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Varanger, an Arctic birdwatching paradise

Who's looking at who?

Bring your best telephoto lens to get some premium shots at some of the world's best birdwatching spots, like here at Hornøya outside Vardø in Northern Norway.

The wide open wilderness of this area is a paradise for anyone interested in birdwatching.

Seek shelter in one of these amazing bird hides located throughout the Varanger Peninsula, while looking out for your favourite birds.

If you pick the right spot at the right time, it may be just you and the birds out there.

Join us as we go birdwatching in the northeastern-most part of Norway.

An incredible selection of different bird species combined with easy access makes Varanger one of the top Arctic birdwatching destinations in the world. Meet cute Atlantic Puffins and spectacular Steller's Eiders, and discover where to go for the area's best birdwatching sites and hides.

The birdwatching paradise of the north

The Varanger peninsula is located in the Arctic, as far northeast as you can get in Northern Norway. This area has a spectacular landscape with wide horizons, a rocky coastline of cliffs by the Barents Sea, and is the only place in mainland Norway with real tundra. Although the nature here is reason enough to visit, the main attraction is definitely its rich birdlife.

Thanks to the warm current of the Gulf Stream, nesting birds have excellent feeding areas all year round, giving you the opportunity to experience a number of different species within a relatively small area.

Meet the birds

You can go birdwatching in Varanger all year round, but the species you see will of course vary from season to season.

Seabirds return to their breeding colonies in March, when thousands of Guillemots, Razorbills, Kittiwakes, Puffins, and Shags, among others, cover the cliffs along the coastline. In winter, Glaucous Gulls and Iceland Gulls also visit Varanger.

The mighty Sea Eagle is also a pretty common sight here. If you are lucky, you might spot one when driving around the peninsula!

Varanger is also one of the few easily accessible and reliable places in the world where you can see the rare duck Steller's Elder, which winters here. One of the top places to see the iconic bird is in Vadsø harbour, in south Varanger, during winter and early spring.

When you are in Varanger, there is one place you simply cannot miss if interested in birds and wildlife.

To get there, you need to take a 10-minute boat ride from Vardø port in northeast Varanger.

Welcome to Hornøya! This island is the easternmost protected nature reserve in Norway and home to 80,000 seabirds.

See Razorbills, European Shags, Common Guillemots, Brünnich's Guillemots, Black-legged Kittiwakes (to mention a few) and, of course ...

... this cute fellow!

At Hornøya there are about 7,800 pairs of Atlantic Puffins. Each year they meet here to nest after spending the winter at sea.

Did you know that these birds mate for life? Both cute and romantic!

I was not prepared for this sight. When I arrived this morning there were thens of thousands of birds in the air and in the water.

Dr Barend Van Gemerden

Global Flyways Programme Coordinator at Birdlife International, visiting from the Netherlands

It was overwhelming. I’m a photographer, so I was stressed out because everywhere you look there's beautiful photos to be taken.

You can spot new birds all around as you follow the path up the northern side of the island.

At the very top, a lighthouse reveals itself.

Vardø fyr is Norway's easternmost lighthouse. In summer, you can spend the night here, in the lighthouse keeper's house!

Just remember to book early. Contact Vardø Havn (Vardø Harbour) to check availability.

Feel tempted to visit Hornøya and its seabird colonies?

The boat from Vardø port to the island runs every day between 1 April and 31 August.

Remember that Hornøya and the neighbouring island of Reinøya are designated as a Nature Reserve. Follow the rules of accessing nature, stick to marked trails, and not disturb the birds.

More birdwatching sites

Ekkerøy Bird Reserve, located approximately 15-kilometres east of Vadsø, is another popular birdwatching site, with an easily accessible bird cliff. Here, the combination of sand beaches, coastal tides, and proximity to the sea gives excellent conditions for many birds. The bird cliff is famous for its large colony of Kittiwakes.

Båtsfjord is an important fishing harbour in Finnmark. During winter, it's a fantastic place to visit for a photo of its two eider species Steller's Eider and King Eider. Another place well-known site for its Steller's Eider is Kiberg, where you can often find large flocks in the harbour area from January until late April.

Hamningberg, an idyllic traditional fishing village located at the very end (or start) of the National Scenic Route Varanger. The area attracts many visitors during summer. Although it's worth visiting just to experience its charm and pristine nature, it's also a perfect place for watching seabirds, especially during migration in May. Note: the road out to Hamningberg closes following the first snowfall in autumn.

Kirkenes, a town situated on an arm of the Varangerfjord, is close to lots of great birdwatching sites, including the Munkefjord Nature Reserve, where you can experience large flocks of Black-throated Divers and Red-throated Divers in spring.

Birdwatching shelters

Since 2009, the Vardø based architect firm Biotope has created some incrediblebirdwatching sheltersaround Varanger. Not only are they architectural gems, they are also perfectly located in areas with fantastic birdlife.

Bring your binoculars and start looking for your favourites!

“Rather than being eye-catching and pretentious, our buildings are intended to be small and strategically placed. Nature itself is the main attraction. There is no better design than nature’s own,” says architect Tormod Amundsen.

Visit a shelter

You can visit birdwatching shelters all over Varanger, in Vestre Jakobselv, Vadsø, Ekkerøy, Kiberg, Domen, Hornøya, Steilnedodden, and Hamningberg. If you follow the National Scenic Route Varanger, you will drive past lots of them!

Remember: You don't need to be interested in birds to have a break in these amazing shelters. You can simply enjoy the nature all around under the midnight sun or (with a little bit of luck) the northern lights.

Go birdwatching

Explore more places in Norway where you can go birdwatching or take a guided birdwatching tour.


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