Many people believe that the Lofoten islands in Norway are the most beautiful islands in the world, not the Maldives or Seychelles.

That’s because on these islands the diversity in landscapes is much larger than on those tropical islands. The Lofoten is more rugged and wild, which is something that attracts nature lovers. And perfect for hiking, kiting, biking or climbing mountains.

Rorbuer: traditional fishing huts on the Lofoten islands.
Rorbuer: traditional fishing huts on on the Lofoten islands. Corno van den Berg

Best things to see and do in the Lofoten:

Look for the famous Lofoten white-tailed eagle

A white-tailed eagle in the Lofoten.
A white-tailed eagle in the Lofoten. Corno van den Berg

The Eurasian sea eagle is one of the top attractions of the islands. You can spot them relatively easily, for example at the majestic Trollfjord. Especially if you take a sea-eagle safari, where they feed the animals fresh fish. They’ll swoop by the boat and grab the fish from the water, or even catch them in the air. It’s a perfect photo opportunity. Do keep in mind that if it’s cloudy, you’ll have less light and the photos could become blurry as the animals are in constant motion.

See the dramatic mountains of Reine

The village of Reine in the Lofoten.
The village of Reine in the Lofoten. Odieguru

The fishing village of Reine, and especially its surrounding landscapes, have been a known destination for years. Especially the photos you see on postcards, though those were taken on one of the rare sunny days that this part of the world has. The village has a backdrop of some dramatic mountain peaks, so it’s kind of become the poster child for Lofoten. Take your time when you visit, find a nice place to sit down and take it all in. Or climb one of the surrounding hills and enjoy the panoramic views. You won’t be disappointed. Thanks to the changeable climate here, you’ll almost get a different view by the minute.

Discover the fishing village of Nusfjord

The red cottages of Nusfjord.
The red cottages of Nusfjord. Corno van den Berg

There are many fishing villages here, but according to the locals, the best-preserved one is Nusfjord. When you visit this town in between the villages of Å and Leknes, you’ll see the Lofoten at its most beautiful. The small red cottages wedged between the surrounding cliffs, the sound of the sea, the sky and the colourful local people. Plenty of material for beautiful memories and photos.

Learn all about stockfish and clipfish

The harvest of the stockfish.
The harvest of the stockfish. Corno van den Berg

The images are known across the world: fish hanging to dry on racks in the sun. The fish is almost always cod, which is called stockfish ((tørrfisk) in its dried state. Drying fish in the Norwegian sun and wind has been a preservation methods for centuries here. The fish is caught in springtime and then the heads are removed and they’re gutted. It takes about 3 months to dry them in the open air, then they are stored in well-ventilated warehouses. Archaeologists believe the Vikings copied this method from the native peoples they encountered on the east coast of Canada, around 1000 AC.

The Portuguese used a similar method, but they salted the fresh fish first before drying. They were then laid to dry on rocks (known as clips) and they were called clipfish. Both ways of preserving work very well, and keeps the fish edible for up to a year. A kilo of fresh fish will yield about two hundred grams of dried fish using these methods. To eat it, it needs to be welled for about 36 hours. You can try dried fish at the Lofoten Stockfish Museum in Å, in the most southern part of the Lofoten.

Go diving or snorkeling

Diving in the Lofoten is different.
Diving in the Lofoten is different. Lofoten Diving

The waters of the Lofoten are freezing cold, but also crystal clear. One of the reasons why there live so many fish species in the waters. But it is also home to wales and orcas. With a special suit you can jump into the water and go diving or snorkeling. You will be amazed by what you will see underwater.

Try the different kinds of herring

Sild (herring) for lunch.
Sild (herring) for lunch. Cyclonebill

Herring is known as sild in Norwegian, and is popular on the Lofoten islands. You can get it in many different forms, and they even eat it for breakfast. Different herring options are: with cream, with sour cream, with pepper, with onion, with herbs, with mustard, with curry and even Madeira! You might need to get used to the taste, but the fish is generally very fresh and very tasty.

Walk around the islands

Hiking in the Lofoten.
Hiking in the Lofoten. Ramyoga

The Lofoten are ideal for hiking. You can take many trails, some tracks take a few hours, some take several days. The most famous trails are the ones to Reinebringen, the Hermannsdalstinden Summit, and from Nusfjord to Nesland. The tourist information centres on the Lofoten will be able to give you more information, and of course, there is plenty of information on the internet.

Try cycling around the archipelago

Norway isn’t really known for its cycling, but thanks to the winding roads on the Lofoten islands, the cars don’t drive very fast here. It’s also relatively flat, the highest point is around 130 meters above sea level, and the lowest point is at 130 meters below sea level. So it’s quite easy to get around. You can simply follow the E10 road from town to town, but you can also follow the side roads to the various village to the north and south. There is a signposted bike track from Å in the south to Fiskebøl in the north. Part of it runs along the roads, and parts are bike tracks through many tunnels. You can buy detailed maps at the tourist offices. Do keep in mind the weather changes often here, so go prepared.

Discover the larges Viking house in Norway

The Lofotr Museum in Bøstad.
The Lofotr Museum in Bøstad. Corno van den Berg

The Viking Museum is home to the largest Viking house that was found in Norway, which has been rebuilt at its original site. It’s on a hill near a harbour. These days it’s part of the Viking Museum in Bøstad, and you can wander around the huge house. There are many demonstrations of how the Vikings used to live here. There is a Viking ship nearby, which sometimes takes tourists for a sail.

See the many fish in the Lofoten Aqaurium

Fish in the Lofotvaktariet aquarium in the Lofoten.
Fish in the Lofotvaktariet aquarium in the Lofoten. Corno van den Berg

Many people are not aware that the water around the Lofoten has an extremely rich marine life. In the large aquarium in Kabelvåg (the ‘Lofotakvariet’) you can see the many different kinds of fish that live here. There are also crustaceans and much more. The water is icy cold around here, but the animals thrive in those conditions. The rich aquatic life here attracts whales, dolphins and birds. The Lofotakvariet’ is just outside Kabelvåg.

Look for the Vaeroy puffins

A close up of a Vaeroy puffin.
A close up of a Vaeroy puffin. Andreas Trepte

They are one of the most colourful kinds of birds in the world, and also one of the cutest. Their clumsy landings (they tend to land with an extra bounce) is adorable to watch, as is their squabbling about the limited nesting spots. Vaeroy is the best place to see the puffins, though unfortunately, their number is declining.

Explore the famous Trollfjord

A RIB-boat tour in the famous Trollfjord.
A RIB-boat tour in the famous Trollfjord. Corno van den Berg

The Trollfjord in the Lofoten is popular. In some parts it will be very narrow. You can cruise the fjord with a larger ship or with a zodiac (RIB-boat tour). The tour will show you this fjord in full glory. Big chance you will spot the white-tailed eagle. The cruises depart from Kabelvåg. The best time to go on the cruise is early in the morning as the weather is often at its best or end of the day when you have the best light.

Beautiful light over the Lofoten.
Beautiful light over the Lofoten. Corno van den Berg

The wildlife of the Lofoten

Thanks to their remote location in the Arctic Ocean, there is a lot of unspoiled nature. And you can find many birds, including the famous puffin. But also various types of whales and the killer whale and the largest of all: the blue whale. Although you should be lucky for that. Other animals that you can see here are: reindeer, arctic fox as well as the “common” fox.

Kitesurfers in the Lofoten.
Kitesurfers in the Lofoten. Corno van den Berg

There are steep mountains that end in yellow sandy beaches by very clear water. It’s a bit like ‘little Switzerland by the sea’. The location also adds to its grim and unpredictable weather, which can vary from sun and blue skies to snow and every shade of grey in the sky.

The islands of the Lofoten

The Lofoten is an archipelago with several islands. The most famous are: Skomvær, Røst, Værøy, Gimsøya, Moskenesøya, Vestvågøy, Austvågøy and Flakstadøya.

The wild coast on an island of the Lofoten.
The wild coast on an island of the Lofoten. Stein Liland

There is a more northern group of islands called Vesterålen, which is often considered to be part of the Lofoten, but it is not. These islands are the departure point the famous whale-spotting safaris, so they are also a popular destination, often combined with the Lofoten.

When you travel around the islands you’ll notice the distinct lack of large-scale developments. There are no large hotels or resorts. The roads are small and winding, going from town to town. The locals would like to keep it that way, but there are plenty of developers that are dying to build some tourist facilities in the area.

The islands around the Lofoten.
The islands around the Lofoten. Corno van den Berg

Above the polar circle

The islands are above the polar circle, but the North Atlantic Drift, or North Atlantic Current (NAC) creates a unique climate on the islands. Especially in comparison to other areas on the same gradient such as Alaska or Greenland. The climate is considered temperate, with mild winter and relatively cool summers.

But there’s more to the islands. The sea air hits the mountains, which creates interesting clouds. And when the sun is low there is an amazing interaction between light and landscape. This is one of the reasons many painters and photographers travel to these islands to capture those images. When you travel here, you’ll see the beautiful skies for yourself.

The quintessential image of the Lofoten. Corno van den Berg

Vikings and the Lofoten

What’s less know about the Lofoten is the influence of the Vikings. They built the largest Viking house here. And, when they were around in the middle ages, agriculture was not an option, so they lived off the natural wealth along the coast and built ships here. And in the 8th century, they began expeditions and trades to other parts of the world. Now, it’s the tourists that come here to explore!

Best time to visit the Lofoten:

The Lofoten is beautiful at any time of year, but the winter days are very short. Extremely short, in fact. Between December 7th and January 5th, it is dark 24 hours a day…

Spring starts at the end of May, that’s when the snow melts, the flowers start to bloom and the temperatures rise above zero degrees Celsius. It can get up to 15 degrees when it’s sunny in June, but it can also rain all day.

The summer is generally the best time to visit the Lofoten, with a good chance of nice weather, and it’s light 24 hours a day.

Autumn begins late August, and the weather will start getting cooler and become more changeable. But the autumn colours of the many bushes do give the landscape an extra dimension.

A house in the rugged landscape of the Lofoten.
A house in the rugged landscape of the Lofoten. Corno van den Berg

Best time to spot wildflife:

  • Whales: Tours to see these animals start at the end of May and finish in September
  • Orcas: You can see them any time, there is no ‘orca season’
  • Puffins: These animals brood on their eggs in May and June on the many islands, so they are not hard to spot. The rest of the months they spend hunting fish in the water.