The biggest town on Lofoten is a great place to start your road trip.
After five years of living in Norway, I finally ticked Lofoten off my bucket list. Despite travelling in April, I was rewarded with spectacular weather for the entire week. Surely only a British guy can get sunburnt in the Norwegian Arctic in April…
My first stop on the trip was Svolvær, the biggest city on the archipelago and de facto capital of Lofoten. From here, it’s a 132km drive to the fishing village of Å along the E10, one of Norway’s most spectacular National Tourist Routes.
The first thing that struck me about Svolvær was its setting. Wherever I stood, whichever way I looked, the view was magnificent.
The town itself has around 4,500 inhabitants with the wider Vågan municipality home to just under 10,000. Driven partly by the tourism industry and partly by recent immigration, Svolvær has quite a diverse population. Like the rest of the country, English is of course widely spoken and understood.
Tourism is important, of course, but the local economy is much more diverse than you might expect. Cod fisheries, particularly during winter months when tourism is low, remain an essential economical foundation for the town. You can’t go far in Lofoten without seeing cod hung up on racks to dry, and this is true even in the biggest town.
Such is the importance of fishing to the town, the World Cod Fishing Championships are held in Svolvær every March. Over 600 participants from 8 countries regularly take part and thousands of onlookers gather on the Quay to greet the returning boats.
Svolvær has more entertainment options than you’d expect for a town of its size due to its status as a regional capital and a popular tourist stop. There are a number of galleries showcasing mostly local artwork and a war museum that tells the wartime story of the islands.
The AMFI shopping centre is a decent size and houses clothing shops including Stormberg, Cubus and Carlings.
Several adventure companies run boat tours to the nearby Trollfjord, tours of the Lofoten coastline, and fishing trips, while hiking the nearby Tjeldbergtinden is a popular activity for locals and tourists alike.
Svolvær is an important transport hub for Lofoten. Hurtigruten makes northbound and southbound stops in the early evening, filling the streets with tourists for a few hours every day. Some continue on by bus for a tour of Lofoten before rejoining the ship at the next port of call, while others begin their own exploration of the islands. There is also a fast ferry service from Bodø for passengers and cyclists.
The town has its own airport although services are limited to local Widerøe flights to Bodø, Leknes, Stokmarknes and Tromsø. The closest airport with regular service to Oslo is Hafstad/Narvik Airport at Evenes, a 160km drive away. Buses link the town with the rest of Lofoten, Evenes Airport, plus the cities of Sortland, Harstad and Narvik.
Despite its relatively remote location, Svolvær is pretty well connected.
The reason many people live in Svolvær is its proximity to wonderful nature and recreational opportunities. The 132 km drive to the iconic villages of Reine and Å is perhaps the greatest road trip in all of Norway.
A few minutes away is the gorgeous village of Henningsvær, while other attractions such as the Lofotr Viking Museum, Hurtigruten Museum and even skiing resorts are all within a couple of hours drive.
Where to Stay
For those visiting Svolvær, the quayside location of the Vestfjord Hotell is hard to beat. It’s right by the Hurtigruten terminal making it a perfect choice for those joining or leaving a coastal voyage. Read my hotel review.
All in all, Svolvær is a great gateway to exploring Lofoten and I can see why a surprising number of foreigners choose to make it their home.
I’ll definitely be back!