Exploring northern Norway is an outstanding experience in summer or winter.
Norway's Arctic region is vast and offers an almost endless array of options for the curious traveller.
A strong community of Sami – the indigenous people of northern Europe – and influence from neighboring Sweden, Finland, and Russia creates a truly unique culture, different from anywhere else in Norway.
Although people tend to come either at the height of summer of deep in the winter darkness, autumn can also be a great time to visit.
The biggest city in the region and the self-proclaimed ‘Paris of the North', Tromsø is a small city that punches way above its weight in the cultural world.
The city is best known as one of the best places in the world to see the northern lights, but it has so much more to offer visitors.
There are great museums and a surprising range of festivals all year round. Hikers will not be disappointed either.
Hard to reach and even harder to leave, Lofoten charms all who visit. The natural scenery is a step above the rest of Norway, which is really saying something!
Above anything else, the archipelago encourages slow travel. Many visitors spend a week or more cycling the lesser-trodden trails of the islands, hiking dramatic mountains to reach secluded beaches, and just enjoying the peace and quiet.
If you don't have that much time to spend, a Lofoten road trip can be enjoyed in just a couple of days. Stay overnight in a traditional fisherman's cottage to complete the true Arctic Norway experience.
Midnight sun and polar night
The endless days of summer last from mid-May to mid-July in Tromsø, where the midnight sun produces a brilliant deep red-orange light in place of a sunset.
The farther north you go the longer this period lasts, up to a week more either side at the North Cape.
In the winter, the sun doesn’t rise for between six to eight weeks. Even though the sun remains below the horizon for most of December and January, the days aren’t pitch black.
Tromsø in particular is bathed in a deep midnight blue in the early afternoon as the residual light reflects off the blue sea and the white snow.
These long winter nights are one of the reasons Tromsø and Finnmark county are some of the best places in the world to see the northern lights. Tourists flock to the region throughout the long, dark winter in the hope of catching a glimpse of the tricky lady.
The road to the North Cape
One of the popular activities to do during a summer visit to Arctic Norway is to drive to the North Cape. Known as Nordkapp in Norwegian, the cliff marks the northernmost point in continental Europe.
Technically there is someone a few hundred metres further north, but it takes a hike of several hours to get there! Is the journey to Nordkapp worth it?
The joy of a road trip to the North Cape is discovering all the little communities along the way, sharing the road with reindeer, and simply taking in the vast emptiness of this part of the world.
Speaking of discovering the people and places along the way, check out this article I wrote for Perceptive Travel about exactly that topic!
Northern Norway continues east for many miles all the way to a border with Russia.
Most tourists only make it this far because of the Hurtigruten coastal voyage, which begins back in Bergen and travels all the way along the coast.
Many travellers stay on the boat for the long return back towards Bergen, while the few that depart are rewarded with the intriguing city of Kirkenes.
Read about the travels of our guest writer Maggie, who spent some time on an unexpected tour of Finnmark with some Norwegian friends. Here are her thoughts on Alta, Hammerfest and somewhere that few tourists make it to, Berlevåg.
Before you embark on a trip to northern Norway, here's a quick checklist of important things to consider:
- Guidebook: The Moon Norway guidebook is the most up-to-date on the market
- Accommodation: Book your hotel in advance and save money
- Car Rental: Secure the best rates on your choice of rental car
- Travel Insurance: Don't run the risk of travelling to Norway without adequate cover
- VPN: Secure your laptop and smartphone's internet connection while you travel
- Tours & activities: Save money by pre-booking tours & activities