4 Days in Norway’s Lofoten Islands – A Road Trip Itinerary
Norway’s Lofoten Islands are an unmistakable sight if you’ve spent absolutely any amount of time looking at travel photography. With its dramatic peaks rising sharply out of the Norwegian Sea, the scenery is unlike anywhere else on earth. Throw in some quaint red and yellow fishing cabins, and you’ve got yourself a cozy Instagrammer’s paradise! I spent a total of 4 days in July road tripping around these craggy islands, and here’s what I learned.
Lofoten at a Glance
Recommended Months: Summer for midnight sun or Feb/March for northern lights
Travel Hackability Score: 5/10, most rorbuer can’t be booked with points, nor can the ferry or smaller rental car companies. Flights to hubs can be found with points, as can larger company rental cars. If you’re ok with staying in a less central location, hotels can be found in Leknes and Svolvær.
Highlights: Ludicrously beautiful scenery and the most charming fishing villages you’ll ever see. Lofoten is a place to be taken in as a whole, with less specific must see spots and more of a discover as you go feel.
Preparing for a Lofoten Road Trip
Lofoten can be like two completely different countries depending on the time of year you visit. Your scenery goals for your Lofoten road trip will dictate when you want to visit. I was there in July and benefited from the long days and midnight sun, not to mention the warmer conditions. Summer is Lofoten’s busy season for tourism, but I never felt like there was an overwhelming amount of people there (and I hate crowds!). There was no snow to be found during my stay and the islands were lush with plants.
If your goals are northern lights, snowy peaks and beautiful twilight skies, then visiting around February or March would be ideal. Just be aware that many hiking paths will be inaccessible during this time of year, or at least require serious crampons.
Even when visiting the Lofoten Islands during the clearest of months, know that the weather can be quite unpredictable. It’s a good idea to bring plenty of layers that can be easily stripped off or added on. My Marmot Ramble jacket is like 2 layers in one with its removable fleece liner, and has served me well in all of my Nordic adventures. I also always carry several breathable long sleeved shirts to add underneath, and a thick down coat to wear under my Marmot on particularly chilly days.
In addition to layering to prepare for inclement weather, it’s also wise to bring the most important thing with you – TIME. The Lofoten islands are small enough to get anywhere within an hour or two, and you don’t want to be so married to your schedule that you’re forced to attempt Reinebringen on a rainy day! Be sure that you have some buffer built in to your days there that you can save that must-do activity for a clear day.
One more thing: You’ll want to book your accommodation months in advance, especially if you’re visiting during the summer. I’ll get into the ideal places to stay later in the post, but just about every cabin and hotel in Lofoten will book up early, especially the more iconic rorbuer!
Feel prepared? No? Well nobody ever really does! Just do your research, go in with an open mind, and check out my suggestions for a striking 4 day Lofoten itinerary!
Day 1 – Getting There
There are a few approaches that can be taken when visiting Lofoten. While there are small airports further north in the islands, they are pricey to fly into and less conveniently located. Since most of Lofoten’s attractions are located more to the southern end of the islands, I flew into Bodø and took the ferry to Moskenes, the southernmost of Lofoten’s two major ports.
Where Should You Rent Your Car?
The Lofoten Islands pretty much require renting a car if you want to get around in a reasonable amount of time. A hugely difficult decision can be whether to rent your vehicle in Bodø from a larger company, or in Lofoten from a smaller, more pricey company.
The decision really comes down to how much time you plan to spend in Lofoten, and where you will go from there. Renting a compact car, at the time of this writing, costs approximately $70 per day in Lofoten, compared to $52 per day in Bodø. However, if you rent in Bodø you will need to pay to take the car on the ferry to Moskenes, which costs 892 NOK ($113) each way compared to 221 NOK ($28) each way per person. Over a 4 day itinerary, a car rental plus two ferry trips would cost $98 more than just renting the car in Lofoten. If you stay in Lofoten longer or plan to continue driving somewhere that requires a different drop off, then it could be worthwhile renting from a major chain in Bodø instead.
About That Ferry…
Isn’t it fun getting to experience the unexpected while traveling? As luck would have it, my flight from Bergen into Bodø was delayed by about 1 hour. My flight ended up landing at 3:30 PM for my 4 pm ferry ride, and I wasn’t even off the plane yet! I deplaned as quickly as my flailing limbs and brain would allow, sprinted through the airport and grabbed the last taxi in front of the terminal. My understanding driver proceeded to HAUL ASS TO THE FERRY TERMINAL to get me on the ferry to Moskenes in time. Thankfully the terminal is less than a 10 minute drive from the airport, so I made it on the ferry with a luxurious 93 seconds to spare.
As always, do as I say and not as I do. Be sure to leave in some buffer time and remember, sometimes the most thorough plans go awry anyways. The worst case scenario would have had me spending an afternoon in Bodø while I waited for the late night ferry. You can plan your trip around the ferry timetables from the Lofoten.info website, (pick Bodø – Moskenes 3,5 h) but can only purchase single passenger tickets in person if you’re traveling without a vehicle.
Taking in the Sea-nery
Get it??? Now that you’ve settled into your seat and caught your breath from your (hopefully less hectic than mine) trip to the ferry docks, it’s time to enjoy the ride! The views from the ferry are gorgeous, especially if you have nice weather on a clear day. I have read of other people getting seasick on the trip, so bring some ginger pills and seasick patches just in case. I was fortunate enough to not have any seasickness issues on this trip despite having been known to get just a little seasick in the past.
The ferry trip will take you past several smaller islands as a way of gently introducing you to the dramatic scenery that is to come. If you can stand some whipping cold wind, the front and sides of the ferry are the way to go. I’d avoid the back unless you don’t mind some nasty exhaust fumes!
Upon the approach to Moskenes, things really begin to get interesting. The combination of crags and quaint fishing cabins will begin to come into view, and only now will you start to have an idea of what kind of scenery Lofoten has to offer.
Upon arrival, if you’ve decided to rent your car in Moskenes like I did, walk straight off the ferry and head just a few hundred feet down the road to Rentacar Moskenes, where you’ve already reserved your vehicle weeks, if not months, in advance, right? When I placed my reservation they only took phone requests, but thankfully it seems they’ve brought themselves slightly more into the 21st century and now take reservations through Facebook and SMS as well.
Despite my reservation, I had to wait over an hour for my vehicle because of a mixup with their paperwork, but I suppose that’s not atypical of larger rental companies either. I was also charged a higher rate despite what their website says, so when messaging for your reservation be sure to confirm the price you’ll be paying! Sometimes saving some money comes with a little bit of work and headache, but it’s part of the “fun” of traveling that I mentioned earlier.
Now that you’ve climbed into your tiny Lofoten-mobile, it’s time to head to the good stuff and begin experiencing your road trip! Take in your first servings of scenery as you drive to your accommodation of choice to drop off your belongings. I stayed in Eliassen Rorbuer, which not only makes a great basecamp near many of Lofoten’s best attractions, but is also one of the most iconic sights in Lofoten itself!
The Rural Rorbuer
Eliassen Rorbuer is THE place that is shown when people talk about Lofoten. It’s the perfect example of a cozy fishing village. I stayed in a standard one bedroom and it was perfect for me, but they have bigger and fancier options. Be sure to book in advance to get a spot!
The cabins themselves are homey and quaint, and include a kitchen area if you are inclined to fend for yourself. There are some walkable sites from the rorbuer, such as Reine, but most things in Lofoten are simply better driven to. Be sure to walk around and take the obligatory photo from the bridge nearby, and watch out for dive-bombing seagulls!
For food options, there are grocery stores near the ferry landing and in Reine if you want to utilize the kitchen in your Rorbu, which I would recommend at least for preparing breakfasts and a lunch for the road.
Sadly, Eliassen Rorbuer is not travel hackable, but I consider it special enough to warrant spending a bit on it. If you are dead set on using points alone, Leknes or Svolvaer would be a better base to stay in. Between the two, I would recommend Leknes as it’s more central, but Eliassen Rorbuer is more ideally located than either of the alternatives.
Midnight Hiking at Reinebringen
After polishing off dinner at the restaurant next to my rorbu, I was beginning to consider settling in for the night. However, even at 9 pm it still looked like mid afternoon outside and the weather was absolutely gorgeous and clear. I decided to take advantage of the opportunity that the midnight sun provided and went to hike Reinebringen!
The hike was more difficult and muddy than I had expected, and it became descriptively cold (read: I froze my ass off), but there is nothing that can prepare you for the view at the top. There’s also something special about experiencing such an epic view at midnight, seeing the villages and islands below you bathed in golden light. As it turned out, every other day of my trip had Reinebringen shrouded in a dense fog, so I feel extremely lucky that I took advantage of the midnight hike on my arrival day. I ended up walking away from my hike with a rare lesson learned the easy way: if the weather in Lofoten is nice, do something that takes advantage of it because you don’t know how it will be afterwards!
I eventually made it back to my rorbu at roughly 2 am before grabbing some sleeps and starting early the next day.
Day 2 – Road Tripping Southern Lofoten
Good morning! Or afternoon, depending on how much you enjoyed the midnight sun last night! Grab your grocery store packed lunch once you’re properly caffeinated and head south on the main road. There are plenty of scenic stops that I haven’t listed, and part of the fun of Lofoten is making impromptu detours for anything that suits your fancy. Here are a few places to get you started on the day’s scenery.
Ok, it’s pronounced more like “oh” than “aaaaahhh,” but the southern tip of the Lofoten Islands is a great starting point. Walk out onto the rocks to the end of the world, do your best to avoid the dive-bombing seagulls, and please don’t steal the town’s sign as so many other people do.
Situated in the shadow of the imposing Reinebringen, Reine is often cited as the most beautiful village in Norway. It’s a great place to wander around, take some pictures, and enjoy a cup of coffee at one of the cozy cafes. This is also a great time to make your way up Reinebringen if you couldn’t stay up late enough to do it on your arrival day. Be sure to start your climb early if you want to avoid the crowds, and check with locals to see if the trail is open as it has been incurring intermittent repairs as of this writing.
Fish Heads, Fish Heads…
While not really something to explicitly throw on the itinerary (unless you’re a fish head afficionado), it’s impossible not to notice the fish stockades that are spread ubiquitously around Lofoten. Cod fishing is virtually tied with tourism as the top industry in Lofoten and is an integral part of their culture, right down to using fish oil to paint the red rorbuer around the islands! Don’t worry, the drying racks don’t smell like you would expect (at least during my time of year), and they are oddly fascinating to check out, especially when combined with an epic backdrop!
Arctic Beach Day
Another option for your morning is to hike over to the popular Kvalvika Beach. On your way there, traverse the photogenic Fredvang Bridges and get your obligatory shot of them before you play car-chicken over the top of the single lane bridges.
The hike to the beach takes roughly one hour from the parking lot, and also offers a great viewpoint from the top of Ryten Mountain if you decide to take the detour. Be prepared to make some friends on this hike as it is a very popular tourist destination.
As an alternative, you could also visit Ramberg Beach, which is easily accessible from the road if you just want to plop down and sunbathe in the balmy 55 degree (farenheit!) weather.
An Afternoon Excursion in Nusfjord
For a bit of history, spend your post lunch hours around Nusfjord, a UNESCO world heritage site located on the southern end of Flakstadøya island. As seems to be a trend, take a moment to behold the imposing and iconic mountainous backdrop on the road leading into Nusfjord. It’s one of Lofoten’s most Instagrammed places for any of you looking to get points with your friends.
I’ll be the first to admit it. Nusfjord is a tourist trap. I still recommend paying the entrance fee in the main office and poking around, but any place that has cardboard cutouts for people to take pictures in automatically loses points with me. That’s not the point of this visit to Nusfjord, however because there’s a lovely afternoon waiting for you just outside the town.
The friendly people in the Nusfjord tourism office will be happy to guide you to the trailhead of the Nusfjord to Nesland trail, which will take around 6 hours round trip. The trail is very flat and scenic, and a great way to spend a relaxing afternoon out of the car and taking in Lofoten’s natural beauty.
After you finish the trail, by all means take an hour or two to wander around Nusfjord and watch the crafty seagulls snatch fish from the day’s catch, and remember to get your obligatory souvenir photo. Try to make it back to your rorbu before 3 am this time so you have some time to explore again tomorrow!
Day 3 – Northern Lofoten
Today is a great day to head deeper still into the Lofoten islands. Head north towards Svolvær, one of the larger cities in Lofoten with a whopping population of just under 5,000 people! Today is largely an exploratory/elective day (I suppose every day in Lofoten is), so set off and explore what the great north has to offer! Here are some suggestions to get your started.
- Hike Himmeltinden in Leknes. It’s full of beautiful views hosted by the highest mountain on Vestvågøya
- Hike Festvågtind in Svolvær for a mini Reinebringen-like experience. For a less challenging hike with only slightly less epic views, try Tjeldbergtind instead.
- If you’re a little crazy (a state of mind I wholeheartedly endorse), then climbing Svolværgeita a.k.a. “The Goat” is practically mandatory.
- Enjoy a novelty overpriced drink at the Magic Ice Bar in Svolvær. The drinks may be expensive but at least you’ll freeze your ass off!
Once you’ve completed whatever degree of insanity your day’s activities have led you to, it could make sense to spend the night in Leknes or Svolvær if you don’t want to make the return trip to Moskenes this evening or want a change of scenery. There are more well connected (read: travel points hackable) hotels in these cities and it also makes sense if you’re continuing further north after you’re finished with your time in Lofoten.
Day 4 – Heading Back… Or Onward!
Sadly it’s time to say goodbye for this itinerary. If you’re heading back to Bodø , check your ferry schedule and make sure you get there with plenty of time to return your rental car and get your ticket. If you’re continuing north to Tromsø, then rock on!
I did the former, and utilized the morning to catch up on any missed activities. Maybe you had a hankering for some arctic surfing but it was just too warm the other days, or perhaps you just wanted to spend some more time at the fish racks among the cod heads. The day is yours, seize it!
My evening ferry deposited me back in Bodø around midnight, where I felt perfectly comfortable walking from the ferry terminal to my hotel, the Scandic Havet, which was booked via credit card points (they seriously changed my travel life). It’s a great hotel whether you book it via points or otherwise, with a beautiful view of the water and plenty of resources inside.
After my time in Lofoten, I thankfully still had plenty more traveling to do. My next stop was Stavanger, where I experienced the most paralyzing fear of my life, but Norway has plenty of other options for those who prefer to not fear for they lives.
Did I forget something? How did this itinerary work for you? Let me know in the comments below!