It may not come as a surprise that the northern part of Norway is the place to be when you’re into nature, peace, and quiet. You might even have heard of the Lofoten islands being a must visit. But chances are, nobody told you about Vesterålen yet! And that’s a real shame if you ask me. This archipelago is located north of the Lofoten and is not popular among foreigners at all. Now that we visited the awesome islands, we really don’t understand why. So here’re six reasons why you MUST visit Vesterålen now!
Just like the Lofoten, Vesterålen is located way above the arctic circle. The archipelago consists of three large islands (Langøya, Andøya, Hadseløya) and a number of smaller ones. Those islands are home to around 30,000 people. The larger islands are connected by bridges, but there are also ferries between different villages. There are no highways on the islands. But there’s a well maintained main road that runs over the islands and takes you wherever you want to go.
How we ended up at Vesterålen
During the summer of 2016, we visited the Lofoten for the first time. We were so stunned by the beauty of nature over there; mountains rising straight up from the ocean and amazing wildlife. Obviously, we wanted to go back to this place, so at the beginning of 2018, we booked another trip to northern Sweden and Norway. But when we were making plans for our trip, the signs we got about the Lofoten weren’t all that positive… Especially the most southern island of Moskenesøya was said to be quite touristy now. We decided we just had to go and see for ourselves. But on our first night on one of the more northern islands of the Lofoten, we came across a friendly local (which isn’t a hard thing to do in Norway ;)). He and his family were spending a night at the same beach we pitched our tent, and we got to talking. He told us he was living on Vesterålen, but he often traveled to the Lofoten. And he confirmed what we were already suspecting: the amount of tourists on the Lofoten has been rising like crazy these last years. “If you’re looking for a more relaxed and peaceful place that’s just as stunning as the Lofoten, come to Vesterålen.”, he said.
Of course, we were a bit bummed out, but also happy with the advice this friendly local gave us. He talked some more about the specific places we might like and the different sceneries on the islands. Seriously the people up north are just way more relaxed! Even though we did visit the Lofoten during that trip, we ended up driving back north after a couple of days. A decision we definitely didn’t regret! Here’s why:
Reason 1: It’s still a hidden gem
Fact: the Lofoten are becoming a more popular destination for tourists (we don’t blame them, it’s gorgeous). I don’t know why maybe they just did better marketing 🙂 Vesterålen lack a bit in that area, and that’s fine with us because that’s why we could see the place like it is: a real hidden gem! When you’re hiking on Vesterålen, and you come across another person, they automatically assume you’re from Norway and cheerfully start blabbing about something. Don’t worry, they’ll switch to English without trouble, but it’s just one of those examples pointing out how unfamiliar they are to tourists in the area.
Even at the ‘most beautiful hike in Norway’, we often had the tracks all to ourselves.
Reason 2: Nature is gorgeous and versatile
The different islands all have their own ‘specialty’ when it comes to the scenery. There’re some impressive peaks (which you could climb with the proper gear and/or a guide), mountains shooting straight up from the azure sea, countless beautiful bays that would make you believe you’re on a tropical island (if only it weren’t so cold!), rolling hills and cute fishing villages where time might as well have been standing still.
So take your chance while you still can discover this hidden gem!
Reden 3: The most beautiful hike in Norway
The Dronningruta (queens route) has been named the most beautiful hike in Norway back in 2012. Because of a lack of time, we could only part of the 15,9 km long track. But boy did we agree on this claim! The route is really accessible and not too hard. When hiking the Dronningruta, you come across many different landscapes and views. There’re mountains, lakes, fishing towns and of course the sea. Soon, you’ll find a more extensive blog about this hike!
Reason 4: Animals everywhere!
As a whole, Scandinavia is known for its varied wildlife. But we never saw so many animals as during our time on Vesterålen! The archipelago is perhaps best known for the possibility to spot whales. The tourists that do decide to visit Vesterålen often go straight to the northernmost part of the island Andøy. Here you’ll find the village of Andenes, where most of the whale safaris depart. Throughout the year you have a whopping 95% chance of spotting whales during a safari. In summer you can see sperm whales, and during winter the killer whales and humpbacks swim in the parameters. But the archipelago has much more to offer. Britte spotted several dolphins (Juul is still jealous…), and together we saw tons of puffins and sea eagles!
Reason 5: You can camp anywhere
Just like almost everywhere else in Norway, you can pitch your tent wherever you like at Vesterålen. Not a lot of people use this opportunity though, so you might have that gorgeous spot all to yourself. The most tourists that come to this area do so by camper. And it’s easy to see why. There aren’t a lot of long distance hiking trails, so most people just do day hikes (like we did) and go back to the comfort of their van in the evening. But, if you feel like trying out the van life in this area, don’t feel like you should park it at a campsite! Even with a van you could go and find a perfect spot in nature; there’re plenty! If you aren’t traveling by campervan, make sure to have your own car when discovering this northern archipelago. Traveling by public transport is doable, but you’ll spend lot’s of time waiting and probably miss the secluded beautiful places.
Are you thinking about going on your first wild camping trip? Check out our ten tips before you go!
Reason 6: The beautiful lights
No matter the season you’re visiting Vesterålen, there’re some stunning natural light shows to witness. You could spot the northern lights as early as September and see them until April (of course you need to be a bit lucky with the weather). And because there aren’t a lot of cities, there’s little to no light pollution, so you can fully enjoy this natural spectacle. During the summer months, the sun doesn’t set. That means you can admire the strange, but beautiful experience that is the midnight sun. And, if you’re like us, and visit this place at the end of summer, you’ll be treated to some beautiful sunsets almost every day!
How to visit Vesterålen?
Just like the Lofoten, Vesterålen is a remote destination. You could drive there by car, but take into account it’s around 2700 kilometer from the Netherlands, and there are no real highways anymore once you pass mid-Norway. It’s possible to get there by train and bus, but that will leave you with little options once you’re on the island. If you’re looking to go there by public transport and rent a car on the island, your best option is to take the train from Stockholm thru northern Sweden to Narvik in Norway. From there you can take the daily bus to the capital Sortland. Flying is probably the fastest option, but you will need to make a stop in Oslo or another international airport in Scandinavia before flying out to the Harstad/Narvik airport. There’re some options to rent a car there, which we would definitely recommend.
Did you ever visit this area? Do you have some tips for your fellow travelers?