When most people hear “islands” and “Northern Norway” in the same sentence, chances are visions of the now-famous Lofoten Islands are likely to pop into their heads. In fact, if you go and Google “northern Norway islands,” the very first result that comes up is about the Lofoten Islands.
Now, I have nothing against the Lofotens; in fact, I haven't even been there! I know they are beautiful in any season, and that Instagram has put them on many travelers' bucket lists.
But here's the thing about Norway: there are tons of OTHER amazing islands in Norway's north, too – and they aren't nearly as crowded as the Lofotens in the summer months.
When I was talking about my third trip to Norway with the team at Visit Norway, the Lofoten Islands were at the top of my wish list. I had already explored Oslo and the fjords, and had already visited Tromsø and Alta during the winter. On this trip, I really wanted to explore the picture-perfect Lofoten Islands.
But when my travel dates had to be shifted from late May to early July, I was advised that it was just going to be too busy in the Lofotens. The Lofoten Islands are made up of a string of small fishing villages, where fishing is still the main industry; the islands' infrastructure was not built with mass tourism in mind, and so the most popular spots are beginning to be inundated with selfie-seeking tourists during the high season.
Tourism can be great for local economies, sure, but it's not really ideal for anyone (locals OR tourists) when places begin to feel cramped and crowded because of a sudden influx in visitor numbers.
After a lot of consideration, I decided to go along with Visit Northern Norway's suggestion of road tripping to some of the region's OTHER amazing islands, saving Lofoten for another time.
And damn if this didn't turn out to be one of my favorite trips to Norway!
If you want to visit some of Northern Norway's most beautiful islands during the summer months but don't want to deal with the crowds and higher prices in the Lofoten Islands, here's the perfect road trip itinerary for you:
Northern Norway road trip itinerary
(not including the Lofoten Islands)
Fly into: Tromsø
The best jumping-off point for a road trip around this part of Norway is Tromsø. You can hop a flight here easily from Oslo (or quite a few other places in Norway and the rest of Europe), and even though the airport is very small, several rental car companies operate right out of the long-term parking lot.
If you've never been to Tromsø before, I highly recommend spending at least a day or two in the “Gateway to the Arctic.”
A few must-dos in Tromsø in the summer include:
- Riding the Fjellheisen aerial tramway up a mountain overlooking Tromsø
- Visiting the iconic Arctic Cathedral
- Touring the Polar Museum
Where to stay in Tromsø: My vote is for either the Scandic Ishavshotel right on the Tromsø Sound (Read reviews on TripAdvisor | Book a room here), or the Thon Hotel Polar, which is further up from the harbor, but close to the city's main shopping street. (Read reviews on TripAdvisor | Book a room here)
Costs: Fjellheisen – 170 NOK ($21.50 USD); Arctic Cathedral entrance – 50 NOK ($6,30 USD); Polar Museum – 60 NOK ($7.60 USD)
Day 1: Tromsø to Sommarøy
And now on to the road trip! The great news is that you won't be doing hours and hours of driving with this itinerary, meaning you can really see a lot in just one week.
On Day 1, head out of Tromsø on Highway 862, which will lead you past the airport and alongside a few fjords and mountains.
If you're up for a short hike with awesome views just before you reach your final destination, I highly recommend climbing Ørnfløya, a medium-sized hill that offers up views over the island of Sommarøy and the bridges leading to it. You'll turn left on 862 (instead of right, which is the way to Sommarøy), and there will be a pull-off less than 100 meters down the road, with the trail starting across the road to your right.
I did this hike in about an hour, which included plenty of time at the top for photos.
Then you'll continue on to Sommarøy, one of northern Norway's best-kept secrets. This little island is quiet and beautiful, and yet virtually void of tourists, even in July.
Sign yourself up for an evening (or maybe evening midnight sun!) kayak tour with 69 Nord Sommarøy Outdoor Center, and admire Sommarøy's green water and white-coral beaches.
Total driving time: 1.5 hours
Costs: Kayak tour – 1000-1200 NOK ($127 – $152 USD)
Where to stay in Sommarøy: There's really only one option here, but thankfully the Sommarøy Arctic Hotel is amazing! It has a mix of hotel-style rooms and cabins that can be rented, and an on-site restaurant with great water views. (Read reviews on TripAdvisor)
Day 2: Sommarøy to Senja
I'll warn you right now that you might not ever want to leave Sommarøy once you get there, but I promise that Day 2 will be just as beautiful! Start your day with breakfast at the hotel, and then a ferry ride to the island of Senja.
The ferry terminal is at Brensholmen, which is only a 15-minute drive from Sommarøy. You'll want to catch a morning ferry to make the most of your day. I caught an 8:45 a.m. ferry, and showed up at the small ferry port about half an hour early just to make sure I got on (I had no issues!). Check ferry times here – this ferry usually runs from April to August multiple times per day.
The ride to Botnham on the island of Senja took about 40 minutes (and you buy your tickets onboard in the little cafe area).
Once arriving on Senja, I was told to “turn right and follow the road until it ends.” In reality, I was headed for the fishing camp operated by Northern Adventure Troms in the tiny settlement of Laukvik. Here, owner Jan Viktor Nilsen has built up a fishing resort on land that has been in his family for generations.
You could certainly book a guided fishing trip here (very popular in this part of Norway!), but I opted for something a little different: a sea eagle safari!
We headed out on a small boat for the island of Hekkingen, where giant sea eagles can often be found. Your guide will try to lure eagles close to the boat with fresh fish, so be ready with your camera!
No eagles decided to come up to the boat while we were out, but we did see a lot of them and the mountain views were still incredible.
From there, I recommend heading to your accommodation for the night, which is a resort called Hamn i Senja. To get there, you'll drive the Senja National Tourist Route (still Highway 862) along the coast, which is a stunning drive in and of itself. You'll be tempted to stop a lot, no doubt, but I actually recommend restraining yourself if possible so you can fully explore Senja on Day 3.
If you're up for another midnight sun trip (or if you skipped the kayak trip on Sommarøy), Hamn i Senja offers midnight fjord cruises throughout the summer months. (See all their summer activities here.)
Total driving time: 2 hours on Senja + 40-minute ferry ride
Costs: Ferry – 200 NOK ($33.60 USD); sea eagle safari tour – 1250 NOK ($158.50 USD)
Where to stay on Senja: Hamn i Senja, which is a gorgeous seaside resort with lots of optional activities. Splurge on a large suite here – the cozy views are definitely worth it. (Read reviews on TripAdvisor | Book a room here)
Day 3: Senja exploration
You could technically fit in some Senja sightseeing on Day 2, since you drive the National Tourist Route from Laukvik to Hamn i Senja anyway. But I can tell you from experience that this will make your day far too rushed, especially if you take a later ferry from Brensholmen and/or go on that sea eagle safari.
Therefore, I recommend dedicating Day 3 to exploring Senja at a more relaxing pace.
Make your first stop at the famous Senja Troll (probably Senjatrollet on your Google Maps), which is only a 10-minute drive from the hotel. Here lives the largest troll statue in the world in a kooky “troll park” created by Leif Rubach. Talk about a roadside attraction!
Next, head back onto the National Tourist Route along Senja's northern coast. The next point of interest will be the Bergsbotn viewing platform, which is a 44-meter-long platform with views out over the town of Bergsfjord and the surrounding peaks.
You may want to make a detour off the tourist route to the lighthouse at Bøvær, where you'll also find some pretty beaches. Just be warned that the road to get there is extremely narrow and winding, so be prepared for some white knuckles on your steering wheel.
If you bring a picnic lunch with you (highly recommended for today), stop to eat it at the Tungeneset rest stop back on the tourist route, which includes a wooden boardwalk that leads to an incredible view of the razor-sharp Okshornan peaks.
Lastly, the drive to the town of Husøy is one worth taking. Not only is the drive itself incredible, but Husøy is a pretty unique spot. It's a tiny island in the middle of the Øyfjord that is home to Senja’s most active fishing community. The views here are very Lofoten-esque!
From here, you can more or less retrace your path back to Hamn i Senja.
Total driving time: 3.5 hours
Costs: None! You can see all this stuff for free.
Where to stay on Senja: Hamn i Senja again, because it's definitely worth two nights.
Day 4: Senja to the Vesterålen Islands
Today you'll be saying goodbye to Senja and hello to the Vesterålen Islands. In order to get there, you'll need to catch another ferry.
The ferry from Gryllefjord (Senja) to Andenes (Andøy, Vesterålen) only operates during the summer months (from late May to late August), and only runs a couple times per day. This means that the ferry can be busy, and that you definitely want to get to the ferry port in Gryllefjord early.
I had heard horror stories before my trip of people not getting to either Gryllefjord or Andenes early enough and missing the ferry they wanted to take because it filled up. Not wanting to miss my ferry, I got to Gryllefjord more than two hours before my 11 a.m. ferry. There were already about 10 cars in line when I got there.
I will say that everyone who showed up for the 11 a.m. ferry that day did get on, but I don't regret going early in order to give myself some peace of mind. I passed the two hours I had by buying snacks at the grocery store at the ferry port, walking around the nearby harbor, and taking a short nap in my car.
The ferry from Gryllefjord and Andenes takes just over an hour and a half, and, again, you buy your ticket in the cafe area once you park your car. (Again, double-check ferry times here.)
The sun was shining when I got to Andenes, and I headed straight into the town to grab lunch at Strøm Eriksen cafe and explore a bit. It's worth it to walk to the Andenes Lighthouse for the craggy coastal views.
IF you're up for an adventure this afternoon, Andenes is most well-known for its whale watching. Due to its close proximity to the continental shelf, you can usually see whales in this part of Norway year-round.
I headed out for an afternoon tour with Whale Safari. Unfortunately, my group was in the 2% of tourists who end up NOT seeing whales on one of these tours, but most people do.
Full disclosure, though: This was a tough outing for me. The sea is ROUGH the further out you get (a LOT of people got seasick), and it was quite cold even in July. Whale Safari offers a whale-sighting guarantee, which *sounds* great in theory (it means that you'll get a refund if you don't see whales), but in reality means that your 3-hour whale watching tour could stretch to 6 hours if your captain is determined to keep searching for whales. So just keep that in mind if you decide to go! (I will say, though, that the crew was absolutely awesome, offering insulated suits to cold passengers and making sure everyone was doing okay after hours out at sea.)
If you want a better chance of seeing whales (and calmer seas), you might want to consider staying in Andenes and booking your Whale Safari tour for the morning of Day 5 instead.
I, though, actually drove an extra hour down Andøya's National Tourist Route to Bø i Andøy, where I stayed the night. The good news about traveling in northern Norway in the summer months is that it stays light almost 24 hours per day – meaning you can still stop to take pretty beach photos even when it's past 9 p.m.!
Total driving time: 1.5 hours
Costs: Ferry (this one hurts!) – 800 NOK ($106 USD); Whale Safari tour – 975 NOK ($124 USD)
Where to stay in Andenes: I stayed at Marmelkroken, which offers up small apartment-style rooms in a beautiful coastal location. A perfect spot to enjoy the Midnight Sun! (Read reviews on TripAdvisor | Book a room here)
Day 5: Vesterålen Islands
If you stay in Andenes on Day 4, you may start your day with whale watching, or at the very least a drive down the length of the island of Andøya on the National Tourist Route.
Your final destination today will be the town of Stokmarknes on the island of Hadseløya, but I recommend detouring to visit Akvakultur i Vesterålen in the village of Blokken if you have time. Akvakultur i Vesterålen will give you an informative and up-close look at salmon farming in Norway, which is swiftly becoming one of the country's lucrative industries.
I'll admit that I didn't immediately think visiting an aquaculture farm would be all that interesting, but it was actually really cool! First you learn about salmon farming, then you go out on a boat to see a real fish farm, and then you get to taste some smoked fish (yum!).
From there you can continue on through the island of Langøya and across a couple of very cool bridges to Stokmarknes.
Stokmarknes is the “home” of Hurtigruten, the ship line that sails up and down Norway's coast. As such, there's a cool Hurtigruten Museum here that's worth visiting if you have time before dinner. Or, you can just spend some time exploring Stokmarknes and enjoying the views.
Total driving time: 2.5 hours
Costs: Akvakultur i Vesterålen – 300 NOK ($38 USD); Hurtigruten Museum – 90 NOK ($11.40 USD)
Where to stay in Stokmarknes: I stayed at the Vesterålen Kysthotell. Its regular hotel rooms are nothing particularly special, but it also has a string of red cabins on a little bay that are SO CUTE. I took my favorite Midnight Sun photos of my entire trip here. (Read reviews on TripAdvisor | Book a room here)
Day 6: Long way back to Tromsø
Even though you could easily backtrack and take a couple more days to get back to Tromsø, you can do it via a different (more inland) route in less than 6 hours. I took this way back as it was quicker and allowed me to see even more of this part of Norway.
If you go this route, you can plan to fly out of Tromsø this evening.
OR, of course, you could continue south into the Lofoten Islands for even more of a road trip adventure!
Total driving time: (if you go back to Tromsø): 5.5 hours
Costs: None, except probably to fill up your gas tank
This Northern Norway road trip itinerary ended up being perfect for me. Short driving times meant I could fit a lot in, but still only needed to rent a car for 6 days (and, considering that rental cars aren't cheap in Norway, this was ideal!).
And the best part was that a lot (if not most) of these places still felt quite undiscovered in comparison to other spots in Norway. You won't run into a ton of cruise ships or large tour groups in Senja or the Vesterålen Islands, making this part of Northern Norway a great option for those who want stunning coastal views without the tourist crowds.
Who's ready to plan their own trip to this part of Norway?
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*Note: This trip was in partnership with Visit Norway and Visit Northern Norway. As always, though, all opinions are 100% my own.