After 2 Norwegian Air flights, a 3 hour long night ferry, and a short (but intense) drive through winding fjords and tunnels, we finally arrived to the dreamlike Lofoten Islands. The rugged, barely touched, ever-changing landscape of the region is one of the most naturally beautiful places in the world. The islands are located within the Arctic Circle, where the gulf stream causes warmer temperatures and a more mild climate relative to their altitude. The Lofoten Islands are made up of 6 municipalities- Vågan, Vestvågøy, Flakstad, Moskenes, Værøy, and Røst. Alongside the winding roads, wood racks hold up the stock fish to dry, a method unique to this region due to the ideal climate conditions.
Read on to hear more about our trip and learn some handy travel tips!
WHERE TO STAY
BUENA På VALEN Our first half of our journey was spent at the lovely cabins of Buene På Valen in Reine. The two private red cabins sit on stilts to let the tide roll in and out. Located in the midst of the Lofoten Island mountain range, the cabins sit right at the mouth of a turquoise fjord. With a wrap around veranda, you can go snorkeling or kayaking right from the stairs of your cabin. Since we were visiting towards the end of winter, we settled for watching snow flurries while staying warm next to our wood fire chimney. The charming fisherman cabins were built at the beginning of the 19th century and have been newly renovated with heated floors in the bathroom and modern appliances.
Reine is one of the many magical villages that makes up the Lofoten Islands. Each village is connected by little bridges or through winding tunnels. While fishing is the largest industry in the region, tourism is a close second. With a population of only 329, Reine is understandably quiet with its few cabins next to grand granite peaks that tower over the deep blue fjords. The 5th generation family who owns the cabins also have the summer store Anita’s Seafood where you can pick up fresh cod, salmon, gull’s eggs, fish burgers, you name it (I had the best fish I’ve ever had in my life on Lofoten Islands). Click through below to view more from our stay!
From Reine we drove east through the Islands to the fishermen town of Ballstad. What should have been only a 1 hour drive turned into nearly 4 because of how scenic and photographable it was.
HATTVIKA LODGE Overwhelmed by the beauty from our drive through Lofoten from Reine to Ballstad, we quickly fell in love with the compound of cabins that makes up Hattvika Lodge. The red cabins are renovated old fishermen facilities and right across the harbor you can watch the fishing boats come in and out all day unloading the fresh catches of the day. The newly established company is a retreat for corporate events and conferences. The original red cabins have been restored with a modern twist (and have the comfiest beds). They provide customized activities and tours – from sea kayaking, fishing, mountain biking to surfing, skiing – all tailored to your group. From here you can experience the Northern Lights on one of its surrounding beautiful beaches or sit in the hot tub in the midnight sun. Private local chefs can also be arranged at the lodge for a taste of local Norwegian cuisine.
From Hattvika we explored the nearby beaches. Some of our favorites were Unstad, Uttakleiv, and Haukland Beach. We saw white sand beaches during a blizzard and sunsets while getting rained on. Norwegians joke that if you don’t like the weather just wait 5 minutes because it’ll change and we found this to be so true. The retreat has a sauna perched right between mountain peaks and the sea, perfect for warming up after a day on the slopes. Find them on Instagram to follow more of their adventures and click through the grid below!
After our second half of the week in Ballstad, we hit the road to drive to the ski town of Narvik. We definitely recommend stopping in Henningsvar along the way to admire the glacier like mountains and precious fishermen town.
We unfortunately did not get to spend much time in Narvik but would highly recommend it for a ski town on your way to Lofoten. The super modern hotel has a rooftop deck to observe the slopes under the Northern Lights or Midnight Sun. There was also a giant Norwegian complimentary breakfast that filled us up before our drive back to Bodø for the airport. **Norwegian waffles are a must try! Recommended with brown goat cheese and local berries!
Traveling in Northern Norway can be difficult since there is very little public transportation on the islands. We rented a Ford Focus from SIXT. It got fantastic gas mileage and handled the icy roads with ease. Luckily, I had someone with me who knew how to drive manual because typically when you rent a car in Europe it isn’t automatic.
We can’t deny that Norway is expensive, but there are ways to try and make it without completely breaking the bank. We drove around for a week with only filling the car up once for about 60 euros and cooked in our cabins every day. During the winter there weren’t too many restaurants to chose from that were open anyway so we advise going to the local market and grabbing some fish to cook!
SHOOTING THE NORTHERN LIGHTS
Visiting Norway in the winter means far less crowds but also less ability to hike the surrounding mountains. We made a few attempts trekking through knee deep snow but recommend taking precautions on the slippery slopes. The greatest part about visiting in the winter is the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis) since Lofoten Islands is 100 Kilometers above the Arctic Circle. It’s a stormy, unpredictable, windy region with small pockets of clear sky to give you a glimpse of the natural wonder.
TIME: October and March are supposed to have the highest geomagnetic activity. We found that the moon did not have that drastic of an effect on the lights. If there is a full moon, it will light up your foreground beautifully, but you won’t see as many star trails. The best time is somewhere between 10pm and 3am.
MUST-HAVE SUPPLIES: Tripod, wide angle lens, warm clothes, thermos with hot liquids (or hard liquids, if you catch my drift) and hand warmers will definitely make the night more enjoyable. Wear as many layers as possible, the wind actually hurts!
CAMERA SETTINGS: Always shoot in RAW and turn on Long Exposure Noise Reduction. Start trial and error generally somewhere between 10 to 30 second exposures, focus on infinity (the figure 8 symbol), and have your f stop as fast as it goes (f/2.8 or wider).
AVOID: Light pollution, blizzards (or you’ll end up sitting in the car like us for hours) and high winds. Make sure to pack a weight to hold your tripod down, I just used a jug of water in a bag and hung it from my tripod but even this wasn’t heavy enough.
HOW TO GET THERE
Getting to Lofoten Islands isn’t easy, but its worth every second and every penny. We took two flights from Berlin on Norwegian air and then rented a car for the rest of the journey. We hopped on the ferry (people with sea sickness beware, the sea is turbulent) then mapped out the rest of our route for driving. For more information on how to get there click here.
Here’s the route we took: