Norway’s far north, reaching from the Vega archipelago to the continent’s northernmost mark at North Cape, is a great place to visit between September through December. With colors changing earlier here than in the south, you’ll practically have the roads to yourself for leaf peeping after the summer crowds have vanished.
Keep in mind that weather is fickle. Depending on where you travel, you may experience changing seasons from fall to winter, or vice versa, in just a few hours—don’t forget to pack warm layers and outer gear, and comfortable walking shoes with good grip for all sorts of terrain and potentially snow.
In Alta and Karasjok, it is possible to see the Northern Lights starting in mid-September, whilst other areas typically start in mid-October. Northern Lights Chasing in autumn is actually preferred by the local guides as you will reach places they would not be able to get to in the winter due to the challenging driving conditions the snow can bring.
Learn more about fall weather in Norway here.
Northern Norway Activities
While it may be tempting to stick to the photogenic Lofoten Islands, or city of Tromsø—the ‘Gateway to the Arctic’ and cultural epicenter of Northern Norway—there is so much more to see. You can venture further inland to explore unpopulated plateaus of the inner Finnmark and its wild northeastern coast, or head deep in into the Norwegian heartland and learn about the Sami people.
Other activities this time of year include biking, hiking and wildlife viewing. Look for reindeer on the inland roads, or whales as they begin arriving in the waters around Tromsø. You can also meet husky dogs who are excited to start training again after a relaxing summer. It is also possible to go glacier hiking until mid-October—highly recommended.
The earlier you come in the season, the more daylight you’ll have. In fact, the last few days of November in the Arctic Circle will experience Polar Nights (complete darkness). But alas, this is also the best time to view the Northern Lights.
If you do plan on sticking to the Lofoten Islands, this article has more information on off-season activities.
What to Expect
With shorter days and fewer tourists, you can more easily experience the land like a true Norwegian. Your surroundings will be peaceful and locals will likely be more approachable, so go ahead and learn some Nordic phrases and spark a conversation! Overall, this is a great time to connect with both nature and culture. Here are two different itineraries that will inspire you to travel to Northern Norway in the off-season.
Itinerary # 1: Autumn Road Trip in Norway's Arctic - 7 Days
This is an itinerary for off-the-beaten-path travelers who don't mind skipping the more popular western coast. In fact, this low-maintenance road trip explores an area of Norway's Arctic called Finnmark rarely visited by tourists no matter what time of year it is. And with a rental car, you'll have the freedom to enjoy numerous opportunities for photo stops or short hikes along the route with forests, mountain plateaus, and dramatic coastal landscapes at your disposal. If that's not enough, spend each night looking for early glimpses of the Northern Lights.
The adventure starts and ends in fjord-side Alta where you’ll pick up a set of wheels and have time to enjoy the town’s sites and great restaurants (hint: try the traditional dried fish). For activities, Alta is known for its outdoor UNESCO World Heritage Site featuring Northern Europe’s largest concentration of rock art made by hunter-gatherers. There’s also the Northern Lights Cathedral—a modern architectural icon in this part of Norway.
From here, you'll drive south into Finnmark's countryside and explore indigenous culture in Sami villages while staying two nights in an upscale wilderness lodge that raises Huskies for dog sledding. You'll then make your way north for hiking trails through birch and pine forests in Stabbursdalen National Park.
Once you get to the northern coast, check out colorful villages in the North Cape known for salmon, trout, and Arctic char fishing. Pick between a number of coastal walks that offer breathtaking views, including a challenging trail at cape Knivskjellodden where you'll get close to the seaside cliff.
At the end of the trip, you'll make the 3.5-hour drive back to Alta for your return trip home. Learn more
Itinerary #2: Romantic Autumn Adventure - 9 Days
What's more romantic than traveling in autumn? This is especially true in Northern Norway, where a variety of travel modes and uniquely cozy accommodations amp up the adventure.
Start off with two days in Tromsø absorbing all the great restaurants and culture of this vibrant place, nicknamed 'Paris of the North', with 65,000 inhabitants. A good place to start is taking a ride on the cable car, which runs up to a mountain ledge in just four minutes (there’s also a restaurant on top where you can enjoy the views).
Then, take a bus to the untouched Lyngenfjord region where you'll stay two nights in a secluded glass-topped igloo with private cooking facilities offering prime opportunities for spotting the Northern Lights. By day, hit the hiking trails if it's dry, or join a number of early winter activities like snowshoeing and dogsledding.
After returning to Tromsø, board the Hurtigruten for an overnight sail to the Lofoten Islands through the Norwegian Sea. In order to pass the time, suggest a good old-fashioned card game with your travel mate and watch the spectacular scenery float by.
When you dock in Svolvær, the largest village on the archipelago and your home-base for two nights, relax with dinner in town. The next day, you'll rent a car and will have a full day to drive around these jaw-dropping islands at your own pace after the summer crowds have long gone. Reine is particularly breathtaking from the highway with red and white fishermen’s huts from the late 1800s—called rorbuer—dotting the shoreline and surrounding peaks of granite shooting out of the Reinefjorden. You'll quickly discover there are endless hikes and beaches to photograph with very few crowds.
If that’s not enough, you’ll finish the adventure with a flight to Oslo and spend your last night in the fastest-growing capital in Europe. Visit popular sites along the waterfront and city center, or follow the locals to Grünerløkka, a hip neighborhood percolating with the city’s best food, coffee, and shopping. Learn more