You’re going to Lofoten! Yay!
We can imagine your excitement and anticipation, honestly, we’ve been there ourselves!
You probably have this vision of Lofoten; a wild, remote paradise of fjords and mountains. You already see yourself hiking and enjoying white-sanded beaches, exploring old fishing villages… So did we!
During our visit to Lofoten, however, we realised that there are so many things, other from mountains, beaches & villages, that make Lofoten experience.
Therefore, we prepared a list of 13 things you should know before visiting Lofoten, to ensure you have fantastic time exploring the islands!
Some of these points and advises are common sense (for example ‘dress accordingly to weather conditions’), other maybe less obvious (for example ‘parking issues’). The list is based on our experience; we travelled in a camper van, in summer (therefore we didn’t need to book any accommodation and can’t provide any advice on this)
Please let us know (in ‘comments’ below the post) if you find the information helpful or what you would add to the list, thanks!
Now, let’s have a look at…
13 things you should know before visiting Lofoten islands Norway!
1. The Weather
Lofoten’s weather is very local and unpredictable! Of course, summer months are warmer than cold and dark winter months, but at the same time coming to Lofoten in summer doesn’t guarantee sunshine and high temperatures. After all, Lofoten archipelago is far over Arctic Circle!
From our own experience: we visited Lofoten in late August and it wasn’t exactly what one describes as ‘summer weather’. It rained every single day! We also endured a proper storm; sunshine appeared only briefly – most days were cloudy and gloomy. Weather did improve, thou, when we left the archipelago. Tough!
What we are trying to say is: predicting Lofoten’s weather in impossible!
There is a positive note to archipelago’s climate though! To our surprise, we found out that although Lofoten are located above Arctic Circle, the weather was not what we imagined about arctic climate – it was much milder. Thanks be to Gulf Stream, which greatly influences Northern Norway weather conditions, making Lofoten relatively warm and mild.
And lastly, a saying which describes Lofoten’s weather better than hundred words: If you don’t like the weather, wait 10 minutes or (in our case) drive few miles farther.
First time we heard this phrase in Iceland, but the rule applies to all ‘northern countries’. Due to frequent high wind, clouds and rain often pass quickly. Sounds good, doesn’t it?! However, keep in mind that it also applies to warm and sunny days – any sunny morning can quickly change into dark, wet afternoon! Be prepared for that and do not let weather to spoil your holiday!
2. Be Flexible!
It’s crucial to be flexible with your plans! We cannot highlight this enough!
Lofoten’s weather changes and so could/should your plans. I don’t only mean waiting 10 minutes / 2 hours for rain to stop, but being able to change plans when it’s too dangerous to walk due to a storm, snow fall etc.
From our own experience: we planned a day trip to explore one of Lofoten’s smaller islands, Værøya, but ferry was cancelled due to a strong wind. Also we had (or actually chosen) to give up climbing Reinebringen as we found out that work on the path is being undertaken by Nepali Sherpas, and local authorities ask visitors to skip this viewpoint until new path is completed.
Update summer 2019 – please note that trail to Reinebringen has now been closed till 14/7/19 as the maintenance work continues. The trail is considered unsuitable and too dangerous for walking.
These are just examples, but the point we are making is: be flexible and creative when working on your itinerary!
Some days you may not be able to visit/explore as much as you planned, or you may not make it to the summit… and this is still fine! While hiking in Lofoten’s mountains we have encountered walkers giving up the hike because it was too wet or too steep. Be flexible!
This, naturally, leads us to point 3, which is…
3. Add at least one additional day to your itinerary if you can
Of course, most of visitors in Lofoten have limited time; we all have commitments that, eventually, force us to come back home, return to work or travel further. And obviously, we all want to use this limited time to the full! We believe, however, that having at least one spare day in your itinerary will greatly improve Lofoten’s experience. Why is that? Simply, you won’t have to stress out if weather conditions or un-foreseen circumstances occur, making it impossible to keep up with tightly planned schedule!
From our own experience: we had to spend one full day holed up in a camper. Weather was quite wild and only thing we could actually do was reading books and working on laptop, indoors. The same happened on another 2 afternoons – all this already added to 2 days lost doing ‘nothing’!
Remember, sometimes it’s better to lose some time awaiting weather improvement, and happily continue next morning, or just ‘later’.
4. Lofoten are hikers’ paradise!
Having said that, we think that Lofoten mountain trails are rather challenging.
As everywhere, of course there are hundreds of hikes, varying from easy to difficult. However, one thing most trails in Lofoten have in common – majority of trails are un-marked, very often steep and with very wet sections.
We believe, that Lofoten mountains are paradise for those who already have some hiking experience, may be very challenging for a hiking newbie.
Remember, if you are not confident, turn back when the weather changes unexpectedly, visibility drops or if you feel exhausted. Always have water and snacks with you when venturing to mountains.
It’s better to be safe than sorry. If weather conditions are difficult, be flexible – choose beach walk rather than a hike.
5. Gear properly for hiking
As we mentioned above, due to unpredictable weather you need to be ready for sunshine, torrential rain, hailstorm or strong wind even in summer!
The best piece of advice is to always wear many layers of clothing. We cannot highlight enough that windproof and waterproof clothes are A MUST in Lofoten.
From our own experience: although visiting in summer (in August), we wore huts and gloves on daily basis.
One more thought – despite many outdoor manufacturers claiming their boots are 100% watertight, we can definitely confirm that no boots are totally waterproof in Lofoten; membrane or not. However, to improve the experience, good quality hiking boots and waterproofs are a MUST!
6. Other activities in Lofoten
I guess, your experience in Lofoten depends on your budget, time and season.
If you’re tired of hiking and visiting beaches, why not try climbing, kayaking, surfing, horse riding or skiing?
We also strongly recommend bringing your own fishing rod when coming to Lofoten; fishing permit is only required for rivers and lakes, not for open waters. This means, you could catch your own dinner in fjords or sea!
7. Roads and parking
Despite its remote location, Lofoten islands are quite popular among hikers, outdoors enthusiasts or like-minded people. They’re also more densely populated than we ever imagined, there are farms and villages everywhere!
Therefore, some parts of Lofoten’s main road E10 (or King Olav’s Road) can get busy and you will most likely drive slower that you expected. Additionally, the roads are narrow and many are single track only. Now imagine high season and thousands of visitors arriving to the archipelago every day, moving around, exploring, and stopping to take photographs. On top of that, many cars and motorhomes you pass are rented, drivers’ skills vary as well.
From our own experience: when in Lofoten you should expect to be moving slower than Sat–Nav indicates, and be very careful. As mentioned above, many cars and motorhomes on Lofoten roads are rented. Some drivers, more than others, struggle to get used to rented vehicle’s size; we witnessed one instance when a large motorhome broke off somebody’s car mirror as it tried to pass by, although there was unlimited free space on its other side! We also witnessed a large tourist bus and a motorhome trying to pass on a small bridge, without slowing down and ensuring they both fit – resulting in motorhome walls being completely torn off, bus damaged. You don’t want this to happen on your holiday, be careful on Lofoten’s narrow roads. If unsure whether you’re OK to pass another car, drive dead slow or just stop.
For all the reasons mentioned above you should never park on the road verge, even briefly to take a picture. Respect others and park in dedicated car parks or parking bays, never on the verge. And if you do, you can be sure to get a parking ticket – public transport drivers will report your vehicle.
Finding a parking space in Lofoten can prove challenging.
Most visitors car parks in villages are rather small (and charge applies), car parks at outdoor places of interest (viewpoint, beach) fill up very quickly. Therefore, our advice is: when going hiking –start early in the morning, otherwise you might struggle to find a parking space. Also, before heading out, do a little bit of research on where to drop the car – for example: there is a large, dedicated & signposted, charged car park for Ryten and Kvalvika Beach hike, however there are other, free parking options – you just need to know where to look for them. So, do your research to save money, stress & frustration!
8. Consider staying at a campsite in Lofoten
Although Lofoten are located well past Arctic Circle, their climate is much milder than you would imagine at such altitude. Therefore, why not try camping instead of booking accommodation? There are numerous campsites in Lofoten, however some of them are only open during summer.
If you’ve already planned bringing your tent and wild camp, consider budgeting for staying in campsites, at least occasionally. Most of Lofoten campsites have very good facilities; apart from the obvious they also have: kitchen or dining area, drying room, wi-fi or even a pub. If you’ve been wild camping and exploring Lofoten in bad weather for couple of days, you might want to ‘charge your batteries’ and relax in a warm and dry place, for a change. Therefore, from time to time you may want to stay at campsite – pitch your tent and let it dry, in meantime relax in campsite’s kitchen or a pub; warm up with a hot shower… using campsite’s drying room is priceless too!
From our own experience: after a hard day hiking in wind and rain, it’s great to have a warm and dry place to relax; instead of spending the rest of the evening in wet tent or car. Campsite kitchens are perfect for that very reason – warming up while cooking your own dinner, meeting other Lofoten explorers, chilling out and relaxing. Eating out is expensive in Lofoten, so being able to use a kitchen, especially if weather is wild, can be a blessing!
Hence, it’s not bad idea to budget for camping if you travel with a tent!
9. Wild camping
Wild camping is well accepted in the whole of Norway. By Norwegian law, wild camping is allowed 150 metres from any nearby building. We have, however, noticed that in Lofoten, there are more wild camping restrictions than in other parts of the country. In many ‘suitable’ wild camping spots, land owners fixed “No camping” or “Private” signs. We can easily imagine how frustrating landowners or farmers can be, having hundreds of wild campers at their doorstep, every year. As inconvenient as it is for campers, it is only fair to respect someone’s private land.
From our own experience: we were able to wild camp in our camper van most of the nights, although sometimes we struggled to find a suitable spot and ended up sleeping in small bays along main road E10.
Finding a spot to pitch a tent at low ground is challenging – you should think about it ahead, give yourself some time to find a suitable spot.
Please DO NOT stay overnight in car parks where it is not allowed. Be a visitor respecting local community, not an asshole.
10. Lofoten are photographer’s paradise!
Lofoten islands are photographers’ paradise, there’s no doubt about it! Whether you like scenic, white-sanded beaches or dramatic rugged mountains, you’re most likely to take hundreds of pictures. It’s not difficult to get WOWed in Lofoten and get a photo-fever! Therefore remember to have spare battery and memory card for your camera.
Can you imagine anything worse than realising that your memory card is full, while the sunset just gets better? Or ending up with a dead camera while hiking in awesome wilderness?
11. Know what you expect from your visit
Has it ever happened to you – visiting a place with some sort of expectations, which didn’t fulfil because you haven’t researched enough and didn’t know all facts?
Before heading to Lofoten, ask yourself a question: what do you want to experience, what do you want to see? For example, it would be a bad idea to visit Lofoten in winter if you want to experience midnight sun. Sounds obvious, right?
So, there isn’t just one answer if you ask what is the best time to visit Lofoten!
– best time to see midnight sun in Lofoten is from 26 May to 17 July. Interested in other far-north locations? No problem, we have it covered: Bodø: 4 June – 8 July, Tromsø: 20 May – 22 July, North Cape / Nordkapp: 14 May – 29 July, Svalbard: 20 April – 22 August, Lofoten Islands: 28 May – 14 July, Arctic Circle: 12 June – 1 July. Of course it doesn’t mean that outside of these dates the nights are pitch-black – near the ‘midnight sun dates’, the sun dips under the horizon only briefly, so the nights are still pretty light!
– best time to see the racks full of drying fish in Lofoten is from mid-February to end of April
– best time to see Northern Lights in Lofoten is late autumn and winter, however good news is – you can see them as early as end of August (happened to us!)
– best time to see whales in Lofoten? Oh, it depends! Lofoten is not top location for whale watching, although there are sperm whale spotting sea safaris from Lofoten (May to September). However, for the best whale watching experience we recommend travelling to nearby archipelago – Vesteralen, especially to Andenes and Stø. Local skippers offer all year sperm whale watching trips; however if you’re after something more spectacular – visit in winter. Humbpack whales come near Vesteralen archipelago from January to mid-February, killer whales (orcas) stay till April, therefore the best time for whale watching in Northern Norway is the first quarter of the year.
– best time to do long hikes in Lofoten is from mid-May to mid-September, when the days are long
– best time to enjoy a festival in Lofoten? Again, this depends what you’re after: Lofoten Country Music Festival – September, Lofoten Food Festival – October, Lofoten International Chamber Music Festival – July.
Remember that most shops in Lofoten are closed on Sundays, so it’s important to replenish your stocks before the weekend. Otherwise, doing your food shopping in Lofoten isn’t a problem; there are numerous small supermarkets (Sørvågen, Reine, Ramberg, Kabelvag, Leknes) and shopping centre in Svolvaer. Only some large super markets are open on Sundays (shorter working hours)
13. You’ll long to come back to Lofoten
After your trip to Lofoten is finished, you will start planning your next one. That’s just how it is! It won’t matter how your first visit went: if it was awesome – you’ll want to repeat the experience, if weather was crap – you’ll want another chance…
It is actually quite funny – our first impressions of Lofoten were mixed. We expected them to be wilder and less populated, however we still would love to go back to the islands and enjoy more hikes, more beaches and smell more dried fish in the air!