Norway is such a bucket list destination for a lot of travelers, and within the country there are so many different bucket list-worthy regions and experiences. From seeing the Northern Lights in the north to sailing the fjords, there’s so much here to add to your to-do list.
After several trips to Norway in different seasons, there was one region in particular that was still on my travel bucket list for years: the Lofoten Islands.
This region of Norway above the Arctic Circle is known for its colorful fishing villages and dramatic mountains-meet-the-sea scenery. And I finally made it there! In fact, I planned an entire trip to Norway around visiting the Lofoten Islands with my husband, Elliot.
Our time in the Lofoten Islands was equal parts incredible and challenging. Incredible because it’s truly a beautiful part of the world, but challenging because the wild weather prevented our expectations from fully living up to reality.
You’ll see a lot of photos online from the Lofoten Islands either showing off snowy landscapes and breathtaking skies filled with Northern Lights, or bright summer sunshine turning clear water turquoise. But in reality, you might experience neither and both of those things in the span of a day.
If you’re planning a bucket list trip to the Lofoten Islands yourself, here are the things (weather-related and not) that you need to know before you go.
When to visit the Lofoten Islands
First things first: when should you visit the Lofoten Islands?
You can technically visit this part of Norway year-round, but the experience is very different depending on when you go. Winter in the Lofotens can be magical with snowy landscapes and dancing Northern Lights, while summer is characterized by turquoise waters and the Midnight Sun.
Visiting in winter is challenging, however. Roads get snowy and icy, and you won’t find as many attractions and restaurants open, as this is a part of Norway that’s pretty seasonal in terms of tourism.
I therefore recommend visiting in late spring into summer, when you have a much better chance of nicer weather and things being open. Most of my tips below assume that you’ll be visiting from May-September!
Lofoten Islands quick guide
Lofoten Islands: Things to know before you go
1. The Lofoten Islands are above the Arctic Circle
The Lofoten Islands are waaaay up north in Norway – above the Arctic Circle, in fact, in the Norwegian region of Nordland. Because they’re above the Arctic Circle, this means that the islands experience Polar Night in the winter and the Midnight Sun in the summer.
Since I recommend visiting these islands in summer, you should know that roughly from the end of May through mid-July, the sun will not set at all in the Lofoten Islands. The Midnight Sun will be shining bright 24 hours a day – so I definitely recommend packing an eye mask for hotel rooms or cottages that might not have full black-out curtains. (I like this eye mask personally.)
2. They’re remote – but not that remote
The Lofoten Islands are an archipelago made up of 7 main islands characterized by towering, wall-like mountains and small fishing villages. And while one of the most popular ways to reach the islands in the summer months is by ferry (from Bodø to Moskenes), you don’t *have* to arrive by water.
The Lofoten Islands themselves are connected to one another by a series of bridges and tunnels, and the archipelago is connected to the mainland of Norway via bridges – so you can actually drive there!
There are several different options for getting to the Lofoten Islands. Most include flying from Oslo to a smaller northern airport, though if you’re spending an extended amount of time in Norway you could drive or get to a northern city like Bodø or Narvik by train and then drive from there.
If you’re flying to the Lofotens, some of the most popular ways to get there include:
- Flying into Bodø, picking up a car, and taking the car ferry to Moskenes. Downside? The ferry takes about 3.5 hours and the crossing can be rough.
- Flying into the Harstad/Narvik Airport in Evenes, picking up a car, and driving to the Lofotens. Downside? It’s a bit of a drive – 2.5 hours to Svolvær, which is kind of the “start” of the islands.
- Flying into Svolvær or Leknes, which are right in the Lofoten Islands. Downside? Direct flights to these small airports from Oslo only operate during the summer, and not every day of the week.
Elliot and I did option number 2, getting direct flights between the Harstad/Narvik Airport in Evenes and Oslo on SAS. The flights were short (just a little over an hour), and there are several rental car companies right in the Evenes airport near the singular baggage belt.
And the drive from Evenes to Svolvær? Stunning!
3. Plan to rent a car
Speaking of getting a car and driving from wherever you fly into… you really do need a car in the Lofoten Islands. Are there technically public buses that run between the main towns in the islands? Yes. But the bus schedules are not great, and I actually never saw a public bus on the roads the whole time we were there.
If you want full freedom to visit beaches, go on hikes, and visit all the small fishing villages, you really need to rent a car.
The good news for my fellow American drivers is that Norway drives on the right and maintains pretty good roads. And while there are a few places where you’ll encounter narrow, one-lane roads with lay-by areas to facilitate 2-way traffic, the majority of roads you’ll travel on in the Lofoten Islands are two lanes and paved (including all the roads that pass through tunnels).
We rented a car through Hertz in Evenes, and paid $335 to rent a compact 4WD vehicle (with basic collision coverage) for 5 days. (I recommend searching for car rental options in Norway via AutoEurope.)
Just be prepared to drive in basically any weather, and pay attention to whether you’re renting a manual or automatic car (especially if you’re like me and can only confidently drive an automatic).
4. You’re going to be outdoors a lot
Norway overall is a very outdoorsy kind of destination, and that definitely extends to the Lofoten Islands, too. The top things to do in the Lofoten Islands include things like hiking in the mountains, taking boat trips, visiting beaches, strolling through fishing villages, and generally just being outdoors soaking in all the epic scenery.
Besides a handful of very small museums, there’s not actually a lot to do indoors in the Lofoten Islands. So packing appropriate clothing for spending time out in the elements is vital to enjoying a trip here.
5. Prep for literally any kind of weather
Even if you visit the Lofoten Islands during the summer months when the weather is generally more settled, that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t pack for literally any weather eventuality.
In June, it could be 75 degrees (F) and sunny, or a freak snow squall could blow through. You should also plan for rain. Since the Lofoten Islands kind of dangle off Norway into the Norwegian Sea, weather moves in – and out – quickly.
When Elliot and I visited in late May into early June, it was sunny and warm down in Oslo, but actually freezing up in the Lofotens – we had snow on June 1st!
Norwegians love the saying “there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing,” though, so take this to heart! Pack clothing you can layer, and don’t leave behind a good rain coat, rain pants, and waterproof shoes/boots.
Here are some items I’m very glad we packed:
But you’ll also want sunglasses and sunscreen, along with lighter layers in case it gets warm! (I know it definitely CAN get warm here in the summer, even if we didn’t experience that.)
6. The hiking here can be intense
Speaking of hiking and being outdoors a lot, you need to know that a lot of the really popular hikes in the Lofoten Islands (the ones you’ve probably seen Instagram photos of) are not just easy little strolls.
The hike to the Reinebringen viewpoint, for example, seems short at just 2 kilometers (1.25 miles), but it’s all steeply uphill and requires you to climb more than 1500 stairs. The famous Ryten viewpoint above Kvalvika Beach is also quite steep, strenuous, and exposed in parts, and the Fløya hike in Svolvaer has a total elevation gain of 1900 feet.
Add in unpredictable weather and potentially muddy trails, and you’ve got a recipe for some intense hiking.
Though hikes aren’t surprising, though, considering how mountainous the Lofoten Islands are. Just do your research ahead of time so you can be prepared if you’re putting hiking on your to-do list. (Hiking poles and good hiking shoes/boots highly recommended.)
7. Book cozy accommodation – in advance
Since the weather can be hit or miss in the Lofoten Islands, booking cozy accommodation you won’t mind spending time in is a must. You definitely won’t regret this if you end up needing to spend more time in doors than you were planning.
(Ask us how we know this. Ha!)
And make sure to book well ahead of time, especially if you’ll be visiting during the summer. The best places to stay book up in advance, and if you wait until the last minute you may end up paying a premium to stay anywhere.
8. Staying in a rorbu is worth it
And speaking of cozy places to stay, renovated fishing cottages called rorbuer (rorbu when it’s singular) are very popular accommodation options in the Lofoten Islands. And they are 100% worth it.
These brightly colored cabins are usually located in scenic, waterfront spots with fantastic views in small fishing villages. They are renovated to include everything you need, and usually consist of a bedroom, seating area, and often a kitchenette.
Some of the most popular rorbuer you can stay in include:
- Lofoten Basecamp in Leknes – A popular option between Svolvaer and Reine, with cabins set right on the edge of a pretty fjord.
- Nusfjord Arctic Resort in Nusfjord – These restored rorbuer are in a historic village tucked into a fjord. They are super high end and beautiful.
- Eliassen Rorbuer in Hamnøy – The famous red fishing cabins you’ve definitely seen in photos of the Lofoten Islands. There are a bunch of different cabin configurations with different views, along with an on-site restaurant called Gadus that’s very good.
- Reinefjorden Sjohus in Hamnøy – Another great option with incredible views of mountains.
- Reine Rorbuer in Reine – These are super cozy, having been restored to look as traditional as possible. The cabins are right in the center of Reine, and have great views.
Elliot and I stayed in rorbuer at Eliassen Rorbuer and Nusfjord Arctic Resort, and loved them both. Our cabin at Eliassen Rorbuer had the most incredible view – perfect for watching those snow storms rolling through. And our cabin at Nusfjord Arctic Resort was so cozy that we barely minded that it rained the whole time we were there.
Rorbuer in the Lofoten Islands are generally more expensive that staying in a hotel, but it’s worth it for a couple nights!
9. Be flexible with your travel plans
I probably don’t really need to reiterate this one, but I will anyway: the more flexible you can be with your travel plans in the Lofoten Islands, the better. It’s a good idea to have a Plan B for most days.
The good news is that you don’t need to pre-book many activities here, and everything is fairly close together (the drive from Svolvaer to Reine is only about 2 hours).
Elliot and I took our plans day by day, often pivoting based on the weather forecast. We weren’t able to squeeze in any major hiking between rain showers, but we were able to visit villages and fly our drone during brief sunny spells, and be indoors when it was snowing.
The only activity we planned and booked ahead for was a boat cruise from Svolvaer to Trollfjord – and it did get canceled and rescheduled once because of weather. Luckily, we managed to shuffle some other plans around and squeeze it in on our last afternoon.
10. Make a plan for meals
One thing you do want to plan ahead for though? Meals! This isn’t necessarily because you need reservations everywhere, but more because there just aren’t that many options for eating in a place that’s so small.
There are a handful of restaurants in Svolvaer, but significantly fewer the further south through the islands that you travel. I highly recommend consulting a Google map and looking for restaurants near where you plan to be each day. Then double check their opening days/hours.
Reservations for dinner are recommended at any restaurants that take them, especially in June, July, and August. And yes, you can plan to pay quite a bit for meals, as food is one of the more expensive things in this part of Norway.
(This is another argument for staying in a rorbu with a kitchen, in case you want/need to cook a meal or two for yourself.)
11. Be prepared to eat – and smell – lots of fish
Before tourism was a thing in the Lofoten Islands, the main industry here was fishing. In fact, the Norse were fishing for cod in these waters thousands of years ago. Stockfish (air-dried cod) is still the major export from this part of Norway, and you’ll see (and probably smell) cod drying on wooden racks in every town and village you pass through.
You’ll also find lots of seafood on the menu here, which shouldn’t be surprising. I recommend trying stockfish if you get a chance – most restaurants make cooked dishes with it, and it’s worth a taste!
12. Leave the cash at home
Like the rest of the Nordic countries, Norway is almost entirely cash-less these days. And this extends to the Lofoten Islands, too. Contactless credit card or Apple/Google Pay payments are the norm, even in tiny shops and bakeries. (In fact, many places won’t even accept cash!)
One thing Elliot and I noticed is that credit card machines didn’t always like our American credit cards, though; we usually needed to insert the card chip and then sign receipts in order for transactions to go through at most restaurants. (This wasn’t true in Oslo, where we could tap to pay everywhere. It might just be slightly older credit card machines up north.)
Just be sure you have a credit card that doesn’t charge you foreign transaction fees!
13. Know that there’s not much free parking
Speaking of paying for things, you’ll have to pay for parking at many popular sites in the Lofoten Islands like beaches, trailheads, and sometimes within towns. This is mostly a way to control free camping (i.e. people traveling around Norway in campervans), but you’ll likely run into paid parking lots, too.
This is the only case where carrying some cash might come in handy – just remember that Norway uses the Norwegian Krone (NOK) and not the Euro. Otherwise you can pay for parking through apps like Easy Park. (You may also see Vipps mentioned as a payment option, but this is a mobile payment app only available to Norwegians.)
14. The islands are not a secret – but still quiet
The Lofoten Islands are definitely not a secret in Norway any longer; lots of people have this region on their travel bucket list – and rightfully so!
And while the tourism industry is booming and you’ll find full-up accommodations in the Lofoten Islands in the high season, this doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll be running into traffic jams or massive crowds of people everywhere. The Lofoten Islands are popular, yes; but the limited tourist facilities kind of naturally controls the number of people here at any given time.
Elliot and I visited at the very beginning of the summer season, and found it incredibly quiet. In fact, there were some instances where we had viewpoints, parking areas, and beaches all to ourselves.
15. You need more than just 2 days
While you *can* technically just visit the Lofoten Islands for a couple days (again, driving distances aren’t too crazy here), I highly recommend longer if you can manage it.
Elliot and I spent 5 days in the Lofoten Islands, and it was a good amount of time to be able to see/do everything without rushing too much. (Or, it would have been, had the weather been better!)
If you liked this post, you might also like to read about visiting Northern Norway in winter!
What else do you want to know about visiting the Lofoten Islands?