The Lofoten Islands are an incredible part of Norway to explore. Known for dramatic mountains that plunge into the sea and colorful fishing villages covered in fish-drying racks, it's not surprising that this archipelago is on many peoples' bucket lists.
The Lofoten Islands are located far up north, above the Arctic Circle in the Norwegian region of Nordland. They are sparsely populated, and mostly consist of lots of epic scenery. But that doesn't mean there aren't things to do in the Lofoten Islands!
My husband Elliot and I spent almost a week traveling around the Lofoten Islands. We had to be flexible with our plans because of some poor late-spring weather, but we still managed to keep busy most of the time, checking all of these things off our to-do list!
Where to visit in the Lofoten Islands
The Lofoten Islands are an archipelago of 7 main islands that stretch for about 100 miles into the Norwegian Sea, characterized by towering, wall-like mountains and fjords. The main sites in this part of the world center around small fishing villages. Some of them that you might visit (or base yourself out of) include:
- Svolvaer (the main city in the Lofotens, and where the islands really “begin”)
- Henningsvaer (with its famous football pitch)
- Å (located at the literal “end of the road”)
Getting to the Lofoten Islands
One of the most popular ways to reach the islands in the summer months is by ferry (from Bodø to Moskenes), but you don't have to arrive by water.
The Lofoten Islands themselves are connected to one another by a series of bridges and tunnels, and the archipelago is connected to the mainland of Norway via bridges – so you can actually drive there!
There are several different options for getting to the Lofoten Islands. Most include flying from Oslo to a smaller northern airport, though if you're spending an extended amount of time in Norway you could drive or get to a northern city like Bodø or Narvik by train and then drive from there.
If you're flying to the Lofotens, some of the most popular ways to get there include:
- Flying into Bodø, picking up a car, and taking the car ferry to Moskenes. Downside? The ferry takes about 3.5 hours and the crossing can be rough.
- Flying into the Harstad/Narvik Airport in Evenes, picking up a car, and driving to the Lofotens. Downside? It's a bit of a drive – 2.5 hours to Svolvær, which is kind of the “start” of the islands.
- Flying into Svolvær or Leknes, which are right in the Lofoten Islands. Downside? Direct flights to these small airports from Oslo only operate during the summer, and not every day of the week.
Elliot and I did option number 2, getting direct flights between Oslo and the Harstad/Narvik Airport in Evenes on SAS. The flights were short (just a little over an hour), and there are several rental car companies right in the Evenes airport near the singular baggage belt.
And once you're in the islands, a lot of the main attractions are right along the E10 highway (though “highway” is a loose term; it's just a 2-lane road!).
Top things to do in the Lofoten Islands
This is a destination that lends itself to simply wandering. You don't have to plan a whole lot in advance in the Lofoten Islands, and can mostly do whatever your whims (and maybe the weather) dictate.
(I mean, you *should* plan things like getting to the islands, your rental car, and definitely your accommodation in advance. But how you fill your days can be a little more fluid!)
Here are all the things I definitely think you MUST do in the Lofoten Islands (roughly organized from north to south):
1. Stay in a rorbu
If you've seen photos from the Lofoten Islands, chances are you've seen photos of rorbuer, or renovated fishing cottages, which are usually painted an eye-catching color like red or yellow. Rorbuer (rorbu when it's singular) are very popular accommodation options in the Lofoten Islands – and they are 100% worth it.
These brightly colored cabins are usually located in scenic, waterfront spots with fantastic views in small fishing villages. They are renovated to include everything you need, and usually consist of a bedroom, seating area, and often a kitchenette. Definitely bucket-list-worthy!
Some of the most popular rorbuer you can stay in here include:
- Lofoten Basecamp in Leknes – A popular option between Svolvaer and Reine, with cabins set right on the edge of a pretty fjord.
- Nusfjord Arctic Resort in Nusfjord – These restored rorbuer are in a historic village tucked into a fjord. They are super high end and beautiful.
- Eliassen Rorbuer in Hamnøy – The famous red fishing cabins you've definitely seen in photos of the Lofoten Islands. There are a bunch of different cabin configurations with different views, along with an on-site restaurant called Gadus that's very good.
- Reinefjorden Sjohus in Hamnøy – Another great option with incredible views of mountains.
- Reine Rorbuer in Reine – These are super cozy, having been restored to look as traditional as possible. The cabins are right in the center of Reine, and have great views.
Elliot and I stayed in rorbuer at Eliassen Rorbuer and Nusfjord Arctic Resort, and loved them both. Our cabin at Eliassen Rorbuer had the most incredible view – perfect for watching storms and glimpses of Midnight Sun. And our cabin at Nusfjord Arctic Resort was so cozy that we barely minded that it rained the whole time we were there.
2. Sail to Trollfjord
The Lofoten Islands aren't known for fjords the way other parts of Norway are, but that doesn't mean there aren't any! The most popular fjord you can visit is probably Trollfjord, which you can get to via a boat tour from Svolvaer.
These boat tours take you out from Svolvaer (past the famous Fisherman's Wife sculpture), through some little rocky islands where you can look out for sea eagles, alongside stunning mountains, and then into Trollfjord itself.
Our initial tour booking was canceled and rescheduled because of dangerous seas, and I'm SO glad we were able to make it work in the end. This was a great tour!
I recommend an actual boat tour (like this one with Brim Explorer) so that you can enjoy it even if the weather isn't the best. That specific tour is the one Elliot and I did, and lasts 3.5 hours total. Brim Explorer uses a hybrid boat that switches over to an electric motor once you enter Trollfjord, so you can have a magical, silent experience in the fjord.
This is one of the only activities I do recommend booking in advance in the Lofoten Islands.
3. See the football pitch in Henningsvaer
A short drive from Svolvaer is the small fishing village of Henningsvaer, spread out over several small rocky islands.
Here you will see (and perhaps smell) hundreds of wooden fish-drying racks, where they make stockfish (air-dried cod) in the traditional way. Stockfish is still a major export important to the local economy in the Lofoten Islands. The main “season” for drying stockfish is February-May, but if you visit in early June, you may still see plenty of drying fish on wooden racks.
The village of Henningsvaer is quaint, and has a couple cafes and restaurants you can visit (we loved Cafe Knusarn and the cozy Henningsvær Lysstøperi and Cafe). But the main reason people come here is to see one of the most scenic football (soccer) pitches in the world.
The Henningsvaer Stadium is situated at the end of a small peninsula at the southern end of the village. You can walk through fish drying racks to see various views of the stadium and surrounding landscapes – though for the best views you'll need a drone.
And yes, this spot is popular for drone pilots – ours was one of 4 drones in the air when we visited. Just be sure you're following all local drone regulations, which includes height limits and keeping an eye on your drone at all times to avoid mid-air crashes. In Elliot's case, he's also got a commercial license and his drone is registered in several countries!
4. Step back in time at the Lofotr Viking Museum
Located near the small town of Borg on the island of Vestvågøya, the Lofotr Viking Museum is worth a visit if you want to learn a bit more about the Vikings and how they lived in this part of Norway. The main part of the museum is built right next to the ruins of the largest Viking building ever found in Norway – a chieftain's longhouse that was discovered by archaeologists in 1983.
The current museum has a few different parts, including a modern visitor center with some historical displays and videos (and a very nice cafe), two replica Viking ships in a nearby lake, and a full replica of the 272 foot long (83 meter long) chieftain's house.
Inside the longhouse are period-specific displays and costumed interpreters (in the summer months). You can learn about weaving and leather-working, and even get a bowl of Viking soup cooked over the fire.
The museum makes for an easy stop (it's right off the E10, the main road through the Lofoten Islands), and is very interesting!
Other (smaller) museums you might want to stop at in other parts of the islands include:
- Lofotmuseet, where you can learn about fishing and farming in the Lofotens.
- Norsk Fiskeværsmuseum in Å, where you can learn about the fishing tradition in this part of Norway.
5. See a glassblower at work
On Flakstadøya Island you can visit a unique (and indoor!) spot: Glasshytta Vikten, the oldest glassblowing studio in Northern Norway. It's in the picturesque village of Vikten, and there's both a retail shop and studio space you can visit. If you're lucky, you'll even be able to see some glassblowing up close.
Glasshytta Vikten also has a small cafe serving up coffee and homemade cakes with incredible sea views. It's well worth the short detour!
6. Visit historic Nusfjord
If you want to get a feel for a more historic fishing village in the Lofoten Islands, then I recommend making the drive to Nusfjord. The drive to get there alone is stunning, following a narrow fjord with towering, sheer-faced mountains on either side.
Nusfjord is one of the oldest and best-preserved fishing villages in Norway. Today it consists of a handful of brightly-colored rorbu and work buildings, but in the 1900s Nusfjord was home to more than 1,500 fishermen making a living off cod fishing.
Today, the village is more of a living museum. Some fishing is still done here, but most of the work buildings now are preserved just like the were decades ago. The old fishermen's cabins have been restored and turned into accommodation used by the Nusfjord Arctic Resort.
You can visit Nusfjord for the day to see the historic buildings and perhaps have a meal at one of the resort's restaurants, but I'd highly recommend staying overnight! It's one of the more expensive places to stay in the Lofoten Islands, yes, but these rorbuer are some of the best. They are extremely comfy and cozy with modern amenities, but also plenty of historic touches.
If you stay more than one night, you can also book fishing tours, take a hike, or go kayaking in the fjord.
7. Visit an Arctic beach
Considering this is an archipelago, it stands the reason there are some beaches around! These are Arctic beaches, of course, since the Lofoten Islands sit above the Arctic Circle. But there are still plenty worth visiting.
Some must-visit beaches that you can drive right up to include:
- Unstad Beach – A popular spot for surfing (yes, surfing!). There's a local spot that offers rentals and lessons called Unstad Arctic Surf.
- Uttakleiv Beach – Known for its dramatic scenery and white sand. You can go walking along the coast here, too.
- Haukland Beach – Not far from Uttakleiv, this large beach has great mountain views, and in summer there's a little cafe here.
- Vik Beach – Almost right next to Haukland, this is a smaller, quieter beach.
- Ramberg Beach – A wooden boardwalk leads down to a stunning white sand beach just north of the town of Ramberg.
(Just note that a few of the beaches listed above do charge for parking!)
The other most popular (and famous) beach in the Lofotens is Kvalvika Beach, but reaching it requires a hike (which I'll talk about next!).
8. Hike to an epic viewpoint
The Lofoten Islands are an outdoor-lover's paradise, and serious hikers will find some excellent options here.
But be warned that hiking in the Lofotens is no joke. You won't find safety barriers or fences out in the wild here, and a lot of the hikes involve climbing literal mountains, so you can expect tough terrain. AND the weather can change in an instant – even in the summer months. So if you're planning to do a longer hike here, you really need to come prepared with good hiking shoes and warm, waterproof layers.
Having said that, some of the more popular hikes in the Lofoten Islands include:
- Floya – Fløya Mountain is the backdrop to the town of Svolvaer, and a popular hiking trail will take you to the top. The trail is 2.8 miles (4.5 km) out-and-back, with an elevation gain of 1900 feet (580 meters). You'll traverse the “Devil's Staircase” and pass the “Devil’s Gate” on the way to the top, where you'll have stunning views over Svolvaer and the surrounding mountains.
- Kvalvika Beach / Ryten – Ryten is an incredible viewpoint atop a mountain in Lofotenodden National Park that overlooks Kvalvika Beach. If you hike to Kvalvika and then up to Ryten, the whole hike is just under 5 miles round trip (just under 8 km), with the highest elevation at 1781 feet (543 meters).
- Reinebringen – This is one of the most iconic hikes in the Lofoten Islands, giving you incredible views over the Reine region. And while this hike seems easy on paper (it's less than 1.5 miles/2 km round trip), note that it's basically straight up about 1600 stairs. You'll gain 1470 feet (448 meters) of elevation in less than a mile, sometimes at at 45 degree angle. This one is tough on the legs!
- Hoven – This is a bit of an easier hike on Gimsøya that starts at a golf course. The trail is 2.4 miles (3.8 km) round trip, with an elevation gain of about 1200 feet (368 meters). At the top, you get views of the coast and more islands to the north.
You can find even more hikes listed in this Lofoten hiking post.
Many of these hikes are rated “moderate” or even “easy,” but if you're not much of a hiker at home, definitely note the amount of elevation you'll have to tackle on some of these trails!
Elliot and I experienced awful weather on our trip to the Lofoten Islands (like, snow squalls and fog/clouds that completely obstructed views awful), so we didn't tackle any of these longer hikes. The only “hike” we did was the muddy scramble to the top of Olenilsøya kystfort, which nevertheless still offered up some very nice views of Reine.
9. See THE Hamnoy view
If you've seen any photos from the Lofoten Islands, chances are you've seen pictures of lined up red cabins with a towering mountain in the background. It's iconic.
This is a very popular spot for photos, and it's very easy to find! These photos are actually of the cabins at Eliassen Rorbuer, a rorbu hotel, and are all taken from the Hamnøy Bridge, which connects two of the small islands here. The photo is best taken from the eastern end of the bridge, closest to the red cabins.
There's not really a good place to park anywhere near this bridge, so just be aware of where you're pulling over. (Don't block the entrance to Eliassen Rorbuer.)
Elliot and I actually stayed at Eliassen Rorbuer so we simply walked up to the bridge and didn't have to worry about parking. They have a good restaurant (Gadus), too, in case you want an excuse to visit and park there.
10. See all the famous sites around Reine
Reine (and surrounding islands and villages) is easily the most well-known spot in the Lofoten Islands.
Reine, like most other villages in this area, is a fishing village. It's located mainly on the island of island of Moskenesøya, but you'll find things labeled as “Reine” on other nearby islands like Sakrisøya and Olenilsøya, too.
The whole area is characterized by colorful cottages and towering mountains, and several famous photo spots you've maybe saved on Instagram or Pinterest. A few of those include:
- Views from the picnic tables outside of Anita's Sjømat (a local seafood restaurant)
- Views of The Horn mountain, including one from a wooden bridge. (But just note that the houses and driveways here are private, so you won't be able to park nearby.)
- Views from the parking lot leading into Reine proper that's marked on Google Maps as “Reine Photo Postcard.”
- And of course the famous Reinebringen hike climbs up above this village, too.
But honestly, ALL the views in this part of the Lofotens are incredible! You can't really go wrong. Just keep in mind that these are all working fishing villages, and there aren't a *ton* of services for tourists (like parking and restaurants). Be respectful as you explore.
11. Drive to the end of the road in Å
The E10 highway literally ends in a little village called Å (pronounced like “oau,” or how you'd pronounce the first letter in “already”). The road travels through a tunnel, and then terminates in a large parking lot suitable for campervans and RVs.
It's worth it to drive out to Å, where there are some viewpoints and hiking trails, as well as one of the best bakeries in the islands, Bakeriet på Å. You can also grab lunch at the Brygga Restaurant, which has outdoor seating with views when the weather is nice.
12. Try local foods
Speaking of restaurants and bakeries, there are a couple things you need to try when you're in the Lofoten Islands! Including:
- Stockfish – Being the largest export from local Lofoten villages, you obviously need to try stockfish! You don't necessarily have to try the hard, dried version, though; many restaurants cook stockfish like a regular fish fillet – but it tastes a lot different!
- Fish sandwich from Anitas sjømat – Speaking of fish, almost every blog post about the Lofoten Islands will tell you to stop at Anitas sjømat (Anita's Seafood) on Sakrisøya for a fish sandwich. And I'll echo that: the little restaurant serves up great food inside an eclectic space (I loved the stockfish chandeliers).
- Cinnamon buns – Norway (and Scandinavia in general) is known for its tasty cinnamon buns, so you'll definitely want to try some. The ones we bought fresh from Bakeriet på Å were my favorite.
Bonus: See the Northern Lights or Midnight Sun
Because they're above the Arctic Circle, this means that the Lofoten Islands experience Polar Night in the winter and the Midnight Sun in the summer.
Each year, roughly from the end of May through mid-July, the sun will not set below the horizon at all in the Lofoten Islands. The Midnight Sun will be shining bright 24 hours a day – so I definitely recommend packing an eye mask for hotel rooms or cottages that might not have full black-out curtains. (I like this eye mask personally.)
And, conversely, in the winter the islands experience Polar Night, meaning the sun does not rise above the horizon during this time (which stretches from early December through early January). It's not necessarily pitch black for 24 hours a day during this time, but you also don't get any true daylight.
Northern Lights season in the Arctic is from September-March (give or take), and on dark and cloudless nights you can definitely look out for the aurora borealis.
I will say from experience, though, that's it's much easier to experience the Midnight Sun than to see the Northern Lights! Because of how quickly the weather changes in the Lofoten Islands, glimpses of the Northern Lights can be fleeting in the winter. You can definitely see them, but it might take some work and some “chasing” on your part!
When to visit the Lofoten Islands
You can technically visit this part of Norway year-round, but the experience is very different depending on when you go. Winter in the Lofotens can be magical with snowy landscapes and dancing Northern Lights, while summer is characterized by turquoise waters and the Midnight Sun.
Visiting in winter is challenging, however. Roads get snowy and icy, and you won't find as many attractions and restaurants open, as this is a part of Norway that's pretty seasonal in terms of tourism.
I therefore recommend visiting in late spring into summer, when you have a much better chance of nicer weather and things being open. May-September is probably the “best” time to visit – though note that the tourism “season” here is generally June-August.
But even if you're visiting in the summer, pack warm and waterproof layers, because the weather can (and does) change frequently.
The Lofoten Islands can be harsh, yet stunningly beautiful at the same time. Visiting is absolutely bucket-list worthy for the adventurous traveler. Who wants to go?