Imagine, if you will, a string of northerly isles where colorful fishing shacks stand against a backdrop of craggy granite cliffs, where red-cheeked children play in the shadow of rugged gray pinnacles. Beautiful and awe-inspiring, the Lofoten Islands are a Grimms’ fairy tale come to life.
The Lofotens are a remote island archipelago in the north Atlantic and a district in the county of Nordland, Norway. The landscape is breathtakingly cinematic, with ice-tipped peaks fringed by deep blue seas and a rocky shoreline fronted by sandy beaches. The Lofoten islands stretch 250km (155 miles) south-southwest from the fjord of Ofoten to the outer Roest islands. Although the islands lie north of the Arctic Circle, the passing Gulf Stream keeps temperatures relatively mild. The air is fresh and clean, kissed by sea spray and Arctic breezes.
The main islands are Austvågøy, Gimsøy, Vestvågøy, Flakstadadøy, Moskenesøy, Varøy, and Røst. On the eastern coast of Austvågøy, Svolvær is the largest town in the archipelago. A Norwegian fjord, the Vestfjorden, separates the islands from the mainland. This body of water is the heart of the Norwegian cod fisheries. If fishing for monster cod is on your agenda, head to the old fishing camp of Henningsvar, with its quaint waterfront, rorbu cabins, and fish-drying racks—nicknamed “Lofoten’s cathedrals.”
In late autumn, when the herring return to the Vestfjorden for the winter, they are chased by between 500 and 700 hungry orcas, also known as killer whales. Orcas can grow up to 4 to 5 tons, live to be 60 years old, and hang out with their family their entire lives. (Well-mannered, too; they eat only one herring at a time.) You can take a “killer whale safari” to see these amazing animals up close with one of several outfitters, including Orca Tysford, which takes visitors out on the sea by large boat or inflatable dinghy and—if you’re really crazy—lets you snorkel as a pod of killer whales passes by.
Perhaps the most dramatic experience in Lofoten is a tour over turbulent waters—the “Lofoten Maelstrom” (called the Moskestraumen by local fishermen), one of the world’s strongest tidal currents in open waters. The treacherous strait separating Moskenesøy from the offshore island of Vaerøy to the south has been called “the world’s most dangerous waters.” Take a ride on the Maelstrom—or just go fishing—with Moskstraumen Adventure in the town of Å.
Dramatic scenery is not the region’s only natural draw. Here, in northern Norway, the skies give the mountains and the sea a run for their money. The aurora borealis (northern lights) paint the evening skies from September to April, and in the summer the Lofotens become the light-filled Land of the Midnight Sun.