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Located a hundred miles north of the Arctic Circle, the Lofoten Islands are one of Norway’s most breathtaking destinations. Precipitous mountains tower above fjords while pretty fishing villages like famous Reine are dotted with cozy red fishing huts known as rorbuer, many of which have been transformed into vacation rentals that provide spectacular views. While you could simply sit back and enjoy the scenery, there are plenty of other things you should experience while you’re here too.
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What Is It? The Lofoten Islands are one of the best places to be to watch the northern lights with the magical colors reflected in the sea.
Why Do It? It’s a perfect spot to capture the views, due to its location above the Arctic Circle. They can be seen anytime between September and March, but historically, March and October bring the greatest occurrence of solar activity.
Good to Know: You might start by watching a sunset at Haukland Beach and then head to Uttakleiv Beach, known as one of the best vantage points for capturing photos of the aurora borealis with the stunning mountains against the illuminated sky.
What Is It? Whale watching in Norway is an unforgettable experience, done mostly in the north with many trips departing from the tiny town of Andenes.
Why Do It? In the summer, sightings of sperm whales are reliable with pilot whales and minkes often spotted too, while the winter brings humpback and orca whales to the fjords that will be filled with millions of herring for them to feast on.
Good to Know: As the fish move deeper into the fjords in time for the winter weather, the whales tend to move in with them and the pods that follow them can be huge.
What Is It? Uttakleiv Beach is not only ideal for catching a glimpse of the northern lights, but it’s also worth a visit any time of the year as Norway’s most photographed beach.
Why Do It? The craggy shoreline, rock pools, sandy beach, open ocean, and view towards the mountains over Steinsfjord are even more magnificent under the changing light at dusk.
Good to Know: If you’re looking for a nice stroll before the sun goes down, you can walk the old coastal road from here to Haukland Beach about 2.5 miles away.
What Is It? Paddling around the fjords is a top thing to do in this archipelago, providing a unique and breathtaking perspective from the crystal-clear water.
Why Do It? This is a kayaker’s paradise, with plenty of outfitters who will rent you one or take you on a tour. Henningsvaer is a good launching-off point, a place that’s often referred to as Norway’s own Venice, situated on two islands with many picturesque small bays and a coastline of small islets.
Good to Know: As you begin, you’ll see the shorelines covered with wooden storehouses for fish, some converted into eateries and accommodation, and you’ll get views of iconic Mount Vågakallen and nearby Mount Festvågtind as well.
What Is It? The Lofoten Islands are famous for their colorful fishing villages with dramatic scenery of fjords, beaches, the sea, and mountains. But there may be none that can beat the village of Henningsvær, home to a population of only around 500.
Why Do It? Postcard perfect, it’s strewn across several small islands and graced by traditional architecture. Until 1983 it could only be reached by boat, giving it the nickname “the Venice of Lofoten.” It’s also one of the best places to spot sea eagles, Northern Europe’s largest bird of prey.
Good to Know: For an unrivaled view of the port and surrounding scenery, take the moderate trek to the nearby peak of Festvågtind.
What Is It? While getting out on the water is really a must, hiking will provide some of the most jaw-dropping views.
Why Do It? Many treks involve climbing to the top of a mountain, delivering a bird’s-eye look at the scenery, but it takes some effort. Yet it’s well worth the reward as there is nothing like standing atop a mountain peak here. The approximately six-mile Munken hike is a favorite, starting near the ocean and climbing about 2,523 feet above sea level. Along the way, you’ll pass the Munkebu hut, a cabin operated by the Norwegian Trekking Association where you can choose to spend the night immersed among the mountainous peaks.
Good to Know: For a shorter trek head to Mannen above Haukland Beach which can be accomplished within 90 minutes.
What Is It? If you like to surf, Unstad Beach offers world-class waves that draw surfers from across the globe.
Why Do It? Winter brings powerful waves for the more experienced but in the summer they’ll be more manageable.
Good to Know: The water temperature ranges from a chilly 46 to 57 degrees, so you’ll definitely need a wet suit. If that’s not something you want to experience, it’s worth coming just to watch those who do.
What Is It? Magic Ice Lofoten offers the chance to experience an ice bar, something you’ve probably heard about by now as they’ve become increasingly popular.
Why Do It? This one is also the world’s first permanent ice gallery with everything made of ice, including sculptures of Vikings and fishermen along with the glasses at the bar. The installations and sculptures are illuminated with colorful LED lighting combined with the soft glow of candlelight and soothing music. While you sip your drink, the bartender will tell you all about the concept.
Good to Know: You’ll learn about the coastal culture and traditions of fishermen in the archipelago as well as tales of wood nymphs, trolls, and the ghost of the sea.
What Is It? You won’t want to miss a visit to the Lofoten’s most quintessential fishing villages, Reine, Hamnoy, and Sakrisoy which are scattered across several small islands.
Why Do It? They feel more like one town as they lie so close together, and as one might think, fishing is still popular here.
Good to Know: You’ll see lots of seagulls trying to swoop down to take the leftovers, fish heads drying on racks, and fishing boats out on the water.
What Is It? There are many picturesque Nordic churches throughout the islands that offer a great way to fill your Instagram account, but the one that’s truly not to be missed is Buksnes Church.
Why Do It? The magnificent red wooden church was built in “dragon-style”, or dragestil, a popular design in early 1900s Scandinavia. But there’s been a church on this very site dating as far back as the early 14th-century, as the structures have had to be replaced or rebuilt due to storm damage, including fires sparked by lightning.
Good to Know: The one standing today here in the village of Gravdal on the island of Vestvågøya was consecrated in 1905 and boasts a stunning mountain backdrop.
What Is It? Secluded Kvalvika Beach, tucked between beautiful steep mountain cliffs that plunge straight to the sea, is considered one of the most beautiful in the islands.
Why Do It? It became even more popular after being spotlighted in the documentary “North of the Sun” which follows the lives of two Norwegian friends who lived on the beach during the winter, surviving in a cabin constructed only from washed-up debris.
Good to Know: It can only be reached by hiking, but it’s just an hour’s trek each way, with the isolation making it even more enchanting.
What Is It? While it might sound crazy, snorkeling and diving are popular pursuits in the Lofoten Islands, especially in the winter.
Why Do It? Put on a warm dry suit, don a snorkel, and mask to float comfortably on the surface in the water with orcas. A transformational experience, you’ll be able to hear the animals communicate with each other, perhaps talking about their herring feast, something you’ll see many as you’ll be immersed in their world rather than being simply an observer.
Good to Know: Lofoten Opplevelser offers this incredible experience from Sørkjosen.
What Is It? If you have any interest in Vikings, the Lofotr Viking Museum (Lofotr Vikingmuseum) in Bostad is a must.
Why Do It? The highlight is its authentic reconstruction of a 272-foot-long chieftain’s house, a quintessential example of a Viking longhouse. It’s the largest Viking-era building on record standing in the same site where an original was around the 6th-century AD. You can watch an excellent short film about the life of the chieftain and his family and then take an interpretive tour of the house. There are also many artifacts on display that were discovered here during archaeological digs too. After exploring, head down to the lake to see replica Viking ships.
Good to Know: If you happen to be here in August you can attend the Lofotr Viking Festival.
What Is It? Who doesn’t love the adorable puffin? Værøy, a wild and remote island, is famous for its bird cliffs on the Måstad peninsula where vast colonies gather.
Why Do It? There are thousands of puffins that nest here and many other sea birds can be witnessed too, including sea eagles, gannets, guillemots, cormorants, terns, eiders, and kittiwakes.
Good to Know: The best way to see them is to join a puffin boat safari between May and about mid-August, or you can visit on your own by ferry.