I first heard about the Lofoten Islands at an event hosted by Nat Geo Traveller and Intrepid Travel. When two of the four experts on the panel chose Lofoten as their favourite place on Earth to go exploring, I had to see it for myself!
Spoiler alert: I was not disappointed.
In case you’re wondering how to pronounce Lofoten, because the locals helped us get it right over a few drinks at probably the most remote pub I’ve ever been to, it has a strong F and a long O so sounds like this: Loff-ooten.
Lofoten is an archipelago of islands jutting out into the Norwegian Sea, which is directly above the North Sea, 1000km north of Oslo, connected to mainland Norway by a thin sliver of land. To put it into perspective, the islands are further north than Iceland and on a level with Greenland, and Murmansk in Russia, so in the Arctic Circle and within Northern Lights territory! For me this was one of the biggest attractions about the trip as I’d never seen them before.
As it transpired, Lofoten has the Northern Lights and so much more. Fishing villages perched on impossibly rocky outcrops, snowy mountains reflected in serene lakes, hidden beaches revealing beautiful sunsets, it really was unlike anywhere I’d ever visited. Around every corner another sweeping vista, more breathtaking than the last, would reach out and grab your attention; the scenery was simply jaw-dropping. Sunlight glinted off the snow and sea and bathed everything in an ethereal haze.
On my way to Lofoten from Oslo what struck me first was the stark surroundings. Flying over the barren landscape it felt like I was heading north of the Wall in Game of Thrones (who doesn’t want to be Jon Snow?) and into the unknown. Snow and ice dominates the land; great fissures and chasms interspersed with plunging fjords and frozen rivers. If I had journeyed into space and looked down on the world, this would have been the breathtaking view. And I wasn’t even there yet.
It was April which meant it was cold, around -2°C! This warms up to around 10°C in the summer. My friend’s luggage had been delayed in transit so it was a good job he wore his walking boots on the plane. Essential clothing for visiting Lofoten, in the winter at least, consists of: sturdy walking boots, thick socks, gloves, base layers, waterproof jacket (and trousers if walking), woolly hats, scarves and sunglasses.
For someone who loves trying new things, the Lofoten Islands are an explorer’s dream. We sea-kayaked around Henningsvaer, known as the ‘Venice of the North’ for its series of interlinking islands. One moment the sea was perfectly calm, then suddenly a weather front rolled in, making for a bumpy ride which was exhilarating and terrifying at the same time (though perfectly safe with our guide nearby). This is a great way to see orcas, humpback and sperm whales all year round.
In the summer, Lofoten becomes the land of the midnight sun and there are plenty of opportunities to kayak late at night, plus you can also go snorkelling or scuba diving too.
Another nautical activity we tried was fishing, which allows you to see the mountains and villages from another perspective entirely. Norway has the world’s largest stock of cod and as we were given our catch to cook ourselves at the end of the morning this meant we dined on delicious variations of cod for the rest of the week – another tip on ways to save money given dining out is pretty expensive in Scandinavia – go fishing early on in your trip!
As fishing is a way of life in Lofoten the coastline is packed with traditional fisherman’s huts called rorbuer. These red seaside cabins are built out into the water on stilts allowing easy access to the fishing boats below. Next to these huts the fishermen hang row upon row of cod, either the bodies, or the heads, to air-dry to the consistency of bark, which is then mainly exported to Nigeria, our local guide, Sven, told us. The smell of a thousand fish heads drying in the morning sun is certainly a unique experience! And one which defines coming to Lofoten.
The rest of the trip involved walking through snow-filled passes, climbing up hills for stunning views out along the coast, trying cross-country skiing for the first time, playing shuffleboard with the locals (which is a brilliant game if you’ve never tried it!), watching beautiful sunsets over the mountains and of course, chasing the Northern Lights.
Every night we’d head out into the darkness with a hip flask for warmth, searching out the blackest part of the islands to give us the best chance of seeing them. The sense of expectation and excitement was the highlight of the trip, never knowing where to look, or what you were going to find.
Suddenly, the sky would begin shimmering, shifting, murmuring an array of greens and blues. It’s a truly astonishing sight; magical and mystical and otherworldly.
The Vikings believed the lights were reflections of the Valkryries’ armour as they led Odin’s warriors to Valhalla, and even now, hundreds of years on, they still have the ability to amaze, and make you feel lucky to be alive.
I can’t recommend visiting Lofoten highly enough. Be prepared to discover the most stunning scenery, have the best adventures and try exciting new activities – it’ll open your eyes and blow you away!
I’m already planning a trip back to try some arctic surfing under the midnight sun…
Ready to embark on the most beautiful adventure ever? Venture to Northern Norway on this 9-day trip.
(Northern Lights image c/o Intrepid Travel. All other images c/o Guy Fowles.)