Going to Lofoten? Why not explore Vesterålen - a hidden gem.
Chances are you have not heard as much, or anything about Vesterålen. Located a few hundred kilometres north of its famous neighbour Lofoten, this archipelago is stunning- and without the crowds.
The scenery is not as dramatic as Lofoten, mountains are lower and more rounded- yet no less spectacular.
Where is the Vesterålen archipelago?
It is located north of the Arctic Circle and composed of hundreds of islands. With regional capital Sortland in the centre, islands span in all directions offering choice as well as making roads and attractions much less crowded- unlike Lofoten, where you have one main road that gets particularly crowded in the summer months.
Highlights of Vesterålen
• Midnight sun
• Northern Lights/Aurora Borealis
• Hurtigruten museum- coastal history
• Hiking and trekking heaven
Visiting Sortland- the Blue City
Sortland is an ordinary small city, but in 1998, the Mayor of Sortland presented the concept of painting the town blue- an idea from local artist Bjørn Elvenes of turning the town into a three-dimensional artwork in the blue colour palette. Make sure you take a poetic stroll through the downtown area and experience the ‘Writing on a field of blue’- a literary decoration of the blue walls of the city.
The Blue city is also known for a rich cultural life, a church from 1901, wonderful hiking trails, and plenty of shopping opportunities, with the highest annual turnover per capita in all of Northern Norway. But if shopping is not your thing, Sortland is in the heart of Vesterålen, and great to use a base for exploring the archipelago.
You can drive to Andenes from Sortland in a couple of hours, but there are many photo opportunities along the way so it may take a bit longer. There are two roads around the island. One loops around the western coast and one around the eastern coast. The western road is more dramatic- it clings to the coastline, sandwiched between sheer cliff faces and the open North Atlantic Ocean. Some of the highlights of Andøya are Bleik beach, Andøya Space Centre, the rock formation Bukkekjerka, Hvalsafari and Andøy museum.
Northern Norway is the home to several species of whale. Sperm whales in particular can be spotted in Andenes throughout the year- only a short distance from the coastline. At Hvalsafari (Whalesafari Andenes) you will see whales- or get your money back.
If you are interested in science, Andøy Space centre is the place to be. At Spaceship Aurora you can learn all about Northern Lights and the science behind this remarkable phenomenon.
An hour’s drive north of Sortland lies the peculiar fishing village of Nyksund. In the 1900’s it was one of the biggest fishing villages in Vesterålen. But in the 70’s the local fishing industry relocated elsewhere and turned it into an abandoned ghost town. In the 80’s the town awakened with a new life though an international youth project and today the town has people living there year-round working at café’s, galleries and restaurants.
If you like hiking, the Dronningruten (the Queen’s route- Queen Sonja enjoyed trekking this route, hence the name) is a 5-8 hour trip along shoreline and mountain between Nyksund and Stø. It is advised you are in good physical shape as it is quite challenging route.
Stokmarknes is a half hour drive from Sortland, and the birthplace of Hurtigruten. As you arrive at Hadsel Island, you will see MS Finnmarken as a monument - whether you arrive by boat or by car. The Hurtigruten museum is a dedication to the history of Hurtigruten and a great place to learn all about Norway’s coastal history.
It takes about an hour to get around the Hadsel island by car, but well worth the drive. On the western side of the island there are nice beaches and a cute gallery and café- Galleri Uvær.
3km long and only 70m wide at the mouth, not many fjords can compete with the Arctic Trollfjord. The location of the fjord has always been a bit of a local controversy as it sits in both Lofoten and Vesterålen- and both regions claiming it as theirs! The fjord is only accessible by boat and once inside the small fjord it is surrounded by mountain walls that you may literally reach out and touch from your boat.
Bø is an isolated location an hour drive from Sortland. Fewer tourists find their way here, as it is not on the way to anywhere. If you head towards Hovden you will drive through a stretch of coastline that is tough, barren and weather beaten- compared to the more fertile area of Straume and Vinje. You will see the open ocean along calm skerries and white sandy beaches- probably the best in Vesterålen.
One thing you shouldn’t miss it the ‘Man from the Sea’ (Mannen fra havet)- This is a 4.3-metre-high man looking out over the sea. An amazing sculpture bathed in midnight sun in summer or with the ‘dancing and ever changing’ Aurora borealis in winter.
Ask us about combining a trip to Vesterålen with a self drive from Tromsø to Lofoten.
Or explore Vesterålen on a Norwegian Coastal voyage.
Image credits: Trym Ivar Bergsmo, Hurtigruten, Visit North Norway, Christian Roth Christensen and Kristin Folsland Olsen.