The wild and rugged beauty of the Lofoten Islands is a highlight of any trip to Norway. Dramatic glacier-carved mountains soar straight out of the sea dwarfing tiny little fishing villages. Sheltered bays and fjords line the coast, and the smell of dried cod lingers ubiquitously in the cool air.
Out of all the places I’ve been in Norway over the years whilst working for Scandinavia Only, the Lofoten Islands has been my favourite place to explore inside mainland Norway (otherwise we all know it would be Svalbard). I’ve been twice and both times I didn’t want to leave, not only for the breath-taking landscape but the feeling of isolation and serenity that hits you once you arrive.
Though this post highlights some of the best places I think you should visit on this stunning archipelago, I’d also like to say that it doesn’t really matter what you end up doing here because the scenery is really unlike anywhere else and you’d be crazy not to appreciate simply driving along the many roads that skim past the sea and mountains and beaches – yes, you really do get beaches this far up North!
The ‘capital’ of the Lofotens is Svolvær. Just like most towns and cities in the Arctic, it’s still relatively small but has everything you need. You’ll find shops, cafes, a couple of museums and restaurants. For something a little different you could head to the Ice bar, visit the War Museum or check out what’s on offer at the activity centre at Lofoten Explorer. The first time I visited during winter I went on a RIB Safari and saw lots of Sea Eagles, if you’re lucky you’ll spot more Arctic wildlife, and if you’re extremely lucky: orcas.
All in all, if you’re looking for a mixture of nature and things to do, Svolvær is the place you’ll want to stay. It’s also super photogenic due to the jagged peaks surround the town – however, stunning scenery is something every town in the Lofoten Islands possesses.
Accommodation on Svolvær
Svinøya Rorbuer is easily my favourite place to stay in Svolvær, and any photo of it tells you why. Considerable emphasis has been placed on maintaining the authenticity of the traditional rorbuer (former fisherman cabins). Craftsmanship and exposed timber have been preserved to provide a feeling of what a rorbu cabin was like in the halcyon days when fishermen would harvest the seas of Lofoten. If you prefer a spot of luxury and would prefer something bigger you could opt for the modernised cabins (pictured behind me in the photograph).
Where to eat on Svolvær
Budget – If you’re looking for a place to have a drink and log into Wifi I recommend Bacalao, the atmosphere is nice and chilled and offers a beautiful view of the harbour. The food isn’t wow, but you’re sure to find something on the menu for you. It’s also a great place to socialise and meet locals and other travellers.
Splurge – For somewhere more romantic and intimate to eat in Svolvær, venture over to Borsen Spiseri tucked away inside the grounds of Svinøya Rorbuer. The genuine, tar-coated timber work, small windows and dimly lit atmosphere offers a truly memorable experience. But of course, the only thing topping the decor is the delicious food. To avoid disappointment I’d recommend booking.
Located on the island of Moskenesøya, Reine is perhaps considered the most beautiful place in the Lofoten Islands due to the towering God-like peak that eclipses everything in sight. The most famous photos of Lofoten are usually taken at Reine so that tells you everything you ought to know.
Accommodation on Reine
At the mouth of Reinefjord lies Reine Rorbuer where the majestic Lofoten peaks and the Arctic Ocean are its closest neighbours. Very similar to Svinøya Rorbuer, expect gorgeous little cabins all tastefully restored to preserve the atmosphere of their former use as fishermen’s dwellings with modern comfort.
Where to eat in Reine
There are a few places to eat in Reine, but I’d recommend ‘Gammelbua’ the restaurant and bar which belongs to Reinefjord. The dining area is super cosy with open timber work and quirky little vintage photos and fishing paraphernalia adding character. If you’re only doing a pit stop there’s also a convenience store to stock up on lots of Norwegian sweets and chocolate – what do I recommend? – a Norwegian chocolate crisp called Smash!
In the middle of the Lofoten Islands is a place called Nusfjord and it’s really, really, pretty. I stayed there for a night and the isolation of the area felt really cosy and special. It’s a protected area so the buildings have historical value and you’ll see cod drying on racks by the harbour and dangling around the buildings, and there’s a really cute and non-tacky souvenir shop on site too.
Accommodation on Nusford
Across all the islands, Nusfjord Rorbuer is probably my favourite. It’s like a little open-air museum, partly due to its status as being a heritage site so things have to be preserved in a very authentic way in Nusfjord. As soon as I headed into the small hamlet where it hides picturesquely down a winding road and towering mountain it gave me a tingling feeling all over.
The cabins are very eclectic – no two rorbuer are the same – and they vary in comfort levels so take this into consideration when booking.
Suzel, the MD from Scandinavia Only, basking in the morning sunshine flooding across Nusfjord (but true to form, the heavens opened only minutes later).
While we stayed in one of the modern cabins which is great for people who enjoy a touch of luxury, guests also have the choice to stay in more traditional rorbuer which maintain authentic features, some with bunk beds and original wooden paneling.
Where to eat in Nusfjord
Nusfjord is only teeny tiny but there’s a restaurant on site offering freshly served catch-of-the-day straight from the fjord.
For a quirky touch they put the buffet breakfast across a refurbished wooden boat they’ve lugged inside from sea. You also have the pleasure of panoramic views overlooking the vast fjord and mountain range. Not even your imagination could muster up a landscape more beautiful.
The town of Henningsvær is full of character and charm with old wharf buildings, brightly painted and battered by the harsh elements. With the addition of a few craft shops, galleries and more unusual architecture, there’s a touch of bohemia about the place – and a olde-worlde feeling.
The drive to get into town is one of the best drives on the island (hopefully the weather is clear) as the road swoops low beside the sea. When we began exploring it seemed like we were the only tourists here; in fact, the whole town appeared deserted which gave it a strange, Twin Peaks vibe.
I’m not into football but I also can’t help feel inspired by what’s probably the world’s most beautiful football stadium:
© Amusing Planet
Accommodation on Henningsvær
This time I haven’t chosen a robu for accommodation, instead the waterfront Henningsvær Bryggehotel does the trick with its more conventional hotel offerings and comforts.
Where to eat in Henningsvær
There’s a surprising number of cafes on Henningsvær for its size, and a lot of people come here to try Fiskekrogen, a well-known restaurant in town specialising in fish and seafood.
Just a single letter, surely Å must be the world’s shortest name for a town? Well, with a population of only approximately 150 people I think you could only call this place a village at best. Besides the astonishingly short name (make sure you take a picture of the sign post as you enter this tiny fishing hamlet) it also has astonishing beauty and some stunning walking routes.
Located close to Reine, the drive heading into Å is incredibly atmospheric with re-painted rorbuer lining the shores, many of them sticking straight out from the sea or perched precariously on rocks connected by wooden footbridges. Racks of dying cod lie nearly everywhere, and picture-postcard scenes occur at almost every turn. With this is mind it’s the ideal location for the Torresfiskmuseum which outlines the history of the stockfish industry in great detail.
Since this place is extremely small I probably wouldn’t suggest staying here, but is an essential place to stop for exploration with a car.