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Lofoten Islands, Norway

Introduction

The Lofoten Islands are somewhat isolated as they lie well into the Arctic Circle, but their natural beauty and authentic culture attract tourists every year. These islands, whose name means "lynx foot" in Old Norse, are very rocky and little vegetation grows. Despite this, a number of animals call the islands and surrounding waters home and due to the weather and geography some of this wildlife is quite unique, such as the deep water coral reef off the coast. Among the more common animals that call the islands home are eagles, puffins, otters, and moose.

This landscape and lack of plant life makes the rocky mountains even more beautiful, but the lack of vegetation also makes the islands sparsely populated as living conditions, especially in the winter months, can be difficult. Despite their northerly location, the islands are relatively warm as the average winter temperatures are above freezing. None-the-less, the long summer day and long winter nights can be difficult to get used to.

History & Background

Despite the northern location of the Lofoten Islands, their weather has encouraged human settlement of the islands for thousands of years and by the Viking Age in the 700s there were fortifications in the town of Kabelvag.

Unlike their neighbors in the south, the people living on the Lofoten Islands didn't get real involved in the Viking lifestyle, although Vikings did live on the islands. Instead the islands have been the center of the cod industry. Perhaps this is what initially drew the people to the islands as the cod tend to arrive in the largest numbers during the winter months.

As Hanseatic League power in Bergen grew in the 1200-1700s, so too did the wealth in the Lofoten Islands as dried cod was one of Norway's largest exports at the time. Since Bergen had a monopoly on the trade from northern Norway during this time, nearly all of the cod caught in the islands was transported to Bergen for shipment elsewhere. As the Hanseatic League's trade network expanded, demand for cod increased and so too did the wealth and power in the Lofoten Islands.

Despite the fall of the Hanseatic League, the waters surrounding the Lofoten Islands are still home to cod and the islands remain home to people focused on this industry. No matter the political climate elsewhere, the culture and lifestyle in the islands have remained on the cod industry. Today this is only slightly changing as tourism has grown, but the tourists generally arrive in the summer months and the cod arrive in greater numbers during the winter months. No matter the season, nearly everyone remains reliant on the seas to bring in fish or tourists year round.

Lofoten Islands Today

The people in the Lofoten Islands are about as grounded as anyone can be. For hundreds of years the people have lived off the seas as fishermen and today that simple lifestyle continues. The islands are divided in numerous small settlements as cities are non-existent and each town is slightly unique. The people all seem to know each other or try to find a link and common last name when they encounter each other.

This simple lifestyle dominates the islands, but modern life, technology, and tourists have guaranteed the people on the Lofoten Islands are in touch with the outside world. Rock climbing, biking, and other sports are common and modern day technology is a great tool to keep in touch or to find the schools of fish in the nearby oceans. Despite this, there seems to remain a mystery and intrigue surrounding the islands by outsiders as authors and artists have distributed enough of the culture to spark curiosity, but not a full understanding.

Island of Austvågøya

Northern Lights: The northern lights can be seen nearly everywhere in the Lofoten Islands (as long as a mountain isn't blocking your view), but the town of Laukvik is perhaps the best due to its location, but also because of the Polarlightcenter, which educates visitors on when to see the lights and, if you sign up for their messaging service, they will text you when the lights are visible from the town. For more information visit their website at: www.polarlightcenter.com.

Svolvær: This town is one of the largest towns in the Lofoten Islands and is also the islands' transportation hub. However, the town also offers breathtaking scenery and a bit of history, although much of the town is now constructed in modern styles and designs.

Henningsvær

Henningsvær: This town is one of the largest and most active towns in the Lofoten Islands. The town has been the center of the cod fishing industry for centuries as the waters in the area have naturally attracted fish; this continues today as the town boasts a steady population, which is rather uncommon in the Lofoten Islands today (most are shrinking). Henningsvær also boasts great scenery with mountains rising up on the mainland and nearby islands. The town is also home to historic architecture as it wasn't connected to the mainland until the 1980s and most buildings pre-date this time so are quite authentic.

Island of Vestvågøy

Eggum: This small town maintains much of its historic architecture, which reflects that of a small fishing village centuries ago as the buildings stand side by side.

Lofotr Viking Museum (Lofotr Vikingmuseet): This museum, in the town of Borg, helps visitors understand Viking life in the Lofoten Islands. Its odd location is based on the largest house from the Viking age, which was found here as the museum is modeled after this huge house. For more information visit their website at: www.lofotr.no/index.asp.

Unstad: The buildings in this fishing village are close together, giving the town a unique architecture which has all but vanished from the Lofoten Islands in recent years.

Island of Flakstadøya

Nusfjord: This town has some of the best preserved architecture in the Lofoten Islands. Many buildings that were constructed in the late 1800s and early 1900s survive today, giving this small town an appearance of the Lofoten Islands a century ago. For more information visit their website at: www.nusfjord.no.

Island of Moskenesøya

Moskenes: This town is surrounded by natural beauty and that is the town's main attraction. However, the town is also home to a piece of art in the Artscape Nordland project. This project has numerous pieces of art across northern Norway and one of these pieces is in the town of Moskenes.

Reinefjord: The fjord the town of Reine calls home, this fjord is home to incredible scenery, flat shores for a walk, and even white sand beaches. Ferries from Reine can take you to Vindstand for a scenic hike or some time on the beach at nearby Bunesstranda.

Island of Røst

Røst Island: This island, and the many small nearby islands, are home to nearly a quarter of Norway's water fowl population as many serve as nesting grounds. For the bird watcher, this island is not to be missed.

Transportation

Despite being an island chain, the Lofoten Islands are well connected with each other and with the mainland by both boat and ground transportation. Roads, bridges, and tunnels connect the islands to the mainland, meaning you can get to or from the islands from Bodo and Narvik, and from those cities to many major Norwegian cities. Boats also provide a great means of transportation as ferries connect the islands and large ships run along the coast connecting the islands with cities along the coast including Trondheim and Bergen. There are also numerous small airports on the islands that have connections to most major Norwegian cities; the largest of these small airports are located in Leknes, Svolvær, and Røst.

Airport: The three largest airports in the Lofoten Islands are:
Leknes's airport: Leknes Airport, whose airport code is LKN.
Svolvær's airport: Helle Airport, whose airport code is SVJ.
Røst's airport: Røst Airport, whose airport code is RET.

Train Station: There is no train station on the Lofoten Islands, but from the train station in Narvik you have access to much of Norway. For train times and schedules, their website is: www.nsb.no. For its location or directions, see the map below.

Bus Station: There are numerous small town bus stations in the Lofoten Islands, which are serviced by private bus companies.

Local Transportation: Moving around the islands is limited to bus and ferry travel (if you don't have a car or bike). There are many routes through the islands, but many are limited in the days they run or in the seasons they run, making travel to some locations quite difficult.

Official Websites

Lofoten Islands: www.lofoten.info
Kingdom of Norway: www.visitnorway.com

Map & Directions

This page was last updated: August, 2013