Norway’s northernmost city of Vardo is full of surprises for world travelers. It’s easy to get to by car, bus, boat, or plane, and even though there are only just over 2,000 inhabitants, it is indeed a city with accommodations, food, and plenty of things to see and do. Flights arrive daily at Svartness Airport, and from there, Vardo is only a five-minute drive away.
The word Vardo means “wolf island” and the area has been inhabited for over a thousand years. Vardo is also the only city in the Arctic climate zone and is popular for festivals, street art, bird watching, fishing, and the midnight sun.
It’s a small but upcoming destination near the outer Varangerfjord in the Varanger region in Finnmark. Vardo is definitely worth a visit while traveling in Norway and is an excellent side trip from Hesseng or Kirkenes.
Both natural and cultural experiences await you in and around windy, colorful Vardo. Here’s a look at the best things to do in Vardo, Norway.
The Pomor Museum is a simple yet interesting museum that chronicles (in Russian only) the Pomor trade with Russia’s mainland as well as the history of Svalbard and Russian mining. Of special interest are the geological exhibits and artifacts related to Svalbard’s Russian activity prior to the archipelago’s European discovery by Willem Barents.
Divided into two parts, the first deals with the everyday life of the Pomors and the second part is about the contact between Northern Russia and Northern Norway after the decline of the Pomeranian trade.
The Pomors were from the area around Lake Kvitesjoen. They mainly lived on fishing but were also very skilled shoemakers. They were Russian Orthodox and had a special need for fish during Lent when the whole area fasted.
Learn about the everyday life, politics, and faith of the Pomors through objects, texts, and pictures. The museum is open Tuesdays through Sundays from 12:00 pm to 5:00 pm.
Also known as “The Witches’ Monument,” the Steilneset Memorial commemorates the victims of Finnmark’s witches’ trials during the 17th century. A total of 91 souls were executed for witchcraft between 1060 and 1692. The Royal Highness Queen Sonja opened the memorial in 2011. The memorial is a project of the National Tourists Roads.
You can see the House of Flames featuring artwork by French-American artist Louise Bourgeois in a separate open area. It is usually cold when you are there, so we enjoyed not only the real gas flames but also the warmth it provided on an otherwise dreary day! The reflections in the mirrors were also a fun effect to see.
The longer part of the building is called the Memorial Hall with all the names of the deceased. It was designed by architect Peter Zumthor from Switzerland. You’ll also see artwork by the French visual artist Louise Bourgeois.
When visiting the memorial, be sure to take a walk through the dark corridor and see the impressive eternal flame. Although translations are not available in any language other than Norwegian, we were impressed by these visual representations and the somber mood inside the hall. It is quite dark inside, although the image above from my iPhone makes it seem brighter.
Another fun thing to do while walking around the town of Vardo is to spot the unique wall graffiti that is on display. Locals have painted all sorts of themes and messages throughout the village. Many of them related to their lives on the island as well as their feelings about the current state of the town.
Vardoehas is one of Norway’s oldest fortresses and the only one in Lapland. It’s also Norway’s easternmost and the world’s northernmost fortress. Built at the behest of King Haakon and Długonogi, it’s among the first fortifications erected at the beginning of the 14th century. The historic fortress held a prisoner of war camp and served as a point of anti-aircraft protection during World War II.
Sitting right in the heart of the town of Vardo, the fort is somehow integrated into the daily life of the people there. It was first built in the early 1300s to denote the sovereignty of Denmark-Norway. The only original building left is the powder house.
The fort you will see today was built between 1734 and 1738. The building is an international and military-style octagonal-shaped star structure containing several buildings inside.
Found on the desolate coast of the island Vardo stands on, you’ll find a monster called Drakkar that is a cross between a dinosaur, a whale, and a Viking ship. This unique “beast” is a 20-minute walk outside of town, way beyond any houses you will find. You can also drive right up to it, (or at least a 2-minute walk away from where you can park).
The unique sculpture was created by a group of artists from Russia using the remains of the old houses in the area. These houses were built of timber and driftwood brought from Russia by the sea. It was intended to tell stories about the Arctic, nature, and the people who live here along with myths about the sea and ships, the migration of people, and historical events.
It is quite a fun sculpture to walk around. It is perched on a hill amongst the wild shrubs of the region with just a simple path leading up the hill to it. There is no fence, so we walked around and inside it to get a better view of the structure and how it was built – with simple wooden pieces joined together!
Something that is also not in Vardo, but a short trip down the road is the historic Partisan Museum. It is dedicated to the memory of the men and women in the far north of Norway’s World War II resistance.
Many of the partisans were from Kiberg, and a local commitment was made to honor those who escaped across the soviet border when the war began. The escapees were educated here and reported to the Soviets upon their secret return to Finnmark.
Traveling along the main road E75 on the Varanger Penisula, you’ll see a large red building on the right-hand side. A former boarding school for the partisans, it was converted into a partisan museum in the year 2000. The museum is small but packed with information in the form of photos, objects, and informative texts.
Pay close attention to the “Partisan Gallery” at the entrance area where you’ll find around 100 portrait photographs of those who, in various roles, participated in the resistance during the war.
Nature lovers and bird watchers can experience bird life up close on Norway’s easternmost nature reserve, Hornoya. Located in Vardo, Finnmark County, this small, uninhabited island has one of the country’s largest seabird colonies. The seabirds you may spot here include Atlantic puffins, razorbills, European shags, black-legged kittiwakes, herring gulls, great black-backed gulls, and more.
The tiny island is situated in the Barents Sea slightly east of the larger island of Vardoya and the town of Vardo. Experience Harnoya Vardo at the same time you visit the Vardo Lighthouse. The lighthouse sits on the island’s highest point and protects the shipping lanes around the town.
Just as Vardo is Norway’s easternmost city, the Hornoya Lighthouse is the easternmost building. Located on Hornoya Island, the area is a protected wildlife reserve for puffins and other seabirds and a nesting area for as many as 83,000 pairs of birds. Every summer, bird scientists come to study and work with the seabird colony here.
Visitors can rent rooms in the lighthouse for the rest of the year. You can find more information on the website www. hormoya.no for information about transport, accommodations, and the island’s fascinating bird life.
There are traffic restrictions on Horrnoya, and cars are only allowed in designated areas. Harbor boat trips are allowed between April 1st and October 15th. You can hike to the lighthouse for breathtaking views. It’s a fairly demanding hike but doable for those in moderate to good physical condition.
For a real taste of history combined with nature, don’t miss the impressive Kiberg Kystfort. Established in 1942, the World War II German coastal fortress was Germany’s northernmost part of the Atlantic Wall until 1944 when it was abandoned as the Soviet Army approached.
The Atlantic Wall, a lengthy system of defenses and fortifications was built between 1942 and 1944 by Nazi Germany along Scandinavia and the coast of continental Europe. Its purpose was as a defense against a possible Allied invasion of Nazi-occupied Europe during World War II from the United Kingdom.
Kiberg Kystfort is situated at Kibergsneset, the easternmost point of Norway’s mainland.
History meets geology with a visit to the old fishing village of Hamningberg, about an hour north of Vardo. Sure, it’s not in the town itself, but if you are in the area (like we were) then it is a must if you have the time! The views on the road there are out of this world, and some of the best we have seen in our 3 month trip around Norway.
Located in the far, far northeast corner of Norway, Hamningberg sits on the shores of the frigid Barent Sea and divides Russian and Norwegian territorial waters. The village can be reached by car and is an hour’s drive away from Vardo.
Geologically, continental collisions created the major rift basins of the Barent shelf over thousands of years. Historically, Hamningberg provides a glance into the world of Old Hamningberg.
The village was left intact following the razing of Finnmark in 1944. When the area’s German troops heard rumors that Russian forces were getting close, they fled before the troops had time to destroy the village. Some historical accounts claim they left while their food was cooking on the stove.
Because the village was spared, Hamningberg is one of the few villages in Finnmark where visitors can experience the traditional coastal culture and old-style houses as well as the desolation of it all. We spent a very windy night in our campervan there, so don’t expect it to be sunny or windless. You are in the exposed Barents Sea region of Norway, very close to the Russian border!
For the most unique nature and wilderness experience you’ll ever have, plan a visit to the Wild Varanger where the Barents Sea meets the Arctic sky. This area is as far east and as far north as you can go in Norway. It’s the perfect place to see the midnight sun in summer and the dancing northern lights in winter.
Here you can connect with nature in the wild landscape on snow-covered plains, meet the locals, get immersed in the local culture, and try the traditional foods.
Make the most of your Vardo trip by taking a guided walking tour through the Wild Varanger. The tours are structured to be suitable for all fitness levels. The views are spectacular and the land is varied as you walk through the silence with only the sounds of nature. A surprise awaits you around every corner.
Roger is a little obsessed with travel. He has been to over 40 countries, broken 3 suitcases and owned over 10 backpacks in 12 months. What he doesn't know about travel, ain't worth knowing!