Must see attractions in The Far North

  • Top ChoiceSights in Western Finnmark

    Alta Museum

    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. As the sea level decreased after the last Ice Age, carvings were made at progressively lower heights. Themes include hunting scenes, fertility symbols, bear, moose, reindeer and crowded boats. The works have been highlighted with red-ochre paint (thought to have been the original colour) and are connected by 3km of boardwalks that start at the main building. Although the museum remains open in winter, many of the carvings may be under snow and the entrance fee is reduced as a result.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Western Finnmark

    Northern Lights Cathedral

    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. The cathedral is at its best in winter when aglow in floodlights and the aurora borealis is in the sky behind. Stunning. Within the cathedral's walls, there is also the excellent Borealis Alta interactive exhibition, devoted to both the magic and the science of the Northern Lights – it's well worth it.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Inner Finnmark

    Juhls' Sølvsmie

    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. Juhls' Silver Gallery sits on a hill above the southern end of the town and is clearly signposted.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Eastern Finnmark

    Steilneset Memorial

    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.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Tromsø

    Arctic Cathedral

    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.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Tromsø

    Fjellheisen

    For a fine view of the city and the midnight sun, take the cable car to the top of Mt Storsteinen (421m). There's a terrace and (pricey) restaurant at the top, from where a network of hiking routes radiates. Departures in both directions are on the hour and half hour. Take bus 26 from Havnegata.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Western Finnmark

    Royal & Ancient Polar Bear Society

    Dedicated to preserving Hammerfest culture, the Royal & Ancient Polar Bear Society (founded in 1963) features exhibits on Arctic hunting and local history and shares premises with the tourist office. For 200kr you can become a life member and get a certificate, ID card, sticker and pin. At times, the link to polar bears here can feel a little tenuous. But if you think of the place in terms of the Norwegian name (Isbjørklubben, simply Polar Bear Club), you're less likely to be disappointed. Membership (there are around 250,000 members worldwide) entitles you to attend the annual general meeting of the society in January. And not everyone can join, it seems. In 1973, one Elvis Presley wrote to the society asking to join, but his application was refused – to become a member, one must be physically present in Hammerfest. If simple membership is not enough and you're part of a group, for 300kr you also receive a schnapps glass and get dubbed with the large bone from a walrus's penis. Honestly. It's well worth the extra for the conversation this unique honour will generate down the pub once you're home. Advance reservations for this ceremony are necessary. One of the exhibits covers Adolf Henrik Lindstrøm, a Hammerfest-born cook who accompanied Roald Amundsen and Fridtjof Nansen (among others) and ended up travelling on more polar expeditions that any other person on earth, great explorers included. The town erected a statue of Lindstrøm in time for the 150th anniversary of his birth in 2016.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Western Finnmark

    Hammerfest Kirke

    The design of Hammerfest's contemporary church, consecrated in 1961, was inspired by the racks used for drying fish in the salty sea air all across northern Norway. Behind the altar, the glorious stained-glass window positively glows in the summer sun, while the wooden frieze along the organ gallery depicts highlights of the town's history. The chapel in the cemetery across the street is the only building in town to have survived WWII.

  • Sights in Western Finnmark

    Stabbursdalen National Park

    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. For hikers, there is one mountain hut, Ivarstua, in the park's north; otherwise, you'll need to camp. Two signed trails run across the north – the park's south is rocky, mountainous and hard going. For longer treks, consult the Stabbursnes visitor centre, which carries the relevant walking maps, Statens Kartverk's Stabbursdalen and Laksdal, both at 1:50,000. Less arduously, there are three signed trails, the longest requiring around four hours.

  • Sights in Western Finnmark

    Stabbursnes Naturhus og Museum

    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. It is, however, worth paying the entry fee and lingering over the exhibits if you're planning on spending any time exploring the area.

  • Sights in Inner Finnmark

    Sápmi Park

    Sami culture is big business here, and this impressive theme park includes a wistful, hi-tech multimedia introduction to the Sami in the 'Magic Theatre', plus Sami winter and summer camps and other dwellings to explore on the grounds. There's also, of course, a gift shop and cafe – and Boble Glasshytte, Finnmark's only glass-blowing workshop and gallery. Reindeer are also often around. Included in the admission fee are activities such as reindeer feeding, lasso throwing and performances of the Sami yoik, a ritual song-chant. The overall effect is actually very good as it presents the Sami as the normal fellow human beings they are, rather than as exotic anachronisms. If you want more substance, the smaller Sami museums in Karasjok and Kautokeino are less flashy and more academic.

  • Sights in Western Finnmark

    Stabbursnes Nature Reserve

    The Stabbursnes Nature Reserve extends over the wetlands and mudflats at the estuary of the Stabburselva. Birdwatchers come to observe the many species of duck, geese, divers and sandpipers that rest in the area while migrating between the Arctic and more temperate zones. Ask the nature centre for a full list of birds recorded in the reserve and their seasons. Among the more exotic species are the bar-tailed godwit, dunlin, knot and the increasingly rare lesser white-fronted goose. Coastal marshes are closed to visitors during the nesting season (May and June) and also from mid-August to mid-September. A signed nature trail (6.4km round trip) leads along the estuary and beside the shore of Porsangerfjord. Ask at the visitor centre for its useful trail description in English.

  • Sights in Eastern Finnmark

    Luftskipsmasta

    This oil-rig-shaped airship mast on Vadsø island was built in the mid-1920s as an anchor and launch site for airborne expeditions to the polar regions. The expedition of Roald Amundsen, Umberto Nobile and Lincoln Ellsworth, which floated via the North Pole to Alaska in the airship Norge N-1, first used it in April 1926. Two years later it was the launch site for Nobile's airship, Italia, which attempted to repeat the journey but crashed on Svalbard. Amundsen – together with 12 steamships, 13 planes and 1500 men – joined the rescue expedition and disappeared in the attempt, becoming a national martyr as well as a hero. It's well worth the breezy 600m stroll across the grass flats to savour the rich variety of aquatic birds in the small lake just beyond.

  • Sights in Tromsø

    Tromsø University Museum

    Near the southern end of Tromsøya, this museum has well-presented and documented displays on traditional and modern Sami life, ecclesiastical art and accoutrements, and a small section on the Vikings. Downstairs, learn about rocks of the north and ponder a number of thought-provoking themes (such as the role of fire, the consequences of global warming and loss of wilderness). There's also a replica 'Northern Lights machine', or terrella, an early invention that gives you in miniature a sense of the splendour of the aurora borealis. Other highlights include, in the garden, a gammen, or traditional Sami sod house (which offers free coffee in summer) and a set of hourglasses, turned to warn the vicar that his sermon time was running out. Take bus 37.

  • Sights in Tromsø

    Polaria

    This Arctic-themed attraction provides a multimedia introduction to northern Norway and Svalbard. Kick things off by watching the two panoramic films: Northern Lights in Arctic Norway and Svalbard – Arctic Wilderness, then follow the 'Arctic Walkway' past exhibits on shrinking sea ice, the aurora borealis, aquariums of cold-water fish and – the big draw, though they're housed in a rather bleak enclosure – a small group of harbour and bearded seals. Knowledgeable keepers answer questions in both Norwegian and English at feeding times (12.30pm year-round, plus 3pm in winter and 3.30pm in summer).

  • Sights in Nordkapp

    Nordkapp Visitor Centre

    Presiding over a scene of considerable natural beauty is this visitor centre, a vast bunker of a place, topped by a giant, intrusive golf ball. Within you'll find a detailed account of WWII naval actions off the cape; a cafeteria and restaurant; the Grotten bar, with views of Europe's end through its vast glass wall; a one-room Thai museum; the St Johannes chapel ('the world's northernmost ecumenical chapel'); a post office (for that all-important Nordkapp postmark); and an appropriately vast souvenir shop. A 120-degree five-screen theatre shows an enjoyable 17-minute panoramic film.

  • Sights in Tromsø

    Polar Museum

    Fittingly for a town that was the launch pad for many pioneering expeditions to the North Pole, Tromsø's Polar Museum is an old-fashioned romp through life in the Arctic, taking in everything from the history of trapping to the ground-breaking expeditions of Nansen and Amundsen. There are some fascinating artefacts and black-and-white archive photos; though the stuffed remains of various formerly fuzzy, once-blubbery polar creatures are rather less fun...and there are lots of them. The museum is in a harbourside building that served as Tromsø's customs house from 1833 to 1970.

  • Sights in Inner Finnmark

    Kautokeino Museum

    Outside, this little museum has a fully fledged traditional Sami settlement, complete with an early home, temporary dwellings, and outbuildings such as the kitchen, sauna, and huts for storing fish, potatoes and lichen (also called 'reindeer moss' – prime reindeer fodder). Nothing's signed, so pick up a sheet with a site plan and description on the reverse at reception. Inside is a fascinating, if cluttered, display of Sami handicrafts, farming and reindeer-herding implements, religious icons and winter transport gear.

  • Sights in Inner Finnmark

    Sami National Museum

    Exhibits at the Sami National Museum, also called the Sami Collection, include displays of colourful, traditional Sami clothing, tools and artefacts, and works by contemporary Sami artists. Outdoors, you can roam among a cluster of traditional Sami constructions and follow a short trail, signed in English, that leads past and explains ancient Sami reindeer trapping pits and hunting techniques. In summer a guided walk is included in the ticket price.

  • Sights in Inner Finnmark

    Sami Parliament

    The Sami Parliament was established in 1989 and meets four times annually. In 2000 it moved into a glorious new building, encased in mellow Siberian wood, with a birch, pine and oak interior. The main assembly hall is shaped like a Sami tent, and the Sami library, lit with tiny lights like stars, houses more than 35,000 volumes, plus other media. Tours last 30 minutes. There are similar Sami parliaments in Finland and Sweden.