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4 stunning round trips in Northern Norway

by public transport

Experience the natural wonders of the northern lights and the midnight sun in Northern Norway on an incredible round trip by train, bus, ferry and express boat. Here are four of our top tour suggestions:

Northern Norway is not a place where you can expect the bus to come every 10 minutes. In more remote areas, there is sometimes only one bus or boat a day, or even just a couple a week!

But with a bit of careful planning, you can enjoy a true adventure and scenic views, travelling through breathtaking landscapes to your destination, often on board a boat! Until recently, the coast was the main artery in this part of the country. You can still find a lot of small villages on islands and by sheltered bays. Many car ferries (but not all) are actually free for pedestrian passengers!

You can take the train all the way from Oslo or Trondheim to Bodø. But most of the passenger traffic over land in Northern Norway takes place by bus, in addition to several express boat and ferry routes. Hurtigruten and Havila Voyages sail the coastal route between Bergen and Kirkenes, and they also run a passenger service from port to port in the north.

Using a travel planner is recommended

Since the routes and timetables often change, and some routes only are available in summer or during the school year, we recommend that you always use the Norwegian app and travel planner Entur to help plan your trip. Remember to enter your exact dates!

Important public transport hubs

Bodø, Harstad/Narvik and Tromsø have good international flight connections, and are the main transportation hubs. Smaller towns like Alta, Kirkenes, and Bardufoss have several direct flights a day to domestic destinations. There is also an extensive network of smaller airports in many remote places, served by the airline Widerøe.

Note: time estimates for the trips below are based on the shortest possible connection. Some trips may take longer.

1. Nordland and Helgeland 

Trondheim - Bodø

Many people say that Helgeland is the most beautiful place in Norway. This round trip starts in Trondheim, with a scenic train journey to Bodø. Nordlandsbanen, The Nordland Line, is Norway's longest railway line, and the only one that crosses the Arctic Circle. On the 729-kilometre-long route between Trondheim and Bodø you can enjoy 10 hours of stunning landscapes. The night train journey has been named one of the world’s most beautiful by Lonely Planet. There are two daily train departures from Trondheim. Book early if you want to secure a sleeping compartment.

Bodø - The Helgeland Coast - Sandnessjøen

Get off the train in Bodø and discover all that this cultural mini metropolis has to offer. Check out the locals’ tips for a long weekend, or fill a whole week with fun activities, good food and nature experiences in the beautiful surrounding district, Salten.

Next, ride the express boat Nordlandsekspressen (NEX1) from Bodø in the direction of Sandnessjøen. This journey lets you experience a number of islands and small villages along the Helgeland coast. Not only do you travel like a local, you also get to see places that are inaccessible by car.

The boat trip takes about five hours ... or five days, since you can jump off and on at any port you like. It's a bit like an Interrail trip, just by boat! Explore outposts like mythical Træna, the whisky island Myken, the puffin island Lovund, or get away from it all at The Arctic Hideaway in Fleinvær, or at beautiful Rødøy, Støtt or Bolga

Note that the NEX1 does not stop on all of these islands. You may need to take a connecting boat to reach some islands.

You can take the boat trip in either direction, from Bodø to Sandnessjøen or Sandnessjøen to Bodø. Nordlandsekspressen is a year-round express boat. During the summer, there is an extra connection that sails more frequently between the smaller islands.

Travel tip: We recommend purchasing the Travel Pass Nordland for unlimited access to express boats, ferries, and buses in Nordland for a week, at a reasonable price. The travel planner Reis Nordland is a good and up-to-date planning tool. Be aware that you might have to phone the vessel in advance if you wish to board or disembark at minor ports of call.

Sandnessjøen – Trondheim

In Sandnessjøen, make sure to hike the Seven Sisters mountain range, one of Norway's most spectacular ranges. We also recommend renting a bike and exploring the lovely surrounding islands, like Dønna and Herøy. For those interested in culture and architecture, a trip south to the Petter Dass Museum at Alstadhaug is a must. The museum and surrounding area showcase centuries of Northern Norwegian cultural and architectural history.

From Sandnessjøen, you can fly to Oslo with Widerøe, or ride a bus to Mo i Rana or Mosjøen, and take the Nordland Line back to Trondheim (or directly to Værnes international airport) or Bodø.

You can also take a bus (3 hours) or express boat (2 hours) from Sandnessjøen to Brønnøysund and explore the famous Torghatten, the mountain with a hole through the middle (!), and nearby Vega island, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site due to the harmonious coexistence between eider ducks and coastal people living on there.

It's also easy to explore the marvels along Kystriksveien, rated one of the world's most beautiful road trips, from both cities! The options are many: bike, rental car, or local bus.

Travel tip: Widerøe has a deal called Fly and Bike where you can pick up and deliver a rental bike at selected airports in Norway. Book a bike in Helgeland and Bodø here.

2. From sea to summit in Nordland and Troms

Bodø and Salten - Lofoten

Beyond Bodø, the surrounding Salten region has a lot to offer. Check out top things to do in the area, and don't miss a trip to the giant Svartisen glacier and a RIB trip to the world's strongest maelstrom,Saltstraumen.

From Bodø, you can sail on the Nordlandsekspressen (NEX2) express boat to Svolvær in Lofoten, around a four-hour trip. On your way, you can disembark at the beautiful village Helnessund in the municipality of Steigen (1 hour from Bodø, you can stay at the amazing Manshausen sea cabins). Or stop at the village of Skutvik in Hamarøy (approximately 2.5 hours from Bodø, with the village of Tranøy, the Hamarøyskaftet summit and the Hamsun Centre as top attractions, reachable by local bus). From Skutvik, you can also take a car ferry to Skrova/Svolvær in Lofoten during summer. This ferry is free for pedestrian passengers. These lesser-known gems offer spectacular mountains, chalk white sand beaches, and azure green waters.

Detour 1: Take the car ferry between Bodø and Moskenes, at the far end of Lofoten, from which there are bus connections to the rest of Lofoten, and all the way to Narvik. Some ferry routes call at the remote islands of Røst and Værøy, both of which are well worth a visit!

Shortcut: You can go directly from Svolvær or Sortland to the cities of Harstad or Narvik or the Harstad/Narvik Airport at Evenes if you want a shorter trip!

Lofoten - Vesterålen - Senja

From Svolvær in Lofoten you can take a bus to 'the Blue City' — Sortland in Vesterålen(2hrs 15 m). Vesterålen is a truly unique experience for those who love fantastic hikes, fishing and wildlife. Local buses connect Sortland with other parts of the region.

Head north to Andenes (a 2-hour bus trip) to join a whale or puffin safari. If you find space and the northern lights fascinating, a visit to the Spaceship Aurora Space Centre is a must.

In summer, you can continue by ferry from Andenes to Gryllefjord in Senja(about 1hr 40 m), the second-largest island in Norway and a true outdoor recreation paradise. You may even spot whales during the crossing!

One option is to hop off the local bus from Gryllefjord and make Hamn your base. It's the island's biggest resort with a relaxing atmosphere and is also a haven for adventurers, offering a variety of activities all year round.

The local bus also runs directly to the transportation hub of Finnsnes, where there are daily connections to Tromsø bybus (2hrs 15 m) and boat (1hr 15 m), and buses to nearby Bardufoss airport, with good direct domestic flight connections.

Senja - Tromsø - Narvik - Bodø

Spend a few days in the Arctic capital of Tromsø and sample delicious local food, experience the Sami culture first-hand, hike under the midnight sun or experience the amazing northern lights in winter.

Complete your round trip by either flying home from Tromsø or extend your journey with a 3.5-hour bus ride to the hiking, skiing and biking paradise of Narvik, which also has train connections to Sweden on the scenic and historical Ofotbanen railway line.

You can then fly back from the Harstad/Narvik airport in Evenes or complete the round trip with a 6-hour-15-minute bus trip back to Bodø.

3. Tromsø to the North Cape

Tromsø - Lyngen - Alta

The true arctic triangle! The starting point for this trip is the Arctic capital – Tromsø! See how the locals recommend you spend a long weekend there. You can also begin your journey in Alta, a two-hour flight from Norway's capital Oslo.

If you travel by bus (one departure per day!) from Tromsø to Alta (6hrs 30 m), you should stop in Lyngen for some of the best off-piste slopes and hiking in the world. The Lyngenfjord region is also one of Norway's premiere destinations for mountain biking!

Wondering what Arctic living is all about? Alta is right in the middle of it all! Alta has been a meeting place for multiple indigenous communities since the Stone Age, and is an excellent place to get close to the Sami culture. Spend a night in a lavvo, a traditional Sami tent, under the northern lights or the midnight sun.

One of the biggest attractions in Alta is the thousands of UNESCO-listed rock art paintings and engravings at the Hjemmeluft World Heritage Site. Another unique experience is the Sorrisniva Igloo Hotel. Arriving in summer? No problem, they have a luxury wilderness lodge! Trasti & Trine is another very good choice, especially for gourmets. You can also go dog sledding, fishing, and hiking in this area.

In summer, get to know the Alta Canyon, Northern Europe's biggest canyon, on close hold from a traditional river boat!

Alta - The North Cape

The scenic bus journey (usually available between May 1 and September 30) between Alta and The North Cape is just 4 hours and 20 minutes. Be on the lookout for some unusual traffic along the way — you never know when a reindeer herd will decide to cross the road!

This route takes you past the small city of Honningsvåg, offering numerous accommodation, 40 minutes before you arrive at the final destination, The North Cape. Here, you'll find yourself at the northernmost point in Europe! The North Cape Plateau is a 307-metre-high cliff that plunges into the sea. Close by, you will also find one of Europe's largest bird cliffs where thousands of puffins, gannets, and cormorants congregate at Gjesværstappan.

Honningsvåg - Hammerfest - Tromsø

Honningsvåg is the gateway to the North Cape, and the Hurtigruten and Havila coastal service both call here. This small, charming town has shops and unique Arctic food experiences!

You can continue back to Tromsø via Hammerfest (the world's northernmost city!) by bus (about 3hrs 15 m) or onboard Hurtigruten/Havila (5 hours to Hammerfest). Two popular hikes that reward you with panoramic views are the zigzag path to the top of Salen hill, just a 15-minute walk from the city centre, or the higher Tyven mountain.

Hammerfest's major attraction is the Museum of Reconstruction for Finnmark and North Troms. The exhibition covers the dramatic events of World War II, the forced evacuation and destruction, and the subsequent period of reconstruction.

From Hammerfest, you can take the express boat back to Alta (1hr 40 m) and then catch a flight to Tromsø. Alternatively, you can take the bus (10 hrs 15 m), or sail with Hurtigruten or Havila (11hrs) back to Tromsø.

Travel tip: Sommerbilletten offers seven days of travel during the summer on all buses and boats throughout the county of Finnmark and Troms for NOK 990. The ticket can be purchased in the Troms Billett app and the Snelandia Mobillett app.

4. The northeastern tip of Norway

Kirkenes - Sør-Varanger

Kirkenes is the start of a journey to the far northeast, a part of Norway with its own distinct nature. We suggest that you either fly to Kirkenes – there are several daily flights from Oslo and connections to Alta and Tromsø — or sail on the coastal express with either Hurtigruten or Havila. Kirkenes is the northernmost terminus, and the ships call at several ports in the region.

Kirkenes is the perfect hub for many Arctic adventures including midnight sun and northern lights tours, dog sledding, king crab safaris, and fishing. In addition, the unique snow and ice hotel Snowhotel Kirkenes is located here.

If you are interested in history, set aside some time for a visit to Grenselandmuseet (the Borderland Museum). The exhibitions here reflect important milestones in border history, including Norwegian, Finnish, and Russian immigration, mining history, World War II history, and more.

Kirkenes is the centre of Sør-Varanger. One of the popular destinations here is Øvre Pasvik National Park, located in the Pasvikdalen valley about 100 km south of the town. You can reach the park by local bus from Kirkenes or on a guided tour.

Kirkenes - Vardø - Vadsø

Wouldn't it be cool to visit Norway's easternmost city? The easiest way to travel between Kirkenes and Vardø on the Varanger Peninsula is either with Hurtigruten (3 hrs 15 m) or by bus (around 4 hrs 20 m) along the wild, spectacular National Scenic Road Varanger. In summer, you can cycle this route, a relatively easy but long ride.

Vardø is known for its street art, snowball fight event, fishing, and midnight sun. But did you know that the largest witch hunt in Norway took place in Vardø in the 17th century? 91 people were found guilty of witchcraft and sentenced to burn on the stake at Steilneset. Visitors can visit the memorial for those convicted for witchcraft at the Steilneset Memorial ('The Witch Monument'), and learn more about this dark chapter in Norway's history. Don't miss Vardøhus festning, the world's northernmost fortress, known as Norway's eastern border post.

Vardø is also renowned as one of the world's best places to observe Arctic birds.Hornøya island right outside the town is home to over 100 bird species, including approx. 7,500 puffins.

The bus to Vardø passes the town of Vadsø and the hidden beach and birding gem Ekkerøy, a picturesque fishing village which is home to a large kittiwake colony. Varangerhalvøya National Park is also an outdoor paradise, with good hunting and fishing in varied hiking terrain. Taking the19-kilometre hike to Nattfjelldalen to reach the national park is recommended.

Return to Kirkenes aboard Hurtigruten or Havila or by bus.

Travel tip: Sommerbilletten offers seven days of travel during the summer on all buses and boats throughout the county for NOK 990. The ticket can be purchased in the Troms Billett app and the Snelandia Mobillett app.

Important note: Always check timetables carefully before you go and during your stay. Visit Norway is not responsible for changes in routes or timetables.

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