Northern Norway is by far the largest and most sparsely populated part of mainland Norway, and covers more than a third of the country. It stretches from the idyllic Helgeland region in the south, to mainland Europe’s northernmost point, near the North Cape.
Northern Norway has been settled for thousands of years, due to its relatively warm climate, ice-free harbours and excellent fishing. For centuries, the fishing was the very basis of existence in this area, and even today you can find several characteristic, old fishing villages with their coloured, wooden houses, that used to house fishermen and traders.
In the old days, large parts of Northern Norway was inaccessible, but today there is an extensive network of both roads and small airports with regular flights between many of the small towns and villages. Hurtigruten, the coastal steamer, calls at ports all along the coast at least once per day, both northbound and southbound.
But the region is not only one of wild and untouched nature and quaint old villages. Tromsø, for instance, is Northern Norway's largest city and lies far north of the Arctic Circle. A vibrant university town, it has a lively student scene with concerts and shows, and sports an international film festival as well as a multi-cultural community of more than 100 different nationalities. Read more about Tromsø.
The Sami are the northernmost indigenous people of Europe, and the attractions on the Norwegian tundra in Finnmark all reflect Sami history, heritage and life today. Preserving both the region’s nature and its culture and tradition is a priority.
Light will play an essential role in your experience in the north. Summer nights are long and bright, and in high summer north of the Arctic Circle, the sun doesn’t dip below the horizon at all. Winter nights, on the other hand, are long and cold, but far from as dark as you might think. The northern lights will play across the skies, displaying bands and tendrils of red, purple, blue and green light. Learn more about the Northern lights.
And by the way: The long and bright summer nights makes for juicy and tasty vegetables and fruit, like nowhere else on Earth. The local strawberries, especially, are to die for.
Even though Northern Norway hosts the prestigious World Championship in cod fishing, the pace is quite laid back most of the time. Here, you can relax with a round of golf at the world’s northernmost golf course, watch the whales cavort in the sea, or hike the mountains or fish the sea at your own pace.
If you travel to the coast of Nordland, you have the options of diving in the world’s strongest tidal current, Saltstraumen, or exploring the Lofoten and Vega islands with their unique nature. When winter sets in, so does the skiing season. Leisurely cross-country skiing is just as common as adrenaline-raising alpine and off-piste.
Among the cultural offers are the museum dedicated to the poet-priest Petter Dass. The main attraction may be the museum building itself though, designed by renowned Snøhetta, and blending in with the surrounding nature. The trading centre at Kjerringøy is one of the most important building memorials from 18th century Norway, and the area served as an inspiration for many of Nobel laureate Knut Hamsun’s stories.
In terms of art, food and clothes, the Sami way of life is an important part of Northern Norway. At The Sápmi Culture Park you can experience the Sami way of life. Here you can try Sami cuisine by the open fire, hear the traditional songs (the «joik», one of Europe’s oldest surviving music traditions), and meet Sami people in colourful local costumes
Northern Norway is also the place to go to find dishes and ingredients you may not have tried before. Seawolf, halibut, rose fish and king crab are commonly enjoyed, as are other forms of seafood such as sea urchins, clams and mussels.
The more common types of fish such as cod, coalfish, herring and saithe, are also eaten here, traditionally prepared salted, dried or steamed. Reindeer are farmed throughout the region as well, an industry that form a cornerstone of Sami culture.
These are some of the top ranked activities in Northern Norway, according to TripAdvisor:
Norway is large. Far larger than most people realise. We recommend focusing on one region at a time, and coming back to see the rest later. If you only plan one trip to Norway, take your time as you travel; make the journey itself your destination.
The Northern lights convey a sense of being at the very edge of the world and getting a rare glimpse into the endless universe we are all just a tiny part of.