So, we’re back after a month-long digital detox that was less intentional and more a case of “it couldn’t be helped!”. After 6 weeks (plus!) of wedding planning and having family stay with us and what felt like a constant “go-go-go”, there just wasn’t time (or energy) to sit down and blog, edit photos and basically reflect on all that was going on. Who needs online social media when your real every day life is already full of hugs and “likes” and visible emoticons 😛 I guess you can say, I got a case of “technallergy”. That said, now we are thankfully back to a bit of normality and routine. Which means, it’s time for me to do some writing. This blog post is for anyone interested in Lofoten or planning to go. Enjoy!
I first found out about Lofoten before we’d even moved to Norway. I have this Google Chrome app called Momentum which displays gorgeous, breath-taking photos of places around the world every day, with a nice little inspirational quote at the bottom (because I’m a sucker for those). One day, while living in Hong Kong, this photo appeared and I immediately took a screenshot of it and sent it to Nicolas: “Where is this?! We have to go!”
Lofoten, I found out, is a group of islands very far up north in Norway. It took us 18 hours of driving with a mid-way rest in Trondheim to get there. It’s exact coordinates on the map are 68°20′N 14°40′E, which puts it above Iceland and in line with the northern parts of Alaska, Russia and Greenland. We actually drove past the arctic circle to get there. Here it is on a map:
Known for it’s dramatic scenery, jutting peaks and traditional fishing villages – we would only find out about the white sand beaches later! – Lofoten is home to just 24,500 people and has 6 major districts or islands (from furthest West): Moskenesøya, Vestvågsøya, Austvågsøya, Hinnøya, Langøya and Andøya. “Øya”, by the way, meaning “island”. Now you have to bear in mind that prior to Lofoten, this was our experience of “jutting peaks” by the water:
El Nido, Palawan, Philippines
Pretty incredible, huh? Well, you’d never guess but Norway’s got it’s own version of El Nido… except with arctic cold waters. At least, both Nicolas and I have equal bragging rights to the beautiful landscapes of our past.
How to get to Lofoten
You can fly (it takes 2 hours from Oslo). But we drove (18 hours!). Mostly because we were super excited to test out our new makeshift campervan and because we heard the views were incredible on the way there. If you are going to drive, you’ll be following the E6 highway all the way there from Oslo.
Tip: You can save 6 hours of driving by taking a drive-on ferry from Bodø, which docks right at Moskenes (the western most island). The ferry takes 3-4 hours (depending on whether you get the fast or long ferry) and costs NOK760 (car + driver) + NOK220 (per extra passenger). Worth it if you’re only planning to visit the more popular western islands.
Where to stay in Lofoten
I wish someone had told us how busy Lofoten gets in the summer, how rorbuer (traditional fisherman cabins turned into hotels) are so expensive… and how limited the options are. I’ve travelled all my life and used to being able to book last-minute accommodation but trust me – if you’re planning to go to Lofoten, book your stay well in advance and prepare to shell out some extra cash for a nice room. That said, most budget travellers tend to stay in Airbnbs (again, book in advance), hostels and campsites. Here are the campsites we used, and where:
This was by far the cleanest, most spacious and comfortable campgrounds, with a palpable air of excitement as most people staying here are probably just arriving to Lofoten (the campgrounds are located literally right across the road from where the ferry docks from Bodø) or just about to leave, with happy glows on their cheeks. Plenty of designated space for campervans and tents, and even more space if you wish to set up your tent on the surrounding hillsides. Clean, modern bathrooms. Ocean-view.
Unstad Arctic Surf
“But I don’t surf…” OK, hear me out. That was my first reaction when I heard about this place. But honestly, it’s worth the visit, especially if you’ve been camping out in tents and want a slightly more affordable (and cute) alternative to the more expensive rorbuers. The campsite is located on the north part of Vestvagøy and you can choose to pitch a tent or check into one of their cabins if they’re available. We got lucky with this cute little cabin for NOK1,290/night, the last one they had. The grounds and facilities again were super clean and spacious. There’s even a little restaurant and chill lounge on site as well as a shared kitchen… and sauna! The camp itself is nestled in this valley with sprawling flat farmland and the ocean just a 2-min drive up the road.
Lyngvaer Lofoten Bobilcamping
This was by far our least favourite campsite, only because we were so spoiled with the first two. I mean, you get what you pay for. The grounds here are much smaller and more compact than the others. You definitely don’t get a lot of “free” space. The bathroom situation is also a bit worn down and you have to pay 10kr for a 5 min hot shower (tokens can be bought at reception). Definitely didn’t feel as clean and bright. That said, we paid NOK170 for the night to park with our car and tent. So really, you can’t complain. We were also there in the peak of summer so I’m sure there were a lot more people than usual. Their website actually makes it look a lot nicer than it did when we were there. So you may get lucky! One of the bonuses of staying here is that it’s also close to a lot of boulders and crags if that’s what you’re here for.
You will need a car. The islands are close enough together when you drive, but for sure it would be a real backpacker’s journey by foot. We heard you can rent cars on the island, but definitely more expensive. (Again, Lofoten is quite a small tourist destination compared to other places in the world so supply of everything is limited, therefore premium). Otherwise most people seemed to have their own vehicles. There were actually a lot of campervans and trailers. Hitch-hiking was not an uncommon sight; we actually picked up a couple of people on our last day. Most of the hitchhikers you see are young adult travellers, usually in groups of 2 or 3. But yea, bring a car if you can.
Top 10 things to do in Lofoten
This was our rough itinerary, in pretty much this order going from Å in the west to Heningsvaer in the east…
1. Visit Å
Because when will you ever get to visit a town with only 1 letter in its name!
2. Take a postcard picture of Reine
This view at Reine is one of the most famous ones you will see of Lofoten online. Worth the visit at sunset when you get this nice golden glow on the town.
3. Hike down to Kvalvika Beach and tan yourself
There is a trail that starts right by the roadside which takes an hour up and over the ridge down to Kvalvika beach. The view once you get to the top is incredible. I could not believe my eyes. Blue skies and white sand beaches in Norway?! HELLO! I’m home!
4. Drive around and enjoy the view
One of my favourite quotes by WH Davies: “What is this life if full of care we have no time to stand and stare…” Stand and stare. Drive and stare. Whatever you do, soak it all up!
5. Witness Midnatsol / Midnight Sun
Midnatsol or “midnight sun” is a phenomenon you can see up in Lofoten during the summer. The sun never really sets. It just dips briefly right below the horizon and comes up again. We were lucky enough to catch this while we were up there. PS – now you know where Edvard Munch’s iconic “i”-shaped moons and sunsets come from!
6. Visit the Lofotr Viking Museum
Get your cultural fix by visiting the Lofotr Viking Museum at Vestvagøy. The longhouse here is a reconstruction of the largest building ever found from the Viking period in Norway. You can even walk down to the lake nearby and go on a little boat trip.
7. Grab lunch at Klatrekafeen in Heningsvaer
Heningsvaer is one of the busiest towns in Lofoten and the furthest east we went. Beware there are a LOT of tourists during the peak summer period and parking is scarce… and pricey! Grab lunch at Klatrekafeen, which is basically the cafe that’s part of the climbing school here.
8. Go bouldering!
I don’t boulder outdoors. I just take photos 😛 Lofoten is climbing and bouldering mecca in the northern parts of Norway. Rough Gem, in particular is a famous 8b project that Nicolas was dying to just touch.
9. Grab another tan at Haukland Beach
Beach galore. Though, mind you, even in the summer the water is chilly. I honestly don’t understand how these Norwegian kids do it. I tried sticking my feet in for a second and they both started aching so much like they were immediately cramping to try and keep themselves warm. It’s warm in the sun though. Actually it was pretty darn hot. I had to ask Nicolas to pitch the tent for me because I was getting too hot. I know. Who would’ve thunk. In Norway!
10. Visit the Glassblowers
I enjoyed this more than I thought I would. It’s not like I collect glass, but it was pretty cool to see how it was made. The Glasshytta or “Glass cabin” at Vikten is actually closer to Moskenes, where we started our trip. We stopped off here on the way back towards the ferry pier.
That’s it. Our approach to Lofoten in a nutshell. Hope you found it useful!
Over and out.