One of the most remote places in Norway, the Lofoten Islands, is also one of the most epic places on the planet. Voted by National Geographic as one of the most appealing destinations in the world, Lofoten is an Arctic island group that has been a cruise destination since 1889. Situated just beneath the auroral oval, a belt of light that encircles the geomagnetic poles, Lofoten provides some of the best chances in the world of seeing the northern lights. Due to the northern latitude, the sun remains completely below the horizon for about five weeks in mid-winter in this area. The darkness is truly unforgettable. But you can still experience daylight in most of the winter, increasing gradually to the midnight sun in summer.
The Lofoten archipelago is located north of the Arctic Circle in the county of Nordland, Norway. It consists of five main islands (Austvågøya, Gimsøya, Vestvågøya, Flakstadøya, and Moskenesøya) extending about 110 km from north to south, with fjords and narrow straits in between the islands. Between the mainland and the Lofoten lies the open Vestfjord. In addition, there are many small islands composed of volcanic rocks and skerries (rocky islets and reefs). From a distance, the 175 km long and 800-1000 m high archipelago looks like one closed wall when seen from elevated points around Bodo or when arriving from the sea – hence called the Lofoten wall.
The Lofoten Islands territory has changed many times in the past. The Lofoten islands map has been modified over and over again. The chain of islands is characterized by tall peaks, naturally protected inlets, long coastlines, and large virgin areas untouched by the human civilization. The highest peak is located in Austvågøy. It’s called Higravstinden and stands 1161 meters tall. To the northeast, there is the Møysalen National Park that is situated at an altitude of 1262 meters. There is also another unique geographical feature – a collection of tidal channels with its treacherous reversing currents that flows between Moskenesøya and the islet of Mosken, called the Moskstraumen or Maelstrom. It is considered to be one of the most dangerous maelstroms in the world. The landscape is striking in its variety: wildly beautiful places of marsh and rock, green fields and still lakes, dramatic mountains, and white sandy beaches by jade seas. Lofoten is also dotted with picturesque villages and fish-drying racks, as stockfish – dried cod – has been the main export since the Middle Ages. The five main islands are linked by road, and you can easily cross all five and return in a day. Passengers can also disembark at one port and re-join the ship at another.
Lofoten is one of the richest marine ecosystems in the world. Frigid waters well up from the Continental Shelf, carrying nutrients that support the planet’s largest cold-water reef, along with massive populations of foundation fish attract some of the biggest concentrations of cetaceans in the world. Along with that, Lofoten is one of Europe’s largest nesting sites for seabirds.
Lofoten islands are the ideal place for all kind of explorers of nature-based activities. Besides the events and festivals, on land, there is hiking at all levels, from spectacular panoramic viewpoints to remote beaches, few places on earth provide such a grand natural stage for hiking enthusiasts. Whether you want to stroll along a beach or tackle some of the most challenging hikes in Scandinavia, there’s a hike for you on Lofoten islands. The westernmost island, Moskenesøy, offers the most famous trails with several adventure companies and walking guides based in and around Reine. Many of the best beaches in this part of Norway can only be reached on foot, rewarding those willing to make the hike with some of the country’s beaches all to themselves. Yet some fabulous finds are right by the side of the road. You can also go on a cruise along the Trollsfjord. During spring, you can also go on a self-guided tour to watch whales and orcas. In the seas, killer whales (orcas) are found in large numbers during the autumn and winter, drawn by the shoals of herring. Minke whales, pilot whales, and seals are among the other species to call Lofoten their home. Moreover, you will have more chances of seeing the whales if you are on the western part of the islands. You can see them right from the beaches, no boat ride is required. Other activities at sea including kayaking, diving, snorkelling, or surfing. The deep sea surrounding Vestvågøy island slopes off as it approaches Unstad beach, making this bay a magnet for cold water surfers. It’s known in the international surfing community as one of the best spots in all of Europe to catch a wave. Sea Eagle safaris can be arranged from both Svolvær and Leknes, the two main ports in Lofoten with only one hour drive in-between. In the wintertime, you can go skiing or snowshoeing, horseback riding, or experience the magical Aurora Borealis for example. Being located beyond the Arctic Circle, northern lights, also called the aurora borealis, are quite common in the region. Moreover, since the population is low, you also get minimal light pollution. This allows you to see the northern lights in all its glory. You can chase this celestial ballet of light dancing across the night sky from end of August until mid-April at some of the beaches of the Lofoten Islands.
The Lofoten have been continuously inhabited since at least 1120, when King Øystein built a church and lodgings for fishermen near Kabelvåg, on Austvågøya. Fishing has always been predominant. Even before the year 900 AD, the sagas talk about boats being equipped for the journey to the Lofoten and the winter cod fishing season, where the fishermen travelled for days and even weeks in open rowing boats and sailing boats to take part in the abundant fisheries of Lofoten, throughout the entire winter. The stockfish, produced from the cod, was sold to almost all European countries, and Italy is still the most important market for the high-quality stockfish from Lofoten. Until the late 19th century, when tourists arrived on the islands, it was almost the only economic activity. Tiny settlements with typical Rorbus, a well-known building in Lofoten used to accommodate comfortable accommodations for fishermen, are found around the islands. Nowadays many of them are refurbished into comfortable accommodations for the leisure visitors to the islands. The numbers of tourists visiting Lofoten in recent years has increased significantly, so much so that it has caused problems within the local communities. There’s a limit to how well any of Lofoten’s small communities can cope with even modest numbers of travellers, so any increase is instantly noticeable. Some hiking trails on popular routes are suffering from erosion and there have been issues around parking, congestion, and the lack of public bathroom facilities. All things considered, the snow-capped mountains of the Lofoten region are now home to a well-managed fishery and growing tourism industry. Norwegians have not only become fiercely proud of this place, but they are also protective of the entire ecosystem, as both their culture and economy depend on it.