Hurtigruten in Tromso

Exploring Lofoten Islands in winter

Snow flakes accompany us as we walk through the yellow lit, quiet streets of sleeping Tromsø. A massive ship has docked at the harbour and we are about to board it. There is no office or waiting room on the snow-covered waterside. In this nightly winter décor, we walk up to the entrance of the boat that will bring us to the Lofoten Islands.


The Hurtigruten is traditionally a mail boat, but is now mainly a floating hotel. An outdated one that is. Our sleeping cabin is incredibly tiny and outdated. It is decorated with pale pink details and smudgy blue carpet with a shell design. When we reach our room it is already 1:30 at night. Before we try to get some sleep, we read the instructions on the phone panel. One of the perks of visiting the Lofoten Islands in winter is that you have a chance to see the Northern Lights. We press F1 to activate the Northern Lights alarm and turn to bed.

Northern Lights alarm

When I wake up from a voice on the intercom, I have high hopes that it is the captain’s Northern Lights alarm. With disappointment, I quickly realise it is already morning. The voice through the intercom is merely notifying us that we are about to arrive in the first harbour en route. We however still have the entire day to enjoy the boat ride. It will be evening when when arrive in Svolvaer on the Lofoten Islands.

Fairy tale fjords covered in white snow

The boat glides past fairy tale fjords that are covered in white. Iconic red wooden houses line the water’s edge. It is easy to fantasize about the cosy interior with Scandinavian design they must house. Although we had a choice of Swedish meatballs for breakfast, the image I conjure up is not that of an Ikea showroom. Instead, I imagine real Scandinavian design. Wooden swing chairs and porcelain plates on the wall. Maybe a wood fire with a reindeer skin in front?

On the boat, snow flakes stick to the window. The cup of hot chocolate in my hand helps me to warm up. I still feel the chill on my back of the couple of minutes I stood outside on the front deck. Soon, I will be back out there again though. The wind and snow make sailing through the spectacular landscape a sensation for all my senses.

The old mail boat navigates between Norway’s mainland and its islands. In summer, it is a route that brings you views of lush green fjords. In winter, the inlets are surrounded by hills of snow and the Lofoten Islands are transformed into a winter wonderland.

On the hind side of the boat, a Norwegian flag waves in the wind. The wind is strong and I have to hold on to the railing to make sure I don’t get blown of my feet. Thankfully, the snow-covered icy deck is not as slippery as I had imagined.

Inside, we take seat in two arm chairs in the bow of the boat. The windows here are floor high and offer amazing views of both sides of the strait. Taking turns, we go outside to feel the beauty of the surroundings and then warm up again inside.

Icy outer deck Hurtigruten

Winter wonderland in the Lofoten

The boat itinerary is a concatenation of photo worthy views. Mountain peaks carefully show themselves from under a blanket of fog, fishers’ boats are just recognisable in misty sunlight. Every now and then the sky would suddenly break open, allowing the sun to form a bright spotlight on another tiny wooden village. Both sides of the strait are connected with long, slim white bridges. It is the same architectural style of Tromsø’s bridge. A piece of architecture I had thought to be iconic for Tromsø.

As the day progresses, the sun drops behind the horizon. Houses start to light up and a curious detail catches my attention. Every house seems to have a table lamp in their window sill. Even in the window frames with closed curtains, a lamp is placed between the curtain and the window. It makes the houses look warm and welcoming, and in combination with the wooden exterior also makes me think of doll houses.

Arriving in Svolvaer

It is still snowing when we dock in Svolvær, a fishing village in the Lofoten. The last hours of the journey have been quite rocky and we are both happy to stand on land again. As we walk to our hotel we see the typical Lofoten triangle-shaped fish racks glowing in yellow light on the other side of the water. Yet another Norwegian phenomenon to explore.

Arriving in Svolvaer

Say yes to winter in the Lofoten Islands yourself!

What is the best part of the Hurtigruten journey?

The Hurtigruten offers a unique way to explore the beauty of Norway’s fjords. Depending on the strength of your sea legs, you might even like to consider the complete classic route of the Hurtigruten that takes you past 34 ports along the entire coast line.

For me, that would be a bit too much of a good thing so I’d recommend to try to see if you can combine part of the journey with the plans you already have for stops in Norway. I do highly recommend our part of the journey as it takes in the beautiful Lofoten islands. Obviously, we’ve seen them covered in the white blanket providing a fairy tale landscape, but they must be equally or even more impressive during the summer months when their blanket turns a lush green.

How can I book a Hurtigruten journey?

On the Hurtigruten website you will find an overview of spectaculair sea journeys that they offer. If you just want to book a seat (or bed) on the boat between two villages, you can use the Hurtigruten port to port planner.

Is it likely to see the Northern Lights when on the Hurtigruten?

Do keep in mind that for catching a glimpse of the Northern Lights, you’d want to cross the Arctic Circle in winter. If you choose to visit in summer, you’ll be able to enjoy 24 hours of daylight and the spectacular midnight sun.

If you want to increase your chances of seeing the Northern Lights, your best bet is to book a chasing lights tour in Tromso.

Read more travel stories on Scandinavian adventures

In search of the Northern Lights in Tromso, Norway

The best train ride in the world: the Arctic Circle Train in Norway and Sweden

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