Backpacking Locations: Lofoten Islands - Norway
The Lofoten Islands, in Northern Norway, contains by far the most unique landscapes I have seen in my journeys thus far. The sparse population, dotted alongside the winding coastal roads, is enough to keep your mind free from the claustrophobic feeling of many European cities, but wont give you the impression that you're completely secluded and alone among the steep, towering mountains that just about cover the entire region.
For myself, following the Norwegian coastline gave me a feeling of being back home in Vancouver Canada, which shares many commonalities in regards to the physical features of Norway. The mountains of the Lofoten Islands, however, are quite different. Many are very steep, fairly devoid of any major vegetation, and covered in loose rock. As you travel the roads of the Lofoten Islands, these mountains not only give you a sense of awe, but a feeling of protection, as if the green valleys between the massive rock formations relied on them as a barrier from the outside world.
How to get there
It's quite easy to get to the Lofoten Islands, even though it's very much out of the way for most travelers.
Buses in Norway, like just about everything, is very expensive. Taking a bus to the Lofoten Islands is still probably the cheapest way to get there, however, and the most scenic, unless you have your own vehicle. Nor-Way Bussekspress is the main bus line in Norway, connecting to far more locations than rail-travel.
On the Lofoten Islands themselves, there is a local bus service that has at least one or two stops per town, and is the ideal way to get around if you're not into hitchhiking, or don't have your own vehicle.
More information on Nor-Way Bussekspress
Travel by train in Norway is by far the most popular means of long-distance transportation. Prices can vary, but if this is your choice, your best bet is to look ahead of your travel dates, because the price difference can vary quite a bit, and in this expensive country, anything that saves you money is a huge help.
To get to the Lofoten Islands by rail, your best bet is to take a train to Bodo, and from there take a ferry to Moskenes. The only other close-by train station is located in Narvik, which also runs a bus service to the Lofoten Islands (albeit, it will be more expensive this way.).
More information on traveling Norway by rail.
If your goal in Norway is to see the Fjords, beaches, and the coastline in general, nothing will beat the various ferries running just about everywhere. This will likely be the most expensive option, save for the smaller ferries running on a "point a to b" route, which are decently priced.
Hurtigruten is the best service for multi day travel via ferry north of Bergen. It runs from Bergen to Kirkenes. They offer package deals, as well as simple transportation. For those with lots of money, this means of travel is definitely something to consider. For the rest of us, however, it's best to stick with the road.
More information on Hurtigruten.
A cheaper option than Hurtigruten, are the express passenger boats. These function to serve smaller communities, and offer a more personal approach to seeing the Norwegian coast.
More information on the express passenger boats.
Traveling to the Lofoten Islands by plane is by far the fastest, yet the least scenic and enjoyable means of reaching the islands. Prices will of course be fairly high, depending on when you book your flight, so schedule accordingly.
The closest airport is located in Narvik, with connecting buses or ferries to the Lofoten Islands.
What to do
The Lofoten Islands aren't a theme park. I would consider it to be a region where you can relax, and take a load off, while enjoying spectacular scenery. However, I visited the tourist office in Moskenes, and there were billboards loaded with varying activities, from hiking to surfing to nature excursions.
Personally, I didn't go to the Lofoten Islands to do any organized adventures. I went there to get that "top of the world" feeling, which I definitely achieved. My number one reason for visiting this specific area, however, was to visit the Lofotr Viking Museum, which I had heard many good things about.
The Lofotr Viking Museum is a massive reconstruction of a Viking longhouse, built immediately next to the ruined foundations of a much older one, and modeled to the same specifications. An active community supports the museum, and festivals are a common occurence (generally in spring and summer). If you attend one of the annual summer festivals, you can even experience rowing a historically accurate Viking longboat.
More information on the Lofotr Viking Museum
My favorite memories are that of my time spent at the hostel in Stamsund. It's a "HI Hostel," which means little to me personally, but for others it may offer some reassurance to the standards of this place. It is by far the best hostel I have ever been to, for various reasons.
The hostel is situated in a small bay on the edge of the village of Stamsund. I believe the hostel used to be a boarding house for sailors or fisherman. It's sparse, in terms of luxury, but people traveling all the way up into the arctic circle in search of luxury, might be looking in the wrong place.
Roar is the owner of this hostel, and just like the Lofoten Islands themselves, he's unforgettable. Picture your stereotypical old grouchy fisherman, and you have Roar. He can seem a bit grumpy, and continuously randomly and suddenly appears throughout the day, but he has a heart of gold ( He dropped what he was doing, and spent hours trying to solder a pair of headphones I had broken one day.). He rents out fishing equipment as well as boats at a fair price (gas powered and row-boats), and without a doubt the fishing experience outside the small bay is the best I have ever experienced... Although i'll admit, I had never caught a real fish before that day, I ended up catching two within five minutes of dropping my line. If you're into fishing, you will not be disappointed. Just make sure to ask about the perfect fishing spots.
There are many hiking trails to check out all over the Lofoten Islands. On one of my random walks along the roads branching out from Stamsund, I decided to wander off the side of the road, and start climbing one of the nearby mountains. I don't recommend this, as I ran out of water quite quick, and all the loose rock is likely incredibly dangerous, but for me it was definitely worth it. The views from the various peaks stretch for miles and miles, letting you gaze upon mountains until they disappear over the horizon. Just another sight you wont soon forget.
The Lofoten Islands of Northern Norway hold some of the most picturesque landscapes I have ever seen. It's an area of few people, and a quiet and relaxed atmosphere. There may not be massive lush forests, big cities, or many man-made 'entertainment' centers, but it is extremely more precious because of this.
I didn't notice loads of tourists, the trails I hiked were basically devoid of people, and it's rare that you hear the honking or general sounds of civilization. This is place for those with a relaxed and sentimental mindset, who would rather find a nice boulder by the sea to sit and meditate on, rather than try and find out 'where the action is.'