Diary of a Guidebook Writer: Svolvær, the perfect Lofoten getaway

Photo: David Nikel
The modern Svolvær waterfront is a great spot for a walk or a bite to eat.

David Nikel
Trondheim, Norway

The largest city on the Lofoten islands, Svolvær is tiny by most people’s standards with a population of just a few thousand people. But it’s a regional center and the biggest town for hundreds of miles around. It has everything you would expect from a much bigger city, including a shopping mall, clothing stores, supermarkets, job center, a cinema, and a range of recreational opportunities.

As the starting point for a Lofoten road trip and a popular stop for the Hurtigruten ferry and other cruise ships, there are hotels, high-class restaurants, and art galleries open for business throughout the year.

An active population
Svolvær might be a city, but the people are not typical urban dwellers. Ask a local for some activity suggestions and they will point you with glee to the nearby 1,867-foot-high Fløyfjellet, one of the mountains that provide Svolvær with its stunning natural setting.

Photo: David Nikel
Snow-capped mountains and waterside cabins surround Svolvær.

Some will suggest cycling to the next town and others still a boat trip. One thing’s for sure—you won’t be left in any doubt that the people of Svolvær are just as much fans of the outdoor life as anyone else in Norway.

Art in the Arctic
It’s no surprise that this setting has been and continues to be an inspiration for all manner of artists. I certainly felt the muse strike as I wandered the waterfront and immediately returned to my hotel to pen the introduction to the guidebook pages on Svolvær.

The Nordnorsk Kunstnersenter (North Norwegian Art Center) is an artist-run institution that presents contemporary visual art to a wider audience. The center runs the annual Lofoten International Art Festival, which brings artists from across the world to place their art in the context of the beauty of Lofoten in addition to providing a meeting place for local artists. In previous years, everything from a war bunker to a fish drying rack has been used to host exhibitions.

Photo: David Nikel
The natural environment of Lofoten has inspired artists for decades.

The best of Svolvær’s numerous galleries is Galleri Dagfinn Bakke, which presents a range of locally inspired watercolors and paintings. Although named after Bakke, work from more than 30 local artists is on show.

Although at first glance Magic Ice might sound like a tacky novelty, the ice bar is actually one of the most impressive of its kind in Scandinavia. Rather than just a very cold place to enjoy a drink, the bar doubles as an ice sculpture gallery. Colorful LEDs draw the eye to the delicate details on this fairytale world of animals, musicians, and buildings. If you visit when there isn’t a cruise ship in dock, you’ll have the place to yourself.

A trip to the Trollfjord

Svolvær’s modern harbor is the starting point for trips to the Trollfjord, one of Norway’s few famous fjords accessible only from the water. While the western fjords are known for their grand size, the Trollfjord is just a mile and a half long and extremely narrow, as if a thin sliver of rock was taken out of the mountainside like a slice from a cake.

To add to the drama of a visit, you enter the Trollfjord at its narrowest point, just 328 feet wide, while sea eagles swoop overhead.

Sights outside of Svolvær
Arctic Norway is the last place you’d expect to find glistening white beaches, but there are a handful of spectacular examples within an hour’s drive of the town. The easiest to find is Rørvikstranda, just off the E10 highway at the turn-off to Henningsvær. It’s well worth continuing to Henningsvær itself, a picturesque village set on a string of small islands.

Photo: David Nikel
Rørvikstranda is one of the many excellent beaches of Lofoten.

Based around a former fishing village in nearby Kabelvåg, the Skrei Experience Center is now home to an art gallery and a museum delving into the history of Lofoten. Skrei is the Norwegian term for the cod caught around the islands, and you can learn more about the fish that has driven the local economy for centuries at the neighboring Lofoten Aquarium.

Transportation to Svolvær
Lofoten is not the easiest place to get to, but that keeps visitor numbers relatively low, and the journey an intriguing one!

If money is no object, fly to Svolvær Airport, located just three miles east of the city. Widerøe serves the airport with flights to Bodø, which is connected by several daily flights to Oslo from both SAS (a Widerøe partner) and Norwegian.

For budget travelers or those wanting to enjoy the Norwegian scenery, consider making your way up to Bodø on the train from Oslo. The trip is long, but you’ll see some of Norway’s best mountain terrain and have the chance to explore the historic city of Trondheim, which is where you’ll need to change trains. Once in Bodø, you can take the three-hour passenger ferry for around 460 kroner, considerably cheaper than flying.

Svolvær is also a stop on the Hurtigruten service, so those planning a cruise can enjoy the best the city has to offer without any additional transport.

David Nikel is a freelance writer based in Norway. He runs the popular www.lifeinnorway.net blog and is the author of the upcoming MOON Norway guidebook.

This article originally appeared in the July 14, 2017, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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David Nikel

David Nikel is a freelance writer based in Norway. He runs the popular www.lifeinnorway.net website and podcast and is the author of the Moon Norway guidebook, available now in all good bookstores.