A hole through a mountain, underground labyrinths, and a mysterious cave by the sea! Explore Norway’s most impressive caves – with or without a guide.
Some are like mountain cathedrals. Others are long and narrow – so narrow that you have to wriggle your way on your stomach in some cases. All of them are pretty awesome. But where can you find these natural masterpieces?
A man who definitely knows the answer is Dr.Philos. Stein-Erik Lauritzen, professor of Speleology – or cave research.
“Most of the caves in Norway are karst caves that occur in soluble rocks. You’ll often find these caves in large areas of limestone and marble, especially in Northern Norway. But we also have overhangs, gorge caves, and sea caves all along the coast”, Lauritzen explains.
Many of the karst caves are older than the ice ages, which means that they are between two and three million years old. Some caves in Porsgrunn in Telemark were created hundreds of millions of years ago!
“Caves contain sediments, dripstones, animal and plant remains, unique microbes, and traces of early humans, such as the Neanderthals. They are considered open “burial chambers” and are very vulnerable, which is why they are placed on the Norwegian red list for ecosystems and habitat types”, Lauritzen says.
Although nature is both magnificent and powerful, it can also be fragile. If you want to explore a cave, you must tread lightly and with consideration and care. Be aware some caves should only be visited with a guide. Never leave marks in the rock, and don’t dig or damage the caves in any other way.
“Take pictures, nothing else”, Lauritzen concludes.
Many caves are full of exciting history. Over time, several have been used for animal husbandry or as cemeteries or shelters, for instance during World War II.
In other caves, such as Kollhellaren in Lofoten and Solsemshula at Leka in Trøndelag, you get to see ancient cave paintings – if you go with a guide.
Here are Lauritzen’s tips for thrilling cave experiences.
Where: Rana in Helgeland, Northern Norway
“This cave has lighting, stairs, and cast footpaths, and you can visit in sandals if you want. There is a lot to see, and there is guiding all summer.”
Inside the cave, you can study beautiful marble formations and small streams. There are also some hidden passages here that don’t have lighting, so bring a flashlight if you want to take a closer look. The temperature in the cave is four to eight degrees.
Since you’re already here: Rana is located in Helgeland, and from here you can drive Kystriksveien – one of the most scenic roads in the world – northwards to Bodø or south towards Namdalen in Trøndelag.
Where: Rana in Helgeland, Northern Norway
“This is a real cave experience. Rent the equipment you need (helmet and suit) and let a guide take you on a varied tour through narrow corridors and large halls. Be prepared for some physical challenges, typical of what cave explorers must be able to cope with.”
As you explore the marble passages in Setergrotta, you get to both climb between boulders and see an underground river.
Since you’re already here: On Helgeland in the southernmost part of Northern Norway, great experiences await on four, two or no wheels. Travel along Kystriksveien, try island hopping by bike or go kayaking between the beautiful islands.
Where: Brønnøy in Helgeland, Northern Norway
“The hole through Mount Torghatten is a sea cave. It was formed by sea ice and waves when the sea was about 120 metres higher than today. The last time this happened was about 10,000 years ago. The hole is unique because the surf has worked its way all through the mountain, which is unusual for sea caves. The cave has easy access, and you can explore it on your own.
Since you’re already here: Torghatten is located in Trollfjell Geopark, where you can walk in a beautiful coastal landscape. It is also close to the city Brønnøysund, a great starting point for island hopping along the Helgeland coast, or trips to the UNESCO World Heritage Site Vega or the red island of Leka.
Where: Træna in Helgeland, Northern Norway
“A typical sea cave and one of many on the island Sanna at Træna. It lies 60–70 metres above sea level but was formed when the sea was higher. The waves hit the mountain, and the sea ice burst loose rock from a deep fracture zone.”
The cave is only 45 metres deep but has a huge portal that is 20 metres wide and about 30 metres high. Like in so many other sea caves, people lived here in prehistoric times, both during the Stone Age and later. Not that long ago, a human tooth was found in the sediments on the floor.
Because of its cathedral-like acoustics, Kirkhelleren is a perfect concert venue – especially during the yearly music festival Trænafestivalen.
Since you’re already here: The islands of Træna pops out of the sea 61 kilometres off the Helgeland coast and offers everything from mountain hikes to charming cafes. Helgeland Museum Træna exhibits archaeological finds from Kirkhelleren.
Where: Skien in Telemark, Eastern Norway
“Mikaelshulen, or Mikael’s cave, is a rarer cave type. The granite here has been transformed into soft clay that has been both washed out and excavated by humans. It was used as a church in the Middle Ages and is a good example of the cathedral feeling you get in some caves.”
Since you’re already here: In Telemark you should visit the UNESCO World Heritage Site Rjukan and take a boat trip on the Telemark Canal, which has been called “the world’s eighth wonder”. You can also enjoy the summer atmosphere in Kragerø or a mountain hike to Gaustatoppen.
Where: Molde in Northwest, Fjord Norway
“Trollkirka, or the Trolls’ church, is a karst cave, where water has dissolved the limestone. The path up to the cave is fairly steep, but it is well worth it. You arrive at a portal at the mouth of an underground river, and inside you see a spectacular waterfall shaft. Because the limestone here is a bit acidic, the water has formed it into sculptures.”
As with many cave openings where water flows freely, loose stones can fall from the roof – so enter with care.
Since you’re already here: From Molde in Northwest, you can drive northwards on the famous Atlantic Road to the city of Kristiansund, or head towards Innerdalen, one of the country’s most beautiful hiking valleys. You can also visit the mountaineering capital Åndalsnes and drive up Trollstigen – one of the Norwegian Scenic Routes – towards the Geirangerfjord.
Where: Flekkefjord, Southern Norway
“Like Kirkehelleren at Træna, the Brufjell caves are sea caves – only these are teardrop-shaped and widest at the floor level. The surface in caves like these is polished and looks a lot like potholes. It is interesting to see how the caves have developed furthest in, where the waves have worked at the highest intensity – do they disappear into narrow cracks, or are they rounded?”
Since you’re already here: In Flekkefjord you can see cool street art, stroll through the old town Hollenderbyen or try rail biking. If you enjoy this taste of Southern Norway, you can drive eastwards to Farsund and Lista and Lyngdal. Or head to Lindesnes, where you can visit Norway’s southernmost point and eat at the world largest underwater restaurant. Kristiansand is the largest city in the region.
Where: Svalbard, Northern Norway
“Ice caves are formed by water currents inside glaciers and have a beautiful blue colour. Some have narrow passages that lead to large rooms, while others hide old plant remains that have been trapped in the ice for a thousand years.”
Guided ice cave trip often include glacier hiking, hiking or dog sledging. Some companies also offer ice cave climbing.
Since you’re already here: Svalbard is the most remote part of Norway. Here you can join activities such as northern lights hunting, walrus safaris, and dog sledging. Svalbard is also home to a few thousand polar bears and the global seed vault.
P.S: You can also see the inside of some of the glaciers on the mainland, for instance at the Nigardsbreen glacier in Jostedalen and the Klimapark 2469 in Jotunheimen.
Several old mines all over the country are open for visitors, from the silver mines at Kongsberg and copper mines at Røros to the marble mines Bergtatt outside of Molde. At Blaafarveværket near Drammen, you can walk on a cool glass bridge inside a cobalt mine – a great day trip for art lovers in the Oslo region.
Some of the mines are wheelchair accessible.
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