The Far North
Norway's northernmost counties of Troms and Finnmark arc across the very top of Europe, where broad horizons share the land with dense forest. Although winter tourism is on the rise, most travellers come in summer to enjoy Tromsø, the region's only town of any size. The museums of this sparky, self-confident place will orient you for the Arctic lands beyond. You'll probably respond to the call of Nordkapp (North Cape), the European mainland's self-declared most northerly point. But to really feel the pull of the north, you need to venture further to explore the sparsely populated plateaus of Inner Finnmark and its wild northeastern coast, the Norwegian heartland of the Sami people. For alternative adventure (say, scudding aboard a snowmobile or behind a team of yapping huskies), plan to return in winter, when soft blue light envelops the snowy lands, outsiders are few and the Northern Lights streak the sky.
The Far North: Voted Top 10 Region as Best in Travel 2022
These are our favorite local haunts, touristy spots, and hidden gems throughout The Far North.
Although technically in Troms county, Reisa National Park (803 sq km) is equally accessible by road from Kautokeino. For hikers, the 50km route through this remote Finnmarksvidda country is one of Norway's wildest and most physically demanding challenges. The northern trailhead at Sarelv is accessible on the Rv865, 47km south of Storslett, and the southern end is reached on the gravel route to Reisevannhytta, 4km west of Bieddjuvaggi on the Rv896, heading northwest from Kautokeino.
This superb museum is in Hjemmeluft, at the western end of town. It features exhibits and displays on Sami culture, Finnmark military history, the Alta hydroelectric project and the aurora borealis (northern lights). The cliffs around it, a Unesco World Heritage site, are incised with around 6000 late–Stone Age carvings, dating from 6000 to 2000 years ago, and it's these petroglyphs that will live longest in the memory.
No roads cross through the 747 sq km of Stabbursdalen National Park, which offers a spectacular glacial canyon and excellent hiking in the world's most northerly pine forest. The park is a haven for elk (moose), wolverine and the Eurasian lynx, although you'll be lucky to spot the last two species.
Opened in 2013, the daringly designed Northern Lights Cathedral, next to the Scandic Hotel Alta, is one of the architectural icons of the north, with its swirling pyramid structure clad in rippling titanium sheets. The interior is similarly eye-catching, with an utterly modern 4.3m-high bronze Christ by Danish artist Peter Brandes – note how the figure gets lighter as your eyes move up the body.
This wonderful building, all slopes and soft angles, was designed and built by owners Regine and Frank Juhls, who first began working with the Sami over half a century ago. Their acclaimed gallery creates traditional-style and modern silver jewellery and handicrafts. One wing of the gallery has a fine collection of Asian carpets and artefacts, reminders of their work supporting Afghan refugees during that blighted country's Soviet occupation. Staff happily show you around and most items are for sale.
This stunning monument, a collaboration between French artist Louis Bourgeois and Swiss architect Peter Zumthor, is dedicated to the 91 people executed for witchcraft and sorcery in 17th-century Vardø. Zumthor's beautiful 125m-long memorial hall has one illuminated window for each of the victims, while Bourgeois' installation is a chair surrounded by five gas flames and seven oval mirrors. The site is carefully chosen – it is believed that many of the executions took place near here.
The Stabbursnes Naturhus og Museum serves both the Stabbursdalen National Park and Stabbursnes Nature Reserve. It sells field guides, maps and fishing permits and has a well-mounted exhibition about the birds, animals and geology of the interior high plateau, river valleys and coast. It also serves as a visitor centre for the park and reserve – entry to that section is free.
Along one of the prettiest stretches of the E75 (a designated National Scenic Route; see www.nasjonaleturistveger.no), the lovely white church of Nesseby sits far out on the shoreline against the dramatic backdrop of distant mountains. The church itself was built in 1858 and was one of the few in Finnmark to survive the ravages of WWII. The church is signposted off the main road, 0.8km along a quiet road. Alongside the church is the small Nesseby Nature Reserve, beloved by birders.
The 11 triangles of the Arctic Cathedral (1965) suggest glacial crevasses and auroral curtains. The glowing stained-glass window that occupies the east end depicts Christ descending to earth, while the west end is filled by a futuristic organ and icicle-like chandeliers of Czech crystal. Despite its position beside one of Tromsø's main thoroughfares, the serenity inside remains unspoiled. It's on the southern side of the Bruvegen bridge, a few minutes on the bus from Havnegata, or a 1km walk.