If you want to visit Lofoten and see all the wondrous sights, the best way to explore is by car. This actually applies for most travel through Norway. Renting a car in Norway is a must.
Since the opening of the E10 highway, you can easily drive the entire Lofoten archipelago. As you drive the winding road it's hard to imagine this was not the case as recently as 2007. Back then, you had to board multiple ferries to traverse the various islands. Thankfully, you won't have to worry about any of that.
Lofoten's Main Highway: E10
The E10 begins in Å, the most northwesterly town in Lofoten, and winds through the most picturesque villages along the rocky coast. It takes you to Reine, one of the top destinations in Lofoten—and a favorite on Pinterest—and then eventually up through Svolvær and across Vesterålen. All these islands are connected to the mainland, you can drive the E10 all the way east to Sweden!
The Best Way to Get Around Lofoten
If you want to travel Lofoten efficiently and cheaply (remember Norway is a bit expensive, so you should read that as cheap for Norway) you will need a car. Public transport is available along the E-10. But, if you want to venture off the main road—and trust me you will—good luck trying to do that without a car.
How to Rent a Car in Lofoten
There are a couple of options when it comes to renting a car in Lofoten. Each comes with different pros and cons. Most travelers decide between these three options:
Fly into Bodø. Rent a car from the airport. Take the car with you on the ferry to Lofoten.
Pro: Cars are cheaper from Bodø airport.
Con: The car fee each way on the ferry is around $125.
Fly from Bodø to Svolvær or Leknes Airport. Rent a car from one of these airports.
Pro: You don't have to deal with the ferry crossing or the car fee on the ferry.
Con: Renting a car while on the island is usually more expensive.
Fly from Bodø to Svolvær or Leknes Airport. Rent a car from a local.
Pro: Cheaper than renting from a rental car company
Con: Can feel more complicated and intimidating for first-time travelers to Lofoten since you have to call the locals ahead of time and negotiate the price.
What we did: We looked into all three but ultimately decided to rent a car with Hertz from the Svolvær Airport. We ended up loving the experience and personally think it is the best option for budget travelers coming to Lofoten.
The best advice I can give you to save money while in Lofoten is to rent a car as early as possible. Because there are two peak seasons in Lofoten (summer and winter get equally busy for very different reasons) I would try and book early no matter what time of year you go.
Option 1: Rent Your Car in Bodø
You will most likely find the cheapest rates for cars if you rent from one of the major car companies at Bodø Airport. Remember, if you get your car in Bodø you then have to take it on the 3-hour ferry from Bodø to Moskenes. To take a car on the ferry costs around $125 (as of July 2019) this does include the driver. Remember, you will have to add this cost—each way—on top of the car rental price.
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. You can check the current times and prices here.
Option 2: Rent A Car from Svolvær or Leknes Airport
Both airports on Lofoten have a car rental desk right inside the airport. This makes it easy to fly directly to Lofoten and bypass the ferry while also having access to a car immediately upon arrival. Like I said above, we ended up going with this option. We rented from Hertz in Svolvær Airport, booking before we left directly on Hertz website.
I will say, we got lucky. Flights schedules just happened to work perfectly and seats were thankfully still available. And although it was more expensive to take a flight direct to the island (versus taking the ferry), we did find it was cheaper to rent a car from Leknes than it was from Bodø. With the extra cost to bring a rental car from Bodø on the ferry it actually ended up almost evening out. You can see a full breakdown of our budget here.
Option 3: Renting Cars From Lofoten Locals
I have not done this option but read about it extensively on this website. Basically, locals who own car repair centers will rent out used cars at about half the price of Hertz, Europcar, etc. You can save some major money! They are not available to book online but you can find them in the major cities like Moskenes, Svolvær, and Ballstad. 68 North suggests giving them a call to make arrangements. You can find numbers for some locals on this page on their website. They go on to say they have rented from guys in Stamsund many times and had a great experience. They even met up at the ferry to pick up the car. In my experience, Norwegians were extremely nice so I believe every word.
Can You Rent a Car From Another Country?
Yes. There is an option to rent a car from Sweden, which will also be much cheaper than the agencies in Norway. The closest Swedish city to the islands is Kiruna. But, remember you will need an extended period of time to visit this way. Kiruna to Leknes spans 450 km. That is a lot of time—and extra gas money—you have to add-in.
Camper Vans in Lofoten
Another great option in Lofoten is to rent a camper van. Look into Arctic Campers, they have rental stations outside Oslo Airport, Leknes Airport, and Tromsø Airport. A camper van can be a wonderful way to combine transportation and accommodation cost into one payment. It will also cut down on your planning, you won't have to plan out each day. Meticulously deciding where you want to be/what you want to do. If you are traveling Lofoten in the Winter you'll find the addition of van heaters will make your stay very comfortable.
Best Time of Year to Road Trip Around Lofoten
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?
What do I suggest? Well, I think the midnight sun and beautiful tepid summer weather can't be beaten. We were there from July 1-10th and had a blast. If you are trying to hike a ton, I suggest visiting after mid-June. If you come to Lofoten before this time, many of the hiking areas are still largely covered in snow. If you can handle 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.
Winter Driving On Lofoten
If you are from a warmer climate (and who isn't compared to the arctic circle) you may be scared to drive Norway in the dead of winter. And extra precaution should be taken. It all depends on the amount of snowfall, but in general, a layer of highly compacted snow and ice remains on the road. You have to remember though that because of the warm winds from the Gulf stream, rain is common in Lofoten during winter. This transition from cold snow to warm rain can be one of the most dangerous times to drive.
From mid-October to the end of April all rental cars should come with studded tires (at no extra cost). But, always double-check when you make your reservation. These tires make the roads bearable to drive on.
The good news is you won't need a 4×4 (all-wheel drive) rental in winter. Even the locals drive normal cars! But, compact cars, will be a bit more difficult to handle if you are suddenly caught in a snowstorm. This is because the car is more lightweight and the tires struggle to get proper traction.
Read on: For a more in-depth look at winter driving in Lofoten, I suggest this informative article from 68North.
Best Lofoten Road Trip Itinerary
I hate to be annoying, but I actually think that the perfect Lofoten road trip itinerary is no itinerary. You want to be as flexible as possible due to the weather. That being said, do your research and know where the best things to see in Lofoten are.
I have a full article that goes over crafting an itinerary for a road trip in Lofoten here. LIN
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).