Lofoten Islands Travel Guide

If you are thinking about visiting the Lofoten Islands stop thinking about it and start planning it. The archipelago in Northern Norway offers you everything you could 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. Lofoten also has beaches, golf courses, skiing, and too many snow-capped mountains to count.

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.

In July 2019, I had the unbelievable opportunity to spend 10 days road tripping around the Lofoten Islands. Although this is a trip best tackled in the summer it is also possible to do a similar trip in the winter. This Lofoten travel guide has been designed to help you plan an amazing once-in-a-lifetime vacation. You can follow this exact itinerary to plan your road trip and experience nature and ultimate relaxation while getting away from it all.

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Where is Lofoten | Getting to Lofoten | Ferries to Lofoten | When to Visit | Weather | Getting Around Lofoten | Best Things to do | Where to Stay | What to Pack | More Tips | Guidebook

Where exactly is Lofoten?

Where is Lofoten in Norway?

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.

 
All the islands that make up Lofoten.

The Lofoten archipelago consists of many islands. Starting from the east and moving west they include:

  • Hinnøya

  • Austvågøy

  • Gimsøy

  • Vestvågøy - This is the island with the largest population.

  • Flakstadøy

  • Moskenesøya

  • Værøy - This small island is around six hours from Bodø by ferry (via Moskenes) or around 2 hours by ferry from Moskenes. It is famous the large amounts of puffins who nest here over the summer. Also for the gorgeous scenery on the island.

  • Røst

  • There are also several other smaller islands that are included in the Lofoten archipelago.

How To Get To Lofoten

There are a couple of options when it comes to actually getting to the Lofoten Islands. You can take a ferry there from Bodø, you can fly into an airport there, or you can even drive onto the island! Each one has pros and cons and depends on where you are going and exactly what you plan on doing.

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Flying to Lofoten - What Airport is Best?

Pros: Quickest. Easiest (if flights line up).
Cons: More expensive. Chance of delay.

There are larger two airports located on Lofoten: Leknes Airport (LKN) and Svolvær Airport (SVJ). Widerøe Airlines has direct flights to both Leknes and Svolvær from Oslo Airport. Unfortunately, they are not daily and the departures are usually very early in the morning.

Most journeys to Lofoten will look something like this: Home – Oslo – Bodø – Leknes/Svolvær. This is exactly what we did. Although travel to Lofoten took up an entire day it was entirely worth it.

Our experience was this: Norweigan Airlines flight from Oslo to Bodø Airport (BOO), and then another flight—on a small propeller jet operated by Widerøe—to get from Bodø to Leknes. Norwegian unfortunately only operates flights to Bodø. You will have to book a separate ticket through Widerøe to fly to Lofoten. Luckily, Widerøe has many daily flights to Leknes. We booked online via Expedia's Norweigan site. Although my browser had to translate the page for me, I found the overall booking process to be very easy.

Why we did 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 definite stroke of luck. Although it was more expensive to take a flight direct to the island, it was cheaper to rent a car from Leknes than it was from Bodø. It ended up almost evening out. You can see a full breakdown of our budget here.

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Which Ferry to Take to Lofoten

Click to enlarge | Source

Pros: Cheapest. Multiple crossings daily.
Cons: Crossing can be rough, even in summer. Slower, three hours each way.

Lofoten is a large grouping of islands and there are multiple ferry ports to choose from. Thankfully all of the major ones leave from Bodø. This means you will have to fly to Bodø first, see above for more info on airports and connections.

Bodø – Moskenes

This is the most popular ferry and the one you will have to take if you have a car. It is operated by Torghatten Nord. During the summer (aka high season) you will find 3-4 sailings per day. In winter there is only one crossing a day. The crossing takes over three hours. You will arrive at the western top of Lofoten in the small town of Moskenes. Luckily, this area is the heart of Lofoten and many great towns like Reine and Å are nearby.

If traveling in the summer and renting a car from the Bodø Airport (which I recommend, it is usually cheaper) you will want to make a reservation for the ferry each way. The crossings are very busy and boats leave at or near capacity. If you don't make a reservation for your car you may have to wait for the next departure which is hours later. Even with a reservation, you need to show up at least one hour before departure. Because of the high traffic in the summer even reserved spots are given away to the cars waiting if you are not on time.

Timetables and prices can be found here.

I was very excited to take the three-hour ferry trip from Bodø to Moskenes. I've heard 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. But I also heard the crossing can be rough, even in the summer. I am prone to seasickness and didn't want to risk it.

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Bodø – Stamsund/Svolvær

Slightly more expensive than the Bodø – Moskenes route 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

Lastly 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.

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. Norweigan flies direct (not daily though) from Oslo to Narvik if you want to pursue this option.

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When to Visit Lofoten

When is the best time to visit Lofoten? This is the first question almost everyone has asked me after I arrived back from my incredible Norweigan 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? Camp? 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 many of the hiking areas are still largely covered in snow. If you are fine with mostly darkness and 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.

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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 earlier. The best places are booked solid months in advance. 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. Not to mention, northern lights tourism gets bigger and bigger each year with Lofoten 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 have ample opportunity to see the Northern Lights. March is very busy as well, a popular month for skiing and other mountain activities.

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Lofoten Weather

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 the northern parts of Alaska. Thanks to the Gulf Stream, it is actually not only bearable to visit any time of year, but actually quite nice most of the time. Lofoten enjoys a milder climate and it is quite common for summer temperatures to reach 73°F (23°C).

The weather tends to be a bit crazy and unpredictable up here. The good side of this is, if the weather is horrible you can wait it out and it will most likely change quickly. The bad news is, if the sun is shining you shouldn't expect it to be like that all day.

At 68N, the Lofoten archipelago is well above the arctic circle, and at the same latitude as Greenland or the northern parts of Alaska. However, it enjoys a relatively milder climate due to the circulation of the Gulf Stream, and temperatures up to 23C in the summer are not uncommon. Still, it remains a subarctic destination, the weather changes fast, and even in the summer it may become cold. When the sun is not shining a sweater is recommended.

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.

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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.

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Getting Around in 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.

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Can't Miss Spots in Lofoten

Planning your road trip will be the hardest part. There is so much to do. You can check out my full Lofoten itinerary including how much we drove each day, where we stayed, what we saw, the best hikes we took, and where we ate.

There are a couple of main things you absolutely can not miss while visiting Lofoten, including:

Reine

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

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.

Trollfjord

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.

Henningsvær

A quick 20-minute drive from Svolvær is Henningsvær, a fishing village at the base of an imposing mountain. The town is breathtaking and home to a soccer pitch you may have seen online PIC.

Å

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.

Beaches

There are many beaches to visit throughout Lofoten. If you are visiting during the midnight sun definitely visit the western beaches. The absolute most beautiful are the Vestvågøy Island beaches: Utakleiv and Eggum.

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Where To Stay in Lofoten

Norway already tends to lean on the more expensive vacation spots. The remoteness of the Lofoten islands makes it a bit more expensive on top of that. Regardless, you'll find hotel accommodations in Lofoten for almost every budget.

Choose from full-service hotels or apartment-style accommodation in any of the larger cities such as Svolvær, Reine, or Leknes. In between all the towns and villages you'll find tons of remote fisherman's cabins. Rorbus, in their distinctive red color, are especially popular and are perfect for families and larger groups. If you are trying to stay on a budget there are many campsites, some even overlooking the beautiful ocean.

A word of advice, if you're planning to visit Lofoten in the popular months of June and July you definitely need to book as early as possible. Plan on at least a few months in advance, best case of booking a full six months ahead of time. That being said, we planned our trip a mere three weeks before taking off. Although accommodation options were limited—and expensive—it was still possible to secure bookings.

Again, take a look at my Lofoten itinerary which will include all the hotels we stayed at while in traveling around Lofoten.

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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.

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.

  • 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.

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Final Thoughts

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.

Read on: Full list of travel gear I use on every trip

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). 

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