8 Top Tourist Attractions & Things to Do on the Lofoten Islands
Despite being in the Arctic Circle, Lofoten, an archipelago in Norway's Nordland region separated from the mainland by the Vestfjord, experiences one of the world's largest elevated temperature variances relative to its latitude. Thanks to the Gulf Stream, its climate of mild winters and warm summers isn't as severe as other such northerly regions.
Lofoten's four main islands of Austvågøy, Vestvågøy, Moskenesøy and Flakstadøy together with a number of smaller islands, lie so close together that from a distance they resemble a single mountain range. Surrounded by countless rocky islets, the islands are indented by numerous inlets and fjords with towering rock walls of up to 3,300ft. The mountains themselves, some as high as 4,154 ft, are Alpine with characteristic steep-sided, snow-capped summits. Lofoten's cliffs are perfect for nesting seabirds and other wildlife, while abundant marine life, such as migrating killer whales, provide another great reason to visit. Tourism in fact makes a significant year-round contribution to the economy: in summer, its secluded beaches and snug fishing harbors draw sightseers, kayakers and campers, while in winter it's all about the fantastic northern lights and skiing. As is the case throughout Norway, getting there's half the fun, particularly if it's by ferry.
See also: Where to Stay in the Lofoten Islands
Lofoten's largest town, Svolvaer, is located on the south coast of Austvågøy. First mentioned in 1567 (though probably much older), it's an important fishing port as well as where most people begin their Lofoten adventure. Well served by ferries and cruise ships from the mainland and elsewhere, it's a vibrant place, especially around the harbor with its many excellent cafés, bars and restaurants. In addition to shops and galleries, the Lofoten War Museum is worth visiting for its collection of WWII era uniforms and artifacts. If you're a climber, check out the Svolvær Goat, an unusual twin-peaked rock outcrop visible from the town offering incredible views for those brave enough to perform the famous 'Svolvær Goat leap'.
Address: Svolvaer, Lofoten
From the straits of Raftsund, a narrow rocky opening gives access to the Trollfjord, one of Lofoten's most popular tour boat excursions. Towering over the fjord is the snow-capped Higravtinder (3,908 ft) and the jagged Trolltinder (3,429 ft) mountains, rising above the Trollfjordvatn, a two mile-long mountain lake that's usually frozen over. Another popular day trip is by bus from Svolvðr to Stokmarkness and back by the express boat, which sails via the Trollfjord.
Kabelvåg, a small fishing village on Austvågøy, is a great place to learn more about the importance of fishing in Lofoten. Start with the Lofoten Museum with its displays of life in the 1800s, including the history of fishing on the islands, a collection of Nordland-type boats and original fisherman's cabins. The Lofoten Aquarium is also worth a visit, offering a chance to learn more about the area's marine life, including fish and sea mammals from Lofoten. Finally, be sure to visit Vågan Church, the largest wooden church north of Trondheim.
Address: Lofotakvariet AS, N-8309 Kabelvåg
You could say all roads lead to Å, Lofoten's most westerly point. In addition to its spectacular views, this village on the island of Moskenesøy is home to the Norwegian Fishing Village Museum with its fascinating exhibitions and demonstrations. Afterwards, visit the Lofoten Stockfish Museum dedicated to Lofoten's most famous, thousand year old export. Made from the plentiful cod that spawn around Lofoten's shallow waters, stockfish is everywhere on the islands, left to cure during the colder months on countless drying racks, and forming the basis for many of Lofoten's excellent fish dishes.
Address: Å, i Lofoten
5 Røst Islands
Accessible only by boat, the remarkable Røst Islands, located 62 miles from the mainland, are home to a large colony of seabirds, including some three million puffins. Thanks to their remoteness, the islands' high crags - Vedøy, Storfjell, Stavøy, and Nykan - are perfect homes for many rare species, such as the greater and lesser storm petrels and fulmars. All told, a quarter of Norway's seabird population lives on the islands, a fact that makes the trip by boat from Røstland all the more worthwhile. While there, visit the Skomvær Lighthouse, built in 1887 and considered Lofoten's final Atlantic outpost.
6 Lofotr Viking Museum
The Lofotr Viking Museum at Bøstad on the island of Vestvågøy is a reconstruction of the 272 ft long chieftain's house that stood on the site around 500 AD. This excellent Viking adventure includes a superb short-film about the life of the chieftain and his family, as well as interpretive tours of the house and the numerous artifacts discovered on the site during archeological digs. Afterwards, walk down to the adjoining lake to see the replica Viking vessels, including an impressive longship.
Address: Prestegårdsveien 59, NO-8360 Bøstad
Often cited as the most beautiful village in Norway, Reine is a picturesque fishing community located on Moskenesøy. This popular tourist attraction has long been a favorite haunt of painters and climbers due to its spectacular fjord and mountain views. The high ground above the village offers superb views of the Moskenesstrømmen, a maelstrom described by Jules Verne and Edgar Allan Poe and considered one of the strongest such whirlpools in the world. For a close-up view of the maelstrom, take one of the many exciting boat trips through Moskenstraumen.
Address: Reine, Moskenesøy
8 Rorbuer - Fishermen Huts
For a truly unforgettable experience, treat yourself to a stay in a one of Lofoten's iconic red fishing huts. Perched high above the tidal waters in countless fishing villages around Lofoten, many of these 'rorbuer' (or 'sjøhus') have been converted into accommodations perfect for use as a base to explore the area. Originally built to provide simple overnight shelter for fishermen, these wharf buildings, often two or three stories high, are now available for rent, from basic (a few bunks and a stove) to luxurious fully-catered suites.
Where to Stay in the Lofoten Islands for Sightseeing
Most of the accommodation on the remote Lofoten Islands consists of charmingly-restored fishermen's cabins called Rorbu and private vacation rentals. The port town of Svolvær, on the south side of Austvågøy, is the archipelago's largest town and home to the Lofoten War Memorial Museum and the distinctive twin-peaked rock outcrop called Svolvær Goat. This town is a great place to stay, as is picturesque Henningsvær, a fishing village known as the Venice of the Lofoten. Ballstad, on a small island off the southwestern tip of Vestvågøya is one of the archipelago's largest fishing villages and also makes a great base. Here are some hotels and specialty lodging options in these convenient locations:
- On the waterfront in Svolvær, the pet-friendly Lofoten Suite Hotel features gorgeous views of the islands and sea and it's only three minutes on foot from Magic Ice, a gallery with evocatively-lit ice sculptures. Amenities in the hotel include a hip restaurant, bakery, and cafe. The sleek and contemporary two-bedroom suites are great for families and longer stays, but note that the one-bedroom suites share a living area with guests in a bedroom on the other side. About eight minutes by car from Svolvær, in the town of Kabelvåg, the Lofoten Rorbusuiter offers delightful seaside apartments and cottages with fully-equipped kitchens.
- In Henningsvær, Lofoten Arctic Hotel offers two locations: The first is the Lofoten Arctic Hotel Skata right on the waterfront in a restored fish landing station. From the sparkling clean, compact rooms, you can gaze out at the beautiful islands and watch fishing boats ply the waters. A quick stroll over the bridge here takes you into the village. The second location is the Lofoten Arctic Hotel Knusarn, on Henningsvær town square, in a newly renovated building dating from 1892.
- Options for specialty lodging in Ballstad include the budget-priced Villa Ballstad, a large, bright house with a shared kitchen and bathrooms, and Solsiden Brygge, which are modern apartments in restored fisherman's cottages with views of the sea and crags.