On Norway’s North Cape, nature takes the reins. This is a place of environmental extremes – in the best way.
Around the North Cape, the Arctic Ocean and northern Atlantic dance, and the glacial Barents and Norwegian seas grapple. Look up to the sky, and you’ll likely see flickering northern lights or the golden midnight sun. The North Cape, Norway, is as magical as it is wild.
Read on for our complete guide to this untouched Arctic oasis.
The North Cape: When, where, and how
The North Cape, also known as Nordkapp, is situated in Norway’s northern region of Western Finnmark.
Finnmark as a whole is Norway’s largest region with a total area of over 48,000 square kilometers – but with the country’s smallest regional population at around 75,000 (though approximately 200,000 tourists visit the North Cape alone each year).
For reference, Norway’s total population is 5.4 million, and most of it is centered around the country’s southern regions.
Finnmark was previously a standalone county but has, since early 2020, been merged with the adjacent Troms County to form Troms og Finnmark County. The population of Troms og Finnmark is just over 240,000.
Let’s visualize where the northernmost point in Europe is.
Already sold on North Cape holidays and wondering how to arrive? If you’re feeling adventurous (and ready for some long stretches of road), you can do it entirely by car. If you’re driving from Oslo and through Sweden, you’re looking at around 2,000 kilometers of road.
Tromsø is the closest large city; from here, it’s 530 kilometers, while from Trondheim it’s 1700, Bergen 2300, and Stavanger 2500. All of these routes go through Sweden, too, and even cut across Finland – so you’ll be embarking on a true tour de Nord.
If you’re thinking about starting from other major cities in northern Europe, here’s the mileage you’re looking at: the North Cape is 1700 kilometers away from Helsinki, 1800 from Stockholm, and 2400 from Copenhagen.
Another way to reach the North Cape is by taking a cruise down the fjord-peppered western coast of Norway. An added bonus? You’ll be taking part in living history: Hurtigruten, Norway’s iconic coastal express, has been in business since 1893 when it first made the (then-largely unreachable) remote areas of northern Norway easily accessible.
Hurtigruten has even become an artist’s muse: in her song Hurtigrute, Norwegian singer Kari Bremnes croons
“It was a party that came
A one thousand and one nights with a taste of salt
With goodbyes and oh my goodness, there you are”
If you prefer flying into the north cape, the closest airport is Honningsvag Airport. The distance from Honningsvag to the North Cape is around 30 kilometers. Get the complete lowdown on all of Norway’s airports and where in the world they connect to here.
From Honningsvag, you’ll reach your destination with a drive through one of Norway’s longest subsea roadways; the almost-nine-kilometer-long North Cape Tunnel.
The famous Nordkapptunnelen (North Cape Tunnel) was officially opened by King Harald V in 1999.
The North Cape is situated on the 71st latitude north, well above the Arctic Circle. This means that the aurora borealis rule the skies in the winter, with the midnight sun taking over during the summer.
So, plan your trip accordingly based on which (equally glorious) Arctic phenomenon you’d like to witness.
Between November 21 and January 21, the sun doesn’t come up, and between May 13 and July 31, it doesn’t go down.
North Cape weather is actually Subarctic, not Arctic (thank you, Gulf Stream!) – but that doesn’t mean it’s not chilly.
Here’s a breakdown of average temperatures (in degrees Celsius) in the North Cape by month:
- January: -6 to -3
- February: -7 to -4
- March: -5 to -2
- April: -3 to 0
- May: 1 to 4
- June: 5 to 8
- July: 8 to 11
- August: 7 to 10
- September: 5 to 7
- October: 1 to 3
- November: -3 to 0
- December: -5 to -2
As the Nordic saying goes: There’s no bad weather, only bad clothing. So, don’t refrain from piling on the wool, fleece, and aaaall the winter accessories (scarves, hats, mittens…) when you’re doing your North Cape clothing packing. If there was ever a time to wear long johns – it’s now!
The outstanding outdoors and intriguing indoors of the North Cape
A history of human visitors to the North Cape
Three ships sailed out from England in 1553 in search of the elusive Northeast Passage, a maritime route many an expedition tried to find in throughout the second millennium.
Two of the three ships never returned home, but the third passed the North Cape. Its captain, Richard Chancellor, and crew named the craggy landscape they saw Nordkapp.
In the 17th century, Italian priest Francesco Negri arrived on the cliff and was the first to call it “the end of the known world.”
Negri is considered the North Cape’s first tourist. In 1873, King Oscar II of Sweden and Norway visited the North Cape, throwing the destination into an international spotlight.
Two years later, in 1875, the first tourist cruise reached the island. In a tradition prevalent to this day, travelers celebrate successfully disembarking on the North Cape with a glass of champagne.
Many (maybe even most) tourists visiting the North Cape today are on a mission to experience either the northern lights or midnight sun.
So, we’ve compiled a list of spots on and around the North Cape perfect for viewing either of these polar phenomena – plus fabulous activities you can do in between.
Nordkapphallen: Your starting point
Nordkapphallen, the official North Cape visitors’ center, sits on a 307-meter cliff face that juts out into the sea on the North Cape island of Magerøya.
From the visitors’ center, you’ll enjoy panoramic views of the sea and beyond. As you gaze out, consider how far north you are: the only things between you and the North Pole are the Arctic Ocean and the stunning island of Svalbard.
First built in 1958, Nordkapphallen today has a North Cape gift shop. You can’t leave the edge of the world without bringing a souvenir back for memories (…or sending a postcard to slightly jealous friends and family), right?
Below the ground, the visitors’ center features exhibitions about the region’s history. You’ll also find several restaurants featuring international and also classically sea-centric Norwegian cuisine. At the Nordkapphallen, you can also inquire about expeditions into the area’s nature.
It would be best if you always ventured out with an expert guide who can safely take you snowshoeing and trekking across the island’s snow-covered, untouched hills and frozen lakes.
Surrounding Nordkapphallen are a number of renowned North Cape attractions. There’s, of course, the North Cape Globe Monument which is the unofficial symbol of the area.
Children of the Earth, made up of seven sculptures by children from across the world, will also likely catch your eye. Aged between eight and 12 years, seven children traveled to the North Cape in June of 1988 to create the sculpture series.
It’s a powerful symbol of togetherness and the persevering human spirit, even in a place where nature rules.
Also within this northern Magerøya Island complex is the St. Johannes Kapell (St. John Chapel), the northernmost ecumenical chapel in the world. It’s quite a popular wedding venue, too.
Gjesværstappan: Your up-close-and-personal Arctic bird safari
Gjesværstappan, a craggy, grass-blanketed archipelago, is home to Arctic bird cliffs galore.
You can drive 40 kilometers southwest of Nordkapphallen to it, or you can opt to take a 10-minute boat ride there.
Hundreds of thousands of Arctic bird species make these cliffs their home.
You’re likely to see cormorants, gannets, and puffins, among many others.
With over two million birds total, Gjesværstappan is known to house one of the largest colonies of puffins in the world.
At Gjesværstappan, you can even go fishing for the giant king crabs the archipelago is known for – and you can eat them after.
Kirkeporten and Knivskjellodden: Pristine North Cape hikes
An incredibly captivating North Cape hike is Kirkeporten, home to a Norwegian natural wonder. The 2.5-kilometer-long hike lasts around 45 minutes and will take you straight to a gate-shaped arch nicknamed “Hornet.”
Pro tip: during the summer, between 12:00 AM and 2:00 AM, the midnight sun shines directly through this stone arch. Your best bet to experiencing the phenomenon is staying at the nearby Kirkeporten camping site.
Then there’s the North Cape hike of Knivskjellodden, located under three kilometers (about a four-minute drive) from Nordkapphallen. This round-trip hike is 18 kilometers long and will take you between five and six hours to complete.
Knivskjellodden is the northernmost point on Magerøya Island and has unparalleled views of the surrounding seas and the North Cape Plateau. These vistas will make the couple of extra huffs and puffs on the way up worth your while. As proof of your visit, you can also purchase an official Knivskjellodden diploma.
During the winter, either hike can be made even more remarkable by tossing in a snowmobile or ATV excursion and trying your hand at ice fishing.
Skarsvåg, Kamøyvær, and Gjesvær: Idyllic fishing villages
All three of these North Cape fishing villages feature pastel houses and bring a splash of color to the otherwise arid landscape of the North Cape. They are inhabited by Sámi, Kven, and Norwegian peoples.
The fishing village of Kamøyvær is a 27-kilometer drive southeast of Nordkapphallen. Along with quaint houses and a cozy hotel, Kamøyvær is home to the East of the Sun art gallery with exhibits including books, handicrafts, and paintings inspired by the North Cape. The gallery artist, who also lives within it, is German-born creator Eva Schmutterer.
Gjesvær, a 40-kilometer drive southwest of Nordkapphallen, is a fishing village with exceptional views of the Gjesværstappan archipelago. Historic Gjesvær is named in the Heimskringla saga, and it’s the only place in all of Finnmark known from the time of the Viking Age.
Skarsvåg is the northernmost fishing village in the world. Here, you can see the 1961 Skarsvåg Church and experience the cod fishing-centered lifestyle locals live by every day. Skarsvåg is a 16-kilometer drive southeast of Nordkapphallen.
No matter the season you decide to visit during or the activities you choose to enjoy, you’ll love your trip to the end of the world. Perhaps, to you, it might just feel like a new beginning.
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