the sides and it gives numerous photography opportunities from different perspectives.
Uttakleiv beach – One of the most beautiful beaches, which is quite famous for camping be it for watching midnight sun or aurora since the horizon is open at the north while the other sides are covered with mountains. My favorite activity here was just to sit and stare at the horizon and the mountains forgetting everything and contemplating the meaning of life (chuckles).
Eggum Beach – This is famous among campers for watching the midnight sun. While approaching the beach from the village you can see beautiful rocky pebbled edges along the sea.
Ramberg and Skagsanden beach – These beaches are along e10 and makes for a nice stopover while passing through.
Yttersand beach – This looked like a very calm beach which was almost flat (probably that was a low tide), waves were hardly noticeable but beautiful nonetheless.
The island of Gimsøya has very pretty tiny beaches with stunning blue color along the northern coast which are very much worth visiting. I loved every bit of drive through this scenic little island and made me feel I’m literally at a fairyland!
We could not see some beaches which needed some hike as the weather was not so great. We were not that confident about hiking in such cold and wet weather conditions. But they must be worth visiting for sure, which include Kvalvika beach along with hiking a peak (Ryten) next to it, Horseid beach and Bunes beach (need to take a boat from the mainland).
Other famous and scenic fishing villages to visit include Å – yes that’s the name of a village. Å is the last letter in Norwegian alphabet and hence the name of the last village of Lofoten!, Reine, Hamnøy, Ballstad, Stamsund, Henningsvᴂr, Nusfjord etc Nusfjord has the most scenic road leading to it and was the most beautiful fishing village as well. From the village Å, you can see the islands of Røst and Vaᴂrøy as tiny pearls along the ocean.
We stayed in a Rorbu – a Fisherman’s hut in the village of Ballstad, which was at the edge of the sea next to a tiny harbor. Must say it was an amazing experience, could really get that picture of fishermen back in those days coming here to rest after a tiring day of fishing. Could not resist from imagining how they might have spent their time in these huts (might be drinking some good wine with stockfish delicacies!).
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Best time to Visit Lofoten Islands?
Lofoten archipelago being well above the arctic circle has mild weather conditions. It is very much inhabited, thanks to the warm gulf stream. Other places located at the same latitude in Canada and Russia have very harsh weather conditions and largely uninhabited.
Lofoten islands can be visited throughout the year. February to April is the best month for watching northern lights. Visit from June to August if you like islands to look greener with long days. September to October is for the colorful autumn and also the chance of witnessing northern lights. May is for the spring which is the driest month and islands look partly white and brown with browns slowly turning green. Mid October to November has generally the worst weather conditions and is best avoided. From the end of May to mid of July, midnight sun can be witnessed.
Islands can look very different depending on the time of the year. But any time of the year, be prepared for very unpredictable weather conditions. Islands suddenly turn all windy, gloomy and rainy. You need to closely watch the weather forecast and plan accordingly. Weather conditions can be very local as well, with a little bit of traveling further weather might have completely changed.
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History of Lofoten Islands
Initial habitants of Lofoten islands were nomads coming here in rowboats or sailboats during winter to do Cod fishing, which spawn in the shallow waters around the island. It is for these fishermen Rorbu/Rorbuers were built at the edge of the sea to stay when they visited the islands. But now they are available for tourists to stay. Much of its authenticity is kept intact but only a bit sophisticated with modern kitchen and washrooms and comfortable bed with nice sea view.
Cod fishing is still a major occupation here. Stockfish made from it is exported. You can see abundant cod being left to dry in cold winter winds on wooden racks in fishing villages. Cod liver oil made from Cod liver is a major export too. Lofoten’s last village Å has a stockfish museum which demonstrates how cod is transformed into stockfish and Norwegian fishing village museum which shows a nice demonstration of everyday life in Lofoten fisheries.
Lofoten has a history of Vikings era as well, with many heroic Viking chieftains having lived here.
There have been some excavations made at Borg in the island of Vestvagøoy. Longest Viking house was discovered which belonged to a Viking chieftain. Now the house has been reconstructed and been made a museum with excavated Viking age artifacts kept for display. They have a movie made about the Vikings who belonged there and is played in the museum multiple times a day. This truly takes you back in time and makes way for all the imaginations about the gone era.
How to reach Lofoten Islands Norway?
There are many ways to reach Lofoten islands. If coming from southern Norway then can take train/bus till Bodø and then ferry/flight to Lofoten. Norway has very well connected and sophisticated railways to rely on.
If coming from Sweden, then trains end at Narvik. And from Narvik, there is a bus to Lofoten.
We took a train from Bergen to Trondheim. Another train from Trondheim to Bodø and a flight from Bodø to Leknes in Lofoten. From Bodø there is even an option of taking a ship to Moskenes of Lofoten islands.
We visited Lofoten islands in the first week of May and could visit many places in 3 days. I would have wished to do more hikes. But missed due to not so great weather for the last 2 days, where the sun did not come out even though it never got dark.
Overall the Lofoten islands left me awestruck with their stunning beauty. And kept me asking for more and giving me lots of reasons to visit again.
This is a guest post by Nagashruthi Krishnamurthy. “She is a techie, whose weekdays will be frenetic. Whenever she can squeeze in time you can find her feeding her wanderlust demons or planning the future expeditions. Sucker for beautiful landscapes, good food, anything artistic, photography opportunities and yeah a cup of coffee!”
All text and images by the author.