Norway is a country full of fjords, islands, mountains, glaciers, and … legends, trolls playing a predominant role in them. The west and central coasts, just below the Arctic Circle, are full of magical experiences from kayaking along the coast and hiking winding trails to staying in very cool cabins and even walking right through a 115-foot-high hole in the mountain Torghatten.
Norway’s Atlantic Coast in the west is where all the excitement and magic is to be found. The largest cities are Bergen and Stavanger, good starting points for your experiences. Islands that are UNESCO World Heritage Sites, fjords, mountains, glaciers, great food, and friendly people are all there for you to see and enjoy.
1. Vega Islands
The Vega Islands are an archipelago of some 6,500 islands and islets just south of the Arctic Circle. They have been inhabited for 1,500 years, and the way of life has hardly changed. The entire archipelago is a UNESCO World Heritage Site not least because of the sustainable lifestyle, the beauty of nature, and the utter tranquility that rules the days. The largest island, but still small, is aptly called “Vega” with Gladstad as the main town. One of Vega’s main attractions are the extensive bird colonies, foremost among them, eider ducks. They are actually raised there for their feathers to fill pillows and quilts with. The feathers are a main source of income as the harsh environment, especially the bitter cold winter months, doesn’t give the islanders many possibilities to make a living. Tourism plays a minor role, although it’s quite easy to reach Vega. You can either fly from Oslo to Bronnoysund and then drive or take a taxi or come by car ferry from Horn or express ferry from Bronnoysund. Once on the island, admire the traditional fishermen’s cottages, mostly painted red, swing by the World Heritage Center, look at the fishing boats or amble along the shallow pebble beaches and enjoy the view of the stormy Atlantic. And whilst there try the island specialty: freshly fried cod tongue.
Between Bronnoysund and Rorvik, an astonishing sight meets the eye: an over 700-foot high mountain that rises straight out of the sea. That is Torghatten, the mountain with a huge hole in it. This being Norway, the land of legends and trolls, there is a story about how the hole came to be in the mountain. Two feuding kings lived across the fjord from each other. One had seven daughters, the other wanted a wife. One night he saw the daughters frolicking on the beach and went in hot pursuit of his favorite. He couldn’t reach her and, thinking “if I can’t have her, nobody will,” flew into a rage and shot an arrow at her to kill her. But, her father had heard the commotion, rushed down, and threw his hat in the way of the arrow, saving her life. Trolls were there too, and just as the sun was coming up, hat, arrow, and everything turned to stone because trolls can’t bear sunlight. There is a scientific explanation for the hole, but it’s much less colorful.
You can climb up to the hole and walk through it. It’s a 52 feet long and 50 to 66 feet wide tunnel. At the other end, you have a fabulous view of the Helgeland coastline. Another path up the mountain leads to a memorial for a plane that crashed into the mountain in 1988.
3. Seven Sisters Mountains
The Seven Sisters are an amazing range of seven mountain peaks on the island of Alston near Sandnessjoen. Each peak of the “ladies” has a name and can be climbed separately or, if you are a very fit and experienced climber, all of them. Naturally, there is a legend to the stone beauties and it is similar to Torghatten, only this time it’s the sisters who were after the horseman Hestmannen, the beau of the Lofoten. Again, the rising sun put an end to the soap opera and turned everybody to stone. When hiking and climbing in these parts, just look out for the trolls.
4. Svartisen Glacier
How do you fancy the idea of getting close to a glacier without having to rise to thousands of feet? Svartisen glacier, which is actually two glaciers separated by the Vesterdalen Valley, is the lowest glacier in mainland Europe at only 650 feet above sea level. Hiking and biking as close as possible to see the glacier is manageable on various routes, provided you have sturdy shoes and soles with a good grip and are in reasonably fit shape. Stepping on the glacier itself is dangerous though. By nature, glaciers are in constant movement however slow, so parts can break off at any moment. But it’s a thrill to practically be able to touch a glacier. The foot of the glacier can be reached in 20 minutes by boat from Svartisvatnet, but only in the summer months.
The pleasure of travel is to visit destinations that are not on the usual tourist maps. Rorvik, located in Trondelag on the Inner Vikna island, is just such a place. It is a port town, indeed the most important in Central Norway, and even has a regional airport, but just over 3,000 inhabitants. This allows you to experience a very quiet Norwegian lifestyle, with beautiful, colorful houses, calm streets, and a very modern and interesting museum, the Kystmuseetrorik. Salmon farming is a big thing here, and the museum which has three departments has a section dedicated to the history of seafood. Norwegian salmon is world-famous, so don’t forget to sample it if you love fish and seafood.
6. Kayaking In Helgeland
Helgeland is the southernmost district of North Norway, just south of the Arctic Circle. There are four towns: Bronnoysund, Mosjoen, Sandnessjoen, and Mo I Rana. The landscape and coastline are defined by thousands of islands and shallow waters reaching far into the sea. In the north, Helgeland is bordered by the Svartisen glacier. Approximately 1,200 islands, among them the Vega Islands we have told you about above, form the archipelago, but they also form a natural barrier to prevent strong winds and high waves from entering, which makes it Norway’s hottest destination for kayaking. Several sandy beaches allow easy access to the water to board your kayak.
Kayaking, in these parts often the only way to get around because of the shallow water, is a very popular sport in Norway, so just join in the fun and get a magical view of the beautiful islands from the water and paddle around and among them.
Make no mistake though, kayaking is only for the physically fit and prior experience is a plus, although there are tours that provide classes like Hvitserk Adventures.
If you are a beginner and have never “propelled” a kayak in your life, you might want to consider this kayaking class. Even after 2 or 3 days, you will feel incredibly fit and proud of your achievement, not to mention the unforgettable sights of the mountains, birds, and islands that you have conquered with the force of your arms.
Just to be complete, if you simply aren’t fit enough to venture into a kayak, you can still enjoy all the beauty of Helgeland by going on a Hurtigruten cruise.
If you are interested in history, the tiny town of Ornes will be to your liking. It lies on the route of the Hurtigruten ferries and was first mentioned in documents in 1610 when an inn was set up. Trading and shipping continued over the centuries. The town was ravaged several times by fire, but hundreds of the original buildings like fishermen’s cabins, boathouses, and a forge have survived and are lovingly maintained. Not to forget the love bench at the end of the pier. Bring your love and a padlock, kiss, fix the lock on the bench, throw the key in the sea and your love will last forever.
8. Crossing The Arctic Circle
I was very excited when I crossed the Arctic Circle for the first time, just as I was when I crossed the equator. Sure, there is no visible line, but knowing that you enter midnight sun territory was just as fascinating as suddenly having the seasons reversed.
Norway’s coast above the Arctic Circle is as much if not more eye-catching than the southern part. Located halfway between the Lofoten and Tromso, here are a few highlights. Senja Island, Norway’s second largest island, is ideal for watching the northern lights and experiencing the midnight sun, depending on the season. Hiking, biking, and kayaking the fjords, and visiting Polar Park, the world’s northernmost zoo are some of the adventures that await. Blaisvatnet Lake with its intense blue color is just something that needs to be seen. The Vesteralen Islands are for whale watching year-round, including the rare sperm whales in winter. If, in the summer, you want an unexpected nearly tropical experience with sunbathing and white beaches above the Arctic Circle, Sommaroy Island is for you.
9. Stay In Cool Norwegian Cabins
You have heard Bronnaysund mentioned a lot in our overview, so it is a good idea to make your base there, at least part of the time. Ideally in one of these five cool and colorful fisherman’s cabins with huge windows for fantastic sea views. They come fully equipped with towels and bedding, cleaning service, kitchen, bathroom, and Wi-Fi.
The currency is the Norwegian Krone. English is widely spoken, so you will have no language problem. Learn some letters of the alphabet that are different from ours and how to pronounce them so you can get the names of destinations right. Most of the activities require good physical shape, but some hikes are easy and there is always the Hurtigruten shipping line if you prefer.