Norway is just a scenic drive away from Finland. Combine beach life, fun nature activities, a rich cultural heritage and tasty food at some our beautiful places.
Northern Norway is about beautiful coastlines, sandy beaches, fjords, fishing villages, mountains and scenery. The wide horizons of the Varanger fjord, with its Finnish-Kven heritage, the North Cape at the end of Europe, the world’s northernmost city, Hammerfest, the drama of the Lyngen Alps, the cliff coast of Senja Island, the Gateway to the Arctic, Tromsø and the historic and cultural hub of Harstad all away you just across the borders from Kilpisjärvi, Karigasniemi, Utsjoki or Näätämö. A bit further afield, but well worth it, are the magical islands of Vesterålen and Lofoten, Narvik with its war history, lively Bodø and the 20 000 islands of the Helgeland coast.
Where is what in Northern Norway?
Our description starts in Norway’s far north-east, the part with traditional connection to Finland. Then we move past the North Cape and south past Tromsø to Lofoten. Finally, we end up in the mildest, greenest and southernmost of the North, Helgeland.
Varanger is Norway’s far east
Varanger is north of the treeline, and here the horizon in wide and the beaches seem endless. Vadsø/Vesisaari cherishes the Finnish heritage, Vardø’s town centre has many surprises, and is somewhere between beautiful and dilapidated. Hamningberg, a the end of the Norwegian Scenic Route, is a hidden old-world gem. Off the beaten track? Head for the road to Båtsfjord and Berlevåg, and learn the history of the Berlevåg port.
Kirkenes is right on the border
Kirkkoniemi, Kirkenes, is found half an hours’ drive from Russia. The WWII history of this town is dramatic, which is well explained in the Borderland Museum. The tiny chapel of Grense Jakobselv is found where the border meets the Arctic Ocean. The wide Pasvik/Paatsjoki Valley consists of deep forest. Neiden, Näätämö, houses the Eastern Sami Museum, and the orthodox Saint George Chapel. Finnish history is strong in the area, but nowhere as strong as in Bugøynes, Pykeijä. This fishing village is nicknamed Pikku-Suomi because Finnish is still spoken by most people.
Go to the furthest north, to the North Cape
The North Cape, Nordkapp, is the very end of Europe. For five centuries, this has been a legendary sailing mark on the seven seas. Honningsvåg is a lively little town half an hour’s south, but don’t miss the giant, noisy bird colony in Gjesværstappan. The cloudberry island of Tamsøy, on the other hand, is pure tranquility.
Things to do around the North Cape
Arto Paasilinna’s book Hurmaava Joukkoitsemurha told the story of how the North Cape can be a life changing experience. Go there to see the Midnight Sun and make sure you set aside plenty of time for other activities.
All about fishing
Hammerfest is the world’s northernmost city
Founded in 1789, Hammerfest is both the furthest north of the real cities of the world and the oldest in the north. Come here for Arctic urban elegance and easy hikes in stunning coastal landscapes. Head for the Reconstruction Museum to learn about the fate of Norway’s far north in 1944. The Meridian column is in memory of how the planet was measured up in the 19th. c, and is the northernmost of the UNESCO world heritage site Struve’s Geodedic Arch.
Alta is for active fun
Alta‘s city centre is as modern as you get them, crowned by the Northern Lights Cathedral. A striking contrast are the up to 7000 year old rock carvings at Hjemmeluft, listed as a UNESCO world heritage site. Alta-ites are made about off-road cycling, both in the valley and up on the endless plains. More relaxing is a riverboat trip up to the stunning Sautso canyon.
The Land of the Midnight Sun
Get to know the Sami people
The Sami Heartland is a vast expanse just north of the Finnish border, encompassing the parishes of Kautokeino and Karasjok. Here, Sami is spoken by most people. In summer, this is an area for fishing, hiking and kanoeing in placid rivers. Make sure to familiarise yourself with the Sami culture in explanatory museums.
Head to Yykeänvuono for stunning fjords
The Lyngenfjord, Yykeänvuono in Kven, is as dramatic as you get it; 1800 km high mountains rise directly from the fjord. Go here for the multi-ethnic heritage of Sami, Kven and Norwegian cultures, for some easy or really tough hikes, for a riverboat safari up to the waterfall Mollisfossen, Molliskurkkii in Kven, and some fun off-road bike rides.
Tromsø is the Arctic Capital
Tromsø is the biggest city in the north, and enjoys a fantastic location amid mountains and fjords. A colourful historic centre, interesting attractions and a lively restaurant- and nightlife scene add to the charms of Tromsø. See the Midnight Sun (or fog?) from the upper station of the cable car, listen to the organ at the Arctic Cathedral, sample the beer at historic Ølhallen pub and visit the fishing village of Sommarøy.
Senja is the split personality island
Senja is an island with two faces. The outer coast, facing the Atlantic Ocean, is wild, rugged and storm-beaten, with dense fishing villages. The other side, facing the mainland, is forested and criss-crossed with rivers. The Norwegian Scenic route meanders along the outer coast. Make sure you also go on a hike or bike ride, there are routes for every fitness level.
Bloodthirsty Vikings came from Harstad
Some of the fiercest vikings we know of came from the Harstad region. The little city is found amid rich farmlands with wide seaviews across to majestic peaks. You come here to see the stately 13th C. church of Trondenes and experience ancient, Viking and WWII history. Rent an e-bike for a tour around the countryside, and reward yourself with a good meal in one of Harstad’s excellent restaurants.
Vesterålen are the whale islands in the west
The green islands of Vesterålen are in the richest seas of the world. Puffins, gannets and kittiwakes, as well as the giants of the sea, the sperm whales, feast on all the fish. The National Scenic Route along the outer coast of Andøya is a meeting with the Atlantic. Nyksund is a rejuvenated fishing village with an attitude. There is also a surprising amount of good food, and it’s all easily navigable with short distances.
Lofoten are the Alps knee-deep in the Atlantic
The steep Lofoten peaks seem to rise directly from the Golf Stream. In hidden coves, there are colourful fishing villages, complete with fishracks and red shacks to house fishermen. The islands are compact, so it’s easy to hike in the morning, see some art in the numerous galleries in the afternoon and search for the midnight sun in at night. The National Scenic Route brings every part of the archipelago together.
Narvik is WWII drama, a giant fjord and a scenic trainride
Hitler’s first defeat in WWII happened in May-June 1940 in Narvik. The bone of contention was the iron-ore railway from Sweden. Today you can experience the drama in the war museum, before taking the short train ride almost to the Swedish border and hike back. Don’t miss the Midnight Sun from the Cable Car, see the wolves in Polar Park and find yourself a nice hike to a viewpoint.
Bodø is the meeting point on the coast
Facing the open Atlantic, modern and active Bodø has a lively city centre and port. Make sure to visit some of the interesting museums in town, with themes from aviation to fish trade. Then head to Saltstraumen, the world’s strongest tidal current. The ancient trade centre of Kjerringøy is a well-preserved historic gem in a to-die-for location.
Beautiful drives along the coast
Salten is islands, fjords and mountains around Bodø
Mountains reaching 1900 metres on the Swedish, deep fjords and thousands of off-shore islands, the landscape around Bodø is highly varied. To the south, the giant glacier of Svartisen forms the border, the northern end is guarded by the iconic lighthouse of Tranøy. Historic churches, green farmland and landmark architecture dot the varied landscape.
Get historical insight
The Coastal Road of Helgeland takes you to 20 000 islands
Route 17, one of the Norwegian Scenic Routes, takes you along the outer coast of the Helgeland region past glaciers, fjords, sculptural mountains and 20 000 islands. You cross the Arctic Circle on the way, and are tempted to make innumerable detours. The route has six ferries, and lots of other boats ply the archipelago. The Vegaøyan UNESCO world heritage site is a love story between ducks and people.
The inland goes from fjords to glaciers
Inside the rugged coast, there are magnicifent fjords and towering mountains. The 11 peaks of the Okstindan range are only the most impressive. At 650 metres altitude, you cross the Arctic Circle. The colourful wooden houses of the Sjøgato Street in Mosjøen invite you to exploration, the Laksforsen waterfall fills you with awe.
Stay safe on the road
Read more about the regions of the north
The destinations of the North all have their own personalities; urban and rural, coast and inland, Norwegian, Sami or Finnish; here you can read more about them.