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How to Get Around Lofoten for Photography

This article is part of the Complete Guide to Photography in Lofoten

A range of snowy mountains reflected in a lake, with a patch of light on one of the peaks. Taken in Lofoten Islands, Norway

The Lofoten Islands are a small island chain reaching out into the Atlantic Ocean from the north of Norway. They cover a relatively small area and are connected by a series of tunnels and bridges that make it possible to drive from the mainland almost to the tip of the final island, far out to sea.

Lofoten has become a famous location among landscape photographers and draws people from around the world to photograph the mountains, coastline and red fishing huts. However, the islands cover a tiny area, and you can drive from one end of Lofoten to the other in barely more than three hours.

This is a guide to navigating your way around the Lofoten Islands, especially if you are a photographer hoping to capture the landscape in the best light.

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Driving in the Lofoten Islands

A group of snowy mountains and huts reflected in a lake, at night with the aurora borealis overhead. Taken in Lofoten Islands, Norway

Driving is the best way to get around the Lofoten Islands and get the most out of landscape photography. Although there are some towns in Lofoten linked by public transport, you will want to spend most of your time in remote parts of the landscape at unusual times of day. Renting a car is the best way to ensure you are in the right place at the right time.

Renting a Car

There are several places to rent cars in the Lofoten Islands, and some are clustered in Svolvaer, where visitors often arrive by ferry or at the small airport.

You may find cheaper options at Harstad/Narvik airport, a 2.5-hour drive from Svolvaer. Although this will add some time to your route, there are more flights from Harstad/Narvik and arriving here may shorten your overall journey with fewer connecting flights, depending on your origin.

The price of car rentals varies enormously on the time of year and the location of the rental - a week can cost as little as $200 off-season at a major transport hub or $500 for a busy period in a premium location. Norway is famously expensive - most people I meet who have been want to compare the most they ever paid for a beer - but renting a car can be surprisingly cheap, especially if you plan in advance.

You should check local driving laws before you arrive in any new country, and Norway has some specific rules. For example, you must switch on your headlights while driving at all times of the day and night, in all weather.

Roads in Lofoten

The roads around the Lofoten Islands are well-maintained and easy to navigate, and a main road runs down the island chain connecting the various towns.

Some of the more remote parts of the landscape are off the main route, and the minor roads are often narrow and made of gravel. However, there are few enough cars and enough space to pass that these small roads are still accessible and easy to use.

The availability of parking in Lofoten varies throughout the year. In the winter, it can be fairly easy with fewer cars and visitors. Lofoten is more busy in the summer, so some parking areas get full early in the day.

Parking areas next to popular hiking trails and photography spots sometimes have (high) fees, which you can usually pay by credit card on location. However, in winter, there are often places to pull off the road to capture a photograph and plenty of parking areas in the towns and villages.

Driving the Lofoten Islands in Winter

A scene of snowy mountains in winter and a fjord, taken at night with the aurora borealis overhead. Taken in Lofoten Islands, Norway.

The most intimidating feature of getting around the Lofoten Islands can be the prospect of driving in the winter in the Arctic Circle. Between December and April, the roads are commonly covered in snow, and you'll need to stay alert and drive carefully to navigate the slippery surfaces.

There are an impressive number of snowploughs and other road-clearing equipment in Lofoten. However, they only stop the snow building to an impassible level and don't clear the road completely. You can find the road completely clear even in the middle of winter, but it does snow often, and you should be prepared to be driving on a layer of ice and snow for a good portion of your journeys.

If you rent a car in winter in Lofoten, it will already be fitted with studded winter tyres, which help to keep a grip on the road. If you drive slowly and carefully, navigating the island in the snow can be a fun experience, and you soon get used to your car and how it performs in snowy conditions.

If you see a snowplough coming towards you, it's best to slow down and get as close to the edge of the road as possible. Snowploughs in Lofoten are very large and move quickly along the highways; it's easy to get nudged off the road.

Apart from navigating the roads, you'll also have to consider the visibility when driving in heavy snow. Lofoten has mild and changeable weather, and prolonged periods of heavy snow are rare. However, the snow can arrive at any time and cause a complete white-out for drivers.

This has happened to me many times when driving in Iceland and Norway, and the best approach is to slow down and gradually move along the road until it clears. Heavy snow rarely lasts very long, but it is worth watching the weather forecast for heavy snowfall and planning not to travel far in the worst conditions.

Buses in the Lofoten Islands

The town of Reine in the Lofoten Islands, Norway, in front of a large snowy mountain in winter

It is possible to get around Lofoten by public transport. Svolvaer is a hub for the islands, where most ferries arrive, along with buses from other places in Norway. A bus service runs down the length of the islands, stopping in the bigger towns with the most accommodation and facilities for visitors.

However, the bus service is very limited, and particularly restricted in winter when you'll find that some services run only a couple of times per day. You'll need to plan your journey in advance to make public transport work, but you should be able to find routes between most major towns.

The advantage of public transport is that it's much cheaper than renting a car. In the summer, if you plan to visit Lofoten for activities and do some photography while you explore, it might help to make this very expensive destination viable.

However, for landscape photography, it will seriously restrict the places you can go and the times you can get there, especially in the winter.

Photography Tours of Lofoten

A single yellow hut in winter with a large snowy mountain behind it, taken in Reine, Lofoten Islands, Norway

Many photographers run tours of the Lofoten Islands, and several incredible photographers are based there full-time. You may need to book up to a year in advance to get on the tour you want, but there are plenty of options and photography tour groups are a common sight in winter.

A tour group can take a lot of stress and planning out of arranging a photography trip, and simplify your journey. You won't have to worry about driving or finding the best spots, and an experienced guide will adjust the places you visit based on the weather conditions on location. This gives you time and energy to concentrate only on your photography.

However, photography tours can be more expensive than independent travel, even if you are renting your own transportation. You'll have less flexibility for how long you stay on location and which places you visit. Most photography tours know their audience and deliberately take their time at each spot, but independent travel will give you the best opportunity to focus on the locations which best suit your photographic style.

In the Lofoten Islands, most of the great photography spots visited by tour groups are well-known and easy to research and find yourself. A guide can provide tuition and help you develop as a photographer, especially if you are new to it. If you are more experienced, it's unlikely a tour would take you to many places you couldn't find with some research.

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A range of snowy mountains appearing from the mist, taken in Lofoten Islands, Norway

Images of the Lofoten Islands can make it look like a remote landscape, far from many facilities or infrastructure that make a place simple to visit. In reality, it's easy to get around even in the winter, and you can concentrate on photographing the landscape without dedicating much of your time to logistics.

Landscape photography is always easier with your own means of transportation, especially in Lofoten during the winter. In the summer, or if your priority is not landscape photography, you could get around using public transport and reduce your budget for the trip.

If you visit in the winter and rent a car, a few sensible precautions are enough to handle the icy roads. Take warm clothes and a few supplies in the car, don't rush from place to place, and pay attention to local advice when the weather is particularly bad. The landscapes you'll find for the effort are worth it.

The cover of the complete guide to photography in the Lofoten Islands

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