BY CAR, BUS, PLANE & BOAT (2023)
Tromsø, with a population of ca 70.000, is the biggest city in northern Norway. It is located about 350 km north of the Arctic Circle. Its location within the auroral oval and direct flight connection with Norway’s capital makes Tromsø one of the most popular tourist winter destinations and a natural starting point for exploring northern Norway.
Many travelers fly to Tromsø and rent a car there before they continue on a road trip south to the Lofoten Islands or head further northeast towards Nordkapp. There are, however, many ways how to travel between Tromsø and the Lofoten Islands.
Here’s everything you need to know about how to get from Tromsø to Lofoten by car, bus, plane, or boat.
ABOUT US & TRAVELING BETWEEN TROMSØ AND LOFOTEN
The last two years brought a lot of new challenges, places and experience in our life. In 2021 we moved to the western part of Lofoten, where we managed a classical fishermen’s accommodation right at the trailhead to Kvalvika beach and Ryten.
After the season, we moved to Narvik, halfway between Tromsø and Lofoten, but it didn’t take long before Radka got a job in Tromsø. So, for the first two months of 2022, we lived apart and traveled between Tromsø and Narvik so we could see each other.
Funny fact: It was a heavy snowstorm when Radka was moving to Tromsø in mid-January, and the roadsigns were covered by snow. We were pretty confident that we did not need a GPS – after all, you drive north from Narvik, and it is impossible to get lost, right?
Unfortunately, in the bad weather, we missed our turn right after Narvik, and we realized our mistake when we were halfway to Lofoten. With the detour and the lousy weather, it took us 8 hours to get from Narvik to Lofoten – usually, it is a 3.5-hour trip.
So, don´t be like us. Check what the best route is and set up your GPS!
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OUR TIPS FOR THE MOST POPULAR WINTER ACTIVITIES IN TROMSØ:
Many travelers start or finish their winter trip to Lofoten in Tromsø. We spent six months living in this beautiful gateway to the Arctic, so here are our suggestions for the tours you should add to your Tromsø bucket list.
Many travelers decide to fly to Tromsø, rent a car or a campervan and take a scenic road trip to the Lofoten Islands. The route via Senja Islands and the Vesterålen archipelago is one of the most scenic journeys in northern Norway. However, this route includes two ferry crossings. And since the ferry between Vesterålen and Senja goes only during the summer season, it is not possible to take this trip in winter.
Renting a car is the best option for exploring Norway. Especially northern Norway, where public transport is even more sparse than in the other parts of the country. Moreover, if you travel with a family or a group of friends, renting a car is often the most cost-effective option.
However, beware that dropping off the rental car at a different location is costly. The delivery fee can go up to 4000 NOK (400 $), so you might want to add an extra day to your itinerary and make the Tromsø – Lofoten trip into a round trip.
Below we describe the most common routes between Tromsø and the Lofoten Islands.
You can combine options one and three in summer into a fantastic road trip starting and finishing in Tromsø.
In the winter, you can combine options one and two.
The route from Tromsø to Svolvær via Nordskjosbotn is the fastest one. It follows the main roads E8, E6, and E10. If you plan to drive between Tromsø and Lofoten without doing much sightseeing, this is your best option, especially during winter.
Note that even though I described these roads as main roads, it is by no means a highway. The road goes through mountainous areas, and depending on the weather and snow conditions; it might be a challenging drive.
You will enjoy plenty of lovely views along the road, but the trip is not nearly as spectacular as if you go via Senja & Vesterålen.
If you want to split this trip into two days, or if you are looking for an exciting stop, we recommend visiting Polar Park. It is the world’s northernmost animal park, located halfway between Bardufoss and Bjerkvik, where you can see animals like brown bears, wolves, or moose in their natural habitat.
Polar Park is more than a traditional ZOO. With only 12 enclosures on 110 hectares (270 acres), it is one of the animal parks in the world with the most area per animal. It is situated on a hill and interconnected with a network of paths, so be ready for quite some walking.
Polar Park is open the whole year round, and it is just as lovely to visit it in winter as in the summer. Beware that you won’t see the bears in winter as they hibernate 🙂
Senja is Norway’s second-biggest island and a paradise for anyone who enjoys fishing, hiking, climbing, kayaking, scuba diving, or free-ride skiing down steep mountainsides. In addition, there are many lovely beaches you can visit.
The easiest way to explore Senja’s dramatic outer coast is to follow the Norwegian Scenic Route Senja winding its way from Botnhamn to Gryllefjord.
If you travel from Tromsø to Lofoten via Senja in the winter, you will follow the scenic road only to Straumsbotn and head back east towards Bardufoss, where you join the E6 “highway.” The ferry between Gryllefjord and Andenes goes only in summer.
The ferry between Kvaløya island (Brensholmen) and Senja island (Botnhamn) used to operate only in the summer. Since 2021 the sails all year round. Travel time is 35 minutes.
Hesten is the most iconic hike in Senja. The two-kilometer-long trail takes you to the mountain ridge with a spectacular view of Mt Segla.
Tungeneset is a favorite spot for taking photos of the saw-toothed peaks of the Okshornan range, also known as Devil’s Jaw.
The route from Tromsø to Lofoten via Senja and Vesterålen is stunning but, unfortunately, only doable in summer. It is because the ferry between Gryllefjord and Andenes operates only from mid-May to the beginning of September.
Vesterålen archipelago is often, just like Senja, overshadowed by the fame of the Lofoten Islands. The landscape in Vesterålen is indeed a bit less dramatic than in its famous neighboring archipelago, but you will find Vesterålen equally beautiful and much less touristy.
The Norwegian Scenic Route Andøya is a total of 58 km and runs along the west side of Andøya Island in Vesterålen from Andenes in the north to Bjørnskinn in the south. It offers a magnificent view of white sandy beaches, cragged peaks, and spectacular ocean views.
In the peak of summer, the road has an open view to the north and west, which makes it a perfect place to enjoy the midnight sun. Also, Vesterålen is Norway’s only year-round destination for whale watching, thanks to its location close to the continental shelf.
The ferry between Gryllefjord (Senja) and Andenes (Vesterålen) operates from mid-May until the beginning of September. The travel time is 1 hour and 40 minutes. The ferry departs three times a day.
At the edge of the deep sea, just 10 kilometers outside of Andenes, you will find the deep-sea trench Bleik Canyon, where the continental plate breaks steeply down into the Arctic ocean. Nowhere in Europe is the distance from the coast to the edge of the continental shelf shorter than here.
Upwelling in this underwater canyon forces nutrient-rich water to the surface and brings a diverse array of marine life, including many species of baleen and toothed whales. You can go on a whale safari from Andenes and get up close to the whales.
In the summer, you can see mainly sperm whales, but you can also spot orcas and pilot whales. During the winter, the orcas, humpbacks, and fin whales follow the herring into the fjord next to Andenes. Therefore, Andenes is a perfect (and Norway’s only) location for year-round whale watching.
The 17 hours boat cruise along the coast of northern Norway is the most comfortable way of traveling between Tromsø and Lofoten. Furthermore, it is a unique way to explore the coast of Senja, Vesterålen, and Lofoten from an untraditional angle.
Since 1893, Hurtigruten coastal express has operated a scheduled service along the Norwegian coastline. However, since the last year, Hurtigruten has faced competition on the coastal voyage from a newly-formed Havila Kystruten and their hybrid-powered ships.
Hurtigruten and Havilla coastal expresses are most known for their classical coastal voyage when they sail between Bergen in the southwest and Kirkenes in the far northeast.
The classic, authentic Hurtigruten cruise along the spectacular Norwegian coast on route Bergen – Kirkenes – Bergen takes 12 days.
Still, it is also possible to travel from port to port on only a part of this journey, for example, from Tromsø to Lofoten, where the cruises stop at Svolvær and Stamsund.
It is tricky for English speakers to know about the port-to-port tickets since they are not visible in the menu on the English version of the Hurtigruten webpage. I assume it is because Hurtigruten wants more people to book the complete voyage.
So, if you want to book port-to-port tickets and do not speak Norwegian, you must type “Hurtigruten port to port” into your browser.
Havila also doesn’t make it easy to find the port-to-port option on their webpage, but at least you can find it in the menu under voyages.
Over the years, Hurtigruten became a synonym for the Norwegian Coastal Voyage.
However, while the Havila Voyages name is new, the family-owned line was founded in 1957 by Per Sævik when he bought his first fishing boat at the age of 16. Today, the Havila Group operates in shipping technology, offshore, transport and tourism, with Havila Voyages as its latest grant.
Beware that the vessels from both Hurtigruten and Havila are not cruise ships. They are more coastal ferries transferring passengers and cargo. The main difference is the port calls, which usually require just enough time to unload and load cargo and passengers.
The Havila newbuild hybrid-powered vessels are equipped with a giant battery. That allows them to go without noise and emissions for up to four hours. If you’re concerned with the environmental impact of cruise ships, this may sway your decision.
However, Hurtigruten is also investing heavily in greener ships. In 2022, Hurtigruten launched its first environmentally upgraded battery-hybrid powered ship, MS Richard With. Over the next years, they plan to upgrade all seven Coastal Express ships to zero-emissions vessels.
Hurtigruten has southbound departures from Tromsø almost every second day, while Havila only has a few departures per month. However, their departure dates seem never to collide. Therefore, which line you pick may come down to your chosen travel date.
The journey from Tromsø to Svolvær takes about 17 hours. The vessels depart from Tromsø at 1:30 AM and arrive at Svolvær at 18:30. If you want to continue further to Stamsund, which is another port of call in Lofoten, you will arrive there at 22:15 after 2 hour stop in Svolvær.
On route, you will stop at Finsnes at Senja and Harstad, Risøyhamn, Sortland, and Stokkmarknes in Vesterålen. However, those brief stops last 10-30 minutes to allow the passengers to embark and disembark the vessel.
Since the trip lasts less than 24 hours, you are not obliged to book a cabin. Instead, you can sit and rest in one of the common lounges.
If you do not need a cabin, expect to pay about 1100 NOK (112 $) per adult.
The cheapest ticket with Havila starts at about 900 NOK (90 $) per adult. However, if you want to book a cabin, expect to pay around 2000 NOK (200 $) per cabin.
*Note that these prices are for December 2022 and can differ in a different season.
Flying is perhaps not the most environmentally friendly option. However, it is the fastest and most convenient way to travel between Tromsø and Lofoten. The most time-saving option is to use the regional airline Widerøe.
Widerøe is the third largest airline in Norway, and it operates many of its networks as Public Service Obligation flights connecting remote communities across Norway.
The bus trip from Tromsø to Lofoten is not much cheaper than going by plane or boat. Moreover, the 7-9 hours-long bus ride is less comfortable than flying. And much less scenic than cruising. Furthermore, it is a bit complicated to book the tickets in advance.
The bus 100 runs on weekdays and weekends from Tromsø Prostneset to Bjerkvik, close to Narvik. In Bjerkvik, you need to change to bus 300, which goes west to Lofoten. The bus stops in Svolvær before it continues west to Leknes and eventually to Reine and Å.
Another possibility is to take an early morning express boat from Tromsø to Harstad on weekdays (3 hours). From Harstad, there is a connecting bus 200, to Tjelsund Kro. In Tjelsund, you need to change to a bus 300 to Lofoten.
The bus journey from Tromsø to Lofoten costs approximately 700 NOK (70 $). However, if you want to buy bus tickets in advance, it can give you a bit of a headache.
When you travel from Tromsø to Lofoten, you travel from Troms and Finnmark to Nordland county. And each county has its own app where you book the tickets.
Therefore, in the Troms Billett app, you will have to buy the tickets for Tromsø – Bjerkvik (Troms and Finnmark county). Then you will need to download the Billett Nordland app and buy the ticket for the Bjerkvik – Lofoten (Svolvær, Leknes, Reine) there.
You can also buy tickets on board. You will pay 20 NOK extra per ticket, but it is a much more straightforward process than downloading and navigating two different apps. You can pay by card.
There are no railways north of Narvik. Norway’s rail network currently goes only as far north as Fauske (Bodø). You can also reach Narvik from the east via Sweden, but that line isn’t connected to the Norwegian railway network.
However, the Northern Norway railway line that would connect Fauske to Tromsø has been discussed for decades. Recently, a new project study on the possible extension of the railway to Tromsø was presented to the Norwegian Parliament. So let’s see how that develops.
There is no correct answer to the question of the best way to travel between Tromsø and Lofoten. It depends on when you want to travel, how much time you have, your budget, and your travel preferences.
And that’s it! We hope you found our article about traveling between Tromsø and Lofoten helpful. Let us know if you have any more questions or tips!
Also, if you’ve been to northern Norway, swing by our Facebook group and post your pictures. We would love to share your journey.