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In this post we use simplified name ‘Varanger’ which in fact can refer to several things. Continue reading to find out more about Varanger National Tourist Route, Varangerhalvøya National Park, how to plan an epic road trip along the arctic coast of Varanger Peninsula and where to stay at the furthest corner of Norway and continental Europe – yep, we will cover them all in this article and try to convince to take this exceptionally long journey to the most remote area in Europe!
I will be totally honest with you, during our first visit to Norway in 2019 I only hoped we will get far enough to cross the arctic circle, I never imagined reaching Nordkapp, and would never dare to plan exploring such far-away land as Varanger Peninsula! However, as we were unlimited by time (apart from seasons change) we slowly progressed north and explored further and further until we reached the ‘end of the road’ at the edge of Europe!
In this sense getting to Varanger exceeded my plans and dreams, but happened naturally as we drove from south/west to the opposite end of the country. We started our trip in southern Norway, in late summer, and kept driving north and east, unstopped by weather conditions and temperatures, until we reached, quite literally ‘land’s end’. What I’m trying to say is: be open and, if possible, take your time exploring Norway, you’ll never know where it could take you!
Varanger is a unique area, plentiful in landmarks and sights unlike anywhere else! Once you arrive to Varanger ensure to take your time, discover it unhurriedly and visit its most remote parts! The best way of getting familiar with its stunning lunar landscape is going for a hike (or two)!
Road trip or not, we always encourage you, dear reader, to put on hiking boots and explore by foot as some things can only be seen/experienced if you get close and personal. Driving along or driving past is less stimulating; often to get the feel of the place you have to leave the car behind and explore on foot (or by bike).
Having said that, driving is the best way to discover Varanger, but don’t forget about the ‘explorer element’ deep inside!
Varanger, the most remote road trip in Europe
covered in this article are:
– Varanger National Tourist Route (+interesting locations and landmarks; towns an villages, wildlife)
– Varangerhalvøya National Park
– Northern lights spotting in Varanger
– Weather of Varanger Peninsula
– Camping in Varanger (wild camping and campsites)
– Where to stay in Varanger
Varanger National Tourist Route
The 160 km (100 miles) of coastal road between Varangerbotn and Hamningberg have been established a National Tourist Route. Some would say it’s only 160 km, and only a quick ride, however we strongly discourage you from making this mistake! Here’s a couple of reasons why you can’t just ‘zoom thru’ ‘Varanger scenic road’.
Take your time discovering Varanger National Tourist Route!
Firstly, you’ve come all this way to Varanger. It would be a great shame to hurry thru and miss some of the landmarks and experiences!
Secondly, as soon as you pass Vardø the road becomes a narrow, single track and requires more careful driving! In high season you can expect to meet dozens of other visitors along the way; this adds time to the journey.
Thirdly, you may be tempted to take a break along the way, for eagle or reindeer spotting! With Varanger’s wildlife abundance you may find that getting from A to B can take time (remember to pack binoculars and good tele-photo lens for the trip!)
What to see and experience along Varanger National Tourist Route
Unique landscape of Varanger Peninsula
OK, I have said that before, Varanger landscape is unique in the most positive way! It’s also pretty varied, keen walker will discover endless tundra in the central part of the peninsula (under protection as Varangerhalvoya National Park), whereas northern parts present moon-like grey sharp rock hills, often cut by narrow dales and rivers.
Talking about the landscape of Varanger, the road to Hamningberg deserves a special mention: along the way you’ll pass sandy or peeble beaches, rock cliffs and most importantly teeth-like rows of jagged rock stretching in lines from the hills to the ocean. It’s bizarre and feels incredibly rough. We have never seen anything like it anywhere else in the world! Maybe you’ll find it easier to picture looking at the images below:
Landscape of Varanger Peninsula has been pretty much unchanged since Ice Age, with only a couple of settlements and villages reminding that this far-away land is home to humans; peninsula’s interior is mostly untouched, with occasional hunter’s cabin or Sami dwelling and sparse power lines.
It’s safe to say that what you see nowadays is a direct result of ice cap shaping which took place approximately 10,000 years ago and other natural processes, like weather, but not really human hand. Lunar scenery of Varanger is totally different to what most of us imagine about Norway, but it feels arctic and authentic, perfectly fits the ominous weather of far north.
Towns along Varanger National Tourist Route
Two towns found along Varanger scenic road are Vardø and Vadsø. The only similarity between the two is: both are located on small islands just off the mainland. The towns have totally different character and feel to them, with Vadsø (in its tidy, organised way) reminding us of small coastal towns in southern Norway. On the other hand Vardø felt more authentic and we felt it matched the mood of Varanger better. Vardø is further of the two towns, on a rainy day it looked a bit run-down with colourful buildings and untidy gardens, but we both really liked it and strongly encourage you to visit!
When driving along Varanger scenic road take the tunnel to Vardo, find a parking space (possibly next to the library) and have a wander to get the feel of the town.
A couple of photos from Vardo:
Where to stay in Vardo
We handpicked these two listings in Vardo, both conveniently located and reasonably priced.
Villages/settlements to visit along Varanger National Tourist Route
Nesseby is a small coastal village overlooking Varangerfjord. It’s mostly famous for the old wooden church (Nesseby kirke) built at the beach in 1858. Next to the church is a tiny chapel, believed to be the oldest one in Varanger! Both are within easy access from main road (directions) Nesseby kirke is a special piece of architecture in Varanger as it was built based on a German design!
Need more motivation to visit Nesseby kirke? Here it is!
Ekkeroya used to be a small island just off the shores of Varanger, however with time the tides and ocean deposited sand between the island and mainland, creating a narrow stretch of land, framed by two sandy beaches. The island is home to charming Ekkeroy village, just another reason to take a short detour from main road E75 and pay a visit (up to 2 hours)!
The island is easily explored by foot, with several paths and trails taking visitors to a viewpoint over the village, as well as to grassy cliffs at the far end of the island. Take your time to explore Ekkeroy! Here’s a navigation tool that will help you plan a walk on Ekkeroya. On your arrival, we recommend leaving the car at the beaches (free car park) and venturing along the main road to the harbour, further explore island’s paths and trails. If you’re a keen birdwatcher, you’ll find Ekkeroya an interesting location, as it simply thrives with bird-life (over 50 species of birds!)
Some more photographs from Ekkeroya island:
Where to stay on Ekkeroya
Driving along Varanger National Tourist Route you’ll pass Krampenes village (directions). Despite the lack of obvious landmarks we recommend stopping for a while and having a short walk along the village. It’s beautiful with well kept colourful houses and gardens often decorated by reindeer antlers. It will take less than 30 minutes to wander around and enjoy the charm! (Oh, if only the buildings in Vardo were kept to the same high standard, the town would be a real diamond of the north!)
Another settlement worth a mention along Varanger National Tourist Route is Skallelv. Located directly at the corner where ocean meets river Gallojohka, it’s a peaceful, authentic fishing village with a small harbour and old church. Feel free to explore it (best by foot!) and you’ll find many beautiful wooden houses, and boathouses decorated with fishing gear!
Directly past Skallelv the seashore changes its character and you will no longer see grassy meadows gently descending to the ocean. The coast becomes more rugged, with boulders, rocks and mini-cliffs. Soon past Skallelv you’ll find that the road gets tightly squeezed between the rocky shore and rough hills, what a total change in the scenery dymanics!
I think it’s Varanger’s way to gently prepare you for a total change of landscape which comes towards the end of scenic route!
Just past Skallelv stretches a nice sandy beach, don’t hesitate to break the journey and check this out!
Next place of interest along the tourist route is Vardo town (described above), but it’s not the end of the journey along Varanger! Although road between Vardo and Hamningberg is not maintained and therefore closed between October and May due to weather and snow, if you’re visiting in summer you should not omit this section of tourist route, as this is the most special stretch of Varanger!
road to Hamningberg and Hamningberg Village
Welcome to the moon! I think this could be the best slogan to describe ‘road to Hamningberg’, scenery along the narrow single track to supposedly abandoned village is lunar! Only tundra, sharp grey rock and eagles will accompany you along the way. However, the experience is far from boring. I never imagined that such ‘middle of nowhere’ rough, ominous place could be so fascinating!
Driving to Hamningberg you’ll soon leave meadows behind and enter a new world of rock towers and teeth framing the road. Sharp rock outcrops seem to form jagged lines between hills and ocean shore, the road cuts thru them. It’s very hard to photograph but you will want to stop every so often and try, as the view truly is unlike anywhere else! (we included some photos at the top of the article).
Prepare to be surprised by an odd sandy beach as you’re approaching Hamningberg!The road to Hamningberg is the essence of Varanger and the most impressive area along the tourist route!
Despite Hamningberg being often described as abandoned village, it isn’t really an eerie, ruined nor ghost-like. Judging by the good state of dwellings it’s far from abandoned, and much more than summer holiday cabins for loners!
The village is well taken care of and tidy, we felt very comfortable wandering around and exploring its furthest corners. Apart from a couple of grass-roof homes, we came across a school and a church, a mini-museum of arctic exploration.
Let’s have a look at Hamningberg, shall we?
Where to stay in Hamningberg
|Hamningberg Holiday House||9.7 /10|
Wildlife and nature in Varanger
Whether you decide only to follow the Varanger National Tourist Route or set off for hikes to interior of the peninsula (the national park), you’re most likely to come across some of Varanger’s amazing wildlife and nature!
Earlier in the article we mentioned abundance of ospreys and white tailed eagles. And I DO mean abundance! Wherever we drove we easily spotted eagles circling high in the sky, it was so easy!!! Hence we strongly encourage taking binoculars and a good tele-photo lens for a road trip in Varanger! Did you know that just off Vardo is a small cliffy island, home to large colony of puffins and other seabirds? Boat trips (with landing!) are operated daily from Vardo! Ensure to include a day trip to Hornoya island in your Varanger itinerary!
Not a birdwatcher? Then surely you’ll jump to reindeer spotting! Varanger has a large population of reindeer roaming freely in the interior part of the peninsula, the best way to meet reindeer eye to eye is taking a hike! We came across several herds of reindeer while hiking to Nattfjelldalen (details further in the article).
To have a chance to spot an arctic fox visit Varangerhalvoya National Park! (more information below)
Varangerhalvøya National Park
‘The Varangerhalvoya National Park was established to protect a large and basically untouched natural area. The park is almost free of technical interventions and the ancient landscape is arctic alpine. The national park covers vast area of most arctic mainland Norway, with distinctive land formations and depositions from Ice Age. There are good hiking, ski and bicycle trails. Other popular activities are fishing and hunting, as well as bird watching. Varanger is one of the best known birdwatching areas among foreign visitors. During spring and summer you can see a great diversity of migrating seabirds, arctic ducks, nesting waders and birds of prey. For many migrating birds from the east, Varanger is a perfect wintering area.
Apart from birds, the animal life is sparse in most parts of central mountain areas of Varangerhalvoya. The peninsula however, does had a sizeable population of elk/moose, and is an important area for arctic fox, which is threatened by extinction. As a consequence of preservation measures the arctic fox thrives in Varanger!’ (based on official Varangerhalvoya information)
We believe that to get a good feel of Varangerhalvoya National Park you should get your hiking boots out! There are several easily accessible trails in the southern part of National Park, initiating near Vestre Jakobselv, Vadso, the most popular of them is a hiking trail to Nattfjelldalen, a remote V-shaped valley with a waterfall at its end (detailed info below).
Hike to Nattfjelldalen, getting to know Varangerhalvøya National Park
Hike to Nattfjelldalen follows a 9 km linear trail, therefore prepare yourselves for a walk of 18 km (there-and-back). Most of the way it follows a rough track thru almost featureless tundra. You’ll come across numerous other paths hence we recommend keeping an eye at your navigation tool to keep you on a right trail! The hike is located in the southern part of Varangerhalvoya National Park, near Vadso, but it’s quite a journey to the trailhead! You’ll have to drive 6-8 kilometres along a very rough dirt track, to a small car park at the old water pump station (directions), some sections of this track are in poor condition, so drive slowly and carefully! We managed the drive in our van, so you probably can, too! Along the way we were stopped twice by herds of reindeer blocking the way (always a welcome distraction!). Finally when you arrive to the trailhead you’ll be pleased to know that the plains are home to several reindeer groups, you’ll spot them on many occasions along the way to Nattfjelldalen!
Talking about good navigation tool for offline use in Varangerhalvoya NP, we used maps.me (offline and free)
The hiking trail is unmarked, but with help of basic navigation you’ll find the way easily, as did we (see the map below, to help you plan the route)
On the way to Nattfjelldalen you’ll pass several Sami cabins, a couple of small lakes, have a chance for reindeer spotting as well as being accompanied by birds of prey (during our walk we were closely watched by ospreys!)
Take your time thru tundra, after all you’re hiking thru unique ancient landscapes, kept just as nature created them thousands of years ago!
In fact, if you happen to have a bike on your trip, a trail to Nattfjelldalen would be just perfect for cycling as it’s near flat for most part (mountain bike would be best for the rough track)!!!
What’s so special about Varanger?
Have you ever dreamed about a journey in time? Or about visiting unspoilt lands, with no heavy mark of human activity? Then, a road trip in Varanger is for you! Varanger National Scenic Route will take you for such journey, if you only wish to learn and explore more, spend more time in Varanger! Venture to the hidden valleys, explore endless tundra, discover arctic nature at its best!
For us, personally, the greatest surprise was finding towns at such far-away arctic location, at the shores of Barents Sea! That’s simply incredible that life thrives despite harsh climate and limited natural resources. The highlight of our road trip in Varanger was driving the road to Hamningberg and the village itself. What a desolate place! We loved the contrast between black peeble beaches, yellow and green primal vegetation, and finding jagged rock ribs, white sandy shores… all these creating a unique blend of moods and emotions as we drove past.
The feeling of remoteness in Varanger is second to none! Forget Nordkapp, it’s Varanger that deserves to be a synonymous with ‘the end of the world’. Varanger National Scenic Route will give you an utmost sense of exploration and discovery!
Northern lights spotting in Varanger
Landscape of Varanger makes spotting northern lights quite easy. There are no mountains rising high and obscuring the night sky, therefore you will be able to look at a far horizon, most likely in all directions! Being located that far north you no longer need to point your camera ‘towards north’ as it usually is the case in more southerly places, if Lady Aurora shows up, the display will probably take most of the sky above you; that was our experience anyway. So don’t focus that much on having clear view to the north, it may not matter at all.
During our road trip in Varanger we only spotted northern lights twice, and sadly, both times solar activity was rather weak and the sky was mostly covered by clouds.
If you would like to capture northern lights but are unsure how to prepare and what you need, visit our detailed guide how to photograph northern lights!
Based on our own northern lights hunting across northern Europe we explain the phenomenon and give practical tips and advice how to capture Lady Aurora and how to set up the camera! Also, we will give you the tools to observe and predict solar activity, polar lights forecast apps!
Weather of Varanger Peninsula
Let’s be honest, Varanger is the most remote, arctic part of mainland Europe, therefore before visiting the area you have to prepare for its unpredictable and sometimes wild cold weather! Being located in the corner at the shores of Barent’s Sea, Varanger truly is an arctic land! Local weather is shaped by arctic northerly winds, sea currents and the elements coming directly from Arctic Ocean. Yes, Varanger is THAT far north that what you experience on your skin comes directly from Arctic Ocean! Prepare yourself for cold wind and a lot of fine drizzle, low night temperatures and heavy grey clouds. Good windproof and waterproof clothing is essential! As well as a cap, scarf and gloves; they are very useful even in the summer!
Follow this link to check the most up-to-date, reliable weather forecast for Varanger area. At the left hand side menu you can analyse wind, rainfall, temperatures in detail.
Camping in Varanger (wild camping and campsites)
As you can probably imagine, camping in the arctic may not be for everyone, as a person will be subjected to low temperatures and, quite often, cold wind. Hence campsites are sparse in Varanger area, and usually open in the summer only.
We were travelling in a self-converted campervan, which gave us a lot of freedom when it comes to picking an overnight stay spot with the view. As we were unlucky with thick clouds and drizzle during the road trip in Varanger, our solar panel didn’t manage to produce enough electricity to power the equipment (fridge, laptop and mobiles) so we ended up looking for a campsite, to hook up.
We found one in Vestre Jakobselv, despite being closed a warden arrived to greet us and show the place. The campsite (website) seemed to be located on a church retreat grounds, with not a soul in sight (late September), but we had access to the kitchen and hot showers, yay! That night, we also had a very weak display of northern lights, but the clouds successfully spoiled it for us. You will be pleased to know that the campsite also offers accommodation in small cabins (hytte)!
When it comes to wild camping in a tent, you’ll be able to find a suitable space, but you’ll have to hunt for it before nighfall, ideally. Thick clouds make Varanger evenings rather dark, and as there’re no street lamps along roads it can get pitch black relatively early.
There are good camping opportunities along the shore between Skallelv and Vardo. Often small tracks run between main road and the beach/meadow, we actually stayed at the shore near Skallelv once, totally undisturbed. You’ll find numerous nice camping spots along the road to Hamningberg, either over a beach or at the meadows.
For those travelling in a campervan/motorhome staying off grid is quite easy with countless suitable car parks along the road, but finding them can be tricky in the evening!
Accommodation along Varanger Tourist Route
We handpicked several homes along Varanger Scenic Road to make your search for accommodation easier!
Final Recap on Varanger road trip
Starting at Varangerbotn and driving to Hamningberg, places to see/visit are:
Varangerhalvoya National Park, a hike to Nattfjelldalen
Vardo + Hornoya island
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