The Lofoten islands are a Norwegian archipelago located north of the arctic circle. The landscape of these 80+ islands is dominated by rugged mountains rising up to 1200 m above sea level and adorned by small villages made up of pretty rorbur. The mountains are partly covered with snow in the winter and the rorbur are red fisher cabins on stilts with colorful fishing boats attached to them.
You will love the clear turquoise water, secluded beaches, isolated bays surrounded by high mountains and countless hiking trails. But the biggest highlight (and you’ll need some good karma for this to work out) and one of the biggest shows in nature are undoubtedly the famous Northern Lights, also known as Aurora Borealis.
|Geography:||north Norway||Best travel time:||January and February|
|Starting Point:||Bodø||Ending Point:||Bodø|
|Required Fitness:||★ (without hikes)
★★★ (with hikes)
|Adrenalin & Survival:||★|
|Outdoor & Nature:||★★★★||Fun & Relaxing:||★★★|
|People & Culture:||★||Family & Kids:||★★|
Norway is relatively expensive, especially when it comes to alcohol or eating out. ATMs are easy to find and credit cards are widely accepted, even for small amounts.
Almost all Norwegians speak good English and many coffee shops, restaurants and hostels offer free Wi-Fi.
The easiest way to get to the Lofoten is to fly from Oslo to Bodø (1 ½ hrs), then take the ferry from Bodø to Moskenes (one-way prices: vehicle and driver 746 NOK, adult 180 NOK, child 90 NOK).
The direct route to Moskenes takes 3 ½ hrs, but a few times a day the ferry sails to Værøy and Røst first, which doubles the length of the tour. The ferry is large and modern, with comfortable seats, a restaurant and Internet.
On the Lofoten there is one main road (E 10) going over bridges and through tunnels from Å in the very south to Solvaer in the north. This road even connects the Lofoten with the mainland, so you could skip the ferry altogether and just drive from Bodø, but those are very long and rather slow 500 kilometers.
On the Lofoten there is a public bus, but in winter it only goes once or twice a day and doesn’t cover the side streets, which lead to the nice scenery. So renting a car is the only practical alternative. Here you have three choices:
- Rent in Bodø (from a range of well-known companies), do your grocery shopping there, then drive with the car onto the ferry. This is more comfortable, but it also makes the ferry more expensive.
- Go by foot onto the ferry, then rent a car in Moskenes from a commercial company (option 1, option 2). Definitely book ahead of time.
- Borrow a car from the locals. This might sound adventurous, but it’s OK and noticeably cheaper. Look for rental signs in Moskenes.
The choice of hostels and airbnb is very limited, and in winter it’s not possible to camp, so you will have to rent a cabin. For one or two persons this is quite expensive, but with a group of 4 or 6 it’s easily doable. The cabins are usually in great shape and very well equipped: 2 bedrooms, a kitchen with dishes, cutlery etc., bathroom, dining room, Wi-Fi), and they are warm and comfortable in winter. Ask about towels and linen, but usually you either bring your own or rent them for a small price.
A good location for your cabin is anywhere between Å and Leknes. Here are a some recommendations, but there are many others:
If you decide to stay longer than a week on the Lofoten, it might be worth booking two different accommodations, so you can spend half of your time further south and the other half further north.
If you need to spend a night in Bodø, your budget option is the Bodø Vandrerhjem Hostel. The walking time to the airport is 20 min, or you can take a taxi for 20 EUR 😉
There are only few restaurants on the Lofoten, and these are quite expensive, so we suggest that you make sandwiches and bring fruits and cookies for “surviving” during the day. In the evening you can cook in the cabin while talking about your great experiences during the day.
Grocery stores are usually open Mon-Sat from 10:00-17:00, and you will find one every 30 or so kilometers: Coop in Reine, Bunpris in Ramberg and several shops in the bigger towns Leknes and Svolvaer.
In Bodø (if you rented your car on the mainland) there is a wide range of supermarkets open every day until 11 pm. Rema 1000 is the discounter, but there is also KIWI, Europris, Lidl, Coop, ICA and more.
Due to the close proximity of the Gulf Stream, the Lofoten winters are quite mild, especially for a location this far north. The average winter temperatures are just below freezing, and the weather usually changes quite fast with the sun, clouds and rain seemingly being in a constant race.
What to See
The main attractions of the Lofoten are its idyllic fishing villages, secluded beaches, rugged mountains, hundreds of lakes and great hiking. While you can experience these anywhere on the archipelago, the combinations are always unique, so we suggest that each morning you choose a new region, then spend the entire day there. The fishing villages on the east coast are most beautiful in the morning (before, during and after the sunrise) while the beaches and villages on the west coast are prettiest in the late afternoon and during the sunset.
By the way sunrises and sunsets are one of the reasons to visit the Lofoten in winter — at the beginning of February twilight starts around 8 am and ends around 4:30 pm. Take your trip two months later you’ll have to wake up almost three hours earlier!
The lovely red fisher houses on stilts (called rorbur) and fishing boats are pretty much the same on the whole archipelago but it’s the mountain and lakeside scenery, the special color of the water and the reflections of the clouds that make each place so special.
Start out with Henningsvær, which is one of the largest and most popular fishing villages on the Lofoten.
A must-see is Reine, which is said to be one of the most beautiful towns in the entire country of Norway because of its idyllic location. It’s located at the entrance of a fjord and is surrounded by impressive mountains. With its shoreline covered with red wooden cabins, cod drying racks and picture-perfect scenes at almost every turn it will capture your heart in no time.
Definitely worth a visit are also these villages:
- Å (yes, the name of this small town is made up of one letter only) which fascinates with a lovely view from the north and wonderful cliffs to the south. From here you can also see the rocky islands Røst and Værøy. Leave your car on the parking lot behind the tunnel, then explore the area by foot.
- Sund with its special location in a deep bay. Visit the blacksmith and the museum and learn interesting things about the region and its people.
- Nusfjord with its tucked-away harbour and dozens of colorful fisher cabins (now converted to apartments for the visitors).
- Hamnøy, Sørvågen and Tind.
Utakleiv (16 km north of Leknes) is very nice, especially the more rocky left side of the beach.
Eggum (11 km from Borg; pass the village and stop at the ruin) is worth a visit due to the brilliant mountain scenery and huge boulders spread all over the beach. This is an excellent scene for photography, especially at sunset.
Unstad is also surrounded by rocks and a is a good spot for surfers. Students from Oslo come here during their holidays just for surfing. And by the way, on the Lofoten there are quite a few surfers, even in winter!
One of the prettiest beaches anywhere is Kvalvika, but it’s not accessible by car and you need a certain level of fitness to reach it. See our separate description of a day-tour to Kvalvika beach (blog post coming up).
If you like hiking you can hike to lake Studalsvatnet. Start your tour from one of the parking lots to the east or west of Sørvågvatnet, then follow the trail to the famous Munkebu cabin. In winter you probably should not attempt the whole tour, but you can surely manage the first 1-2 kilometers which lead to the lake and along its shore.
A bit more adventurous (because of mud, some ice and some moderate climbing) is the hike around lake Ågvatnet. This is part of the longer tour from Å to Stokkvika Beach on the other side of the island. This tour starts from the parking lot behind the tunnel and goes along Ågvatnet’s south shore. Instead of crossing the mountain range and continuing to Stokkvika (there is no sign anyway) simply follow the path around the lake along its north shore back to Å.
POINTS OF INTEREST
A winter trip to the Lofoten will be memorable for all the reasons mentioned above, but if you are lucky, you will also experience one of the greatest shows that nature can stage — the Northern Lights. They result from solar wind hitting the earth’s atmosphere and are visible in regions close to the earth’s magnetic poles.
The following factors are needed for you to experience the Northern Lights:
- A location between 65° and 80° geographical latitude (the Lofoten are located at 68°).
- Solar activity. You cannot control this, but at least it’s easy to predict, so keep checking the Aurora Forecast. An activity level of 2 or 3 produces very faint lights, barely visible with the naked eye, but you can capture them on a picture with an exposure of about 30 seconds. Solar activity with strength of 4 or more produces clearly visible Northern lights, but this only happens on a few nights per month.
- Darkness. In January and February there is plenty of darkness on the Lofoten.
- Clear skies. The weather on the Lofoten is less stable and your chances are lower than at a location further into the continent (somewhere in Sweden or Finland for example), but the landscape here is more exciting. So whenever a clear night coincides with visible Northern Lights, you’ll experience pure magic.
- Acceptable night temperatures for you to go out and enjoy. The Lofoten archipelago profits enormously from the Gulf Stream and the nights here are usually around -5° instead of the more typical -20° and occasionally -40°C in Sweden and Finland.
So you see, the conditions for observing Northern Lights are not fulfilled very often, and you should not be too disappointed if you don’t experience a spectacular display on your very first trip. We’ve been this far north twice already, and the best we’ve managed is the image above. It might look impressive, but the activity was at level 3, so to the naked eye the light was more like a cloud with a slightly green cast than an active glow.
TIPS AND TRICKS
- If you take the night ferry and arrive in Moskenes the middle of the night, just drive to the furthest destination (Henningsvær) and enjoy the sunrise there, then drive slowly back south during the day.
- Driving south from Henningsvær take the RV815. It runs amid great coastal and mountain scenery, and is less traveled and more attractive that the main route.
- Unless you are one a very tight budget book your accommodation ahead of time. There are significantly fewer tourists in winter (mostly photographers hunting the Northern Lights), but also not all cabins and vacation villages are open.
- If you rent your car in Bodø and take the ferry to or from Moskenes during the day it’s a good idea to reserve a space ahead of time (100 NOK). Taking the ferry at night or without a car is no problem.
- Don’t be irritated by the view and the smell of the typical stockfish, dangling in pairs hung to dry over the huge wooden frames. You’ll get used to it very quickly.
- Proper shoes if you decide to go hiking.
- Spikes for your hiking shoes for the icy parts of the hiking trails. Don’t attempt to cross a frozen area without spikes, you will fall down and may hurt yourself.
- A tripod for your camera if you intend to photograph the Northern Lights.
To prepare this trip we used the following material:
Winter is the main fishing season on the Lofoten and the inhabitants earn their living from fishing. There are drying racks everywhere, and it’s a macabre sight when they fully covered with dead fish bodies. But even more extreme are the fish heads which get exported to Afrika once they are dry.
I would come back to:
- hike to the top of some mountains for spectacular views in all directions,
- increase the chance to see stronger Northern Lights,
- see the color of the water in spring / autumn.