Updated February 2020
If you want to see some of Norway’s most beautiful landscape, you couldn’t go wrong with a trip to Lofoten.
Actually, maybe you could. Here are a few things you should know about the Lofoten Islands when planning a trip there:
The weather is going to be crazy
The good news is, if the weather looks bad you can probably just wait 10 minutes and it will change.
And so the bad news is, that lovely sunny weather you’re enjoying probably won’t last long. Then again, Lofoten’s weather is notoriously unpredictable, so maybe it will surprise you with some consistent sunshine!
So regardless of what the weather forecast is saying, bring some rain gear and warm layers that you can remove if the sun comes out. And if you’re planning on doing lots of walking or hiking, definitely bring some really good waterproof pants with you. I typically recommend Backcountry for this kind of gear.
Tourism has just recently exploded on the Lofoten Islands
While just a few years ago most of the people I would tell about Lofoten had never heard of the islands, now – largely thanks to Instagram! – they’re very much on people’s radar. But Lofoten’s big reputation doesn’t mean that it’s set up as a big tourist destination (at least not yet).
That means that you’ll need to book your accommodation well in advance, especially if you’re visiting in the summer, as it’s not uncommon for all the islands to be booked solid. Read here for more information on what time of year to visit Lofoten.
For accommodation, the three best places I’ve stayed on Lofoten are Svinøya Rorbuer (my top choice, plus their restaurant Børsen is amazing!), Eliassen Rorbuer in Reine (probably the most famous place in Lofoten), and Lofoten Links Lodges (off the beaten path and the BEST for seeing the Northern Lights!).
You’ll also find lots of Lofoten options on Airbnb, like this centrally located apartment, this cozy cabin, or a room in this home only 50 meters from the ocean. And if this is your first time using Airbnb you can get a discount by signing up here.
The huge influx of tourists has also been a bit of a surprise to the locals, who might not have signed up to live on the set of a photo shoot. It’s something to keep in mind when looking for a place to set up your tripod, pitch your tent, or park your car.
Speaking of tents, Lofoten really isn’t the ideal place to camp. Yes, you can wild camp for free in Norway, but this is best in remote areas of nature, not on small islands with a lot of tourists. The islands can’t handle lots of campers, so it’s much better to stay at accommodation, or at least pitch your tent at a campground here instead of wild camping.
What I’m really trying to say is, show a little consideration, you know? Because according to a lot of people I spoke with, many tourists don’t.
And if you prefer to get off the beaten path, I’d recommend skipping Lofoten and heading either north to Vesterålen, or south to the Helgeland coast. I’ve written more about visiting Vesterålen here and you can find my Helgeland travel guides here.
Personally I love the Helgeland coast and the islands here are a lot like what Lofoten used to be. You’ll find the same picturesque fisherman cabins and dramatic mountain peaks rising out of the ocean, with far fewer tourists. The people on the Helgeland coast are also incredibly friendly, and luckily not annoyed by visitors as many Lofoten locals are.
You could also consider visiting Senja, which has beautiful hikes and dramatic landscape, but it’s quickly becoming very touristy as well. Or for a quieter escape, Dyrøy is a lovely island near Senja which still feels like a quiet escape.
It will be a lot easier to explore Lofoten if you have a car
That’s right, road trip! If you’re wondering where to look for rental cars in Norway, I always find the best prices at Sixt.
Public transport on Lofoten is very limited, with some buses only running a couple of times a day. In fact I’ve picked up a few hitchhikers on Lofoten who said they had planned to use public transport but found themselves stuck in small villages for hours so instead had to try to hitch rides.
If you do want to hitchhike here, just be aware that there are a lot of hitchhikers here, especially in the summer, so you might have a lot of competition for rides.
Lofoten is perfect for outdoor adventures
I can’t tell you how many people have asked me if Norway is just a destination for old retired people to take fjord cruises.
Um, not Lofoten.
While yes, some of the big cruises do pass through Lofoten, it’s mostly young adventurers heading there.
Lofoten is a mecca for hiking, climbing, fishing, kayaking, skiing, Arctic surfing (in the summer AND winter), and cycling. The tourism scene there has a very young vibe, with lots of budget accommodation, and even the luxury accommodation markets itself towards adventure seekers.
And while yes, Lofoten is getting more touristy, that’s actually a good thing when it comes to activities, as it’s one of the areas of Norway where you’ll find the most options for outdoor tours and activities. A lot of accommodations help organize tours, or you can check out some Lofoten tours and activities here and there are also some Lofoten adventure tours offered here.
Again, I can’t stress this enough: Lofoten is the perfect place to do lots of fun activities and tours and I highly recommend taking advantage of this while you’re here!
Probably my favorite activity I’ve done on Lofoten is a sea eagle RIB safari to Trollfjorden. The views are amazing and I saw SO MANY eagles. You can read more about my experience on the safari here.
Oh and you can also go horseback riding under the northern lights in Lofoten! Or the midnight sun, if you’re visiting in the summer. I went horseback riding at Hov, which also happens to be considered the best place in Lofoten to see the Northern Lights (yes, I saw them!). You can read more about my time horseback riding in Lofoten here.
Hiking in Lofoten in the winter can be dangerous
Okay yes, I did just say that Lofoten is great for adventurers but also try not to be too adventurous. While you can totally do some hikes in the winter with snowshoes, skis, or even normal hiking boots, you’ll need to be extra mindful of the weather.
Talk to locals about the best places in Lofoten for winter hikes, as there are some routes that are safer than others if a sudden snowstorm sets in.
There are a lot of tourists who find some famous Lofoten hikes on Instagram and arrive determined to do them. Please, do not be one of these people. You should never plan out your hiking routes from photos you’ve found online. First of all, these famous hikes are usually really crowded and not actually that great. But more importantly, you should always, always choose your hikes based on the weather. And to do so you need to ask locals what is safe for the current conditions.
If your main aim in Lofoten is to go hiking, try to visit in the summer (June onwards). And if you’re a beginner, I highly recommend going with a guide for your safety – plus that way you’ll get to learn more about the local culture here as well!
Lofoten is a photographer’s dream
If it feels like lately your Instagram feed has been full of photos of Lofoten, it’s because it has. And if it feels like all the photographers are there right now, it’s because they are. It was kind of crazy how many people I follow on Instagram were there at the same time I was.
And you know what that means: if you’re into photography, get yourself to Lofoten! You can even book a photography tour here if you’re not sure where to go or how.
Your chances of seeing the northern lights in Lofoten aren’t great
Lofoten lies beneath the Auroral Oval, so theoretically your chances of seeing the northern lights here should be really high. That along with Lofoten’s warm weather thanks to the Gulf Stream should make Lofoten an ideal place to see the Northern Lights.
The only problem is the weather. Since it’s on the coast, Lofoten gets a lot of rainfall, which means your chances for clear night skies in Lofoten aren’t high. Of course when you do have clear skies the lights dancing over Lofoten will be amazing, but if your heart is set on seeing the aurora, consider heading somewhere with clearer skies, like Abisko in Sweden.
Personally, I’ve visited Lofoten four times in the winter and only saw the northern lights once. But it was amazing when I did!
So while yes, it’s definitely possible to see amazing aurora on Lofoten, just be aware that the weather makes it more tricky here, so try not to have your heart set on seeing the aurora while here. Plus then when you do see the northern lights it will be an exciting bonus to your trip!
Northern Lights Guide!
I’ve also written an in depth ebook covering all aspects of planning your Northern Lights trip, including the best places in the Nordics to see the Northern Lights, the best time to see the Northern Lights, my top accommodation choices, tour options, how to chase the Northern Lights, how to photograph and film the Northern Lights, what to pack for your trip, and other exciting Arctic activities to try on your trip up North.
If you want to ensure you have the best Northern Lights trip possible, you can purchase the ebook here.
The ferry from Bodø to Lofoten can be rough
The ferry takes about four hours and while my return journey was smooth, the journey there was less so. Though apparently, it wasn’t even that bad by Lofoten standards. Just something to be aware of if you’re wondering if you should pack those seasickness tablets – or my personal favorite – Sea Bands. They truly do work.
You can also fly or drive to Lofoten
Don’t worry, you don’t have to take the ferry. There are actually a bunch of daily flights into Svolvær in Lofoten, or Evenes at the north of Lofoten – you can check the current prices and flight schedules here.
Or you can actually just drive to Lofoten! The islands connect to the mainland in the north, so you don’t even need to take a ferry. You can read about driving from Narvik to Lofoten here.
You’re going to smell a lot of fish
I pretty much spent my entire stay on Lofoten hungry, thanks to the lovely smell of fresh fish in the air. Of course, it might have the opposite effect on some people.
You’re never going to want to leave
And I don’t just mean that you’ll be dreading the ferry crossing back to the mainland.
Lofoten is one of those places that is so beautiful it almost doesn’t seem fair. Like, people actually get to live there? Could I??
If you’ve traveled to Lofoten and have anything to add, please share your tips in the comments!