On the northwest coast of Norway, a cluster of islands in the shape of a lynx’s foot (at least to the very creative eye!) are connected by a series of roads, bridges, and tunnels.
The Lofoten Islands are named for lo, the Old Norse word for lynx. But while the furry lynx may have once called this area home, another mammal is in charge today: humans!
The Lofoten Islands, more than 100 miles above the Arctic Circle, are one of the world’s northernmost populated regions. Here’s why this remote area is a must-visit spot.
1. It’s Sunny And Warm (Most Of The Time!)
Lofoten is north of the Arctic Circle -- but it typically doesn’t feel like it. The region has the largest temperature anomaly in the world relative to its latitude. Visitors can expect temperatures more in line with Nova Scotia or northern Italy than the Arctic. And between late May and mid-July, the sun stays above the horizon 24 hours a day. That’s right, this is one of the places where you can experience the midnight sun.
Alas, from early December to early January, the sun never rises and sleet and snow are common. The rain and wind storms in the Lofoten Islands are nothing to laugh at, either. However, for such a northern location, its climate makes it a generally surprisingly mild place to visit.
2. You Can See The Northern Lights (With A Bit Of Luck)
In theory, Lofoten is one of the best places in the world for seeing the Northern Lights. It sits beneath the auroral oval, a geographic zone above the earth’s geomagnetic north pole. Combine this with its warmish climate, and you should get perfect viewing conditions.
Unfortunately, regular rainfall makes for a lot of misty nights. If you hear that the lights will be good on a particular night, clear your schedule to enjoy them. But be mindful of superstition, which says that you shouldn’t whistle. That’s because the people once believed that the lights were actually angry gods, eager to capture unprepared souls. Don’t give away your position by whistling!
3. The Food Is Amazing
It’s no exaggeration to say that the food scene in Lofoten centers around one thing: cod. The islands have been at the center of the world’s cod fishing industry for more than 1,000 years. Much of it is sold on the international market, but a good deal remains in Lofoten, eaten fresh or preserved through salting, drying, and smoking. There are several restaurants where you can try the cod in various preparations, plus enjoy local berries, herbs, and wild game.
At the Kitchen On The Edge Of The World, renowned chefs put on seasonal food programs that follow certain themes (in 2020, for instance, programs will focus on food and art). If your visitation dates line up with any program events, be sure to take advantage of them. Some other highly recommended restaurants include Fiskekrogen, Krambua, Gammelbua, Anita’s Seafood, and Maren Anna.
4. The Hiking Routes Are World-Class
The hills, valleys, craggy rocks, mountains, and coastlines of the Lofoten Islands are the perfect place for hiking.
A moderate trail fit for active beginners is the Ryten trail, which offers great views of the beach and coastline. It’s a 5.4-mile round trip journey that covers over 2,240 feet in elevation. There are a couple of different starting points to access the main trail, but a good one to choose is at the Peat Museum. You can combine a short visit to this interesting museum with your hike, and the museum has parking options.
If you’re short on time, the 1.7-mile hike from Bunes Beach offers a good balance of beautiful scenery and outdoor adventure. Along the way, you gain 260 feet in elevation. The area is particularly famous for sunsets, so be sure to bring your camera along.
5. The Bird-Watching Is Sublime
If you love bird-watching, chances are Lofoten is already on your travel list. It’s home to one of Europe’s largest seabird colonies. The islands are famous for being the home of a huge population of sea eagles, cormorants, and puffins. The area also caused a stir when there was a rumored sighting of the long-extinct great auk. Alas, the culprits behind this mistaken identity were nine king penguins, released in the area in 1936.
6. The Art Scene Is Thriving
The combination of a remote and rugged coastline, beautiful, unspoiled nature, and even bouts of round-the-clock sunshine have made Lofoten a beloved spot for painters and artists. Gunnar Berg called Lofoten home, and he famously painted everyday scenes of life in one of its fishing villages. Other artists associated with the area include Otto Sinding, Lev Lagorio, and Adelsteen Normann.
If you’re looking for a unique piece of Lofoten art to take home, the Engelskmannsbrygga artists’ studios, situated in an old cod-liver oil factory, carry works by potters, photographers, and glass blowers.
7. History Is Preserved
The tiny communities of the Lofoten Islands are tremendous gatekeepers of history and tradition. Nowhere is that more apparent than in Nusfjord. This fishing village is also an open-air museum with a working sawmill, general store, blacksmith, boat repair workshop, and cod-liver oil factory.
In Nusfjord and elsewhere around Lofoten, you can stay in a historic building known as a rorbu, a small fisherman’s cabin which is elevated on stilts, perched over the water. Many have been renovated and guests can expect comfortable bedrooms with a small kitchen and living room with great views of the water.
8. They’ve Got Arctic Surfing, Too!
Arctic surfing is everything you think it is not. For one thing, it’s not cold. Apparently not even a little bit, and that’s all thanks to the incredible technology behind the wetsuits. It’s not extreme either. Summer weather sees waves of just 3 to 8 feet, and Unstad Arctic Surf, the world’s most northerly surf school, runs lessons for families with children and beginners. And it’s not elitist. There’s no “get your own beach” attitude here.
While September’s annual Lofoten Masters surfing competition attracts some of the best athletes in the world, there’s nothing exclusionary about Unstad or the local surf community. They pride themselves on embracing the spirit of aloha. If you were ever considering learning how to surf, even just a little bit, this might be the perfect place to give it a try.
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