The North Cape, or in Norwegian Nordkapp, claims to be the most northerly point on Europe’s mainland, although in fact it is on an island connected to the mainland by a tunnel, and a point a little to the west in any case juts a little further north into the sea – go figure! But whatever the facts, this is a wild and remote spot and well worth visiting. Here the cliffs rise to an impressive 308 metres above the Barents Sea and you can indeed imagine that you are at the edge of the world, as some early explorers thought.
We came to the North Cape on an excursion from the Hurtigruten ship. The ship docked in Honningsvåg a little later than scheduled, having been held up at a previous port by bad weather which made it hard for the large ship to enter the small harbour. We were asked to be ready to leave the moment we docked, which everyone was. This proved to be a popular excursion so two busloads of passengers travelled to the Cape – one for English speakers and one for others. Our guide spoke very good English and was entertaining and informative during the ride, telling us a lot about life in this area, including the local stockfish industry, the Sami herders who bring their reindeer here in the summer and much more. You can hear him on this video that I made during the journey as we drove along the shore of a fjord just outside Honningsvåg.
Because we were a little late, and because there are so few hours of daylight here, it was already getting dark as we drove up on to the North Cape plateau. All vehicles travelling there in winter have to do so in convoy, escorted by snow plough, and when we arrived at the meeting point the driver was advised by radio that there would be a short wait. Rather than just sit there, our guide suggested we drove into the nearby small fishing village for a quick look, but we didn’t get out of the bus there. Returning to the meeting point we turned off the main road and followed the snow plough across the bleak plateau to the cape. By the time we arrived at the modern visitor centre here, it was disappointingly more or less dark, and there was a biting wind. Our first thought was to go out to the cape itself, while there was just a little light left. But as we exited the visitor centre on the far side, where a path leads to the cape, the true strength of the wind became obvious. It really was almost impossible to stand, let alone walk. After a few steps I reluctantly decided that I should turn back, as I was making no progress at all! Chris did persevere though, and made it to the monument that marks the North Cape, although only with a struggle, nearly falling a couple of times. Some other people from our group who ventured out did fall, but no one was hurt, thankfully. My third and fourth photos were taken by Chris while out near the point and show a little of what conditions were like I think.
Once Chris was back inside we explored the other attractions of the visitor centre. There is a cinema on a lower level which shows a scenic film about the North Cape and surrounding area through the seasons. This was worth seeing although not of the quality of the Svarlbard film we had seen a few days before at Polaria in Tromsø. There is also a small museum set out along a corridor, with a series of dioramas showing early visitors to the cape and an incongruous Thai museum, the gift of a former King of Siam who once visited here.
We had planned to eat a snack lunch while here as we were told there was a café, and indeed there was – but with so few visitors (only our two buses) it had not bothered to open, although we could get free tea or coffee and biscuits on a “help yourself” basis. We had a quick look around the large gift-shop too, but didn’t buy anything (items available included post-cards, DVDs of the scenery, clothing with North Cape logos and wording, traditional knitwear and reindeer skins).
After the visit we drove back to the ship in the dark across a plateau that seemed even more bleak and remote, with strong winds blowing and hail lashing the bus windows – very dramatic.
This tour was rather expensive I thought – nearly £100 for a three hour trip. But I assume that this reflects the high charge made by the North Cape visitor centre (which apparently the Norwegian government has been challenging in recent years) and also the fact that our two buses needed the snow plough escort just for them. If you don’t mind the high price, and are prepared for the weather, it is however a trip well worth making. Whatever the facts regarding its “northernmost point” claims, there is something special about a visit to so remote and extreme a spot.
Next tip: another excursion, to the Snowhotel
Although originally intended as ferries, the Hurtigruten ships have for several decades now operated also as cruise ships, albeit quite low-key ones, and consequently offer a range of excursions from each of the major ports at which they call. A brochure in your cabin will describe them all, and you can book the ones you fancy at the tour desk on deck four. Usually you have to book by about lunch time on the previous day, but we found that we were able to book a tour for the day after our arrival on board even though we had missed the stated deadline and I think if there is room they will always try to accommodate extras – after all, it’s more income for them.
I thought the tours were quite pricy for what you get, but travelling in winter makes it hard to reach some of the places by any other means. For instance, the tour we did to the North Cape was the only possible way to get there, as between 1st November and 30th April there is just one bus a day from Honningsvåg which leaves at 12.30, earlier than we docked. On the other hand, we didn’t see much point in doing the tour of Hammerfest, since the ship docks right in town and it was easy to just walk around on our own.
At each port there is usually a choice of between two and four options for excursions. On the leg of the voyage that we did, Tromsø to Kirkenes and return, we could choose from:
In Honningsvåg – the North Cape (which we did) or a snowmobile trip
In Kirkenes – the Russian border, the Snowhotel (we did this one) or husky sledging. Later the same day snow-mobiling was offered, but that was cancelled due to poor weather
In Hammerfest – a tour of the town and nearby viewpoints
In summer there is a much wider range of tours available. In our experience the tours were well-organised and well-guided, but as I said, not cheap, so I would recommend just doing a few that really appeal to you.
Next tip: the first of the two excursions we did, to the North Cape
The other excursion we did from the Hurtigruten ship was a visit to the Snowhotel in Kirkenes. The hotel is just a short ride from the town (I was surprised at how close it was, in fact, as I’d imagined it to be in the depths of the country) and can be visited for a tour, so if you are curious about such places but have no wish to sleep in such freezing conditions, this is a good opportunity.
On arrival at the hotel we were taken into the main part, all constructed from snow, and welcomed with an ice cold crowberry shot, locally known as ”Rudolf’s Revenge”, in the bar. Our guide told us something about the hotel’s construction and design. We learned that despite being surrounded by snow, the stuff used to build the hotel is made artificially – that way they can control the consistency, as it has to be able to be packed very tightly, and can be sure to have enough. We were also told that the rooms are made by inflating huge balloons and packing the snow around, then bursting the balloons to leave the rounded shape. Each year it is built anew and a different theme chosen for the decorations – this year it was trolls. Then we were free to walk down the two corridors that lead from the bar and peer into as many of the bedrooms as we chose. One corridor had the rooms with the “troll” theme, while the other had rooms with a cinema theme.
When we got back to the bar the guide took us out to meet the reindeer and huskies. Another tour option from the ship had been husky-sledging, and those of our fellow passengers who had chosen that option were here, taking their turn to ride behind the dogs on the frozen lake. We went into the large pen where the dogs not working are kept. They were very friendly – we were warned that they would probably jump up to make friends so not to go in if that would bother us.
We then went into the cosy restaurant, a round wooden building with a lovely warm fire at the centre. Here we were served with warm fruit juice and a local treat – a reindeer sausage wrapped in a sort of pancake. We were then free for a while to wander around – we could go back to take more photos of the reindeer, or back into the Snowhotel itself, or into the small gift-shop. Or of course stay in the warmth of the restaurant! We had time for a bit of all of these, appreciating the relaxed nature of the tour and the chance to take all the photos we wanted.
On our way back to the ship our bus detoured through Kirkenes, so we could see a little of the town.
I thought that this tour was much better value than the previous day’s trip to the North Cape. It was about the same length but cost around half the price (£53), and included the snack in the restaurant.
Next tip: a closer look at those reindeer
When we left the Snowhotel, our bus took a circuitous route back to the ship so that we could see a little of Kirkenes. The town does not have a lot of character, perhaps, but I rather liked the cosy-looking wooden houses snuggled down in the snow. Our guide explained that nearly every building in town was relatively new, as Kirkenes had suffered badly from bombing during the Second World War – there were more than 300 bombing raids by Soviet airplanes, and more than 1000 times during the war years the air raid alarms were sounded. This was because Kirkenes was one of the most strategic places in Europe during the war. Norway was occupied by the Nazis and this became one of their main ports, the main base for supplies to the Murmansk Front. Murmansk was the only ice-free harbour in the European part of the Soviet Union not under control of Nazi Germany, and therefore vital to the allies, so limiting Nazi supplies to that front was critical to the outcome of the war in Russia and thus of the war as a whole. Our guide pointed out the entrance to the Andersgrotta, Kirkenes’ largest bomb-shelter, built in 1943 inside the bedrock in the centre of town. It can be visited during the summer months. When Kirkenes was liberated in October 1944 the retreating Nazi forces burnt it to the ground, and that is why today there are only fairly new buildings in the town – nothing pre-dates the late 1940s.
Our bus also took us up to a viewpoint over the town, where we could look down over the rooftops to the MS Nordlys anchored in the port below. Or at least that was the theory, but snow was falling and visibility so poor that it was almost impossible to make out the ship!
Next tip: our next major port of call, Hammerfest
When the MS Nordlys docked in Hammerfest we could have taken a short excursion, but we decided instead to explore on our own. We were only here for a couple of hours, but as the Hurtigruten port is right in the centre of town we were able to maximise our time ashore. The main place we visited, on the recommendation of the tour leader on the ship, was the Reconstruction Museum which I will describe in a separate tip. But we also had time to walk around the harbour area a little and around one or two streets in the town itself.
Hammerfest claims to be the northernmost town in Europe, although that claim is disputed by Honningsvåg (where our guide on the North Cape excursion we keen to point out the relative latitudes – we got the distinct impression that the two towns don’t like each other too much!) There has been a town here since 1789, but like Kirkenes, Hammerfest was heavily bombed during the Second World War and looted and burned to the ground when the occupying Nazi forces were ousted by the liberating Soviet troops. Only the town's small funeral chapel, built in 1937, was left standing.
We experienced some very changeable weather here. It was snowing when we arrived, turned sunny and bright, then started to snow very heavily indeed before we left, before brightening again. This made photography a challenge, but luckily the sun came out as we walked around the harbour and I was able to capture the striking monument (photo two) of a sailing ship. Also worth looking out for is the church with its roof tiles inspired apparently by fish scales (you can see part of it in photo three, taken from the tower of the Restoration Museum, as was photo one).
The other visit recommended by the Hurtigruten tour leader was to the headquarters of the Royal and Ancient Polar Bear Society, right next to the dock. We only had time for a quick look inside here. The society is actually neither royal nor ancient, but was founded in 1963 by two local businessmen as primarily a draw for tourists, which it definitely is it seems. You can enter for free, as we did, but are encouraged to join the society, in return for which you get a certificate and various mementoes of your visit. This we did not bother with. The museum itself has artefacts from the early life of Hammerfest, including early Arctic hunting, travelling and camping equipment, and a gallery of photographs, paintings, drawings and writings of and from the town's history. There is also a large display of stuffed animals, with naturally a polar bear at the centre, although they do not live anywhere near here. We really only had time to see these latter, as the ship’s horn was already sounding to call us back on board.
Next tip: Hammerfest’s Reconstruction Museum
Like Kirkenes, Hammerfest was heavily bombed during the Second World War and looted and burned to the ground by the occupying Nazi forces. The Reconstruction Museum tells the story of those difficult times and of the town’s subsequent recovery.
The first section tells the story of life here during the war. In 1944 the occupying Nazi forces in this part of Finnmark decided that civilians should be evacuated so that they could establish a new front line here to fight back against the advancing Soviet troops. Most inhabitants were forcibly sent to Tromsø and other towns to the south, where they were billeted with local families. They could only take with them a single suitcase so lost nearly all their possessions. But some locals fought against the evacuation, urged to do so by the Norwegian government in exile in London who made radio broadcasts to that effect. In response to this appeal, about 25,000 people fled to the mountains and hid in caves. Not anticipating that they would have to fend for themselves for the entire winter, they thought the Allied Forces would quickly come to their rescue. Pregnant women, children and old people spent the whole winter in the caves; the wisdom of the appeal made by the Norwegian government in London has subsequently been questioned.
The museum has a mock-up of such a cave dwelling. Also, many people buried their most valuable and treasured possessions before fleeing, or before being evacuated, for fear that the Nazis would take them – fears that were well founded, because the town was looted and then burned to the ground. When the residents were able to return after the war many dug up those possessions and some are now on display in the museum, including a barber’s chair – valued as an essential part of the owner’s business and used by him for many years after the war.
When the war ended the government wanted to make a proper long-term plan for the reconstruction of the towns and communities that had been destroyed here in Finnmark. But the people of Finnmark could not wait, and began returning home as early as the summer of 1945. In Hammerfest, as in many other places, they found a town destroyed; they were unable to recognise the street grid or to identify the foundations of their own houses, so thorough was the destruction. The first winter was spent living in tents, in up-turned boats or in old turf huts. After a while wooden barrack-like structures were built, in which a whole family would live in a single room without water or electricity. You can see a reconstructed barrack house in the museum.
Before the war this region had prided itself on its diversity, with three different, distinct ethnic groups: the Sámi, the Finns (Kvæn) and the Norwegians, each with a different way of life, different culture, different homes. After the war the need to rebuild in a hurry meant that a more homogenous Finnmark emerged, with more uniform building methods. The people wanted to put the past behind them and live in modern homes. As the museum’s guidebook explains:
“The Norwegian cultural elite formed an alliance with architects and craftsmen in their attempt to resuscitate cultivation as an ideal. All over the country Statens Husbonadsnemnd [the state handicraft foundation] held exhibitions. Meanwhile, women's weeklies eagerly advocated "good taste". Exhibitions and pictures illustrating interior design promoted a style that gave a vivid, clean and consistent impression. The period favoured large, bright areas, wood-white furniture, an absence of ornaments and no dark or heavy dusty furniture.”
My third and fourth photos show the interior of the 1950s house at the museum. You can see here, to my eyes at least, the emergence of the Scandinavian style that is still so influential and “cool” today. Areas further inland had not been burnt as systematically as the coast. Lifestyles there were slower to change, as the Sámi home in the museum illustrates (photo five).
Other areas of the museum focus on themes such as telecommunications and education in the region, but with limited time before we had to be back on board the ship, and wanting to see just a little of the town of Hammerfest, we didn’t look closely at these. But we did climb the museum’s tower, which has a display of plans and photos of this “reconstruction architecture” that today dominates the townscapes of Finnmark. Our main purpose here though was to see the views over the town, some of which are included in my previous tip about Hammerfest.
Even if like us you have only limited time in Hammerfest I strongly recommend this museum. It is very well curated, with an interesting mix of old photos, artefacts and reconstructions, and tells a powerful story. It also helps you to understand why the towns in Finnmark look as they do, so uniform and neat.
Admission was free when we visited, but I found out later that this applies only in winter (January and December), when opening hours are shorter – 10.00-14.00 on weekdays and 11.00-14.00 at weekends. These hours apply too for most of the year, but from June to mid August are extended to 10.00-16.00 every day. When admission is charged it is a reasonable 50 KR, and children go free.
Although it’s a shame that with so many tourists visiting the town the signage is for the most part only in Norwegian, there are cards giving brief explanations in each section. There is a small café near the entrance, which we didn’t visit, and a shop, furnished as a typical 1950s convenience store, selling “eco-friendly, handmade and locally produced goods, with a strong Northern Norwegian and historical twist”.
Next tip: back on board the ship for lunch in the Café Aurora
There are many different activities offered in Kirkenes. Like reindeer safari, snow hotel, visit to the military tower, snowmobiling, climbing, diving, lavvu, sledding, deep sea rafting, riverboat safari, dog sledding, king crab fishing and other adventures.
You can also visit the russian frontier and even go on daytrips to Russia. Pasvikdalen is a beautiful valley where many different companies offer daytrips or longer stays.
Read more on my Kirkenes page.
Kirkenes is small city in the far North-East of Norway, it is the largest in the area so basically it is the place to get dry and pick up your needed supply before hitting the road further into the wilderness.
The nice wooden church of Kautokeino was built by Sweden in 1701 and burnt down by Germans in the autumn of 1944 during the Second World War.
The church was rebuilt in 1958 by architect Finn Bryn. The church is one of the most important church of the Finnmark Region expecially during the Easter.
The Kautokeino Museum give you and idea on a traditional Sami village rebuilt in the grass in front of the museum. Here you can see the tradiotional houses, the sauna, the kitchen and much more.
In the museum there is a very interesting collection of Sami artcrafts and objects which come from the daily life. Very interesting!!!
Kautokeino is the southernmost municipality of Finnmark and with its 9704 km², it is the largest municipality in Norway.
Kautokeino is famous as a cultural center. Easter is the traditional time when Sámis gather from all over the place, to participate in weddings, confimations, and of course, the Sámi Easter Festival. During the summer time there is Kautokeino Walk and Bicycle Ride; during the winter time there are snowmobile races on the river.
The town of Karasjok is located on the north of Norway, on the border with Finland.
Karasjok has recorded the coldest temperature ever in Norway: -51.4C on January 1., 1886. The warmest temperature ever recorded in the summer is 32.4°C.
The town is the Norway capital of the Sami people, infact 80% of the population is Sami speaking. Here is the seat of the Samediggi, the Sami parliament in Norway, as well as of the Sami broadcasting, and several Sami institutions, public and private.
In the town you can visit the Sami parliament, Samediggi, the Sami museum and the church, dating from 1807.
More information on myKarasjok page*.
Stabbursnes Naturreservat is a National Reserve that you find along the E69, in the north of the town of Lakselv. The Reserve is located in a nice place on the Porsangenfjorden and this is a good place if you like to do birdwatching.
Honningsvåg is situated at a bay on the southern side of Magerøya island, while the famous North Cape and its visitors center is on the northern side. It is a port of call for cruise ships, especially in the summer months. Here you can find a museum and some hotels.
More information on my NordKapp page.
NordKapp is the northernmost point of Europe, located at 71°10′21″N, 25°47′40″E.
Everybody think that this is the northest point of Europe, but it is false because the
the neighbouring point Knivskjellodden is actually some 1,500 metres further north. The NordKapp was named by English explorer Richard Chancellor in 1553 and then it was occasionally visited by explorers. Very famous was the visit of King Oscar II of Norway in 1873 and Thailand's King Chulalongkorn in 1907.
Here there is a big building with a church, a Thailandese Museum, shops and restaurants.
From the globe you can see a wonderful wiev of the cliff and of the Midnight sun.
More information on my Nordkapp page.
I have been there only for few nights and only in single rooms. I cannot complain but the rooms were...more
I expect my comments will only apply in winter (a February visit) when the hotel was very quiet. The...more
Johan Knudtzens gate 11, Kirkenes, 9900, Norway
Good for: Families