Written by Lisa Michele Burns of The Wandering Lens
Norway’s majestic Lofoten Islands are one natural wonder you need to have on your bucket list. Rising up from the sea, the islands are like a coastal mountain range with peaks towering over 1000m high offering spectacular views for those willing to climb to the top.
One of the best ways to explore the Lofoten Islands is on a road trip, meaning you can stop the car whenever you see somewhere scenic which is more than likely around every corner. If Google maps is telling you it will take 30minutes to get from A to B, trust me, it will take more like 3 hours once you factor in photo stops!
Having visited in March during some very heavy winter snow storms, I created a guide to The Best Photography Locations in the Lofoten Islands. Below I’m going to share some tips on when to visit, how to hire a car and what are some must see locations to visit on your road trip.
When to visit the Lofoten Islands?
With dramatic scenery and landscapes, the islands are beautiful year-round however different seasons offer varied colours, challenges and risks in Northern Norway.
Winter brings with it the magic of the northern lights and snow-covered mountains which is what a lot of people travel to see. Once the skies are dark enough at night you’ll have a chance of witnessing aurora dancing above the beaches and fjords in an incredible display of natural beauty. Visitors can expect to encounter the northern lights when the skies are clear anytime from September through until March.
The downside of winter is the wild weather and when I say wild, I mean wild, can’t go outside kind of weather. With winds roaring in from the Arctic Sea and snow storms rolling through regularly throughout the winter months, it can be a tricky thing to time your visit just right for a gap in the weather. That said, those storms bring with them crazy scenes that in my opinion add to the rugged attraction of the Lofoten Islands.
Summer on the other hand is known for it’s calm, clear days where popular activities include kayaking, surfing and hiking. The midnight sun means you’re treated to 24hours of daylight throughout June and July, giving you plenty of time to get outdoors and explore the many hiking trails on offer.
The off seasons of Autumn and Spring offer a little bit of everything. You can expect some snow sprinkled on the mountain peaks, storms sweeping through the fjords and clear sunny days. It’s more of a mixed bag from March to May and September to November but can also result in cheaper accommodation and flights.
I’ll be hosting a photography and travel blogging tour in the month of October this year so will be hoping for some sprinkles of snow, dancing aurora and sunshine for reflection photos!
What to See
Almost all of the must-see locations in the Lofoten Islands are natural ones. There’s so many beaches, coves, fjords and mountains to explore that I highly suggest you simply drive and see what you find along the way.
To get you started though, here are some of my tips for the places you can’t miss on your trip.
I’ll start with the most iconic scene in the islands, that of the red rorbuers (fishing huts) visible from the Hamnoy Bridge. As soon as you start driving over the bridge you’ll see the scene appear before your eyes, it’s really hard to miss!
Be sure to spend some time here at different times of the day, in particular sunrise or sunset when the cabins are lit beautifully by the warm light and you’ll hopefully have some colours in the sky above Festhelltinden Mountain.
This little fishing village is a total delight and somewhere you need to visit. It’s located in a narrow fjord with brightly coloured red and yellow buildings making up what’s a very photogenic village.
The drive to Nusfjord is worth the journey in itself with the road weaving beneath huge rocky mountains past lakes and there’s plenty of spots to stop along the way.
During winter the small road out can be a little tricky if there’s snow and ice covering the road so be sure to check the road conditions and drive slowly!
If you’re heading to Lofoten for the coastal scenery, Rambergstranda Beach is perfection. Looking out over the bay of Jusnesvika, the beach offers a beautiful location to have a picnic and stare at the impressive coastline on display.
In winter it can be completely iced over so what looks like sand, may in fact be sand beneath a sheet of slippery ice. I tested it out, slipped and fell on it for you. You’re welcome!
Keep an eye out for a ruby red fishing hut that sits on the shores of the beach, it makes for a great photo opportunity.
You’ll no doubt pass Torsfjorden when driving around the islands and it’s well worth spending a bit of time to see it from all angles.
Torsfjorden is quite a large body of water that is almost completely surrounded by land, good news is that you can drive nearly all of the way around it. When on the E10 (the main route around the islands) near Ramberg, you’ll see a series of bridges that cross a wide fjord. Here you’ll find mountains reflecting in the calm, shallow fjord and boats passing beneath the bridges.
Those up for a hike to one of the most scenic points, Ryten Peak or Kvalvika Beach, will have to pass over the bridges and past Torsfjorden!
After seeing a number of villages with red rorbuers on the shoreline, it will come as a welcome surprise to see the yellow huts of Sakrisoy.
Bright and bold, they are a beautiful contrast to the surrounding sea and there’s also plenty of fish drying racks for those keen to take a closer look at this Norwegian tradition.
Car hire in the Lofoten Islands
Every good road trip needs to get off on the right foot with a good plan of action to hire a car.
When travelling to the Lofoten Islands you have two main choices for arriving. Plane or ferry, and your decision will result in which location you end up starting your road trip.Arriving by plane means you’ll land in Leknes or Svolvær, both toward the north of most popular locations. Leknes is located on Vestvågøy Island and is the closer of the two for accessing iconic locations such as Hamnoy and Reine.
Upon arrival you can opt to hire a car at either airport with big name rental companies like Avis, Hertz and Europcar available to use. Be sure to check the contracts for the inclusion of unlimited miles, that way you can explore every inch of the islands without worrying about going over the limit.
Arriving by ferry will provide two advantages, cheaper car rental and a great place to begin your trip. You can hire a car in Bodo then jump on a ferry with your car and arrive in Sørvågen. Located only 10 minutes from the most photographed location in the Lofoten Islands, Sørvågen is the perfect place to start your road trip and if the ferry arrival times are a little odd (sometimes they depart at 4am, or arrive at midnight) it means you’ll be super close to accommodation when you arrive or depart.
One of the major benefits of arriving by ferry is that you’ll get to witness the view of seeing the Lofoten Islands from the sea, a truly incredible sight! It can have one pretty major disadvantage though, if you’re prone to seasickness (like me, yuck!), the sea can get pretty rough and feel a little like you’re in a tumble dryer floating in the middle of nowhere. Sorry for the reality check, I had to say it, if anything don’t forget your seasick tablets!
Visit Torghatten website for ferry timetables and route information.
Where to stay
Having a base during your road trip is a great way to ensure you’ve got somewhere to chill if the weather isn’t playing in your favour. Surprisingly, a lot of the beautiful locations are within a 60minute drive of one another making it really easy to plan day excursions then return to the same home base.
If you’re someone who likes to see the same place change in varied light and weather conditions, basing yourself at Eliassen Rorbuer in Hamnoy could be a winning move. Here you’re in the most photogenic part of the Lofoten Islands and don’t even have to leave your cabin because the views are right out your window!
Otherwise, if surfing and hikes are more your thing, you can base yourself at Unstad Arctic Surf, known for wetsuit wearing adrenaline junkies who hit the swells whether it’s 20 or -2 degrees. There’s a great feeling of community in Unstad with the local café and hostel offering such a cool vibe, even the toilet is gnarly and decorated with surfing posters as music blares through speakers.
For a third option, you can check out Hattvika Lodge in Ballstad. This place is the definition of affordable luxury and is a series of renovated fishing huts located right on the waterfront. From the apartments you can watch fishing trawlers come and go from the sea, set out for a kayak adventure or the owner Kristian will even take you on a hike for incredible views overlooking the islands.
Have you been to the Lofoten Islands and have some tips to add? Share in the comments below!
For photography location guides to beautiful destinations around the world, check out The Wandering Lens where Lisa shares her professional photo tips too.