Ainnelise Niyvold Liundbye UPDATED: 05 SEP 2020
Visit Svolvær and the Lofoten Islands, Norway
The Lofoten Islands are geographically like a neat row of drops in the sea, connected with bridges as well as tunnels through the massive mountains.
A stay on Lofoten in Norway will not be complete without a car trip across the islands – approximately 150 km (90 miles) – from Svolvær on Austvågøy across Vestvågøy and Flakstadøya to the last coastal village Å on Moskenesøya. Along the way you will pass picturesque small fishing villages, a ton of bridges, pristine white beaches with emerald waters and breathtaking mountainous landscape. This is the epitome of the Lofoten Islands in Northern Norway.
If you have limited time and are real ambitious, you can do it all in one single day! Or you can take 8 or 10 days exploring the islands at your own pace – staying in some of the small villages you will pass through!
In case you arrive on the Lofoten Islands and Svolvær as a stop on your Hurtigruten trip along the West Coast in Norway, consider staying a bit longer here. If this is an option for you, we definitely recommend that you stay a few more days here to experience the unique islands, local culture and spectacular nature with steep cliffs plunging right into the sea.
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Arriving at the right time of the year, you may well get to see an abundance of brimming wooden racks of stockfish dispersed all over the Lofoten Islands. Already when you from the seaside approach the main coastal town, Svolvær, you will be met by tons of fish hanging on ‘hjell’.
The cod on ‘hjell’ is part of the old fishing culture and heritage on Lofoten in Norway. Traditionally, fish are dried here during the months of February until May.
The process of drying fish is one of the oldest known preservation methods for fish and has been practiced here for more than a thousand years. It was already an export commodity in the Viking Age and later the most significant Norwegian product in the Medieval trade. Evidence of this is provided in the 13th-century Icelandic prose work Egil’s Saga.
Over the years it has grown to a popular export to the Mediterranean countries, mainly Italy and Portugal, as well as to South East Asia, North America and Africa. The vast majority of the cod caught on Lofoten and in Norway in general comes from the North-East Arctic / the Barents Sea.
Stockfish differs from clipfish as it is not salted at all, but solely dried in the wind. The conditions on the Lofoten Islands in Norway are optimal since the climate here is mild, and the fish therefore hardly ever freezes. It dries so fast in the Lofoten cold and salty wind that it does not rotten, but instead undergoes the process of fermentation where bacteria mature the stockfish.
You may visit the stockfish museum in Å for a deeper insight into the stockfish culture.
There is probably not any place more photogenic than Svolvær when you arrive from the seaside. Coming to Lofoten in spring, picturesque racks of stockfish await you at the entrance to Svolvær Harbour.
Svolvær on Austvågøya is a vibrant old fishing town with idyllic rorbuer, the fishermen’s cabins unique to Lofoten, quayside buildings, fish landing station and multiple other local buildings, as well as small intriguing art galleries. If you are in Svolvær on a ‘market day’, you can also pay a visit to the town market with local produce, fresh fish, baskets and traditional Norwegian knitwear.
Lofoten’s ‘capital’ is the gateway to the other islands and coastal villages, as well as to exciting island adventures, land-based or by boat. You can go on an eagle safari, a Northern Lights tour in winter, or take a boat into the thrilling Trollfjord flanked by steep mountains and only 100 metres wide at its narrowest point.
If you want to enter a former fish-freezing plant, visit the Magic Ice, which is probably the coldest place in Svolvær, a gallery brimming with crystal clear ice sculptures! The permanent exhibition is an Arctic experience constructed of massive ice.
Another museum worthy of a visit is the Lofoten Krigsminnemuseum commemorating World War II. Inside the museum, you will find historic artifacts from the war and learn about Norway’s role in the world war.
While in Svolvær and the other villages on the Lofoten Islands, you will of course have to try some of the delicious local fish specialities!
At Svolvær you can also hike Fløyfjellet, more specifically the Svolværgeita pinnacle at a height of about 150 m (490 ft). These rocks look like a goat’s horns, hence the name. The peak offers great views of the town, the surrounding mountains and a good part of the archipelago. It is a moderate climb which takes about 4 hours (round trip).
A few kilometres from Svolvær you will reach Kabelvåg featuring a wooden church from 1898, galleries and museums, for instance Lofotmuseet, a polar folk museum on the very location where original rorbuer (fishermen’s cabins) have been excavated.
You will now continue to Henningsvær, unarguably one of the most charming fishing villages on the Lofoten Islands – and probably in the whole of Norway! It is full of old fishing history and awesome for photo shots!
To reach the village you will leave the main road and drive along a narrow stretch of road with sporadic glimpses of amazingly beautiful sea. Henningsvær is also a climbing hub in this part of Northern Norway – near the village you will find the heart of the rock climbing scene on the Lofoten Islands. Climbing options are for instance Presten (‘The Priest’), a majestic 400 m granite bulk, or the peak Vågakallen.
Henningsvær is stunning – one of the prettiest coastal villages on the islands! You will agree when you see the small village and the harbour for the first time.
One of the galleries you absolutely need to consider visiting in Henningsvær is the Gallery Lofoten with a prime location right at the harbour. Here you will find a collection of works from the Golden Age of North Norwegian painting, among other things depicting the fishing culture.
Another gallery in Henningsvær is the old Kaviar Factory which has been converted into an enticing contemporary art gallery.
While strolling around in the village, don’t forget to stop at Henningsvær Vertshus in the main street and have a couple of ready-to-eat fish cakes! They melt in your mouth and are way better than sweets!
Going back on the main road, you will now pass a couple of bridges, the Olderfjord and Gimsøystraumen to get onto Vestervågøy. Along the way there are also awesome hiking options with the possibility of panoramic views.
Soon you will reach the Lofotr Vikingmuseum at Borg with the largest Viking longhouse ever found. It is a unique opportunity to get insight into the Viking history here on the Lofoten Islands and in this part of Norway!
You will be able to experience a full-scale reconstruction of the longhouse, all very authentic and captivating. Try the Viking food and learn about the Viking Age and life a thousand years ago.
From here you can continue down to Stamsund, another coastal village which is also a great base for fishing and hiking. Here you can also enjoy breathtaking sceneries and maybe stay in a rorbu cabin. Stamsund has a Hurtigruten ferry terminal and the village is a popular location for cod fishing in winter.
Next, you will continue to Flakstadøya and make a small ‘detour’ to the southern coast to another enchanting historic fishing community and village on the Lofoten Islands, Nusfjord.
Steep mountainsides rise around the small fishing village and provide shelter. Ocre and red fishermen’s cabins, rorbuer, traditional fishing boats moored along the pier and racks of dryfish in the sunlight essentially make up the setting. The village is situated just above the still water mirror hiding the deep fjord – and at the same time humbly lying at the foot of the massive mountains.
Sea gull colonies can year-round be spotted on the rocks opposite, and the birds reside everywhere on the houses, above the doors and windows.
Around 1900 Nusfjord experienced its heyday. There was a cod-liver oil factory that produced both high quality cod-liver oil used as medicine, and a low quality oil used in primarily lubricants and paint. Some of the old houses still exist: the boathouses, the smokehouse, the bakery, the power station and a still working old shop from 1907 having both the original till and counter.
Do pay the exhibition in the old cod-liver oil factory a visit – and watch the film about cod fishing on Lofoten in the olden days – it is absolutely amazing!
It is not much more than a hundred years since 1500 Norwegian fishermen still kept Nusfjord busy as their convenient base to operate out of Lofoten. Since then it has continuously, although with time to a lesser degree, been an active fishing community.
Nevertheless, about 20 years ago, due to structural changes, the village was rather turned into a museum and a holiday resort where people come to get the feel of the old Lofoten fishing community and traditional way of working. The present-day fishing industry has moved to a new location.
Back on the main road – Flakstad and its beautiful and enticing fjord are next. With a bit of luck you may be able to spot a sea eagle soaring in the air here!
A few minutes’ drive from here you will reach Ramberg with the fine, old coral beach. It features the most pristine, white sand and clear turquoise-emerald water. Solely looking at the water and the seabed, it could easily be mistaken for more southerly and warmer regions!
In summer it is an outstanding beach due to the Gulf Stream! In winter the white snow bordering the beach is a quaint contrast to the spectacular shades of green. Even if the temperature is close to the freezing point, you may feel like immersing yourself into the inviting crystal clear water!
Ramberg Beach is one of the most breathtaking beaches on the Lofoten Islands. Some of the other beaches on the archipelago definitely also worth a visit are Uttakleiv Beach, Haukland Beach and Kvalvika Beach.
You will continue down to Reine on Moskenesøya.
In spring on your way across the islands you will pass not just thousands, but millions of dryfish on ’hjell’ in the small local communities. There is a mix of massive racks with an uncountable number of fish and fish heads, and then these really tiny racks – or maybe just a pyramid rack with one wooden stick of the few fish needed in the family household.
At other times of the year the fish are packed in the warehouses ready for export!
Reine is one of the picture-postcard traditional fishing villages which in winter boasts millions of fish hanging on ‘hjell’ – on the racks. In some places you may spot the entire body of the fish hanging, and in other places it is only the heads tied up together, hanging to dry in the clear and cool air.
The finest quality of fish is exported to Italy. Italy is the most significant importer of the stockfish owing to the Italian, Pietro Querini, who brought the first dryfish home to Italy from a stranded Venetian merchant ship. Due to its relatively dry and mild climate, Lofoten is the ideal place in Norway, and even in Europe and in the rest of the world, to dry the fish, and therefore the worldwide export has grown real big.
The scenic village features rorbuer and one of the most breathtaking fjords, Reinefjorden, flanked by peaks of granite. While in Reine, you may consider hiking Reinebringen (450 m), a very popular hike with panoramic views.
On the way to the final destination reachable by car, you will pass through the idyllic fishing village Sørvågen, also with hiking options.
Finally, the last village, Å, or Å i Lofoten, appears, and here the road, Kong Olavs veg, stops!
Stroll around to explore the place and take some incredible shots of the typical colourful rorbu cabins and fish racks!
The hotel Scandic Vestfjord Lofoten, located in Svolvær, offers rooms with views of the Vest Fjord and the mountains. It features a breakfast restaurant overlooking Svolvær Harbour. Free parking on site. The Hurtigruten Cruise Ship Terminal is just a few hundred metres away.
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Located on an island in Svolvær Harbour just 150 m from the town centre and 10 minutes’ walk from the Hurtigruten Terminal. Hotel restaurant and bar in a boat-shaped building with panoramic views of the harbour. Some rooms offer a sea view.
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Modern hotel located by Svolvær Harbour. Suite accommodation options with a balcony and views of the fjord. There is a bakery, a café, a restaurant and a pub in the same building.
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Located just 15 minutes’ walk from Karl Johans Gate. The hotel features spacious rooms, bright decor and a lobby bar with a small garden.
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Located in central Oslo just 300 m from Karl Johans Gate. Aker Brygge is just 14 minutes’ walk away. The hotel features stylish rooms and offers luggage storage.
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