The bird paradise in the North-East
The Varanger peninsula, located in the very north-eastern corner of Norway, is mainly known as a bird watching paradise.
If you are not thrilled by that, be sure that the nature, the light and its colours will blow you away anyhow.
Last update May 2019. One week holiday
Starting off in Kirkenes
As we are big fans of Northers Norway, Varanger had always been high up on our travel list, and that summer we finally we made it. We flew to Kirkenes, took a rental car and headed west. First break we made at Neiden church, a picturesque building from 1902 that survived WWII, definitely worth a stop, then further on to the Varanger.
Varanger: Vadsø, Ekkerøy, Vardø, Hamningberg
Varanger is the large peninsula in the far North East of Norway. It actually reaches so far to the east that it is on the same longitude as Istanbul!
We stayed here for about one week. First at Ekkerøy in the southern part, then some days in the northern part in Kongsfjord. And that was a bit too little time, as there is really much more to see and do, we were quite surprised.
It is a place with a long and interesting history: In the 16th century a lot of people were accused of witchcraft, especially around the area of Vadsø. You find their fate in the Steilneset memorial told (see box). And, more recently, Varanger was a place where Germans and Russians fought a lot in World War II, of which you find a lot of evidence at many places.
One of the national tourist routes is also located here and takes you along the coast from Vardø way up to Hamningberg where the road ends in a nice tiny village. The views are fantastic: lonely sandy beaches come one after another, impressive landscape and some really weird though funny monuments and paintings along the way.
Also, you should not miss a boat trip that takes you out to one of the bird islands (see small gallery). Even when you are not much into bird-watching, to experience a few ten-thousand birds all around you it quite something.
And last but not least, you can experience this special “at the end of the world feeling”, in particular between Vardø and Hamningberg, where the landscape changes once again from tundra-like to mars-like rocky.
Ventilator in Northern Norway anyone?
When we arrived, the weather was much better than expected, actually it was the "hottest" day of our trip, with around 20 degrees Celsius in Varanger, which is a bit unusual as the average summer temperature is more around 11.
That made our host offer us a ventilator so we could stand the heat... :-)
The other side: Kongsfjord, Batsfjord, Berlevåg
After Varanger, we went around the peninsula and stayed a few days at Kongsfjord Gjestehus, a hotel located in 5 historic buildings, with 18 guest rooms, not to miss!
From here, we hiked a bit and drove to Berlevåg and Movikbukta, to enjoy a bit more the solitude up here. In Berlevåg, we ran by chance into a not yet opened gallery with great photographies where the artist invited us spontaneously to a private tour! Nice!
But best of all, we went out with a local fisher to catch some king crag, see box below, which was truly truly amazing.
Birds, birds, birds
In Varanger, it is all about birds. It is one of the few regions in the world with an enormous variety of breeding birds, where you can get really close to them.
Once you come to the peninsula, you will immediately notice the variety and sheer number of bird colonies along the coast - but take a boat trip to some of the small island, which is really fascinating.
One of the famous island is Hornøya. A boat took us out one evening (remember, you have 24 hours of daylight in summer) and around to this among ornithologists well known island, with literally ten thousands of birds. Can you image the noise?? Simply unbelievable.
And they are not very afraid of you, so can come really close without scaring them. On the downside, they are also close to you when they dropp their poo...
Along the national tourist route Varanger, there are many interesting spots to visits. But the most spectacular and our personal highlights was the Steilneset memorial in Vardø, also known as the witchcraft monument, created by the Swiss architect Peter Zumthor and the French artist Louise Bourgeois.
Between the 11th and the 16th century a lot of people were accused of witchcraft in the region and put to trial here. Most of them were found guilty for all kinds of strange reasons and, many of them, burned to death.
The memorial is located right at the seaside in Vardø where most likely most executions were carried out. It consists of two parts: in a long house formed liked a boat, where you can find documents of the witch trials for each of the persons accused – mostly women, but also a quite a number of men.
The other one is an art installation in rememberance of the executions: a burning chair in a room with huge mirrors. Really impressive.
Catching king crab
Besides Steilneset, one of our personal highlights of the trip was catching king crabs & eating them, of course.
We met Orjahn, a very likeable local fisherman and tourist guide, in Båtsfjord on a sunny Saturday morning. He took us first to see an impressive bird colony right outside the fjord and then to his king crab traps. We learned a lot from Orjahn about these interesting creatures, which are not domestic in Norway but came over from Russia. We also became Orjahns "assistants" when he got the king crabs out of his traps. A bit scary to be honest: up close and still moving, they are really big beasts!
We could keep two fresh king crabs that were skilfully prepared back at our hotel in Kongsfjord. Delicious!
A wonderful day with out in the Båtsfjord. The boat was named Erna and was actually named by and after Erna Solberg, the statsminister of Norway, because she has been here before she got statsminister.
Grafitti / street art at Vardø and other places
Vado, Vadsø and other villages in Varanger all had a proud history as important fishing places. But over time and with the huge fish trawlers out in the sea that not only catch the fish but process and deep freeze them in one go, the industry onshore declined. You can see that today, lots of empty building and shops, unfortunately.
But in 2013, a group of 12 street artists saw Vardø, in agreement with the municipality, as a great opportunity to decorate abandoned warehouses and factories with partly colourful, mostly black and white graffitis - and apparently the locals loved it! Some of the paintings have meanwhile faded, but most are still to be discovered and admired in and around the city center.
Distance from Oslo
2 hrs by plane to Kirkenes, 1.5 hours by car to Varangerbotn
2.5 hrs by car from Varangerbotn to Hamningberg
1.5 hrs by car from Varangerbotn to Kongsfjord
Hikes or boat trips to bird colonies
Catching king crab with a local fisherman
Steilneset monument & memorial
And, of course, the midnight sun
Overnight stay we can recommend
It is an area with lots of mosquitos, so bring along lots of good repellent!
Click on the map for opening the right clipping in google maps in a new window