During February 2018, I was fortunate enough to return to Norway’s Lofoten Islands. Images from this trip you will find on this site. Below, however, I have noted those points of interest for those willing to be rewarded by their own journey here to this most stunning of locations.
The Lofoten Islands are stunning beyond belief. You are literally at sea-level, but surrounded by a 100km stretch of jagged peaks and turquoise waters. You could be in the Swiss Alps or in France or in Austria. It is every bit as magical, with snow and ice, and frozen lakes, and blizzards, and blowing snow and charming Norwegian houses. It is an amazing landscape.
To travel there in Winter is something special and I would encourage anyone to consider it. The weather is of course hit and miss, and for my adventure this time, it was more hit than miss with blue skies, sunshine and wonderful Northern Light displays.
Observations for the general traveller :-
Norway is stunning. The Lofoten Islands is Norway in a Nutshell and it is exceedingly beautiful.
Winter is a beautiful time to visit. Each winter is different of course, but our visit in February 2018 had a fair amount of snow, and loads of sunshine that lit the landscape in all its winter white.
The weather can be quite variable, this is the arctic. In 2015 it was cold, bleak, grey, miserable and little sunshine. In 2018 it was much the opposite, though cold, it was blue, clear skies and sunshine. The temperature during the day might typically be at or just below zero. We had clear days in 2018 where the day temperatures though was around -6 to -9 celsius. At night, I did not experience really anything much colder than that, but it is the wind-chill that get’s you, and especially if you remain still, perhaps on a beach, standing in the snow, and waiting for the Norther Lights, so be prepared.
Travelling in Winter gives you the opportunity to see the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis). We were fortunate during our 8 day stay in 2018 to see the lights on 4 separate nights, with three of them just amazing displays. In 2015, we were unfortunate that the displays were far from as intense as they could be, and we were forever dodging clouds and snow flurries. However, the Lights we saw still just blew us away. To see the aurora stretching across the sky, shifting, dancing, flaring, dying, forever moving, was an incredible experience.
The aurora is elusive, be prepared for misses, or for waiting, or for watching the various aurora sites and predictions. If in Lofoten between probably September and the end of March, chasing the aurora is something you have to do.
Locations for seeing/photographing the Northern Lights are many, with some of the best being :-
Reine/Hamnoy from the bridge looking over Eliasson Rorbuer, or above the fjord at the top of the town looking down the fjord with the lights of Reine in the middle ground and the mountain in the background.
Skagsenden Beach (layer up appropriately to keep warm)
Driving is pretty comfortable, so a self drive is an ideal way to visit and explore. In winter, hire cars will have snow tires and despite the snow and ice, the roads are easy to drive on and are frequently ploughed.
Daylight in February was from about 8am or so to 4pm, plenty of time to get out and explore. If sleep is not that important to you, get out pre-dawn and enjoy the morning sunrise in this beautiful place.
There are plenty of supermarkets within reach to buy groceries, food etc., in order to self cater. We did not try any restaurants, which certainly can be found in the larger towns like Leknes and Svolvaer, but perhaps not so easily outside of the main towns.
Google translate comes in handy when you need to buy food, or read instructions on how to cook that food. Most people speak good english though and are happy to help.
Norway, and Lofoten, is ridiculously expensive. Perhaps why we didn't eat out to often.
Far from seeing all in Lofoten, I would certainly suggest spending time around Svolvaer, Leknes and Reine, with much to explore from each of these places, particularly Leknes and Reine.
Around Leknes, visit the beaches of Haukland, Unstad, Uttakliev. Visit Stamsund, Ure, Sennisvik, and take the coastal road back up towards Svolvaer via Valberg, rejoining the E10 and back to Leknes.
Towards Reine, go to Skagsanden Beach, Ramberg, Fredvang and Nusfjord. Get off the main road and explore the quiet roads and the stunning seascapes and mountain peaks.
Check out Anne Gerd's Lofoten Guesthouse near Leknes, it was a wonderful stay for 4 nights.
The traditional Rorbeurs as an accommodation option is a good option. We stayed at Eliasson at Hamnoy near Reine and it was a pretty cool and unique stay in a stunning location.
AirBnB can be an option also. We spent 3 nights at an AirBnb at Haukland Beach, and it was a great stay at a stunning location where we could walk down to the beach for beautiful morning light, or hope over to Uttakliev for Northern Lights.
Dress appropriately for the cold. Thermals are good, particularly if it gets real cold. I often, however, did not wear thermals, and was pretty comfortable mostly in the waterproof/windproof pants, thick wool socks, t-shirt, fleece, and down jacket, beanie, balaclava and good gloves. The waterproof/windproof down jacket was brilliant and kept me pretty warm.
Observations for the photographer :-
Watch for condensation on your lens, particularly at night and if you want to shoot the aurora. There are many discussions you can find on the internet to assist you. I was hurt once by being ill-prepared one night where condensation was an issue.
Travel with a spare camera body if possible. One of our team on my first trip here had his Nikon 800 simply seize with some sort of power board issue. That camera was done for the trip. Fortunately he was able to borrow a spare body one of the other guys had with him.
Bring at least 3 batteries I would suggest, though it wasn't so cold for us that battery life was adversely affected
Bring lots of memory cards. You will take lots of photos. I had 2 x 32GB and 3 x 16GB for three weeks of shooting in Norway and Iceland
Bring a means of backing up your photos. Every day, whilst retaining the images on the memory cards, I also downloaded my shots to a Macbook Air, and backed up again to a 64GB usb key and a 1TB external drive.
Get out long before dawn to capture the blue light, but also the lovely soft light as the sun finally breaks through and casts its glow over these amazing landscapes
Use a GND as needed. I carried with me Lee 3 and 6 stop soft GND’s and a Polariser.
Use a Big/Little Stopper or equiv., as you can. That is, a 10 / 6 stop ND, this gives you some amazing scope when shooting seascapes or running water as may be found in some delightful spots.
A sturdy tripod is a must, especially as the wind may be really blowing.
Have as fast a lens as is possible for shooting the aurora. I had a Canon 16-35L III f2.8. I also shot with a Canon 17-40L f4, and the extra speed of the f2.8 is important. The aurora can move fairly fast, and the shorter exposure will give you a greater definition. I was able to take well exposed Aurora shots at f2.8 with a 2 to 5 second exposure.