The Lofoten Islands, Norway
I wrote this guide to visiting the Lofoten Islands, Norway because I had so many questions while planning our trip.
My husband and kids had visited a few year earlier (without me as I was at a conference) and had simply raved about the Lofotens. In fact, they declared Lofoten, Norway as their favorite place…on earth.
Several years later when we had the opportunity to take another family trip to Norway, there was no question that the Lofoten Islands would be on the itinerary.
While I am no stranger to trip planning, I found the Lofoten Islands part of our trip uniquely challenging from a logistics point of view, largely due to its remote location. With that in mind, in this post, I try to answer most of the questions that you might have while planning your trip.
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Lofoten Islands Video
To help answer the question of Why you should visit the Lofotens, I offer up this 2 minute Lofoten video.
Where are the Lofoten Islands Located?
The Lofoten Islands are located in Norway, north of the Arctic Circle, spanning the 68th and 69th parallels.
Is Lofoten Worth Visiting?
If you love natural beauty that includes mountains that seem to slice right into the ocean, majestic hikes, charming little villages and cold water dips (in crystal-clear waters) – then Lofoten Islands, Norway are for you.
What is Lofoten Known For?
The Lofoten Islands are famous for their rugged beauty and picturesque landscapes that attract visitors from all over the world.
Long before the tourists started visiting the Lofotens, the region was known for their Arctic cod – with the dried fish being shipped all over the world. While the catches aren’t what they once were, the industry is still a big part of life in the Lofotens (you can see the fish drying racks all over the islands). In fact, most Lofoten accommodation is in refurbished rorbuers – or traditional Norwegian fishing cabins.
If Arctic swims are your thing, the Lofotens are a great place to take a dip. Lofoten is also home to the world’s most northerly surf school (Unstad Arctic Surf).
When is the best time to visit the Lofoten Islands?
When should you go to the Lofoten Islands? The best time to visit Lofoten depends on what you like to do. Most tourists visit the Lofoten Islands in the summer months to enjoy long, sunny days of hiking, kayaking and general sightseeing.
This timing lines up well to experience the Midnight Sun. Due to it’s northern location above the Arctic Circle, the sun does not set at all in the Lofotens from then end of May to mid-July. This following photo, for example, was taken at 1am on July 8th.
How many days do you need in Lofoten?
For most people 3-7 nights in the Lofotens is about right. It’s a long way to go to visit for a shorter period of time (and it’s not inexpensive to get there).
If you are just there to enjoy the scenery and see the major sites, 3-4 nights is enough. If you are there to hike, surf, or ski (winter) as well as to see the major Lofoten sites, then you will want more time.
How do you get to the Lofoten Islands?
Wondering how to get to Lofoten? There are two main Lofoten airport options: Leknes (LEK) and Svolvær (SVJ). During the summer months, you can find direct flights from Oslo to Lofoten a few times a week.
You can alternatively fly to Bodø (BOO) and carry on with a connecting flight, or take a ferry from Bodø to Lofoten. There is a 3.5 hour passenger/car ferry that runs from Bodø to Moskenes (at the base of the Lofoten Archipelago) and an express passenger-only ferry that runs from Bodø to Svolvær (mid Lofoten location).
Please note that the ferries can get quite busy, especially in the summer months. It is recommended that you make a booking in advance. The summer Lofoten Islands ferry schedule comes out in April. See also: https://lofoten.info
Another option is to fly into the more northern towns of Narvik or Tromsø, rent a car, and then drive down into the islands (no ferry needed, just lots of bridges and tunnels).
Do you need a car in the Lofoten Islands?
Yes. Some of the most beautiful places in the Lofoten Islands are quite remote. While you could get around by bus to some of them, you are going to be wasting a lot of time.
We have done some very nice road trips in Norway, including driving from Oslo to Bergen, driving the Trolls Road and the Atlantic Ocean Highway. The Lofotens by car is at least as good, if not better.
You can either rent a car once you arrive in the Lofotens, or rent a car from one of the mainland airports (Bodø, Tromsø or Narvik) and drive in.
If you come from Bodø you will be best to take the car ferry to the Lofotens. If you fly into Narvik or Tromsø, you can drive down into the Lofotens without a ferry (just lots of tunnels and bridges).
Note: Car rentals in Norway are quite expensive. While I prefer to use major car rental brands, you can sometimes rent cars from local businesses and garages in the Lofoten Islands for lower prices.
Auto Europe guarantees the best Car Rental rates or they will match it.
Lofoten Islands Map
I have included this Lofoten Islands, Norway map so that you can see where flights and ferries come in to (marked with pins). If you zoom out, you can also get a good idea of how far north you will actually be!
Can you see the Northern Lights in Lofoten?
Yes, you can. September to March is the best time to see the Northern Lights in Lofoten, with peak viewing in October and March.
I would caution you, however, against booking a whole winter trip to the Lofotens with seeing the Northern Lights as the main event. From my experience, they can be rather elusive. I have done a winter trip to Iceland with this very goal – and nothing.
For Aurora Borealis to appear, you need to be at a northern latitude, it needs to be dark, it need to be relatively clear out and…this is the big one…there needs to be solar activity. I think any viewing should be seen as a gift!
When in Norway, you can check out this website which gives you an update on the likelihood of seeing the Northern Lights on any particular night. (https://www.norway-lights.com). They make it very simple, basically telling you whether you should even bother trying.
What is Lofoten weather like?
Changeable is the best way I can describe Lofoten Islands weather. Both of our family trips have been in mid-July. Some days, shorts and t-shirts were appropriate. Other days, especially on some of our hikes, we could have done with toques and mittens! Looking back, the temperatures from our time there ranged from 6-25°C (43-77°F).
While much cooler in the winter, the weather in the Lofotens during these month is not severe (with temperatures hovering around zero from November to March).
What should you wear to Lofoten?
As they say in Scandinavia “There is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes.” Having packed poorly for our first trip to Norway, I 100% agree.
While I intend to write a whole post on this topic because it is SO important, I would like to recommend packing layers.
For Summer: Light layers including t-shirts, a mid-layer (like a fleece) and a waterproof lightweight outer layer is most appropriate. I would even go so far as to add lightweight waterproof pants if you plan on going hiking (you are often scrambling over damp rocks).
A pair of trainers and a pair of waterproof hiking boots or shoes is also advisable. I hate hiking boots (I tend to think that I can wear Nike runners everywhere) but on some of our hikes I just felt stupid in my trainers. Despite being almost new, they did not have the ankle support, nor the traction needed for even a moderate Lofoten hike.
In fact, I took the following photo on one of our hikes to remind myself (and others) what appropriate Lofoten hiking attire looks like. Note the hiking shoes, hiking pants, gloves and toque…on July 6th.
Later on that same day, we had a beer in the sunshine on a rooftop patio in Henningsvær, but as you can see, it still wasn’t quite t-shirt and shorts weather.
For Winter: Although Lofoten Islands weather in winter is not extreme, you will want to include some warmer layers, wool socks, gloves and a hat.
To be perfectly honest, I could have used gloves and a hat on some of our hikes in mid-July. On one hike, for example, we started out at 14°C/57°F and at the top it was 6°C/43°F. The wind was blowing and I thought my ears might fall off.
Important: One of the challenges we faced in the Lofotens was drying our clothes out if they got wet. If the sun was out, it was easy – we could just hang them outside. If not, we had to seek out a dryer.
Here’s the thing though. Most dryers in Europe take hours to dry your clothes (sometimes more than 4!). Rather than high heat, I believe they work on a process of evaporation (no external venting system).
This is where waterproof clothing that protects your base layers can be important. I also don’t recommend doing a load of laundry just because you see a washing machine (unless you are going to be at the same place for a few days).
Where should you stay in Lofoten?
I spent a lot of time trying to find exactly the right location for us to stay in the Lofotens, but quite honestly, lots of areas are great.
If you are staying for more than 3 nights, you may want to split your trip to stay in 2 places allowing you to explore the surrounding areas near each without having to travel too far. On our last trip, for example, we stayed in both Hamnøy (south) and Henningsvær (middle).
Best place to stay in the Lofoten Islands
While I plan on writing a separate post on the best places to stay in the Lofoten Islands, I highly recommend staying in a reburbished rorbuer (Norwegian fishing cottage).
Our family has twice stayed at Eliassen Rorbuer in Hamnøy (once without me). Their cozy cabins, most with incredible views – are exactly what we hoped to find in the Lofotens
We also stayed in Henningsvaer which is just south of Svolvær at Tobiasbrygga. Henningsvær was my favourite town in the Lofotens because it had the picture-perfect views while also having some good restaurants, shops and even some galleries.
Note: If you have seen that very cool photo of the soccer pitch built into a rock in the Lofotens, that is in Henningsvær.
We used Booking.com to reserve all of our hotels in Norway. I find their cancellation terms to be very flexible – easily allowing for changes when needed.
Be sure to reserve early for the summer months in the Lofotens. The good places book up way ahead of time.
5 Best Rorbuer Hotels in the Lofotens
- Tobiasbrygga (Henningsvær) – See rates on Booking.com or TripAdvisor reviews.
- Eliassen Rorbuers (Hamnøy) – See rate on Booking.com or TripAdvisor reviews.
- Sakrisøy Rorbuers (Reine) – See rates on Booking.com or TripAdvisor reviews.
- Reine Rorbuers (Reine) – See rates on Booking.com or TripAdvisor reviews.
- Svinøya Rorbuers (Svolvær) – See rates on Booking.com or TripAdvisor reviews.
I want to mention one more place. While technically not part of the Lofotens (it’s just east on the mainland), it is so special that we rejigged our whole Lofotens trip to visit it. It’s called Manshausen and it can be reached via foot passenger ferry from either Bodø or Svolvær. Curious? Learn more about Manshausen Island Resort.