The Lofoten Islands sit on Norway’s northwestern coast and are dubbed as one of the most beautiful archipelagos in the world. If you’re looking to spend some time in the arctic wilderness, the Lofoten islands have it all.
Around every turn of the mountainside roads, there is something spectacular to see. Whether it’s snow-capped mountains, white sand beaches, crystal clear seas, or stunning fjords, or charming seaside towns, Lofoten truly does have everything that Norway has to offer.
There are so many things to do in Lofoten that planning a trip there can become quite the task, and the activities on offer are very much season-dependent. Join me as we take a look at the best things to do in Lofoten, during both winter and summer.
During the summertime, May to September, the Lofoten Islands get to a balmy 15 degrees Celcius making it the perfect time of year to be outdoors and enjoy what the stunning landscapes have to offer.
The Lofoten Islands are blessed with numerous white sand beaches that you’ll find on pretty much every cove. They look a bit out of place, to be honest. The bright white sand is lapped by crystal turquoise waters and is you’d expect to see in the Caribbean or Seychelles and not in the arctic. But the rugged mountain backdrops are a quick reminder that you are still in Norway.
Some of the most famous beaches include Haukland Beach, Ytresand Beach, Uttakleiv Beach, and Ramberg Beach which are all easily accessible by car. If you’re up for a bit of adventure, then there are some magical beaches that you can only access on foot such as Kvalvika Beach, Bunes Beach, and Horseid Beach.
If you enjoy a good walk then a visit to Lofoten is something you have to do. There are hundreds, maybe even thousands of beautiful hiking trails that will take you over mountains, through valleys, along rivers and lakes, and of course, along the stunning shoreline.
Most of the hikes in Lofoten involve climbing a mountain, which makes them quite tough but the rewards are certainly worth it. There is nothing quite like looking over the Lofoten Islands from the top of a mountain. If you thought the views we good from sea level, then you’ve got another thing coming.
Some of the best hikes in Lofoten include summiting Reinebringen, Ryten, Svolvaer Fløya, and Festvagtind. The hikes only take around 2-4 hours each but they all involve a semi strenuous climb to the top and then a relatively easy stroll back down to sea level.
Even if you’re no into climbing, going to the town of Henningsvær in Lofoten is a must. The seaside town of Henningsvær is one of the most stunning ports you’re ever likely to see, so much so that it’s known as Lofoten’s Venice.
The town is spread out over 5 different islands that are all connected via bridges and it sits on the eastern side of the Lofoten islands, meaning it’s well protected from bad weather and rough seas. Along the shores of the small islands are colorful wooden houses, hotels, restaurants, art galleries, and lots of great shops too.
The town has just 510 residents but this number almost triples during the summer as it’s extremely popular with both local and foreign tourists. It’s worth spending a few nights in Henningsvær if you can to truly get a sense of it. Renting a rorbu cabin (fisherman’s cabin) is a great way to get a sense of the fishing culture that has been part of the town’s history since it was first founded.
You might not have thought it but Lofoten is becoming quite a popular surf destination, even in the winter when big swells push through from the north Atlantic and Arctic oceans. But, surfing in winter is a little chilly and more for the pros due to the wave size, but going for a surf in the summer is very refreshing.
The town of Unstad is the surf capital of the Lofoten Islands thanks to the position of Unstad beach. The beach faces west and therefore picks up every bit of swell off the ocean, and it’s well protected by mountains on either side which gives surfers some respite from the northerly or southerly winds.
There are two surf companies in Unstad, Arctic Surf & Lofoten Surfsenter. Both operations offer surf lessons, you can hire boards and they will kit you out with some thick wetsuits to ensure you stay nice and warm while riding the waves. There is nothing quite like catching a wave and looking down the line to see the stunning mountains surrounding you.
Lofoten is home to some of the best rock climbing in all of Norway and this is thanks to the mountains running pretty much from the sea all the way to the summit. This makes for a very large variety of different climbing options and if you know what you’re doing, you’ll be able to free climb, trad climb, and even crack climb.
The best place to base yourself if you want to go climbing in Lofoten is in the town of Henningsvær. There you’ll find the North Norwegian Climbing School which offers a range of courses from beginner to self-rescue or you can book a guided climb if already know what you’re doing and simply want a guide to make sure you get the most out of each climb you plan on doing.
The school also rents out all the gear you need. So if you’re a climber but don’t want to add all the extra weight of your climbing gear to your luggage, you can pick up what you need from the school and get any advice you might want about where to climb.
Summertime in Lofoten is blessed with 24-hour daylight meaning that the sun never actually quite sets. Instead of slipping below the horizon at night, the sun threatens to set only to rise again, and this is what is known as the midnight sun.
If you’re a fan of sunsets or sunrises then watching the midnight sun every day is something you should make a point of doing in Lofoten. You’ll see all the amazing colors of a sunset and sunrise all in one sitting and you’ll get to see it with the already amazing Lofoten scenery in the background.
The mountainsides, sea, lakes, and rivers are all lit up with stunning pastel colors of almost every palette. Watching the midnight sun do its thing will probably be some of the best sunsets and rises you will have ever seen in your life.
One of the coolest ways to see the midnight sun is on a kayaking trip which are readily available around the islands. There is nothing quite like paddling down a slick calm fjord seeing the incredible reflections of the midnight sun come to life on the ocean’s surface.
Fishing is inherent in the Lofoten culture as it’s the main industry for the archipelago along with tourism. This will be apparent everywhere you go in Lofoten; from the numerous fishing villages to the smell of hanging fish. So why not dive in and book a fishing trip whilst you’re there?
The seas around the Lofoten Islands are rich with fish species like cod, mackerel, and wolffish. In fact, some 40 million kilos of cod are caught in the Lofotens every year so your chances of a successful fishing trip are very high.
You can book a fishing trip in pretty much any village in Lofoten. The boats are well run, you’ll get to be on the ocean and see some cold wildlife like sea eagles, seals, and you might even bump into a whale or two. If you do catch any fish, which is pretty much a guarantee, you can take them home and eat some delicious fresh fish. Some of the charters will even cook your catch on board right there and then.
Some of the most amazing wildlife that Lofoten calls home are sea eagles and orcas. The chances of you seeing these amazing creatures on your own are pretty slim and you’d have to get extremely lucky to stumble upon them.
Whilst there is never a guarantee you will see them, your best chance is by booking a guide whose job it is to find them. This usually involves going a on rib (boat) and cruising around the fjords in search of sea eagles and orcas. Included with the tour will be all the clothing you need to stay warm, soft drinks, and a knowledgeable guide that will give you insights into the local wildlife and answer any questions you might have.
You might not get to see the species you’re looking for but the boat ride around the islands is incredibly beautiful and it’s always nice to have a local guide answering all the questions you’ve had brewing during your stay.
The winter in Lofoten is actually a little warmer than the rest of Norway and this is thanks to the gulf stream. Temperatures tend to stick around 0 degrees celsius fluctuating around 2 degrees each way depending on the weather.
During the winter it’s also mostly dark. In the months of November to February/March, the sun never rises and if it does, all you see is a glimpse of a sunset or sunrise before it disappears again. This means the winter activities in Lofoten are quite different from the summer ones.
Lofoten isn’t the best place in Norway to see the northern lights as it’s not quite as far north as some of the hot spots like Tromso. But, if you’re lucky enough to have clear skies and the right weather patterns, chances are you’ll see the northern lights dancing across the night’s sky when you’re there.
The best way to see the northern lights, wherever you are, is to get away from towns and into nature where there is no light pollution. It’s quite easy to DIY this, just drive up high into a mountain on into a cove where no one lives. But, your best chance of seeing the northern lights is by booking a tour with a local guide.
The guides are trained to hunt down the northern lights and they’ll be able to predict when and where you’re likely to see them based on the weather and other conditions.
There is a range of different northern lights tours to choose from too. You can opt for the photography tour which includes a photographer who’ll teach you how to get great pictures of the northern lights. If you’re looking for something more adventurous you could book a kayaking or horse riding northern lights tour.
During the winter the mountains in Lofoten are usually covered in snow which makes hiking around the beautiful landscapes a no-go. The only solution to this is donning a pair of snowshoes and hiking in them instead.
If you’re a seasoned snowshoer then renting some snowshoes and heading down some of the numerous hiking trails is easy and very accessible. But, if you’re new to snowshoeing, booking a guide is definitely the best way to go.
The trails can be quite hard to find, the days are also cold and dark, so going with a guide will not only help you get the hang of snowshoeing a lot faster but it will also be a lot safer.
Snowshoeing your way around the mountains is also an excellent way to see the northern lights if you’re lucky. When booking your guide, mention to them that you’d like to time your snowshoeing tour with the best chance of seeing the northern lights, and if the stars align, you’ll probably have one of the best snowshoeing experiences of your life.
The Lofotr Viking Museum is in the town of Borg in the center of the Lofoten archipelago. The town itself is rather beautiful, like everywhere in Lofoten, and is surrounded by lakes and mountains.
At the Lofotr Viking Museum, you’ll be taken through the history of the Lofoten Islands, Norway, and Scandinavia. The museum sits inside the world’s largest Viking-built longhouse and is full of super interesting artifacts and relics that all date back to the age of the Vikings.
During your visit, you’ll be able to watch a film about how life was for Vikings and enjoy an amazing Viking-style feast at the end of it.
There are lots of fun activities for kids too where they can train to become Vikings. Things like sailing and rowing a biking ship, axe throwing, shooting bow and arrows, horse riding, and seeing a Viking blacksmith at work are all on offer.
Tickets costs between 170 NOK and 200 NOK depending on what your ticket includes and the museum is open every day from 10 am to 5 pm except on Sundays when it is closed.
The Lofotpils Craft Brewery is Lofoten’s only craft brewery and they make delicious beer. You will probably have sampled it if you have been out to a bar or restaurant as it’s available pretty much everywhere in the Lofoten Islands
Lofotpils is located in the Lofoten town of Svolvær and taking a tour of their brewery is a great way to get a break from the chilly outdoors during winter. The brewery is quite small but it makes such good beer that it’s started to get recognized internationally.
Booking a tour is quite easy, simply go to their website and book a slot on one of their many available scheduled tours. You’ll get to try all the beers they make and the staff make the experience a lot of fun.
Another great way to enjoy a break from the outdoors is by visiting the Magic Ice Bar in Svolvær. The Magic Ice Bar isn’t just a bar, it’s far more than that. It is in fact, a permanent ice gallery and the world’s first at that.
Inside you’ll find incredible ice sculptures of fishermen and Vikings that pints a picture of the history of the Lofoten and, of course, there is a bar made of ice that you can have a cocktail or three at after you have finished the tour.
The staff are incredibly welcoming and they really do ensure you have a great experience. You’ll be able to take photos of the amazing sculptures while you’re there, visit the top-notch gift shop, and if you’re lucky, experience a bit of the Arctic party scene.
Entry to the Magic Ice Bar costs 225 NOK per person and includes a free drink. If you’re worried that hanging out in an ice bar might be a little chilly, don’t worry, the venue gives you all the appropriate clothing so you stay warm and toasty during your visit.
Since Lofoten is covered in snowy mountains during the winter, there isn’t really a better way of seeing all the amazing landscapes than skiing down a mountainside. The views are out of this world and the skiing is pretty incredible too.
It’s not quite a place for beginners to learn to ski as the runs are quite testing but if you have spent some time on the slopes then you’ll be good to go. But, if you want to learn to ski in Lofoten, the instructors and guides at Lofoten Ski Lodge will work something out for you.
One of the best places to go skiing in Lofoten is at the Lofoten Ski Lodge. The lodge is located on the doorstep of the best ski slopes in Lofoten and you can book a private ski week, ski weekend, or simply get a guided day on the slopes.
Outside of the skiing, simply staying at the lodge is quite an incredible experience. The staff and guides are incredibly good at what they do, the accommodation is five-star, and the food is incredibly delicious.
Winter is actually one of the best times of the year to see whales in the Lofoten Islands, especially Orcas (killer whales) and humpback whales and it’s an opportunity that shouldn’t be missed.
One of the best companies to go whale watching within Lofoten is Lofoten Explorer. They specialize in photo-sea-safaris and on a tour you’ll hop in a boat and cruise around the islands and fjords looking for humpbacks, orcas, and sea eagles. You’re also likely to see dolphins too.
The company gives you all the safety equipment and warm clothes you’ll need to stay warm and safe whilst out at sea and their knowledge of the wildlife of the area is incredible. You’ll learn a lot about the behavior of the whales and birds, their migration patterns, and the guides will be able to answer any questions you might have about them.
The Lofoten Islands local cuisine is all about the sea and every restaurant you go to will have their traditional fish dish on the menu. Now, if there was ever a place to eat cod in a hundred different ways, then it’s in the Lofoten Islands.
Fish isn’t all that’s on the menu and you’ll be able to try a lot of other traditional Norwegian dishes whilst there too such as reindeer steaks. Good restaurants are not hard to find in Lofoten, every village or town has a few good ones to choose from and if you ask the hotel or cabin you’re staying for a recommendation, you’re likely to have a direct line to the best restaurant in town.
Should you visit Lofoten? It’s a bit of a silly question really! Being one of the most beautiful places in the world and with so many things to do in Lofoten, you should probably go and book your trip there now.
Anna is the co-owner of expert world travel and can't wait to share her travel experience with the world. With over 54 countries under her belt she has a lot to write about! Including those insane encounters with black bears in Canada.