With one of the world’s longest coastlines, tens of thousands of islands, and mountains that cover two-thirds of the country’s surface, it’s no surprise that Norway is a place where nature takes center stage. In addition to an abundance of gorgeous scenery, the country offers excellent chances to see a wide range of wildlife, from seabirds to whales to muskoxen.
Here are five of the best places to visit to experience the wild side of Norway.
Humpback whale near Tromsø. Photo by Asgeir Helgestad/Artic Light AS/visitnorway.com
Whales, Seabirds, and More in Northern Norway
The Vesterålen islands are one of the world’s great whalewatching destinations, thanks to the archipelago’s location on the edge of the continental shelf. Off the island of Andøya, a deep underwater canyon known as Bleiksdjupet is a produtive feeding ground for various marine species. Sperm whales are present all year and are the stars of the show during the summer, though orcas, pilot whales, and dolphins are occasionally seen as well. In winter, huge schools of herring swarm these waters, attracting orcas, humpbacks, fin whales, and sometimes other species.
Unlike in many parts of the world, whalewatching is a year-round activity in Vesterålen. The town of Andenes at the northern tip of Andøya is the main departure point for excursions, though tours also operate out of Stø on the island of Langøya.
Over the past several years, the large schools of herring that have long drawn orcas and humpback whales to Vesterålen have been moving further north into the fjords near Tromsø. This shift, which is thought to be due to climate change, has made this region another hotspot for winter whalewatching. It is estimated that as many as 3,000 whales may be in the area during the winter herring season, providing good opportunities to combine whalewatching with Northern Lights viewing in one of the planet’s best aurora borealis destinations.
Vesterålen and the adjacent Lofoten archipelago are also outstanding destinations for birdwatching. The small island of Bleiksøya, a 90-minute boat trip from Andenes, is home to one of Norway’s largest seabird colonies, which includes some 80,000 pairs of puffins, as well as numerous other species including guillemots, razorbills, and cormorants. Also commonly seen around Bleiksøya are white-tailed sea eagles, which prey on the seabirds. Other wildlife often seen on excursions includes seals, otters, porpoises, and mink.
Norway’s largest puffin colony is found on the small island of Røst in Lofoten. Estimated at 1.5 million individuals in 2006, the Røst puffin colony has been struggling with food shortages in the years since but still numbers in the hundreds of thousands. June to August is the prime season for puffins, but a variety of bird species can be seen in Lofoten at any time of year.
From Svolvær in Lofoten boat tours also visit the Trollfjord, with good chances of spotting sea eagles, seals, porpoises, and other wildlife along the way. Lofoten is also gaining a reputation as a destination for snorkeling and diving in clear Arctic waters; Lofoten Diving in Ballstad offers equipment, instruction, and day tours.
For more information on northern Norway, see Nordnorge.com
Sea Eagles and Other Wildlife in Flatanger
The municipality of Flatanger in Trøndelag, north of Trondheim, is renowned for its white-tailed sea eagles, which are present during much of the year and are often seen actively hunting for fish. Golden eagles are also regularly spotted. In spring, numerous species of migratory birds return to the area, and resident species such as capercaille and black grouse engage in elaborate courtship rituals.
Flatanger’s coastal location and varied terrain also attracts an abundance of other wildlife, including moose, otter, roe deer, red fox, and harbor porpoise. Every season offers good wildlife viewing opportunities; photographic safaris are offered year-round through Wild Norway.
Puffins and Other Seabirds on Runde Island
Near Ålesund, the island of Runde has only about 150 human inhabitants but is home to as many as 500,000 seabirds, including Norway’s southernmost large puffin colony (perhaps as many as 100,000 individuals). Runde also has Norway’s oldest and largest breeding colony of gannets. Overall, approximately 80 bird species — which also include cormorants, guillemots, razorbills, and skuas — nest on Runde, making it the country’s most diverse nesting site. Including both nesting and non-nesting birds, some 230 different species have been recorded.
Runde is a good birdwatching destination year round, but May through July is the prime season for puffins. Guided boat trips around the island are offered in summer, and colonies can also be reached by hiking trails.
For more information on Runde, see Visit Ålesund
Muskoxen and More at Dovrefjell
Dovrefjell National Park is the only place in Norway with a wild population of muskoxen — huge, shaggy, prehistoric creatures weighing up to 400 kilos (more than 880 pounds). Scandinavia’s native muskox population died out during the last Ice Age; the current population, estimated at more than 200 individuals, originated with animals introduced to Dovrefjell from Greenland in 1932 (and reintroduced in 1947 after most of the first group were hunted during World War II).
The interior of the national park is roadless, so hiking (or skiing in winter) is the way to go in order to see muskoxen. Though typically calm and peaceful, muskoxen can become aggressive when threatened, so hikers should always take care to maintain a safe distance. Guided muskox safaris and photography tours are available.
Muskoxen at Dovrefjell. Photo by Asgeir Helgestad/Artic Light AS/visitnorway.com
For more information on Dovrefjell, visit the national park’s website
Polar Bears, Walrus, and Other Arctic Wildlife in Svalbard
No list of great Norwegian wildlife destinations would be complete without a mention of the Svalbard archipelago. Located halfway between mainland Norway and the North Pole, Svalbard has a population of just over 2,200 people. It’s famous for its polar bears, which are readily seen on both land-based excursions and cruises. May to September are the best viewing months, although chances exist throughout the year.
Another iconic Arctic species, the walrus, arrives in Svalbard every year in April and remains in the archipelago until September. Ringed seals are also present during this time, with pups born in April. Later in the season both walrus and ringed seals can be seen hauled out on beaches and ice floes. In the late summer, there’s a chance of spotting bearded, hooded, and harp seals in the northern parts of the archipelago.
Various species of whale also spend the summer season in Svalbard, arriving in April and remaining until September. Humpbacks are the most common, but minke, fin, and sei whales may also be seen.
From June through August, the cliffs of Svalbard are alive with a great variety of nesting birds, as well as predators such as gyrfalcons, skuas, and gulls. Arctic foxes can also be seen preying on eggs and chicks.
There are flights to Longyearbyen, the only town on Svalbard, from Oslo and Tromsø. Land and sea excursions can be arranged in Longyearbyen; in addition, various expedition cruise lines offer comprehensive multi-day Svalbard itineraries.
For more information, see Visit Svalbard
Published 27 February 2019