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The Vesterålen islands: Things to do in Northern Norway

Vesterålen Norway

If you’ve dreamed about visiting the pristine nature northern Norway, Vesterålen may be the perfect Norwegian archipelago that you may not have heard of yet. In this guide, we’ll explore things to do in Vesterålen, where to eat, Vesterålen activities, where to see the northern lights in Norway, and more.

When many tourists think of northern Norway, their immediately think of Tromsø or the popular Lofoten islands. So, when I told people I was going to visit the Vesterålen islands on a recent autumn trip to arctic circle, I was met with some confused faces. 

Vesterålen is an archipelago composed of hundreds of islands that lies directly above the Lofoten. It is a certified sustainable destination filled with small world-class fishing communities, deep fjords, untouched nature, rare wildlife, and mountainous landscapes made for outdoor adventurists. The region is also rich in history and home to a lovely and incredibly kind community of locals who have chosen to call this beautiful region of the world home.

If you’re looking for local experiences and breathtaking nature, and want to skip the Lofoten crowds, Vesterålen may just be the northern Norwegian destination you’ve been looking for. Keep reading to be inspired by all the best things to do in Vesterålen.

This post is in collaboration with the Visit Norway tourism board, but as always, all thoughts and opinions expressed are my own.

Andøya scenic route
Andøya Vesterålen

How to get to Vesterålen

Navigating the northern Norwegian region can be a bit time consuming, filled with ferry routes, zig-zagging driving paths, and plenty of puddle-hopper flights. But, with the right information, it isn’t as complicated to visit Vesterålen as many may think it is.

If you’re arriving in Norway by flight from an international destination, you’ll likely have to route through the country’s capital, Oslo. From Oslo to Vesterålen, there are a variety of flight routes that enable you to get to the region efficiently. Airlines SAS, Widerøe, and Arctic Airlink all run propeller planes between many of these northern airports, with Stokmarknes Airport being a popular destination point in the Vesterålen islands.

If you’re looking for an alternative to flying, Vesterålen can also be reached by boat along the coastal Hurtigruten line. This line runs along the coast of Norway and stops at 34 different ports. 

Once in Vesterålen, the best way to explore the region is by car. Renting a car gives you the flexibility to see many of the itinerary items included in this guide, and gives you the freedom to explore the region a bit deeper. By car, you can easily explore the region with a well-connected network of roads, tunnels, bridges, and ferries.

The best time to visit Vesterålen

Depending on your purpose for travelling, Vesterålen is a great year-round destination. 

For midnight sun, mild temperatures, and colourful sceneries, Vesterålen really shines in the summer months. During the summer, you can enjoy the long days and pack your itinerary full of outdoor activities. And maybe even go for a swim in the arctic at one of the white sand beaches. 

If you want to see the northern lights in Vesterålen, you have a high likelihood of spotting from September to April. The fall and spring is also a great time to visit for above-freezing temperatures, beautiful scenery, and less tourists.

A visit in the winter is perfect for for the winter adventure enthusiasts with opportunities to snowshoe, winter hike, ice fish, and more.

How to get to Vesterålen

Where to stay in Vesterålen

There are a few different towns to stay in Vesterålen including Andenes, Sortland, Stokmarknes, and Melbu. When choosing your hotels, I would recommend at least 1-2 nights on the island of Andøya, and another 1-2 nights on Hadseløya.

Where to stay in Stokmarknes: During my time on the island of Hadseløya, I stayed in a waterfront cabin at Vesterålen Kysthotell. The property is located close to many places that you’ll want to visit in Vesterålen, and features both hotel rooms and large cabins perfect for families. They also have a nice onsite restaurant for dinner.

Where to stay in Andenes: If you’re staying in northern Andøya, Grønnbuene Rorbu Hotel is a great hotel to base yourself. It features spacious rooms overlooking the sea and located close to Andøya attractions.

Where to stay on Andøya: While I didn’t have a chance to stay at Stave Camping & Hot Pools, we drove by the property along the Andøya scenic route. Guests were sitting in the hot pools overlooking the sea and it was incredibly idyllic.

Stay in a Sami village: If you want to have a unique local experience, you can opt to stay for a night in a Sami village. We visited Inga Sami Siida for a visit but did not stay overnight. But they do offer you the option to stay in an authentic lavvo, and you can have dinner onsite and use their facilities, including a sauna and jacuzzi.

Northern lights at Grønnbuene Rorbu Hotel
Inga Sami Siida Glamping

Things to do in Vesterålen

Take a scenic hike along one of over 150 Vesterålen hiking trails

One of the best ways to explore Veserålen’s nature is by foot. With over 150 hiking trails across the region, you can find a variety of different trails catered toward different ages and fitness levels making hiking in the region incredibly accessible. 

The landscapes in the arctic circle are something you really need to explore and something that is difficult to capture in a photo. For full details on regional hiking trails and to find the best ones for your walking holiday, download the Norgeskart friluftsliv app.

Visit a Sami village: Inga Sámi Siida

The Sámi culture is deep rooted in Vesterålen and a visit to Inga Sámi Siida is a perfect way to explore the history of the Sámi people.

While seated around a campfire, through storytelling you can learn all about the Sámi reindeer herding culture, traditional food, cultural beliefs. Sami  couple Laila and Arild share all about their traditions while enjoying a traditional lunch.

After lunch, you can also meet and feed the reindeer.

Booking an experience in advance is required.

Sami village in Verterålen where you can feed reindeer
Sami village in Verterålen where you can feed reindeer

Learn about Norwegian space research at Andøya Space Centre

Visit Andøya Space Centre in northern Norway to learn all about the research being done out of this research centre in the arctic circle. Learn about the northern lights, and how scientists at the space centre are actually working with two on-site rocket launchers doing active research in the area.

If you’re travelling with your family, a trip to Spaceship Aurora is a must. Here, visitors of all ages can go on their own virtual expedition to the northern lights or mars using a simulated experience.

Eat Vesterålens fiskeboller (fish balls)

In Vesterålen, you have endless untouched nature to source some of the best food products in the whole world. But nothing is more famous locally than Vesterålens fiskeboller – or the Vesterålen fish balls. 

Made with locally caught fish from the sea, you can buy Vesterålens fiskeboller all over the country. But if you want to try a homemade recipe, head to Sortland – home of the fish balls. At Lille Kvitnes Kafé, a restaurant owned by nationally acclaimed Norwegian chef Halvar Ellingsen, you can enjoy this local delicacy. 

Tucked away in the middle of the arctic circle, Halvar Ellingsen owns the very famous restaurtant Kvitnes Gård, which attracts visitors from all over Norway and abroad. And while an evening at this famous spot would be a great experience to add to your bucket list, Halvar has also opened Lille Kvitnes Kafé to make dining at his restaurant accessible for everyone. So a stop at this cafe is a must, even if just for a fika.

Vesterålens fiskbollar restaurant

Visit northern Norway's blue town: Sortland

When you think of Norwegian villages, you probably picture primarily red and white sided houses and buildings. But Sortland, which is the capital of the Vesterålen archipelago, is unique in that the entire city is painted blue.

Local artist Bjørn Elvenes had the idea to develop a colour palette of different blue hues, as well as a palette of approved accent colours that could be used to paint the town. As a home owner, if you decided to re-paint your house in an approved colour, you would receive a discount on the paint.

And so the blue town – and really, a village-wide art project – was born. You can check out the approved colour palette in the photo below.

Sortland Vesterålen
Sortland Vesterålen colour palette

Take a step back in time at the Norwegian Coastal Express Museum (the Vesterålen Hurtigruten Museum)

Post WWII, the Vesterålen Hurtigruten revolutionized how people travelled north-to-south along the coast in Norway. And now, the original ship the MS Finnmarken from the 1950s has been encapsulated into a museum and the interior refurbished to transport you back to the 1960s and 70s. Inside the ship, you can learn about the history of the Hurtigruten and even have lunch inside it’s on board restaurant. 

Sitting inside the dining hall eating a classic fish soup recipe, it was so easy to be transported back in time and imagine how exciting a trip on the Hurtigruten would have been for Norwegians during this time. Visiting this ship feels like stepping into a time capsule and is such a unique and important piece of Norwegian history.

Hurtigruten museum restaurant
Hurtigruten museum

Go on an local adventure with Adventure4Life

What is the most adventurous thing you can imagine doing in the northern Norway? Maybe it’s scaling the fjord-side mountains, or chasing the northern lights. Or maybe you’re wondering where to forage for berries, or where the best places to go ice fishing are?

If you’re looking for a tour guide for the ultimate local experience in Vesterålen, or would like advice on where or rent equipment or what to see in the area, Adventure4Life offers a variety of local and sustainable experiences curated by locals who call the region home.

From guided hiking tours to northern lights expeditions, biking and kayaking, berry picking, snowshoeing and midnight sun packages, you can experience everything the region has to offer with Adventure4Life.

Click here to learn more about their offerings.

Vesterålen fishing village
Vesterålen mountains

Visit a tea sommelier in rural Norway

One thing I never expected to find in the middle of the the arctic circle was a cozy teahouse owned one of Norway’s only tea sommeliers. After training and learning about tea around the world, Betty moved up to Vesterålen to open Betty’s Tesalong in her friend Siv’s art gallery, and serves a carefully curated tea selection and delicious cakes.

In the cafe, you’ll also find Galleri Uver owned by Siv Johansen where you can buy a variety of different art pieces – the most popular being the owner’s glass work.

This place is a true hidden gem and a must visit in Vesterålen.

Betty's tesalong Vesterålen
Galleri Uver Vesterålen

Drive along one of Norway's most scenic routes: Andøya scenic route

Drive alongside the coastline and enjoy of the most beautiful views in Norway. There are 18 designated scenic routes in Norway, which feature breathtaking views, art installations, and perhaps even some of the coolest toilets in the world.

The Andøya scenic route is one of only a few routes in the northern half of Norway, featuring mountains on one side and the sea on the other and some of the most beautiful white sand beaches in all of Norway. Starting at Andenes, drive south along the coastline. through rest stops in Kleivodden and Bukkekjerka – where you can take a bathroom break with a view.

Along the way, a stop in the town of Bleik is also a must. Here, off the coast, you’ll see Bleik island which is home to around 80,000 breeding pairs of puffins! If you have some time and are visiting during puffin season (from April 14 to August 10), you can even take a puffin safari out to the island.

Andøya scenic route
Andøya scenic route

See Vesterålen from the top at Andenes Lighthouse

If you would like to see the northern town of Andenes from above, head up top to the Andenes lighthouse. This lighthouse is over 160 years old and at the top, you can step out onto a balcony for views over the sea.

In the lighthouse, there is also a small museum where you can also learn a bit more about it’s significance in the local history.

Go on an Andøya whale watching safari

One of the best places in the whole world to go whale watching all year round is in Andenes, which means that which visiting Andøya, a whale watching safari is a must. One of the coolest things about whale watching in this region is that the tour operators have an incredibly high success rate of spotting whales all year round, which means there is a high chance for you to see and even interact with the whales on your visit. There is also an incredible diversity of whale species in this region, including sperm whales, orcas, pilot whales, fin whales, and humpbacks.

There are a couple tour operators in Andenes to choose from, but I was recommended to to with Whale2SeaI didn’t have the chance to go on a whale safari while in Andenes, but spoke with many others who have taken these tours and absolutely loved their experiences. The likelihood of spotting whales is very high and I was told that in many cases, they will come right up to your boat. So now, I have the perfect excuse to go back (not that I needed one).

Andøya shale watching

Visit a beautiful turquoise beach

If you’re looking for a beautiful turquoise beach in the arctic circle, you can surprisingly find a few of them in Vesterålen. While there are many incredible coastlines around the region, Taen is a particularly beautiful beach that is great for both a scenic stop, or a chilly dip in the sea.

If you’re looking for a spot to grill or have a dinner in nature, this is also a great spot to do that. There is a large fire pit on the beach and sheltered seating space, which makes it a popular place to wait for the northern lights in the colder months.

From the beach you can also continue on the love walk, which is a short hike and art installation done by a local teacher, featuring red hearts with poems on them that her students have written. Look for the red heart and continue to follow them, and at the end, you’ll be greeted with a beautiful view.

Taen Vesterålen

Go hunting for northern lights in Vesterålen

From September through April, Vesterålen is one of the best places in the entire world to view the northern lights. Northern Norway is situated directly under the Northern Lights oval, which means that in the colder months there is a high chance of seeing the Northern lights.

On a clear night, you can see this natural phenomenon from virtually anywhere in the region, but some places are better than others. That’s why it is often good to go on a northern lights Norway tour with a local expert. If you want a true Aurora-hunting experience, Adventure4Life offers northern lights tours in Norway.

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