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The land of the midnight sun: making the most of summer in Lapland

Summer is the perfect time for adventurous travellers to visit Lapland.

Lapland may be magical during the long winter months, but it’s equally alluring in summer. It’s at this time of year when the midnight sun and the quality of the light in the northern sky are at their most beautiful.

As of 15 July, UK travellers to Norway are permitted entry without the need for a lengthy quarantine. Equally, since 13 July, Finland has opened its doors to a growing list of European arrivals. If you’re a fan of hiking, canoeing or other outdoor pursuits, now is the perfect time of year to visit this Arctic region.

What to see and do

Go birdwatching on the Vesterålen Islands

As many as 175 breeds of birds have been identified as breeding in Lapland. Most take advantage of the summer sun to nest and raise their young before flying south again. The long hours of daylight in summer can make birdwatching in Lapland particularly rewarding.

You will find the biggest variety of birdlife and the largest numbers in the more temperate coastal areas. Norway’s Vesterålen Islands are some of the best places in Lapland to look for seabirds.

Vesterålen islands Norway Lapland summer
Andenes is the northernmost settlement on Andøya, part of the Vesterålen island group © Julian-G. Albert, Wikimedia Commons

Andenes, in particular, makes a good base from which to go birdwatching. One of Norway’s most spectacular seabird colonies is found on the island of Bleiksøya, a 20-minute boat ride from the village of Bleik, 10km southwest of Andenes.

Home to 80,000 pairs of puffins and 6,000 pairs of kittiwakes, there’s a chance to catch a glimpse of cormorants, razorbills and guillemots. Remarkably, the spectacular white-tailed sea eagle is also seen on every trip, generally circling high above the island searching for prey.

Explore Tromsø by sea kayak

Tromsø’s island location makes it an ideal base from which to explore the coastal waters of this part of northern Norway. Between mid-May and August, a whole host of kayaking tours are available, all of them bookable online.

© Ernst Furuhatt, www.nordnorge.com

Options range from a seakayaking day trip past remote fishing villages to an overnight tour in search of the midnight sun, including overnight camping in yurts. Experienced guides accompany each tour.

Enjoy a ferry trip around Trollfjorden

One of the most remarkable sights in the whole of Norwegian Lapland is the Raftsundet sound, a 20km-long strait, which separates the Vesterålen and Lofoten island groups. It is through here that the Hurtigruten ship charts a careful course bound for Svolvær.

Roughly 45 minutes after departure, the ferries then make a sharp right turn to enter the strait: the scenery through the sound is spectacular: precipitous rock faces rising up from the sea, culminating in rows of craggy pinnacles and peaks which are dressed in snow even during the height of summer.

Trollfjorden Norway
© To-Foto AS, Northern Norway Tourist Board

The highlight of the voyage through the sound comes when the superferries nudge their way into the narrowest of fjords, Trollfjorden, at roughly the halfway point.

Barely 100m wide at its mouth, the fjord is edged by smooth, vertical walls of granite reaching up to 1,000m above sea level; it seems an impossible task to sail such a large vessel into such an impossibly tight inlet, but the ferries sail all the way to the head of the fjord, a distance of around 3km, before performing the most impressive of nautical pirouettes to turn round and inch their way out again.

Needless to say, when the announcement is made that the ferry is about to enter Trollfjorden, there’s one almighty scrum on board to get the best views.

Visit the North Cape: the land of the midnight sun

The Sámi call Norway’s northernmost island Máhkarávju or ‘steep, barren coast’, which has been Norwegianised into today’s Magerøya and is home to around 3,500 people, three-quarters of whom live in Honningsvåg.

North Cape Norway Lapland
The North Cape is the most northerly point on mainland Europe © Kartouchken, Shutterstock

As the E69 threads its way north towards the cape (it only opened in 1956), the island certainly lives up to its name as vistas of bare, windswept rock and tundra unfold at every turn.

This Arctic landscape is Norwegian Lapland at its most elemental: a high treeless plateau edged by distant frost-shattered peaks and a coast that has been gnawed into countless craggy inlets by the unforgiving might of the Arctic Ocean.

Once you finally reach the North Cape, it is worth taking stock of just where you are on the globe: at 71° 10’ 21” of latitude you are considerably closer to the North Pole (2,093km) than you are to London, for example, and the Norwegian capital, Oslo, is a staggering 1,420km to the south.

As a sign of how far north you are, there’s midnight sun at the cape from 11 May to 31 July. In summer, you can take the evening tour from Honningsvåg, departing at 22.00 in order to see the midnight sun at the cape.

The landscapes around Honningsvåg and the North Cape are stunning under the midnight sun © Travel Faery, Shutterstock

Go canoeing along the Ivalojoki River

In summer, there’s only one real reason to be in the small village of Ivalo: namely, to explore the unspoilt Ivalojoki River, which is widely regarded as the finest canoeing route in the whole of Finland.

From its source high in the hills east of Hetta, the river takes in an impressive range of canyons and rapids as well as some of Lapland’s most pristine wilderness, as it flows northeast heading for Lake Inari. The 70km section between Kuttura, a small hamlet west of Saariselkä, and Ivalo is particularly suited to canoeing.

Canoes and kayaks can be rented from Luontoloma, who can be found opposite Santa’s Hotel Saariselkä in Saariselkä itself, for €50 per day. Luontoloma also operate a variety of guided excursions on the Ivalojoki; full details are on the website.

Explore remote landscapes around Inari

There are many spectacular hikes in Finnish Lapland, but one of our favourites sets out from near Inari, and leads to the beautiful Pielpajärvi wilderness church.

Pielpajärvi wilderness church © Packnhat, Wikimedia Commons

The church was built beside Inarijärvi in the 1750s, overlooking an undulating flower meadow. Though it is now abandoned, visiting priests gave services in it until the early 1800s. Having stood empty for well over a century, it was taken back into use in 1940 after the church in Inari was bombed during World War II.

The path negotiates an area of old-growth pine forest on its way to the church and climbs to a modest height of 141m; although it is a straightforward hike to the church, take extra care if it is wet as the path (indicated by orange and red marker posts) can be extremely slippery – and be prepared to clamber over tree roots and small rocks.

To return it is simply a question of retracing your steps, or continuing southeast from the church for a further 2.5km, to reach the inlet, Pielpavuono, and the landing stage for the boat that will call in here on demand during its tour of the lake.


More information

Start planning your summer getaway to Lapland with our comprehensive guide: