I have a real soft spot for far flung places – either very far north or very far south, so the Lofoten Islands had always been high on my list to visit. Sparsely populated, but rich in dramatic scenery, the roads of this wild and unusual outpost twist and turn to reveal gorgeous beaches, picturesque fishing villages, and mountains that rise straight from the sea. The islands are ideal for those who love to self-drive and for the adventurous traveller who will be spoilt for choice when it comes to activities.
We arrived quite late in the evening at the airport near Evenes on the mainland, a couple hundred kilometres north of the Arctic Circle. A walk across the tarmac brought us to the luggage belt and car rental desk, and the joy of a small and efficient airport meant it wasn’t long before we were in our vehicle and across the bridge to Lofoten. We had a 3 hour drive ahead of us, but one of the perks of travelling at the height of summer is that night-time drives this far north are still done in broad daylight under the midnight sun. A comforting silence enveloped us with no traffic, soothing water all around, and roads that are a dream to drive on. Nearing midnight, we reached our first overnight stop in Henningsvaer, a delightful fishing village with a spectacular entrance point that crosses several islands.
Henningsvaer may only have a population of around 500, but the village invites you to wander through its streets filled with colourful wooden buildings, shops, boutiques, cafes, restaurants, and museums. There’s even a gallery housed inside a former cannery. If you are like me and you love football, you’ll want to see Henningsvaer’s epic football pitch – a vast swathe of green squeezed onto a narrow rocky islet. There is no stand here, only racks for drying stockfish (empty in summer but filled with fish between February and May) and the shoreline. The pitch was empty when we visited, but what a glorious place for a match!
Next, our self-drive journey took us to Reine! If you have ever seen a photo of the Lofoten Islands, odds are it featured the fairy tale surrounds of this village. Reine is the perfect spot to experience an overnight stay in a rorbu – a traditional Norwegian fisherman’s cabin. The brightly coloured exteriors are often a combination of red with white trim and one end of the cabin is suspended over water. Mornings in Reine started with breakfast overlooking the harbour, a cup of coffee, and Norway’s beloved cardamom spiced buns. We opted for a cabin with a full kitchen that allowed for self-catering. There is a small supermarket in the village, as well as a fresh fish shop just over the bridge on Sakrisoy. Not far from Reine is Å, where the road ends with a nice spot for a short and easy scenic walk.
While driving in Lofoten, you never know what you’ll come across, and having a car means you’re on your own schedule. While on the road one day we drove past the village of Ballstad, and couldn’t resist stopping to see what the Ballstaddagan (‘Ballstad Days’) festival was all about. Throughout Lofoten there are both simple and more challenging walks, and a variety of outdoor activities such as kayaking and wildlife sea safaris. As you’d expect, there are a large number of fantastic beaches (names will end in ‘stranda’), perfect for a stroll or to simply sit and enjoy the beauty and tranquillity. There is even the Lofotr Viking Museum for those who wish to experience a taste of what life was like here a thousand years ago, along with learning how to shoot a bow and arrow and throwing an axe!
Before we knew it, we were back at the airport near Evenes to begin the long journey home, promising we’d be back one day. With more time on the next trip, I am definitely adding in the spectacular island of Senja, located between Lofoten and Tromso. The team at World Journeys can tailor-make your own spectacular journey through Lofoten, or you can take a look at our Self-Drive journey here.