Want to visit the Varanger region and you’re not sure what to do in the area? Then you’re definitely in the right place because this detailed guide to the Varanger region will help you plan your itinerary!
When to visit, where to stay, and what to do in the area are just some of the things we’ve covered in this detailed guide. We’ve also dedicated a good chunk of the guide to the Norwegian Scenic Route Varanger, which happens to be one of the most popular road trips in northern Europe!
The Varanger peninsula is situated in the Finnmark county of Northern Norway, along the Barents Sea. The peninsula is popular for its teeming bird life, which can be best experienced during the warmest months of the year.
There’s a small domestic airport in Båtsfjord on the Varanger peninsula, but it’s serviced only by flights from a few Norwegian towns. The airport in Kirkenes is much bigger, and it’s easier to find both domestic and international flights that will take you to this town. It’s best to rent a car immediately after landing since driving is the best way to explore Varanger.
The peninsula is often called the end of Europe because it’s home to the northernmost point on the continent. It’s certainly not the best place for the average traveler, but the more adventurous tourists will absolutely enjoy discovering the Arctic landscape while driving along the Varanger scenic route.
The best time to visit the Varanger peninsula is between May and October. The average daily highs are at around 10° Celsius and on some days the temperatures can even reach 20° Celsius. The weather from November to May is generally much colder, with average daily highs below 0° Celsius.
It’s also worth noting that the Varanger National Scenic Route is closed between November and May because of the weather conditions, so it’s impossible to explore the top sights on the peninsula. Plan a trip during the summer for the absolute best experience!
The sun never sets during the summer, so you will literally have endless days to explore as much of the peninsula as possible. This is also the time when the mild weather makes the tundra available for hiking and when the first eggs start to hatch. The midnight sun awakens the wildlife, which is exactly why summer is the ideal time to visit Varanger for those who want to do some birdwatching.
September and October are also not bad times to visit the peninsula, but keep in mind that it’s much colder during early fall. It also rains a lot during these months, with October being the rainiest month of the year with some 15 days of rain. The main reason why some people choose to visit in early fall instead of the summer is for the chance to see the Northern Lights.
Winter trips to Varanger are not recommended because of the lousy weather conditions. The sun doesn’t rise for about two months during the winter, which means that it’s constantly dark. Although these conditions are great for seeing the Northern Lights, they’re not suitable for hiking and exploring the wilderness. Winter is also extremely cold with freezing temperatures and icy roads.
Varanger National Tourist Route is the remotest road trip in Europe. The road leads from tVarangerbotn to Hamningberg
, allowing travelers to discover a plethora of landmarks and natural attractions along the way.
The route is popular with drivers, RVers, and even mountain bikers. It’s possible to explore this road on two and on four wheels, so just follow this road that will reveal natural surroundings full of beauty and contrast.
The Varanger National Tourist Route is 160 kilometers long. This distance can be covered in about 2-3 hours, but if you only drive down the road you’re not doing the region any justice. There are many stunning viewpoints and landmarks along the way, so it’s absolutely worth it to stop every now and then to explore and take in the views.
Summer road trips also offer plenty of opportunities for hiking, thanks to the mild weather that makes the arctic tundra hikeable. With unique flora and fauna, spectacular natural surroundings, lots of bird-watching opportunities, and a myriad of different hiking trails, you should plan at least 3-4 days (the more the better!) to explore this wonderful peninsula.
We did a hike to a canyon over the tundra just outside of Vadso called Nattfjelldalen. It is a very isolated part of the world and the slow climb over the tundra to the canyon and waterfall were out of this world. We also spotted a team of reindeer in the distance, but were unable to find them again only 5 minutes later!
It’s worth noting that it is possible to do most of this road trip in the winter, but it’s not recommended. Temperatures are often below freezing, which can makes both driving and exploring more difficult. The roads are also usually quite icy and dangerous – pair that with the polar night and you get pretty dangerous driving conditions. Winter road trips in Varanger are recommended only for confident and experienced drivers.
The Varanger scenic road is open between May and November. Sections of the road are closed between November and May because the weather conditions make them inaccessible and frankly dangerous at times. Also, it’s important to note that because of the cold weather and icy conditions, parts of the road can often be closed at night during the first few weeks of May.
The final leg of the road trip between Smelror and Hamningberg is closed during the winter, but you might be able to make it to Vardø. It’s one of the largest towns in the area and a great base for further exploration of the peninsula in the far northeast of Norway.
Diverse wildlife, lunar landscape, fabulous views of the Arctic Ocean, and numerous viewpoints can all be experienced on the Varanger National Tourist Route. There are also many rest stops along the way, perfect for road trippers who enjoy taking their time.
In terms of actual landmarks and tourist attractions, the Varanger peninsula doesn’t disappoint. The first stop from Varangerbotn is Gornitak, a small rest stop and beautiful viewpoint on the Varangerfjord. The next reason to stop and get out of the car is the Nesseby Kirke, which is just a short way away from the Nesseby village. The church dates back to the mid-19th century but boasts an altarpiece from 1720.
Continue driving on the scenic route and you’ll quickly reach Mortensnes, another small rest area boasting Scandivnan architecture and beautiful natural surroundings. The town of Vadsø is the next reason to stop, what with its museum and excellent bird-watching opportunities. I just want to point out that all of these attractions are within the first 50 kilometers of the scenic road!
After Vadsø, the road goes north to Domen and Vardø. Domen is a mountain known in Scandinavian folklore as the place where witches met with Satan, but nowadays it’s most popular for the spectacular panoramic views that it offers. There’s a small shelter area here, so it’s the perfect place to stop and get some rest before hitting the road again.
The town of Vardø is a bit of a detour on the scenic route, but it’s entirely worth it (see our things to do in Vardo post).Be sure to check out the Steilnesetm emorial, which was built in honor of the people who were convicted of witchcraft and burned at the stake in this area. The memorial hall tells the history of these witchcraft trials, and it’s worth checking out if you want to experience something a bit different in Varanger. We enjoyed walking through the museum and taking it all in, including the eternal flame.
There is also a tonne of street art, a bird-watching island just 10 minutes ferry away, and a cool Russian sculpture on the outskirts of town (and a bus turned on its end!). We found it to be a bit of an eclectic town with a mixture of old and new and that feeling of being at the end Norway in the Barents Sea.
Hamningberg is the end of Europe and the final town on the Varanger National Tourist Route. It’s one of just a few places in the world where it’s possible to observe Arctic birds in their natural habitat, and the drive there is out of this world. We drove there for an overnight stay and ended up in a massive storm, but the drive was mind-blowing. And I say that after traveling for 8 weeks all over Norway and seeing some otherwise impressive places like the Fjords.
So, it definitely the highlight of the road trip for anyone visiting Varanger for both bird-watching opportunities and mind-blowing scenery. Oh, and the deserted town of Hamningberg at the end is kinda fun to visit too. It is so isolated and has an amazing history from WWII.
Boasting an impressive landscape that was formed before the last Ice Age, the Varangerhalvøya National Park is easily the highlight of any trip to Varanger. The national park is popular for bird watching, hiking, and also for wildlife viewing. It’s home to the Arctic Fox, which is the most endangered mammal species in Norway.
Komagdalen Bird Trail is one of the national park’s most popular hikes for bird watching. The hike is about 7 kilometers long and it takes you up over a suspension bridge to the valley of Komagdalen, where you can observe all kinds of birds in their natural habitat.
In addition to arctic foxes and teeming bird life, this national park is also a popular place for fishing. A permit is required, but it’s easy to get and it allows you to fish in the many rivers and fjords of the NP. Trout, salmon, char, sea trout, and arctic char are all common in the lakes and rivers of the national park.
Sami culture is the oldest culture in several parts of Northern Norway so it’s very important for the region. A road trip through Varanger allows you to discover elements of the Sami culture, and you start exploring it before you even hit the road!
The Varanger Sami Museum is situated in Varangerbotn, which is the starting point of the popular Varanger National Tourist Route. The museum explores the Sami culture and history with its indoor and outdoor exhibitions. The outdoor exhibitions include traditional Sami dwellings, while the indoor ones are more focused on the different elements of culture and periods of Sami history.
The museum also hosts temporary exhibitions and it oversees the excavations at Mortensnes. Additionally, the Varanger Sami Museum showcases modern Sami art, and it’s definitely one of the top museums to visit on the entire peninsula.
Northern Lights are a phenomenon commonly observed in the Arctic Circle and Varanger is one of the best places in Norway to chase them. The Northern Lights season in Arctic Norway is between late September and March, so October is generally one of the best times to visit Varanger if you’re heading to the peninsula specifically for the Aurora Borealis.
It’s important to note that seeing the Northern Lights isn’t quite as simple as just showing up in Arctic Circle and looking up at the sky. You should plan three days for this at the very least if you want to give yourself a good chance of seeing the phenomenon. It’s called chasing the Northern Lights for a reason and it includes a lot of planning and checking the weather forecast.
The conditions need to be ideal for the Aurora Borealis to show up and if you’re not very familiar with what it takes to see the phenomenon, it’s best to join one of the many guided tours in the Arctic Circle. These are run by experienced guides who arrange transport and meals, often taking you across the border for the best opportunity to see the colorful dancing lights.
Varanger is a big peninsula with many towns and villages. Most bigger towns on the island have at least one hotel, and since the region isn’t extremely popular with tourists, you usually don’t have to book accommodation in advance. It’s best to do so if you want to be guaranteed a place to stay in the town of your choice, but if you don’t mind driving around you should have plenty of options.
Most hotels and rental apartments are on the southern coast of the peninsula and in Vardø. The northern coast doesn’t really feature many accommodation options for travelers, at least for those who are looking for a bed inside four walls.
If you’re RVing through Varanger or you’re open to camping, you’ll have even more options for accommodation. There are loads of campsites throughout the peninsula, plus travelers can take advantage of Norway’s Freedom to Roam.
The rule allows you to set up camp pretty much anywhere, as long as you’re not camping in someone’s backyard, you don’t do any damage to the ecosystem, and you leave nothing behind.
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!