Cycling above the Arctic Circle: LOFOTEN – Norway

OK, so this isn’t Switzerland. But this was such an amazing experience and bike destination that I had to share it on this blog. And Lofoten is part of Eurovelo Cycle Route 1 (Atlantic Coast Route, signposted).

Why Lofoten? As I was researching an easy bike destination in Northern Europe for the summer vacation, Lofoten immediately made the top list of all my web searches, described both as superbly scenic and incredibly “flat and easy”. Well, I can now say that the Route is NOT so “flat”, made up by a constant roller-coaster of small hills between 10m-50m high or more, although the majority are probably less than 20m in elevation. This means that our average 50km daily route was in the end quite tiring for us. But the effort was amply rewarded by the breathtakingly scenic views.

An added advantage of this location is that, in the summer, you can bike in sunlight 24h/day surrounded by a magical landscape of steep mountains and rugged ocean coastline. And, if you are in luck, you will have dry weather…..

Lofoten is located north of the Arctic Circle (above the 68th parallel). Here the Midnight Sun (the sun remaining above the horizon at night) is visible approximately from May 28th to July 14th. But, even in the couple of weeks before and after this period, the twilight still allows for good visibility at night.

The archipelago is composed by four main islands (Austvågøya, Vestvågøya, Moskenesøya, and Flakstadøya), a fifth intermediate one (Gimsøya), and by numerous smaller islets. Sparsely inhabited and wild, its landscape consists of imposing high steep mountains jutting out from the sea and covered by lush green vegetation in the summer. Along the narrow strip of flat coastal land there are untouched bays, hidden sandy beaches with clear turquoise waters and a handful of small picturesque fishing ports, with their red or yellow fishermen huts (called Rorbu). Here myriads of squawking seabirds make their nests on rooftops and windows; and their loud “talking” can be heard day and night.

The temperature in Lofoten is another plus: it is abnormally high for its geographical location due to the warm Gulf Stream, but rain should be expected in the summer season, although not as frequently as in other Arctic locations.

Our bike trip was in mid-July. We started in Svolvær and ended in Å, traveling east to west for about 260km during a 6-day/7-night tour.

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Some additional general remarks, are:

Route: E10 (official scenic route) is the main road along the archipelago. This road is narrow and very busy with cars, trucks, caravans and buses, and separate bike lanes are a rarity . When possible, we opted for alternative countryside routes, even more scenic, to reach our destination.

Price: Lofoten is very expensive, even more than Switzerland; and not only for lodging, restaurants or any tourist-related activities but also for the bare necessities such as groceries. Indeed, many tourists do free camping here, which is allowed under Norway’s law “right to roam” ( https://www.visitnorway.com/plan-your-trip/travel-tips-a-z/right-of-access/ ).

Lodging : I booked all lodgings via Booking.com, looking for accommodations in scenic settings. However, owing to the rarity of villages in this Arctic region, choices were limited. Interestingly, all places we rented came fully equipped with kitchen and many could sleep more than 4 people. Several lodges were “Rorbu” or fishing huts, usually new or refurbished. These were really quaint and located in amazingly picturesque areas, leaving us with truly unforgettable memories.

Trip Planning: I did all the bookings for July in February (flights, boats, bikes, lodging), after mapping the entire itinerary and dividing it into daily bike sections. With only a few, far apart villages, the daily itinerary was strictly influenced by the lodgings available. Indeed, rooms are scants and pricey, and you may not find a bed for a 30-40km stretch. The same is true for food/water so it is important to carry some essentials on the ride.

And here is the day-to-day description of our trip.

DAY 0

We landed by plane in Bodø, our port for depart to/return from Lofoten and for bike rentals.

We rented bikes at Bodø’s Tourist Office (previously booked via turistinfo@bodo.kommune.no). Unfortunately, we were pretty disappointed with the bikes they gave us; they were mediocre at best in terms of quality and condition. If I knew this, for the same cost I could have rented them from a bike shop. The problem was that there are very few bike shops and finding one via the web was quite a challenge.

Since our boat for Lofoten was at 6pm, we had several hours to spend in Bodø and so we went biking along the cost, familiarizing ourselves both with the bikes and with the Nordic landscape.

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Bodø

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The “express” boat from Bodø to Svolvaer (booked at https://booking.177nordland.no/webshop/#/reise) took a whopping 3.5h, passing through a miriade of small islands along the scenic coast of Norway.

We arrived in the beautiful port of Svolvær, surrounded by an impressive landscape, at around 10pm, under clear sky and dimming sunlight. The peaceful evening waters and the tranquility of the town in the early night added to the magic of the moment. Svolvaer (www.svolvaer.net) is Lofoten’s “largest” town and the main departure point of most tourist excursions in the archipelago. It sits at the foothills of a strangely double-peaked mountain called Svolvær Goat.

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Svolvær

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Svolvær has a couple of luxury modern hotels along its tiny picturesque marina.

We had booked the rooms at the Fast Hotel Marina. This belongs to a new type of reception-free hotels, where they send you a text with a code to unlock your room. Breakfast is even delivered outside your room the night before in a thermal bag. The quality of the hotel and breakfast was mediocre but the rooms were new and clean.

DAY 1: 59km

Svolvaer to Kabelvåg & Old church -to Henningsvær to Hov / Gimsøya

What a glorious sunny and warm day for our first stage of northern biking exploration!

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Our first sightseeing was just before Kabelvåg. The gothic Vågan Church (Lofoten Cathedral) was built in 1898 and it is the largest wooden church in Northern Norway. It sits alone in the green countryside, next to a small bay. Its architecture is quite charming with geometrical details, while the inside is mostly bare with its white walls and wooden gothic arches. There is a small entrance fee of about $5.

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Next to it was the medieval town of Kabelvåg, ancient capital of Lofoten and now a charming historic fishing village worth seeing. We stopped to refill our bottles and have a snack at the quaint restaurant/cafe on the water, surrounded by several old and well preserved buildings.

Here we missed a visit to the Lofoten Museum, which displays the 1800s fishermen’s life.

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Kabelvåg

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After Kabelvåg, the bike lane disappeared so we had to bike along the heavy traffic of E10, at times even dangerous. However, the extreme beauty of the coastal landscape amply made up for this annoyance.

To reach Henningsvær, we left E10 and followed an unbelievably scenic road with breathtaking views between rocky mountains, rugged coastline and boulder islands. This road is certainly one of the most picturesque in the entire archipelago.

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Additionally, right at the deviation of E10 for Henningsvær, there’s a beautiful small beach with turquoise waters. It must be a well-known local treasure since it was packed with people, sunbathing or dipping in the cold arctic waters.

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Henningsvær is one of the must-see fishing ports in Lofoten. It is very picturesque but also quite touristic. Here we enjoyed a great picnic on the pier, with the addition of freshly baked fish-and-chips. Indeed, cod, or better stockfish, is the staple product of this region.

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Henningsvær

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Henningsvær

Back on the road, we headed towards the island of Gimsøy, where we would rest for the night. Again, we encountered the heavy traffic of E10 and had to climb the long and dangerous bridge that connects the two islands.

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But then, to reach our Hotel in Hov, we opted for a countryside road along the eastern shores, thus leaving the traffic behind.

Hov, on the northern shores of Gimsøya, is known for its golf course and its farm with Icelandic horses. We arrived at our lodging (Lofoten Links Lodges) in the evening hours and we were awestruck by the beautiful setting of pastoral tranquility and evening golden lights.

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This is certainly one of the best places I have ever stayed at, combining a superb living space with an amazingly romantic landscape. The complex consists of a series of incredibly well-designed wooden lodges, with modern yet rustic design. They are set in a quiet and isolated location next to a large white sandy beach.

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Lofoten Links

Its north-western location allowed for a beautiful view of the Midnight Sun. Lofoten Links was absolutely one of the highlights of our trip!

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What we missed: riding Icelandic horses on the sandy beach or go for a nice long hike to the top of mountain Hoven (368 m) with a spectacular view of the archipelago.

DAY 2: 55km

Hov to Alstad to Bøstad (Viking Museum), and back to Alstad

After a plentiful warm breakfast buffet at the restaurant of Lofoten Links, we started the day under light rain, which soon changed to overcast sky first and fog later.

The road passed next to small lakes, rocky mountains and ocean inlets. With the fog and the lush green vegetation, the landscape was at times almost tropical.

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We reached our lodging (Lofoten Turistsenter in Alstad) after only 27km. Here we dropped our bags, rested a little and then continued another 12km through some serious uphills to the Viking Museum in Bøstad (http://www.lofotr.no/index.asp ). Along this stretch, the Torvdalshalsen rest area/ view point, on a hill, offers a nice panorama of Vestvågøy island.

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Needless to say, we arrived to the Museum exhausted, dreading our hilly ride back to the lodge.

Also we were disappointed by this famous museum, which charged the hefty $25 entrance fee for a minimum of exposition. I think it is really nice if one goes with kids so that they can participate in the interactive activities, but for the adults the museum is underwhelming compared to its fee.

The main attraction here is the reconstructed 80m-long chieftain’s house from around 500 AD, representing a copy of the largest Viking-era house ever found. The ticket includes a visit to replica Viking vessels on the adjoining lake but we arrived to late for that.

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Viking Museum

The ride back to Alstad was in foggy weather and we arrived completely drained of energy. Our night accommodations were two cabins fully equipped with kitchen and bathroom, in a camping-style setting in the middle of nowhere, across from a lake in the northern cost of Lofoten (Alstad).

What we missed on the Northern coast:

-Eggum and its “head sculpture“ (head on a pillar that seems to turns upside down as one moves around the sculpture)

DAY 3: 55km

Alstad to Sennesvika

We started the 3rd day quite exhausted but the route was so charming that it kept us going. The southern part of the island, along Route 815, is incredibly scenic and quiet, with only a few cars passing by. It runs along the shore, with little islets to one side and steep rocks to the other. The only annoyance was the drizzling rain that followed us throughout the day. The first covered place to dry-off and eat was after 35km, at a campsite cafe.

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Continuing along this inspiring route, we lastly reached our “rorbu” in Ure (Ure Rorbuutleie 1,2 & 3) located on the southern coast of Vestvågøya. This tiny village has wonderful new fishermen huts, with modern facilities/kitchen in a spectacular harbor setting. It is very isolated so it is extremely quiet. Green steep mountains surround this fishing hamlet.

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Ure Rorbuutleie 1,2 & 3

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DAY 4: 40km

Ure to Haukland Beach to Kræmmervika

Day 4 and we are exhausted from the get-go. We dread every single little hill. Our legs feel tired and our excitement is whining down.

But I think it is good to have planned each night in different locations so that we are forced to get out and exercise…..

And so, the day started with another pedal-pushing uphill, which rewarded us with a fantastic panorama on both sides.

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Leknes bay

In cold and windy weather, we descended into Leknes, one of the “largest” towns in the archipelago, where we replenished our food supplies. In fact, by now, we had learned that we could not predict when and where to find food, so we aimed to do some basic grocery shopping at every chance we got.

Thus, all loaded, we ventured towards Haukland Beach, one of the most beautiful and popular beaches in Lofoten, located in a majestic natural setting at the end of a bay, hugged on each side by tall mountains jutting out of the sea. But …….we stopped short and saw it only from afar. Descending to the beach would have meant having to bike back uphill quite a long way and we could not bear the thought of it……

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Haukland Beach in the far bay

So we turned around and headed towards our night destination in Kræmmervika, next to Ballstad.

The lodging was another fishermen’s huts complex (Kræmmervika Havn), but, contrary to the previous one, this was an authentic older, smaller “rorbu”. A feature I did not like was that you have to rent the linens/towels for extra money and they let you clean the place for the next guest; this means that you need to rely on the previous guests to thoroughly clean up the place for you. Needless to say, I rescrubbed everything from top to bottom…….

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Kræmmervika Havn

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What we missed: Uttakleiv beach

DAY 5: 1hr ferry ride + 38km bike

Kremmervika to Reine

The first activity of the day was a lulling 1hr boat ride on a tiny bike-ferry. The water was calm and the sky clear and sunny. This ferry, which we had booked at http://www.ballstadgutt.no/hjem/ballstad-nusfjord for about $35/person (bikes are free), saved us 35 km along a busy and dangerous stretch of E10.

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Bike-Ferry

The arrival by sea into the small fjord of Nusfjord is strikingly beautiful with mountains and birds enveloping the bay.

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Nusfjord

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The place is now a tiny village-museum entirely dedicated to visitors. It is one of the oldest and best-preserved fishing villages in Lofoten.

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Nusfjord

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The site was extremely quiet, with only a few tourists, but the silence was intermittently broken by the very loud squeak of the numerous bird colonies that nested on houses and rocks.

We took advantage of this picturesque setting to spend some time visiting the place and lunching at the only restaurant around for miles.

It was difficult to move out from this paradise but at last we forced ourselves back on the bikes.

And what a day! This was probably the most picturesque section of the entire trip, with majestic mountains, blue fjords, and small bays with sandy white beaches and clear waters.

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Mid-way, lost on the northern shores of Flakstadøy island, we found the old church of Flakstad, a small red-wooden church built in 1780. Just a few minutes to peak inside sufficed for a glimpse of this treasure .

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Flakstad church

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In Ramberg, we coasted an amazing white long beach with azure sea, but time and weather were not on our side and we continued on.

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Ramberg beach

The original plan was to cross the Fredvang bridge and hike to the famous Kvalvika Beach. However, due to our late departure from Nusfjord and the menace of rain we regretfully skipped this idillic and isolated bay on the northern side of Moskenesøy island.

The rest of the journey, from Ramberg to Rein, passed by some of the most magical and mystical sections of this region, with lush green mountains jutting out of the sea under a game of lights and shades.

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Indeed, near Reine, we stumbled first into the postcard-perfect hamlet of Hamnøy, set on a mini-island at the foothills of a dramatic vertical wall; and then into the little village of Sakrisøy, where our Lodge was located, about 4 km before Reine.

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Hamnøy

Our red wooden Rorbu (Toppøy Rorbuer in Sakrisøy) was on a thin strip of land, right on the water, overlooking a laguna with tall steep mountains all around…. just fabulous. The deck was built directly above the sea, tall enough to avoid the high tidal waters.

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Toppøy Rorbuer in Sakrisøy

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We spent hours, under the night sunlight, just sitting and contemplating the majestic and mystical nature in front of us. This and Lofoten Links (first night) were definitely the most outstanding accommodations of this trip, both in terms of housing and of scenery, leaving us with truly incredible memories.

DAY 6: 13km

Sakrisøy to Å

We woke up amid fog and drizzle so we stayed in the Rorbu until check-out time, except for a quick excursion to a close-by old wooden restaurant (in Sakrisøy) that offered a delicious breakfast buffet with waffles!

Left Sakrisøy, we made a first stop at a viewpoint overlooking the beautiful lagoon and fjord next to the village of Reine, at the foot of the Reinebringen peak. Here is one of Lofoten’s most striking and most photographed spots, but on this day the clouds were hanging low on the mountains, blocking what must have been a truly magnificent panorama.

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Reine and its lagoon

We ended the day, and with this also our biking trip, in a fishing hamlet with the unusual name of Å. Å is Lofoten’s most westerly place and indeed the end of the road. Here we had booked another red Rorbu (Hamna Rorbuer), a 100+ year old hut on the water, refurbished with modern facilities but still full of character.

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Hamna Rorbuer in Å

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A large part of Å is today a Museum ( Norwegian Fishing Village Museum). For a fee, one can visit various old houses and working facilities, like the factory producing cod oil or the old post-office. Here there’s also Lofoten Stockfish Museum dedicated to Lofoten’s most important production, made from dried cod.

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Å

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Another highlight is a hidden lake nested between the mountains, just behind the village. We went for a hike there during the midnight twilight. However, the trail is not marked at all and we had to rely on footprints on the terrain.

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Lake in Å

And in Å, like in other finishing villages, the noise of the birds is almost deafening, day and “night”: ear plugs and eye-covers were essential accessories on this trip.

DAY 7:

On the last day we took the 3.5h ferry back to Bodø, departing from Moskenes. This was the only ferry that could not be pre-booked but apparently there is no problem to find availability for passengers.

And with that, our wonderful bike adventure arrived to a close. I was thankful to have taken plenty of photos to enrich and relive our memories……….

What I would have done differently:

1-Book a more direct mean of transportation to Lofoten. Instead, it took us a good 1.5 days door-to-door, so we lost a full 3 days in travel.

2- Check for accommodations also on Google Map and AirBnB. Our lodgings via Booking.com were fantastic but the choices were limited both for type and locations. We discovered that many Camping sites in amazing scenic settings also offered cabins with private facilities but may not be advertised on Booking.com.

3-Find other means to rent bikes. As mentioned, the ones offered by Bodø’s travel office were mediocre and certainly not cheaper.

Websites that I used :
http://www.68north.com

https://lofoten.info/lofoten

Ferry Bodø to Svolvær:

https://booking.177nordland.no

Bodø’s Tourist Office (turistinfo@bodo.kommune.no).

The bike ferry near Ballstad has the following booking address: http://www.ballstadgutt.no/hjem/ballstad-nusfjord

https://www.planetware.com/narvik/lofoten-islands-n-nrl-lofisl.htm

https://www.visitnorway.com/places-to-go/northern-norway/the-lofoten-islands/

https://www.cyclingnorway.no/en/luxury-bike-holiday/

Viking Museum in Bøstad (http://www.lofotr.no/index.asp )

Map: https://www.norgeskart.no

4 thoughts on “Cycling above the Arctic Circle: LOFOTEN – Norway

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