A Guide to Visiting the Lofoten Islands in Winter

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by Neota Langley


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Visiting the Lofoten Islands in winter is a magical experience you will never forget. The island archipelago of Lofoten, situated off the northwest coast of Norway, transforms into an arctic paradise during the winter months.

With the summer crowds long gone, the dramatic peaks take on a dusting of snow, the beaches are deserted, and the quaint fishing villages offer cosy cafes where you can warm up with a toasty cinnamon bun.

Unlike other destinations that shut up shop after the summer season, Lofoten comes alive in the winter months. You can participate in most of the usual summer activities and extra, winter-specific adventures. Here, under a blanket of snow, you can experience the remote wilderness of Norway at its very best.  

Lofoten Islands Weather in Winter

Lofoten sits in the Norwegian Sea, over 300km north of the Arctic Circle in Northern Norway. This means the winters (and even parts of autumn and spring) can get very cold. 

The most striking feature of a Lofoten winter is the abundance of snow. Heavy snowfall blankets the islands, making the landscape a pristine winter wonderland. The snow-covered mountains and vibrant fishing villages create a picture-postcard setting that attracts photographers from every corner of the globe. 

As beautiful as it may be, the winter in the Lofoten Islands can also be harsh and unpredictable. Temperatures often hover around freezing, with average highs rarely rising above 4°C (39°F). Combined with strong winds coming in off the Norwegian Sea, this can make the weather feel much colder.

However, because it is a cluster of islands, it is not as cold as the arctic destinations on the mainland, with lows only reaching around -10°C (14°F).

Daylight hours are also limited, with the polar night lasting from December to mid-January when the sun doesn’t rise above the horizon. But remember, the winter season is the best time to see the northern lights in Lofoten, so the increased hours of darkness are not necessarily a negative thing.

Many tour operators offer special experiences during the winter months such as surfing, horse riding and dog sledding all in darkness under the northern lights.

Getting Around Lofoten in Winter

There are two primary ways to get around on the Lofoten Islands: in a car or by local buses. This is true all year round, although many people also bike pack the islands during the summer months. 

The network of local buses amend their timetables at the end of October, moving from their summer schedule to the winter schedule. Some routes are cancelled entirely, and others go down to one or two buses a day.

This can make getting around very complicated, especially if you want to head off the main route and explore some of the hidden gems. Some of the activities offer a pick up and drop off service, but this can bring an additional cost. 

The best way to get around Lofoten during winter is by car. If you are not local, you can hire a car wherever you arrive in Norway, most likely Tromso or Bodo (where you can get a car ferry rather than driving across the bridge) if you are visiting from the north. 

Driving in Lofoten in winter can be challenging, especially during snowy spells, but if you are a confident driver, don’t let that put you off. Hire cars will all come with studded tyres to help with grip on the snow, as well as a set of snow chains for emergencies.

It is unlikely you will need these as the main roads are regularly cleared and gritted, but you never know when a snowstorm could hit, so it’s best to be prepared. If you need to learn how to put on snow chains, make sure to ask for a demonstration when you collect your car. 

Village of Reine in winter
Village of Reine in winter

Which Month to Visit the Lofoten Islands?

Lofoten in December

If you are hoping for magical snow-covered fishing villages, December may not be the best time to visit Lofoten. The rainy season runs from October to December, with most of the precipitation turning to snow later in December. Snow is likely but not guaranteed, and if it does snow at sea level, it’s likely the next round of rain will wash it away.

If you are looking for solitude, however, December is one of the best times to visit Lofoten. The summer rush is over, but the bulk of the winter tourists have not arrived yet. The northern lights are at their peak from December until February, so most of the usual winter tours are running at full capacity.  

Lofoten in January

This period includes the polar night, where the sun doesn’t rise above the horizon. While this means continuous darkness, it’s also the prime time for observing the northern lights. The lack of daylight may limit outdoor activities, but it’s a unique experience for aurora hunters.

During the depths of the winter, you will also have the opportunity to see whales around the Lofoten Islands. The exact timing of the whale watching season can vary from year to year and depends on the movements of the herring shoals, which attract the whales.

January is right in the middle of the season for whales, so if you are hoping to see these majestic creatures, this is the perfect month to visit. 

Lofoten in February

If it’s snow-covered hills, beaches and villages you want, February is the best month to visit Lofoten. Snow is abundant, from the high reaches of the mountains all the way down to the Rorbu cabins along the harbour fronts.

Expect some of the cold temperatures all year, with average highs hovering around freezing (0°C or 32°F) and lows dropping below freezing. 

While February sees longer daylight hours compared to the darkest days of mid-winter, it’s still relatively limited.

You’ll have several hours of daylight, but it’s essential to plan your activities accordingly, especially if you want to explore outdoor attractions and use your camera to capture the beauty of the islands.

Svolvær Port
Svolvær Port

What to Wear in Lofoten During Winter

When visiting Lofoten during winter, it’s crucial to dress appropriately and pack the right gear to stay warm, comfortable and safe in the cold and potentially challenging weather conditions. 

In terms of clothing, at a minimum, you will need to pack several base layers (merino is best), an insulated jacket, outdoor trousers, plenty of layers, thick socks and sturdy boots.

If your insulated jacket is not waterproof, it’s a good idea to pack a waterproof jacket too, especially if you are visiting in December, the tail end of the rainy season. Don’t forget a hat that covers your ears, insulated gloves or mittens, and a scarf or neck gaiter to protect against cold winds. 

Many accommodations in Lofoten request that you leave your snowy or wet outdoor shoes at the entrance. Occasionally, slippers are included, but it’s best to pack a pair of comfortable indoor shoes or slippers just in case. Buying them at the hotel can be expensive.

Outside of clothing, you may need a few accessories to make the most out of the winter in Lofoten. A pair of polarising sunglasses will help protect your eyes from the snow glare, a backpack for carrying essentials, and if you want to make the most of the saunas dotted around the island, don’t forget to bring swimwear. 

If you are a keen outdoor enthusiast and want to discover some of the winter hikes, don’t forget to pack a pair of crampons for your hiking boots and a sturdy pair of walking poles.

There are plenty of winter sports such as cross-country skiing and snowshoeing routes around Lofoten, but it’s often easier to hire equipment on site, especially if you are travelling by air. 

Lofoten Coastline during winter
Lofoten Coastline during winter

Things to do in Lofoten in Winter

Explore the Villages

Explore picturesque fishing villages like Reine, Henningsvær, and Svolvær, where traditional red and yellow cabins (rorbuer) dot the coastline.

There is no shortage of places to visit in the Lofoten Islands in winter (other villages like Nusfjord are great options), but these three villages make a great starting point when planning your itinerary. 

Reine

One of the most picturesque villages in Europe, Reine is located at the southern end of the archipelago. Reine is a paradise for photographers. Capture the snow-covered mountains, vibrant red Rorbu cabins, and the beautiful play of light and shadows during the short daylight hours.

From here, you can head out on a kayaking tour through the icy fjords, go ice fishing or discover the incredible hikes in the surrounding hills. The most popular hike in the area, Reinebringen, is not recommended during the winter months, however, as the steps become treacherous in the ice and snow.

There are also several galleries to explore and a handful of cafes and restaurants where you can warm up with a cinnamon bun and a cup of coffee. 

Henningsvær

One of the most popular villages on Lofoten, Henningsvær is recognised worldwide for its iconic football pitch. Whilst Henningsvær may be less crowded and colder during the winter, it offers a tranquil and enchanting experience for those seeking the beauty and serenity of the Arctic.

From here, you can take a boat tour to spot eagles and whales, explore one of the many art galleries and artisan stores or discover the local culinary scene by sampling traditional Norwegian dishes like fish soup, stockfish, and freshly caught seafood.

Many restaurants and cafes remain open during the winter months. 

Snowy Henningsvaer
Snowy Henningsvær

Svolvær

The largest of the three, Svolvær is often referred to as the capital of the Lofoten Islands. Here, you will find some of the best northern lights tour operators, whisking you away by minibus or boat to chase the lights late into the night.

Boat tours run throughout the winter months, the Trollfjord cruise being the most popular, but you will also have the chance to take an ice-fishing tour or a whale-watching excursion.

Svolvær is also home to Magic Ice Svolvær (a bar made entirely of ice) and the Galleri Espolin, which houses the works of renowned artist Kaare Espolin Johnson. 

Northern Lights Tour 

As darkness descends upon the snow-covered archipelago, you’ll join a guided expedition led by experienced aurora hunters who navigate the remote, pristine landscapes in search of the elusive northern lights.

Under a canvas of star-studded skies, you’ll stand in awe as the ethereal dance of colourful lights paints the heavens above.

Whilst you will have plenty of opportunity to see the northern lights without a guide, embarking on one of these adventures with local knowledge behind it is the best way to see them. There are several nighttime tours available including the opportunity to join a photographer on a guided tour. 

Wrapped in warm layers, you’ll get to learn all about the science and folklore that surround the auroras.

Northern Lights in Lofoten
Northern Lights in Lofoten

Snowsports

Snowsports enthusiasts will find a snowy paradise in Lofoten during the winter months. With its dramatic mountainous terrain and abundant snowfall, this Arctic archipelago offers an exhilarating playground for skiing, snowboarding, and snowshoeing.

Lofoten is not particularly known for its extensive ski resorts like some other regions in Norway or the rest of Europe. However, there are several opportunities for skiing and snowboarding around Lofoten, primarily focusing on backcountry and off-piste skiing with breathtaking fjords as a backdrop.

There are rental shops in Svolvær, Leknes and Henningsvær if you are experienced enough to discover the cross-country routes alone, or, there are several experienced guides that offer winter sports packages for different experience levels that include equipment rentals.

Horse Riding

Up on the tip of Gimsoy Island, you’ll find Hov Beach. A hidden gem away from the main tourist route along the E10.

Hov is home to a golf course, restaurant, sauna and horse riding stables. Although horse riding may seem like it would be best enjoyed during the summer months, Hov Gard offers tours all year long, and during the winter, you can saddle up your surefooted Icelandic pony in the dark and head out along the beach under the northern lights. You can pre-book here.

There is also a ‘Viking Tour’ during the day, where experienced guides lead you through enchanting trails, offering insights into the local culture and natural history of Lofoten. 

Gimsoy
Gimsoy

Ice Fishing

Starting out from one of the fishing villages equipped with traditional ice fishing gear, you’ll drill holes through the ice, drop your line, and patiently await your catch. Beneath the thick layers of ice, you’ll find an abundance of Arctic cod and other cold-water species.

You will spend the day as a fisherman in the Arctic, heading out onto the Norwegian Sea, fishing rod in hand.

Several ice fishing tour operators such as this half-day tour also offer you the chance to cook and eat your catch when you arrive back into the harbour, and if not, you will be taught to fillet the fish on board, and you can take it back to your accommodation to enjoy later.

Surfing

Often associated with the beaches of Bali, Portugal and Cornwall, you may not immediately think of Norway when it comes to surfing.

Brave surfers don thick wetsuits, gloves, and booties to ride the Arctic waves that roll onto the archipelago’s rugged coastlines. With snow-covered mountains as a backdrop and the frigid waters of the Norwegian Sea, this extreme sport takes on a surreal quality.

Unstad is one of the best surf spots in the whole of Norway. Here, you can hire your equipment at the world’s most Northerly surf school or, if you are a beginner, they also offer individual or group lessons.

It’s a truly unique and daring way to experience Lofoten’s striking natural landscapes while immersing oneself in the wild and untamed spirit of the Arctic winter. 

Dog Sledding

The rhythmic pitter-patter of paws on the snow, the crisp Arctic air on your cheeks, and the connection you forge with these remarkable dogs make for an unforgettable adventure. Guided by experienced mushers, you’ll gain insight into the art of dog sledding and the cultural heritage of the region.

While it may not be as widely available as in some other Arctic regions, there are several operators and locations where you can go dog sledding in Lofoten during the winter. You’ll find husky tour operators in Svolvær and nearby Kabelvåg, but tours depend on the weather conditions, so make sure to book ahead. 

Kabelvag
Kabelvag

Where to Stay in the Lofoten Islands

Henningsvær Guesthouse – This little guesthouse situated in Henningsvær is perfect for your winter trip to Lofoten. They have a number of cosy rooms to choose from, breakfast available each morning and a great location for exploring all the islands have to offer. Click here to check availability

Thon Hotel Svolvær – Those after a luxury stay while visiting Lofoten in the winter will love this plush hotel in the town of Svolvær. They have an array of gorgeous rooms to choose from along with countless amenities available for guests. Click here to check availability

Lofoten Cabins – Kåkern – If you’re after a rustic cabin stay while on your winter adventure in Lofoten, then these cabins in Ramberg are the perfect option! They offer a number of fully furnished units to choose from that have everything you may need for your time here. Click here to check availability

Furu Hostel – Visitors looking for a hostel on their Lofoten trip will love this highly-rated option in the village of Leknes. Offering both traditional dorms and private rooms, this is a great budget option when travelling through this archipelago. Click here to check availability

Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse more Lofoten hotels!

If you want an unforgettable adventure into the Arctic, visiting the Lofoten Islands in winter and taking part in the unique frozen activities are sure to leave you with memories that last a lifetime. Lofoten is a breathtaking destination all year round, but to experience the true magic, wrap up warm and discover this incredible landscape at its very best.

Are you planning a winter trip to Lofoten? Have any questions? Let us know in the comments!

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Neota Langley

Neota is a writer for The World Was Here First. Born and bred in Cornwall, she can usually be found with hiking boots on, ready to embark on an adventure. For the last 6 years, she has travelled throughout Europe in her self-built campervan with her trusty canine companion, Ivy. She loves exploring France, the Nordics and spending time in Alpine destinations.

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