Traveling in the Lofoten

Going to Lofoten Islands

Valeria Lazarenko, a psychologist and graduate student at the Institute of Social and Political Psychology at the Academy of Sciences of Ukraine, has been writing her dissertation on personal stories of displaced people from Donbass since 2016 and works for NGOs. For 34travel she has already talked about her experience studying above the Arctic Circle at the Arctic University of Tromsø, and now she shares her recipe for a trip to the Lofoten Islands.

There are probably not many places on Earth that everyone who has been there says are perfectly beautiful. But the Lofoten Islands in northern Norway are definitely among them. Here, eternal ice meets an ocean storm, and the weather changes literally every five minutes.

The main feature of the Lofoten Islands is their remoteness from any tourist routes. About 20 years ago the archipelago was a godforsaken place with just fishermen, but that all changed in 2007, when the E-10 highway was built to connect the islands to the mainland. The Norwegian government decided to quickly recoup the expenses on the construction of the highway and engaged in a real PR-campaign of Lofoten as a major tourist attraction – and, in general, it was a success. Half of the inhabitants of the archipelago are now employed in the service sector, many rent out their houses to tourists and willingly show the local beauty.

One of the best seasons to travel to Lofoten is March: the days are already long and bright enough, you can still catch the northern lights at night, and hordes of tourists have not yet overwhelmed all available accommodation options. It’s also Atlantic cod fishing season. I couldn’t turn down the opportunity to visit there, and I found travel companions to the islands thanks to a Facebook community of international students in Tromsø while I was studying at the Arctic University of Norway, and we went on a four-day trip with a cosmopolitan bunch of Ukrainian, Spanish, Dutch, Hungarian and American women.

There are only a few ways to get to Lofoten: by plane, by ferry, or by car. There are two airports on the archipelago itself: Leknes and Evenes, which are connected to Oslo and the major cities of Norway by Wideroe airlines. A one-way ticket costs about € 90. You can also take a ferry from Narvik or Bude to Svolvaer (the main city of the archipelago) for € 130. Or, as in our case, rent a car in Tromsø – the nearest large city – and drive 500 km to the islands on the beautiful mountain road E6, nicknamed the “road of northern lights.

Transport on Lofoten is very peculiarly developed. You can go everywhere and from anywhere, but it is possible when only one bus a day goes in the right direction, with no way to get back. Therefore renting a car is actually the only way. In addition to the traditional Sixt, Europcar and Avis, in Norway, operates a service Rent-a-Wreck, which works on the principle of Airbnb and allows great savings. Four days renting a comfortable hatchback cost us € 350.

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“The smell of cod drying in the freezing wind is a little shocking at first, but it adds to the atmosphere of this amazing place.

The classic Lofoten accommodations are the red rorbu fishermen’s houses standing right by the water. We, like true students, chose the most budget rorbu on all Airbnb, and got an amazing view of the fjord near Leknes (a town in the central part of the archipelago), the neighborhood with real fishermen and a treat of freshly caught cod from the owner of the lodge. As it turned out later, our accommodation was incredibly fortunate because there were no fish drying boards near our rorbu… There is even a separate word in the Norwegian language for the very smell of cod drying in the freezing wind, and the word has the root “lofote”. And even if the smell is a little shocking at first, it adds great atmosphere to this amazing place.

The entire archipelago – one continuous attraction. There is a conditional list of must-see places: the villages Reine or Henningsvaer, beaches Ucland and Ramberg, and the end of the road in the village with the laconic name of O. It is photos from these places most often fall out in queries and tags “Lofoten Islands”. Planning the route, it is worth preparing for the fact that the best viewing sites will be occupied by tourists with advanced photographic equipment, and overhead will be constantly buzzing drones.

We agreed that it is the godforsaken fishing villages, where you can take really unusual pictures on deserted beaches, best captures the spirit of these places. For example, from the famous beach Ukland through a tunnel road to the village Uttakelv, where a dozen fishing cottages and red barns stand, cut off from the rest of the world, right at the foot of huge black cliffs. And the village of Eggum stands on the border of a national park, home to thousands of bird species, and where in good weather you can watch pairs of eagles hunting. There is also a small bastion that the Nazis built in 1943 to locate the Allied fleet. From May to October there is a small exhibition at the bottom of the bastion.

Quite an interesting exposition in the Lofotr Viking Museum. The history of the museum is very simple: in the 70s, a local farmer was plowing the field with his new tractor and suddenly found the remains of a thousand-year-old Viking dwellings, with all the artifacts like coins, chain mail, helmets and two-handed swords. Today the house has been restored, and thanks to the runes on the stones it was found out that the house once belonged to the family of a disgraced Viking leader, who resisted Christianity and eventually sailed off to discover Iceland. The more traditional part of the exposition tells about it, but the “chief’s house” itself offers to feel like a Viking: you can hold swords, check comfort of clothes and helmets of those times, learn how to weave and carve your name with runes on wood, and a lot more. There are even more activities in the summertime, including a blacksmith’s workshop and sword lessons. The ticket price for an adult is € 17.

“The history of the museum is very simple: in the 70s, a local farmer was plowing a field with his new tractor and suddenly discovered the remains of a millennia-old Viking dwelling.”

Another discovery is the village of Nusfjord, halfway between the touristy Rhine and Leknes: twenty yellow and red cottages are literally squeezed into a narrow valley, fishing boats unload in the tiny port, and the only café serves aromatic potato cod soup and dishes made with fresh catches.

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Geologists say that the Lofoten Islands are one of the oldest mountain systems in the world. Perhaps this is why these sheer cliffs jutting straight out of the ocean, mountain gorges and glaciers are so stunning and make us think, however pathetic it may sound, about our place on the planet.

As Lofoten stretches almost 300 kilometers to the west of the Norwegian mainland, the climate here is highly variable and unpredictable. Overcast weather just as easily turns into a snowstorm as into the serene glow of the March sun. But the advantage of traveling in the off-season is just half an hour is enough to wait out the bad weather and enjoy the fantastic scenery again.

The optimal variant of a trip to Lofoten is a company of 4-5 people, the budget of the trip will be reduced to a minimum if you divide the car rental, gasoline and accommodation in a cabin, cook yourself. Tickets for the Kiev – Gdansk – Tromsø – Gdansk – Kiev route will cost about € 150 per person, depending on the days of the week and the current Wizz Air discounts.

Budget per person

Rent a car (C class, hatchback for five people, full insurance) € 76

Gasoline (550 km one way from Tromsø to Leknes, plus trips in the archipelago) €23

On your own to the Lofoten Islands

When I saw the Lofoten Islands in photos, they always seemed to me like a very remote, a bit fairy-tale location, which mere mortals in life can not get to. And finally having been there, I can confirm – it really is fabulous, and it is not so difficult to get there, so I hurry to share my tips for such a trip.

Lots of photo opportunities.

Lofoten is a photographer’s paradise. Here you can photograph every bit of land, every bit of fjord, and every cozy rørbø lodge. There are tons of tours that offer a trip to the best photographic spots on the islands, but you can also whip up a list yourself. This site has a pretty impressive list to guide you. I’ve been to Hamnoy, Reine, Svolvaer, Kabelvag – all indescribably beautiful.

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Lofoten Islands - Rhine

But be only ready, that at the top photo places you will face with other photographers, who will try to win the territory for setting up their equipment and tripod (the Italians are especially belligerent ).

Meeting the sunrise and watching the sunset

Lofoten Islands - Rhine

From the beginning of December to the beginning of January the polar night reigns on Lofoten, so don’t expect to see the sun. But closer to March, sunrises and sunsets on Lofoten are a must on any trip list. It’s best to greet the sunrise on the beach, when the sun gently illuminates the coastal rocks and fishing gear, and to see off the sunsets you should hurry to the bays and fjords, which are colored in magical pinkish and blue colors under the sign of the setting sun.

Walk from Reine to Hamnøy

Reine and Hamnei are considered the most picturesque fishing villages on Lofoten. The best thing for the solo hiker is that the villages are in close proximity to each other, so walking from one to the other seems to be a matter of course, enjoying gorgeous views along the way.

Lofoten Islands - Rhine

And on the Rhine is worth laying down a little more time (and better generally spend a day or two there, depending on the season). The settlement itself is very pretty, so it’s definitely worth going around, looking at the roarba by the water, the fish dryers, and the fishing schooners.

Surfing on Ramberg Beach

In addition to fishing, the Lofoten is also famous for its passion for surfing. The water in some bays does not freeze all year round, and the waves, although not comparable to Bali or our Kamchatka, nevertheless attract extreme athletes in wetsuits. Equipment for surfing, snorkeling and other pleasures can be rented on the spot, you just need to be prepared for biting Norwegian prices. In addition to Ramberg praise surfing in Unstad in the north-west Lofoten Islands.

Lofoten Islands - Ramberg

For those who don’t dare to swim in the Arctic waters, I still advise a stroll to the sandy beaches. In contrast to the surrounding mountains, the turquoise water is simply magnetic.

Eat Norwegian fish

– Fish is what has fed Norway, feeds Norway and will continue to feed Norway,” says Niels, my landlord in Svolvaer.

– But what about oil? – I ask in amazement.

– We didn’t find oil until the sixties,” Niels grins, “but there has always been fish.

Lofoten Islands

And it’s true. In every Norwegian town fish is loved and worshipped, and on Lofoten the fish is even cult-like, especially the Atlantic cod. Although fishing is now a secondary industry (shipbuilding and repairing are the main drivers of the region’s economy), you will surely see fishing boats and traditional cod dryers on your voyage. Don’t be surprised if you see fish heads without tongues on the dryers: cod tongue is considered a local delicacy here.

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Eating out in restaurants in Norway is not cheap. If you want to save money but still want to eat local fish, go to Kiwi or Rema 1000, they have an assortment of local fish on Lofoten.

Take a bus trip around all of Lofoten

Lofoten Islands

From the southernmost settlement, Ä, to Svolvaer in the north, you can conveniently travel by bus. And the bus route goes through very beautiful places, so that you can enjoy the impeccable northern nature of Lofoten to the full without any excursions. You can also plan your trip with stops in Rhine, Hamnøy, Leknes or Ramberg.

Visit the largest wooden church in northern Norway

Just south of Svolvaere is the old fishing village of Kabelvog. As a Norwegian acquaintance told me, the villagers don’t like Svolvaer because it stole the title of capital from them, although Kabelvog, founded in the 12th century, is many times older than the neighboring town.

Lofoten Islands - Kabelvog

If you don’t particularly admire the village itself, especially after what you’ve seen in Rhine and Hamni, then the wooden church at the entrance to the town won’t leave you indifferent. The Vagan Church, or Lofoten Cathedral, has a capacity of 1200 people and is the largest wooden building in northern Norway.

Lifehacks and other useful tips:

  • Lofoten can be reached by plane or ferry. There are two airports: in Leknes (in the middle of the archipelago) and in Svolvaer (in the north). Both to one and to the other city fly planes Wideroe (planes have free landing, do not be surprised) from Buda (Bodo), and there you can easily get from any major Norwegian city (I flew from Tromsø). You can also take a ferry from Bodø to Moskenes. I flew to Leknes, and from there I took a bus to the Rhine. Now I would do another way, and from Bodo I’d take a ferry to Moskenes, and from there to Ä.

I went to Lofoten for three days, which I regret now: the islands deserve much more time, regardless of the time of year. If you want to explore all the nooks and crannies of the archipelago, you should bookmark up to ten days – you won’t get bored.

Eating in restaurants on Lofoten is expensive and inconvenient – most gastronomic spots don’t open until the evening. Fortunately, in the Norwegian supermarkets you can find everything you want, and even several times cheaper.

The bus service on Lofoten is well developed, but according to the schedule, so plan your itinerary in advance (there is a link to the glider below).

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Allow 3-4 hours for walking from Reine to Hamnøy: it will be enough time for exploring Reine and making numerous photo stops.

Finding a stop on Hamney to go north is a whole quest. You have to leave the settlement and walk backwards from the bridge to the tunnel, you’ll see a stop not far away.

The buses kind of have a card payment (I saw a terminal at the driver’s), but I always carry cash. The most expensive fare from A to Svolvaer is 210 CZK.

If you suddenly decide to fly to Leknes like me, keep in mind that from the airport to the center of Leknes (where, by the way, the buses leave), you can only get by cab or on foot, there are no buses with that route. I chose the second option, reached the center in twenty minutes.

On Lofoten, one of the popular activities for tourists is “whale safaris,” when they take you out to sea to look at whales. According to my Norwegian friend – it is the most useless waste of money on Lofoten, because it is a long drive, expensive, and you will see whales for thirty seconds at most. So, think about it.

You can walk to Kabelvog from Svolvaer (about an hour walk), and you can take a bus back.

I went to Norway and to Lofoten with the hope of seeing the northern lights. This is my second attempt (before that I went to Finland) and it failed again I had no luck with the weather, it was damp and cloudy, and to see the northern lights you need a clear and frosty night. Nevertheless, if you want to see this miracle of nature, judging by the reviews, Lofoten is almost an ideal place for this, because the right conditions here are from November to March, so maybe some of you will have more luck than me.

It makes sense to arrive at the airports no earlier than 40 minutes in advance. The whole check-in and screening process is unrealistically fast, so take your time at the airport so you don’t waste time waiting.

Useful Links:

177 Nordland is the most useful site for planning a solo trip to Lofoten, for here you will find all the routes to buses and ferries, including their costs.

68 North – Lofoten photographer’s blog, where the Outdoors section contains information about the best trekking routes.

UT.no is the website of the Norwegian Trekking Association, which contains a lot of useful information on all hiking trails (and not only on Lofoten)

lofoten.info – the official tourist portal of the Lofoten islands, useful primarily by the section What’s On, where you can find out what is planned in the near future in certain locations.

Northern Lights Norway is a site where you can follow the northern lights forecast.

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