Ina Cristine HelljesenAuthor
7 Lofoten villages at a glance
Lofoten is very often — and correctly — described as a group of islands. However, this one-of-a-kind archipelago of Northern Norway is just as much the sum of its unique towns, fishing ports and villages.
Yes, exciting drives and boat trips across awe-inspiring land- and seascapes are a must when in Lofoten. But people are as key as place in making for a great getaway, and Lofoten’s man made charms are as enticing as its natural wonders.
Any holiday in these islands should include time in town earmarked for exploration, entertainment, enrichment and, of course, a healthy dose — here and there — of retail therapy.
Vast fisheries first drew people to Lofoten more than a millennium ago. Seafood and maritime products remain mainstays of the modern era. And tiny fishing ports and brightly painted rorbuer , or fisherman's cabins, still dot its bays and harbors today. Only now, they roll out the welcome mat for intrepid travelers.
Thousands of visitors may spread out across Lofoten each year, but the locals themselves are fewer and far between. With the entire archipelago home to just 24,500 people and larger towns like Leknes and Svolvær boasting just a few thousand residents apiece, you’ll have room to stretch your legs, enjoy your space — and practice social distancing.
And while Lofoten’s fiskevær, or fishing villages, are free of urban crush and rush, guests have access to all mod cons on demand, as well. This is Norway, after all.
Lofoten consists of 12 villages. Read below for an introduction to some of our favorites.
Much-photographed Reine, population 310 or so, was once voted Norway’s most beautiful village by iconic magazine Allers, a Norwegian national institution. It’s inspired generations of artists, including designers at global attractions like Legoland and Walt Disney World’s Epcot.
Settled in 1743 as a fishing port, the town’s biggest money maker today is tourism. And no wonder: A big attraction is the 1-kilometer, 1,566-step stairway up nearby Reinebringen for amazing views of the town. It’s the most popular — and challenging — hike in the Lofoten Islands.
Once back at sea level, give thanks for a safe hike — a great holiday — at the historical Reine Church, built circa 1890 in traditional Norwegian “long church” style.
Picturesque Henningsvær is the postcard-perfect Lofoten fishing village par excellence. Sitting just above the Arctic Circle, this tiny town of about 500 people, packs a lot of tourism punch — along with tons of cod. Henningsvær, you see, is still a working fishing port.
Count on scrumptious seafood treats year-round, whether freshly caught in wintertime or, come summer, dried and salted. That said, Henningsvær has other charms, too. Strewn across several small islands and graced by traditional architecture, the town— until 1983, only accessible by boat — is nicknamed “the Venice of Lofoten.”
This is also sea eagle safari central, offering a host of ways to espy Northern Europe’s largest bird of prey. It also draws divers and hikers. For unrivaled views of the port and surrounding scenery, scale nearby peak Festvågtind on a moderate, 2- to 3-hour trek.
Nusfjord, one of Lofoten’s oldest and best-preserved fishing villages, is also one of its most visited, according to those in the know. Despite a permanent population of just 28, down from 1,500 in its heyday, the port welcomes up to 90,000 guests a year.
What’s the big draw? Authenticity, for one. Known as “a pearl in red and ochre,” Nusfjord was one of three places Norway nominated for UNESCO’s pilot project on preservation of traditional architecture back in 1975.
Things still don’t change much in these parts. It’s said the village general store looks like it did on opening day over a century ago. There’s a noticeable lack of modern architecture in these parts, preserving the authentic air. The fish-oil factory, blacksmith’s, boathouses and more have been renovated and put to new use.
Nusfjord’s also home to an enviable collection of true-blue rorbuer, some dating back two centuries — guaranteed actual fishermen’s digs. Nusfjord Arctic Resort offers a collection of 19 luxuriously refurbished cabins.
(Fun fact: This village is so iconic there’s a role-playing board game named after it.)
Not a few visitors to Lofoten are in, well, awe of Å. Dating to the mid-16th century, this small fiskevær may have a one-letter name but it’s home to two museums devoted to the islands’ stock in trade: the Lofoten Stockfish Museum, located in a former fish landing station, and the Norwegian Fishing Village Museum.
Housed in historical structures like a circa-1850 cod-liver oil factory and an 1878 bakery, the latter peddles everything from bottles of tran (said oil) to delicious traditional cinnamon rolls.
Scenically set at the southern end of the archipelago at the terminus of Route E10, Å puts such a spell on some people they can’t resist taking a piece home — the iconic highway entrance sign reportedly is routinely swiped.
Home to 826 or so, Ballstad — in Lofoten terms — is all hustle and bustle. One of the islands’ largest fishing villages, Ballstad is the base for many a fishing trip or scuba expedition.
The village has a good selection of rorbuer accommodations, harborside restaurants and cafés to satisfy the palate and please the eye, and a selection of nearby artisanal farms offering everything from jellies and syrups to organic beef.
Not satisfied? Ballstad also has another claim to fame: It’s home to Europe’s largest mural, measuring some 2,000 square meters total (21,500 sq.ft.).
If Lofoten tourism has a heart, soul and nerve center, it might very well be Svolvær. Still very much the working fishing port, this humming town — dotted across islands and hemmed in by a range of beautiful mountains — is the jumping-off point for many a visitor’s first — or second, or third — time in the archipelago.
Coastal cruise ships call here, there’s a plethora of hotels and tourist services, and it’s your home base for exciting Go Fjords activities such kayak safaris and traditional fishing trips. On shore, hit the slopes at the nearby downhill skiing center, shop or trawl the Lofoten War Memorial Museum, the North Norwegian Artist’s Center or a bevy of local galleries.
Credit: Kristin Folsland Olsen | nordnorge.com
Booked a Nature Kayak Safari in Lofoten? You’ll be boarding your kayak in Kabelvåg, where medieval Norwegian king, Øystein Magnusson, founded a fishermen’s hostel and church back in the early 12th century — making it, by some measures, Northern Norway’s first city.
Today’s Kabelvåg has added a bit more to its attractions lineup. From the 19th century Vågan Church, known as the “Lofoten Cathedral,” to the Lofoten Museum, The Espolin Gallery and Lofoten Aquarium, there’s a host of cultural attractions to whet your intellectual appetite. Then kick sand at Rørvikstranda Beach or hike to Djupfjordvatnet.
Living history. Cultural encounters. Tempting tastes. And exciting excursions. All await in Lofoten’s magic fishing villages. And GoFjords gets you there.