Lofoten in the Winter: A Little Guide to these Picturesque Islands
Want to escape the crowds a bit? Why not check out beautiful Lofoten in the winter?
When we asked Silvia what Norwegians would say about Lofoten, she told us that if you had asked them before things got too touristy, many of them would probably agree that it’s one of the most picturesque places in Norway.
As soon you begin approaching the islands via ferry, it feels like you’ve been transported to a storybook world, and you instantly forget that you’re frozen solid while standing on a deck covered in ice!
Fortunately for us, Lofoten was our very last stop and it coincided with one of the few sunny days we had during our January trip. We were excited to be in one spot for a few nights and see what all the fuss was about!
Northern Norway Tips
- The Geography: As the name suggest, Northern Norway takes up the northern third of the country. It begins at the border between the counties of Nordland and Trøndelag. If you look at a map, it extends over Sweden and Finland, sharing a little border with Russia. Most of it also lies in the Arctic Circle.
- Getting in: There are a number of airports depending on where you go. Most will have a layover in Oslo, and I know all my flights to Tromsø have had one in Helsinki.
- Getting Around: While Norway has cruise options, a train line, and some cities have bus transportation; this is definitely a country you’re going to want to rent a car in especially up north which sees a lot less tourism.
- Major Areas to Visit: the Helgeland Coast for the islands; the picturesque Lofoten Islands; Tromsø for the Northern Lights and access to the fjord, and mountains super far north.
- Must-Brings: Cramp-ons and Heattech undershirts in the winter. Norwegians can walk on ice in tennis shoes, but chances are you were not rasied in Scandinavia. In the summer, bring a solid sleep mask to combat Midnight Sun and actually supportive hiking shoes for the hikes. Learn from me!
A Bit More on Lofoten
What is Lofoten?
So what exactly is Lofoten? It’s basically an archipelago in Nordland county, and one of the places where you can see really dramatic mountain and seaside scenery along with the traditional red cabins Norway is famous for. The islands are really far north and just inside the Arctic Circle.
Furthermore, Lofoten is teeming with history as you can trace human life on the islands all the way back to 250 BC, and the town of Vågan is one of the first known towns in northern Norway. For the last millennium, Lofoten has been known for its cod fisheries and all around you’ll see the famous wooden racks.
Also if you’re a literature nerd, you might recognize the islands from Edgar Allan Poe’s “A Descent into the Maelström” and Jules Verne’s Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea!
A Quick Geography of Lofoten
Okay, as we all know US public education has really dropped the ball on geography in these last few decades, so forgive me but it took a hot second to properly wrap my head around what exactly was part of Lofoten and what wasn’t. Turns out the US is not totally to blame as the northern border of Lofoten is often disputed.
Currently, you can roughly start the border somewhere in the southern part of Austvågøy island and Lofoten includes (according to Wikipedia):
- southern part of Austvågøy
- southern tip of Hinnøya
I tried showing it more in the map above.
Is Lofoten Overrated?
Here’s the big question. Silvia warned us that Lofoten has quickly become one of the victims of Instagram overtourism, much like Cinque Terre or Chefchaouen. She’s not wrong, but I don’t think Lofoten is necessarily overrated and I absolutely loved Cinque Terre.
Luckily, in the winter, Lofoten is fairly sleepy as much of what makes the islands popular are closed or have odd hours. Plus with the sun setting at around 3 pm, you don’t get a lot of daylight, and Lofoten isn’t exactly known for its nighttime views.
This means it feels a lot more like its pre-Instagram days even if you have to sacrifice some open cafes or hiking trail or two. Trust me, as you’ll see from all my photos, you’ll have plenty of stunning landscapes and almost painting-like scenery to keep you occupied!
Where to Stay in Lofoten
You can pretty much stay all over Lofoten because hotels everywhere. I’d say the most popular city would be Svolvær as it has a ferry port, a harbor, and an airport and is a good base for seeing everything. A lot of tours will also depart from here.
Where We Stayed: Scandic Svolvaer
Full Disclosure: We stayed at Scandic Svolvaer at a media rate during our stay. All opinions, as always, are my own.
We stayed at the Scandic Svolvær (not to be confused with the other Scandic in the area, Scandic Vestjford Lofoten), and I was really impressed by my first stay! It’s right on the water, so that view above was taken literally from my room’s balcony.
Our rooms were on the first floor and actually had a connecting door. I remember the bed being perfectly comfy and, really, what else can I say with that view?! I could’ve been sleeping on the floor with no heating and I probably wouldn’t remember anything bad about that room.
The bathroom was also perfect. I love that they had full size bottles attached to the sink area and in the shower instead of tiny plastic toiletries. It’s just one of the ways Scandic is leading in sustainability. Actually, fun fact: you know how most hotels have a sign asking you to hang up your towel if you want to use again instead of getting a new one each day? That started with a Scandic team member!
One thing I remember either reading on Silvia’s blog or hearing her say is that Norway’s Scandic properties might not always be the prettiest but they always had the best breakfasts. I mean, lucky for us we got a pretty property, incredible harbor views, and an delicious breakfast! Seriously, I could’ve filled up for the day on the breakfast options here alone. And the dining area looks like this:
I mean it… Do not skip out on the food.
Book here to stay at Scandic Svolvær
Other Places to Stay in Svolvær
If, for whatever reason, Scandic Svolvær is full, Svinøya Rorbuer or Thon Hotel seemed like excellent options based on our dining experiences at each.
Lofoten Travel Tips
Now that you have more of an idea of what Lofoten is and where exactly to stay, here are some quick tips to make your wintry Lofoten trip easier!
Please Be Respectful!
You know — saying please, thank you, excuse me, etc nicely. Not trespassing (unbelievably we saw two people clearly on the other side of a “Do Not Enter” sign on our way into Svolvær). Silvia told us it’s a lot worse in the summer as people leave their shit behind constantly. I mean that both in the trash sense and the literal sense, ew!
Pick up your shit and don’t be an asshole. I’m sure it’d make Lofoten’s quick rise in tourism go a lot more smoothly.
When to See Lofoten
Depends! Lofoten is stunning no matter what time of year, but, of course, I’m quite partial to the snowy landscapes and smaller crowds we encountered in January. Don’t worry if the weather seems bad, it changed every five seconds we were there, I swear! The only downside is that a lot is closed. I remember we tried to find a chill cafe in Henningsvær for our last day, and we actually couldn’t find anything open. We wound up going back to our hotel and just enjoying the views in the lobby.
However, if you want to go hiking, your best bet is to visit in the summer when the trails are open. Just be warned this is also when Lofoten will be at its busiest, so you’ll have to book things in advance. Also your chances of meeting a disrespectful wild camper pooping is higher.
What to Wear in Lofoten
Listen, if you’re following a similar route as us, you may get to this point in the trip and think, “Wow Norway isn’t nearly as cold as I thought it was! Helgeland could get icy and rainy, but I wasn’t freezing.” Well, let me remind you, you’re now in the Arctic Circle. Lofoten is cold. It’s exactly what you think all of Norway will feel like in the middle of winter. I don’t even know how Silvia did Svalbard, which is so far north it gets polar night, but she has Norwegian blood running through her.
Anyway, here’s some of the obvious and maybe not-so obvious things you’re going to want:
- An actually heavy duty snow jacket – Try to find some sort of recycled down jacket for true warmth. I wore this old UNIQLO jacket I got in Korea.
- Heattech tanks and shirts – my saviors during winter
- A knit sweater – as close to wool as possible, merino wool is supposed to be amazing
- T-shirts for layering – because one more layer can’t hurt
- Fleece and/or Heattech leggings – like honestly maybe buy a few and layer them
- Proper, actual snow boots – no, not sneakers or the cheap boots you find at Target, but the proper kind you go to a sports store for. I bought this pair before I went.
- Wool socks – for extra warmth of course
- Maybe some crampons – to put on the bottom of your shoes if you, like me, are not comfortable walking on ice. Norwegians are crazy and can just walk across solid sheets of ice in tennis shoes.
- A heavy duty scarf (and gloves and ear muffs) – I have an Alpaca wool one from a random stop in the Atacama Desert of Chile and it remains my go-to for cold weather.
- Red lipstick and earrings – Because with all these layers you might feel a bit closer to the kid from A Christmas Story, so a nice red lip and cute earrings will make you feel a little more stylish (goes for you men too!)
How to Get to Lofoten
So one of the main ways to get to Lofoten is via ferry. It’s also recommended because you get to see the islands from the water and, let me tell you, the sight is probably one of the most beautiful in all of Norway. The most popular way is to come via Bodø, which is a four-hour ferry ride and takes you to the southern end of Lofoten in Moskenes.
Since we were coming from Helgeland, we actually went to a lesser known spot called Bognes and arrived in Lødingen, which a part of Hinnøya. From there we had an easy, early morning drive down through the northern part of Lofoten. Google Maps says it takes about 1 1/2 hours, but I’m pretty sure we took much longer because we wanted to get out and enjoy the scenery!
By Car or Flight
Other options include flying into Solvær or Evenes or driving as the islands do connect to mainland Norway. We actually did this on our way out of Lofoten as our flights back to Oslo left from Evenes. Stop in the cute town of Evenskjer on your way up!
How to Get Around Lofoten
Your best bet, especially in the winter, is to have a car. If you do not have Chauffer Silvia to patiently drive you around with her professional Norwegian driving skills, you can look into renting. Silvia says she finds the best deals on Sixt when she needs to rent in Norway, so that’s my recommendation too!
Your other two options include the public buses in Lofoten or good, old fashioned hitchhiking, which is something I don’t think I could ever quite be convinced to do!
Main Routes to Drive in Lofoten in the Winter
Okay, so keep in mind, just from Solvær to Å, the southernmost you can go by car in Lofoten, is 129 km and takes around 2 hours and 14 minutes in good weather and if you go straight through. Like the rest of Norway, everything is a lot longer than you think! And when you factor in how little daylight northern Norway gets in the winter, you really have to plan strategically so you’re not getting stuck driving an hour in the dark. Here are some routes we drove and what we saw on the way!
Lødingen to Solvær
So our first driving stretch was from the Lødingen ferry port down to Solvær where our hotel was. I mean a good chunk of this area isn’t technically in Lofoten, but tomatoes, tomahtoes.
If you were to drive straight, it would take you about 90 minutes, but I do not recommend you just drive straight because you’re going to be able to see all these gorgeous, snowy landscapes and the pretty pastel skies of early morning in the Arctic Circle.
One place we stopped actually had a viewpoint you could climb over to. I didn’t mark it on the map, but you’ll see it as you go. It gave us this view above and below which just looked so idyllic in the water!
We stopped off quite a few times just to take in the scenery and take about a million photos to try and capture what we were seeing. Plus, we pretty much spent the entire day and early this morning in transit, so it was nice to get some fresh air and put our feet on the ground!
Solvær to Henningsvær
The next stretch of drive you’ll want to try is from Solvær to Henningsvær, which is only about a 30 minute drive. Again you’ll get some beautiful snowcapped mountains and the occasional red cabin, and Henningsvær itself is such a cute village to stop in.
It’s also one of the only times I saw a cat out and about (the other was in Trondheim and it was too icy to try to approach it). This chubby, floofy cat let me pet him for maybe a minute before being done and leaving me behind, so I’ll take that as a minor win.
And of course, you have to go over to the bridge for this view! All the houses lined up on the water with a giant snowy mountain in the background, and if you’re lucky you’ll see a few red-bottomed boats docked.
We did try to go to back to Henningsvær to try to find a cafe or somewhere to hangout on our last day but had no luck finding anything open. The main one we tried was Kafe Knusarn, which had an open sign but when we tried to go in they said they were closed…
Henningsvær to Reine
Next up is the drive down to Reine, which for us was our turning point. It’s a little under 2 hours straight from Henningsvær.
At one point we stopped off near this beach and I climbed down. I imagine you can dip your toes in the water when it’s summer time ;)
Andddd, last but not least, is the most insta-famous view in all of Lofoten. It was our last stop before going to Anita’s Smojøet for lunch as it’s literally right around the corner (you can see that mountain from the restaurant). It’s a really gorgeous view, don’t get me wrong, but as you can see from pretty much all my photos of Norway, there is no shortage of incredible views! I wouldn’t go out of my way for this, but it does make for a nice little stop. Just be aware, I think the bridge that overlooks it is quite busy in the more popular months!
Where to Eat in Lofoten
We stopped here for a late lunch on our second day. I think the sandwiches are Silvia and Sher’s and mine is the nice big bowl of fish soup.
On our first night, Silvia said she wanted to try Børsen Spiseri as she’d always heard good things about it but hadn’t gone yet. Praise well deserved! I had my beloved fish soup and then a fish dish and, of course, the bread was amazing as is always the case in Norway.
Thon Hotel Restaurant
For our second to last night we decided to try out the restaurant at Thon Hotel. I honestly don’t remember much from this meal except that it was probably the most expensive of our whole trip (which is saying a lot given it’s, ya know, Norway).
I don’t know what made us just want some pizza on our last night, but we pretty much were ready for something relatively cheap and delicious. Peppes Pizza is “real American pizza,” and did remind me of home! Though I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a pizzeria use the US and not Italy before to describe their pizza lol.
Our Sample Itinerary
Here’s a quick look at our itinerary in case you want some guidance for yourself.
Day 1: Arrive in Solvær
Your first day will be mainly getting the ferry and checking into your hotel. If you had a similar itinerary as us, then you’re going to be very much over moving by the time you step off the ferry in Lødingen! Take your time driving down to Solvær and take in the views.
Once you’re settled in your hotel, it’ll probably be dark out. Head over to Børsen Spiseri for a delicious dinner and then spend the rest of the evening relaxing in your room or the hotel lobby. Or if you’re like Silvia and I, pacing the hallways to try and get 10,000 steps in since you definitely didn’t walk much all day lol.
Day 2: Drive from Solvæar to Reine
After breakfast, begin the drive down to Henningsvær. Enjoy the morning light, stop and take all the photos you want. Try to find the floof of a cat in Henningsvær or stop into one of the cafes for coffee (and brown cheese and waffles).
Once you’ve enjoyed Henningsvær, continue your drive down to Reine, stopping off at the iconic red cabin view right before you head into Anita’s Smojøet for a late lunch. It’ll probably start getting dark by now and you’ll still have a good 2 1/2 hour drive back to Sovlvær!
If you want to splurge, try dinner at the Thon Hotel.
Day 3: Enjoy Solvær
And finally on your last full day, relax, walk around Solvær, especially by the harbor where you can see some red cabins. We had terrible weather in the morning, but it was still so pretty!
Once dinnertime comes, grab some Peppe’s Pizza (or something more authentically Norwegian ha) and enjoy your last night in Lofoten. If you’re lucky you might just get to see some Northern Lights.
And that’s really all I have on Lofoten in the winter! It was such a pretty place to visit, and Silvia really is like Norway’s #1 fan. I think when you visit friends or someone you know, it makes all the difference with how they feel about their current home country. Plus, it helps that she has her own car, knows how to drive manual and in snow, and she 100% doesn’t trust either Sher or I to drive in the least ;).
Let me know if you have any questions for your trip or your own recommendations below!
For more Norwegian travel, read these next:
- What to Expect Hiking to Blåvatnet in Northern Norway
- Visiting the Island of Vega
- Lovund, Norway: A Charming Island Escape
- A Little Trondheim Travel Guide for Winter
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