If you are thinking about visiting the Lofoten Islands stop thinking about it and start planning it. The beautiful archipelago in Northern Norway offers you everything you could possibly want from a Norwegian holiday: Hiking that gets more incredible with every step taken, the freshest seafood imaginable, picture-perfect fishing villages, and roadside scenes straight out of a Wes Anderson movie.
In July 2019, I had the unbelievable opportunity to spend 10 days road tripping around the islands. This Lofoten travel guide has been designed to help answer all your questions and begin planning an amazing once-in-a-lifetime vacation. But, planning a trip of this magnitude is…a lot. To help you out, I have written three other very important articles.
Best Things To Do & See in Lofoten: Start here if you don’t know where you want to go. This article will help you understand all of the best things to do and see in the entire Lofoten archipelago. It will help you compare the North vs the South of Lofoten as well as understand the big picture.
Top Sights in Lofoten by Region: Use this article to understand how the regions of Lofoten break down and what the best things to do and see are in each of the regions. This article includes the top cities, best viewpoints, best hikes, and best beaches.
My Exact Lofoten Itinerary: Use this article to understand how many hikes and activities we fit into each day. This guide also provides my thoughts on some of the things we saw and which ones I wish we had skipped.
One last thing before we begin… all of these guides will help you plan a summer trip to Lofoten. Although, it’s certainly possible to plan a similar trip for the winter months, please understand your trip will be very different than what I experienced.
Where Exactly is Lofoten?
First, let's understand where Lofoten is and what it consists of. Lofoten refers to a group of islands in the northern part of Norway. The islands all have abrupt peaks that rise directly out of the ocean. It is often said the archipelago of Lofoten is the most scenic and beautiful region of Norway.
Quick Tip: It goes without saying this is a destination you won’t want to forget your camera, and more importantly a tripod! Personally, I always carry a flexible phone tripod with me on trips so I’m in the photos as well.
When travelers refer to The Lofoten Islands they are actually talking about a group of islands. Starting from the West and moving East they include:
Røst — Birdwatchers will be in heaven here. Basically all birds (including crowd favorites like Atlantic puffins and rare species like eider ducks) living in this part of the world have to pass through this island while migrating.
Værøy — another bird-watcher's paradise with a nesting place for more than 1.5 million seabirds.
Moskenesøya — this island will be most travelers base. It holds the famous town of Reine and some of the more impressive mountains in the entire archipelago.
Flakstadøy — home to five traditional fishing villages: Ramberg, Fredvang, Napp, Sund and Nusfjord. The last, Nusfjord, is the most famous fishing village and you shouldn’t miss it.
Vestvågøy — highlights include Unstad Beach, one of the best surfing beaches in Europe and Ballstad if you are a certified scuba diver.
Gimsøy — one of the smallest islands in the group.
Austvågøy — a great spot to make as home base, I suggest Svolvær. Don’t miss Henningsvær one of the most idyllic tiny villages in Lofoten and Kabelvåg for its huge Viking Church.
Hinnøya — the largest island and the gateway to Vesterålen.
There are also several other smaller islands that are included in the Lofoten archipelago.
Another key point to understand while planning is that Lofoten and Vesterålen are two different islands. Vesterålen is located north of Lofoten and includes the islands of Andøy, Bø, Hadsel, Sortland, and Øksnes.
Best Way to Get to Lofoten
There are a couple of options when it comes to actually getting to the Lofoten Islands.
You could fly directly into an airport on the island (this is the quickest but most expensive way).
You can take a ferry from Bodø to the islands (this is the most popular way).
You could even drive onto the island, but it’s not recommended.
Each option comes with its own set of pros and cons. Ultimately, choosing the best option for your vacation depends on how much money is in your budget, what you want to see, and the activities you want to do.
Option 1: Flying into Lofoten
Pros: Quickest. Easiest (if flights line up).
Cons: More expensive. Chance of delay.
There are two large airports located on Lofoten: Leknes Airport (LKN) and Svolvær Airport (SVJ). Although Widerøe Airlines does have direct flights from Oslo to both airports they are not daily and the departures are very early in the morning (making it hard to find a flight that works if you are connecting from an international flight).
If you decide to fly most journeys to Lofoten will look something like this: Home – Oslo – Bodø – Leknes or Svolvær. Actually, this is exactly what we did. Our exact experience was this: Norwegian Airlines flight from Oslo to Bodø Airport (BOO). From there we had a 4 hour layover and then boarded another flight from Bodø to Leknes, this time on a small propeller jet operated by Widerøe. Although our flights to Lofoten took up an entire day, it was definitely worth it.
Small note on booking. Norwegian only operates flights to Bodø. You have to book a separate ticket (through Widerøe) to fly to Lofoten. Luckily, Widerøe has many daily flights to Leknes from Bodø. We booked online via Expedia's Norwegian site. My browser had to translate the page for me, but overall I found the booking process to be very easy.
Why we went with this option: We were planning our trip so last-minute and found this path was the quickest and easiest to take. Our flights just happened to be perfectly scheduled and seats were thankfully still available. A stroke of luck. It was more expensive to take a flight direct to the island, but it was cheaper to rent a car from Leknes than it was from Bodø (especially when you add in the $125 car fee on the ferry). Cost wise it ended up almost evening out.
Option 2: Taking a Ferry to Lofoten
Pros: Cheapest. Multiple crossings daily.
Cons: Crossing can be rough, even in summer. Slower, three hours each way.
There are multiple ferry ports to choose from to get to Lofoten. All of the major ferries leave from Bodø. This makes it easier, it means no matter what you will have to fly to Bodø first. See above for more info on airports and connections.
Bodø – Moskenes
The Most Popular Ferry
First a very important fact: The Bodø to Moskenes ferry is the only ferry you can take a car on. In other words, this is the ferry you have to take if you rent a car from the Bodø airport.
The ferry is operated by Torghatten Nord. During the summer, aka high season, there are 3-4 sailings per day (during winter there is only one crossing a day). The crossing itself takes over three hours. You can find timetables and prices here. You arrive into Moskenes, a small town at the western tip of Lofoten. Luckily, this is the heart of Lofoten and many great towns like Reine and Å are nearby.
Reservations are required if you are traveling in the summer and renting a car from the Bodø Airport (which I recommend, it is usually cheaper especially if you book the car early enough). The crossings are very busy and boats leave at, or near, capacity. If you fail to make a reservation for your car you run the risk of having to wait for the next departure, which is hours later. Also, even if you have a reservation, be sure to show up at least one hour before departure. If you are late reserved spots are given away to cars waiting.
Although I didn’t get to experience the ferry crossing I was very excited to take the three-hour ferry trip from Bodø to Moskenes. Everyone who has done it says the most amazing things about the experience. The sense of excitement seeing the mountains rise higher and higher from the sea. The lovely fresh sea air on your face. Ultimately timing didn’t work for us but it is definitely a great way to get to Reine and Lofoten. A word of warning: Most accounts include a caveat that the crossing can be rough (especially in the winter but it’s still common in the summer).
Bodø – Stamsund/Svolvær
The Hurtigruten Ferry
Slightly more expensive than the Bodø – Moskenes ferry is the Hurtigruten coastal ferry from Bodø – Stamsund/Svolvær. You should be aware that not all Hurtigruten ferries can take a car. Even the ones that do are much more expensive. Timetables and prices can be found here.
Bodø – Svolvær
PASSENGER Only Ferry
The last ferry I’ll mention is the Bodø – Svolvær passenger-only express boat, operated by Torghatten Nord. The express ferry terminal can be found in the center of town at the tourist information center and bus station. Timetables and prices can be found here.
Option 3: Driving to Lofoten
Yes, it is possible to drive to the Lofoten Islands! The archipelagos of Vesterålen and Lofoten were only completely connected in the past 15 years but if you have a lot of time on your hand you can drive from to Lofoten via Narvik and Vesterålen. This route avoids ferries altogether. Norwegian flies direct (not daily though) from Oslo to Narvik if you want to pursue this option.
Best Times to Visit Lofoten
When is the best time to visit Lofoten? This is the first question almost everyone asks when trying to plan a Norwegian adventure. As with most destinations, there is no such thing as the best time to visit. Summer in Lofoten is just as incredible as Winter. However, they are two very different experiences. When planning your trip you need to ask yourself why you want to visit Lofoten and what you are trying to see. Are you trying to hike? Will you be camping? Are you there to see the midnight sun or the northern lights?
If you are trying to hike a ton, I suggest visiting after mid-June. If you come to Lofoten before then many of the hiking areas are still largely covered in snow. If you can handle mostly darkness, and/or want to see the northern lights, then plan to travel anytime from mid-January to late March.
It is hard to give you a definitive answer on what months you should not visit Lofoten. Bad weather is most likely to occur at the end of autumn and the beginning of winter (mid-October to early January). November is typically the worst month to plan your visit when cold temperatures mix with dark, rainy, icy, and windy weather.
The Best Month to Visit Lofoten
Personally, and I admit I am biased as this was my first experience, summer is the best time to visit Lofoten for first-timers. To be even more specific, try to plan your trip in July or August. This gives you the best chance of experiencing great weather and long days. The midnight sun (in Reine) lasts from May 26th – July 17th. Remember, the further north you go though, the longer the midnight sun period will be. The experience of 24-hour sunlight can be both surreal and disorienting. You quickly lose track of time and days blend together.
Of course, summer is considered the peak of tourist season. This brings its own set of cons with it. You may find many of the main attractions crowded with overflowing parking lots. Or you may have to wait longer when catching a ferry. You'll also have to plan and book your accommodation much earlier. The best hotels in Lofoten are booked solid months in advance during the peak summer months. I visited in early July and planned my trip three weeks before take-off. Although finding hotel accommodations for five nights was possible, it was definitely more expensive and my options were severely limited.
Visiting Lofoten in the Winter
Winter months were traditionally the quiet time of year for tourism on Lofoten but each year it is becoming more and more popular. The atmosphere is beautiful, photographers especially love the winter months. Northern lights tourism is also growing each year. Lofoten is a prime destination to spot the elusive aurora borealis.
Mid to late January have ridiculously short days with only a few hours of daylight. Life looks like one long dusk/dawn. This ends by mid-February where the days look more typical to normal winter months around the world. You will have more time to go out and explore while also still finding ample opportunity to see the Northern Lights. March is very busy as well, it is a popular month for skiing and other mountain activities.
Weather in Lofoten
No matter when you chose to visit you should understand that you are very far north, well above the arctic circle. You will actually be level with Greenland and northern parts of Alaska. But, you’ll find the weather very different from these locations. Thanks to the Gulf Stream, it is not only bearable to visit any time of year, but actually quite beautiful for most of it. Lofoten enjoys a milder climate and it is common for summer temperatures to reach 73°F (23°C).
A word of warning, the weather tends to be a bit crazy and unpredictable up here. The benefit of this is, if the weather is horrible you can wait it out and it will pass, probably quickly. On the flip side of course, if the sun is shining you shouldn't expect it to be like that all day.
Remember that Lofoten spans over 400 square miles, so it is hard to give exact temperature readings for each season. Reine, one of the furthest and most visited cities in the south can have a different temperature than Svolvær, nearly 2 hours north.
Summer in Lofoten
Summer in the Lofoten Islands brings the midnight sun. This gorgeous time of year experiences 24 hours of daylight. The midnight sun (in Reine) lasts from May 26th – July 17th. Remember, the further north you go though, the longer the midnight sun period will be.
Lofoten summers are short. But, they are beautiful, cool, and windy. July is the hottest month. In general, you'll find an average temperature of 57°F (14°C).
Winter in Lofoten
Again, thanks to the Gulf Stream, winters are cold but definitely bearable. Remember, at this extreme latitude—you are literally level with northern Siberia and parts of northern Alaska—winters should be intolerable. Thankfully, Lofoten winter temperatures hover comfortably around freezing in 32°F (0°C) throughout winter. They begin to climb back up starting in April. That being said, Lofoten winters are long with very cold and wet weather. It is usually extremely windy, and overcast skies are common. January is the coldest month with temperatures around 30°F (-1°C) daily.
As with midnight sun in the Summer, you will find the Polar sun in the winter. This is a few weeks a year when the sun doesn't rise at all. In 2019, the sun set around noon on December 9 and did not rise again until noon on January 3.
The Best Way to Travel Around Lofoten
The Lofoten archipelago is one of the most remote parts of Scandinavia. Public transport options can be extremely limited at times and you will find bus prices to be pretty expensive. I would only recommend public transport in the Lofoten Islands for those who have a ton of time (and money) to ‘slow travel' around the region.
Why you should rent a car in Lofoten
The best way to get about the islands in a budget-friendly and time conscious manner is by hiring a car. To understand everything you must know about driving around Loforen, from the actual rental to road signs and such, take a look at this Lofoten car rental guide.
Best Things to do in Lofoten Islands
Planning your road trip will be the hardest part. There is so much to do. I mentioned this at the start, I have written three very extensive articles to help you plan everything out:
My exact Lofoten itinerary — literally exactly what we did. Part diary, part guide, use this article to understand how much we fit into each day along with driving distances. It will also include my thoughts on some of the things we saw and which ones I wish we had skipped.
Best things to do and see in Lofoten — all of the best things to do and see in the entire archipelago. If you are planning a longer trip and you aren’t sure where to stay for the best experience then I would start here.
Top sights in Lofoten by Region — use this article to understand the best things to do and see broken down by region. This article includes the top cities, best viewpoints, best hikes, and best beaches.
As a quick primer, here are a couple of the best things to do in Lofoten. You can click the links to see their exact location on google maps.
Reine, a charming fishing village that only a few hundred residents live in permanently, is probably the most famous town—and most popular photo spot—in all of Lofoten. No doubt you have seen this gorgeous town on Instagram or Pinterest. It may have even sparked your interest in Lofoten islands!
SVOLVÆR and Trollfjord
The capital of Lofoten, Svolvær is considered a big city in the archipelago with a population of 4000 people. But don't worry, it still has enchanting small-town charm. You'll find many hotels, restaurants, shopping, and galleries to explore. We used this town as home base for two nights.
Very close to Svolvær, Trollfjord is a beautiful and narrow fjord that is teaming with wildlife. There are many boat tours you can book to visit the area. Most leave from the restaurant-lined waterfront of Svolvær.
A quick 20-minute drive from Svolvær is Henningsvær, a fishing village at the base of an imposing mountain. Right outside the town are two must sees: Festvågtind, one of the best hikes in Lofoten and Rørvikstranda, a public beach that is beyond stunning.
The furthest south you can drive is about 10 minutes past Reine to a small town called Å. The tiny town is part fishing village, part museum. They have a parking lot near the front for tourists to leave their cars behind making it much quieter than most of the other fishing towns and a must-visit while in Lofoten.
I list these three together because they are so incredibly close to one another. Also, if you are visiting during the summer I suggest seeing these beaches during the midnight sun, as close to midnight as possible. Haukland Beach has been ranked the most beautiful beach in Norway by many publications but I personally thought Uttakleiv was the best. The tunnel to Uttakleiv Beach made the isolated (but still crowded) beach feel magical. Plus, there were tons of sheep grazing all around us, making it even more idyllic.
Best Hotels in Lofoten
Norway has a reputation for being an expensive vacation spot. The remoteness of the Lofoten islands makes it the already expensive country, a bit more expensive on top of that. Regardless, don’t let this deter you. You'll find hotel accommodations for every budget in Lofoten. If you plan on visiting Lofoten in the most popular months (June/July) you need to book your accommodation as early as possible.
Free Accommodation in Lofoten: The best way to save money on housing in Norway is to Couchsurf—which is free. Norway is actually one of the best countries to Couchsurf in since it is one of the safest countries in the world.
Cheap Accommodation in Lofoten: Camping! Norway has free public camping laws—known as Allemannsrette, every man or woman's right of public access—this allows you to camp in any park or public land for free. The small caveat is you must have your own tent. The unwritten rule is you can stay 1-2 nights in an area as long as you are quiet and respectful. Always be sure to leave the area as you found it. If you are trying to stay on a budget there are many campsites, some even overlooking the beautiful ocean.
Inexpensive Accommodation in Lofoten: Hostels can be found throughout Lofoten. We stayed in one during our Norway trip and had a great experience. Most are clean and roomy with communal kitchens you are free to use. Cooking your own food will also help save money if you are worried about budgeting for Norway. Airbnb is another option, available in most major cities. Airbnb has tons of shared accommodations, private apartments, private homes for large groups, pretty much anything.
Classic Accommodation in Lofoten: Larger cities (like Svolvær, Reine, Leknes) have full-service hotels or apartment-style accommodation. If you want a familiar looking hotel, typical to a Marriott or Hilton, search for a Scandic Hotel in any major city. This hotel chain is actually owned by Hilton. We stayed in one while in Norway and found it to be wonderful!
Mid-range Accommodation in Lofoten: In between major towns and villages you'll find tons of smaller family owned accommodations. These can be hit or miss.
Rorbu Hotels in Lofoten: A Rorbu was a traditional bright red Norwegian house used by local fisherman. Now, they are popular (and expensive) hotels exclusive to Norway. Back in the day, red rorbu’s were built half on land and half in the water, allowing easier access for boats and fisherman who used the houses. As the fishing industry shrunk and tourism expanded many villages converted these classic Rorbu houses into hotels. They are especially popular for families and larger groups since they were typically built with multiple bedrooms. It is possible to find smaller Rorbu hotel rooms suitable for small groups or couples. They do tend to be expensive, regardless of size.
I stayed at three different hotels while in Lofoten and, of course, reviewed each one. In Svolvær we stayed at Fast Hotel, a budget accommodation that was great bang for our buck. While in Leknes, we did two nights at Scandic Leknes, an airport hotel under the Hilton brand. And lastly, while in Vesterålen we tried out a campsite (but opted for a cabin) and stayed one night at Stave Camping.
What to Pack For a Trip to Lofoten Islands
Regardless of the predicted weather forecast, you should bring rain gear and warm layers. I have a full article on exactly what to pack for a trip to Lofoten in the Summer here.
Couple More Tips for Lofoten and Norway Travel
Almost everyone knows English so translation won't be a problem.
Euro's are not accepted here. Norway has its own currency, the Norwegian Krone.
Norway is basically a cashless society. I went 10 whole days—my entire trip—without using anything except my credit card.
If you want to see the North and the South of Norway in one trip I recommend combining Lofoten with a road trip around Bergen. I have a full travel guide for planning a road trip through Bergen (and beyond) here.
Norway is known to be one of the safest countries in the world. On top of that, Lofoten is one of the safest areas of Norway.
Vegetarians will have a hard time here. Meat is a cultural staple so it can be tricky to find a vegetarian meal on a budget. Stick to supermarket sandwich making and booking hotels/hostels with kitchens so you can make your own food. Vegans, good luck.
Planning a trip to Norway, and especially Lofoten is overwhelming. Everyone has an opinion on this beautiful location. Rest assured that no matter what you choose to do or where you choose to stay you'll have a beautiful time.
One last thing... even though researching ahead of time is great, I definitely recommend bringing a Norway travel guide along with you. Here are some books I recommend...
One of the most common questions I get: What is the best camera for travel photography? I personally love my Nikon D5600. I use the kit lens and a Sigma wide-angle lens (for Nikon) which I am genuinely obsessed with.
And of course, if you have any questions DO NOT hesitate to reach out to me via Instagram, Twitter, or just shoot me an email (tessajuliette at gmail dot com).