Sandwiched between Tromsø to the east and the Lofoten and Vesterålen archipelagos to the west, Senja is often overlooked by international travelers yet it’s an enduring favourite of Norwegian tourists.
That’s because Senja is Arctic Norway at its natural best. Ocean views, ice-cold fjords, rugged mountains, sandy beaches, hiking trails and picturesque fishing villages are all within a couple hours drive on Norway’s second largest island.
Senja’s northern coastal road is one of Norway’s 18 designated national scenic routes, roads specifically developed and maintained as attractions by the state. That investment keeps the roads in good driving condition and has provided restroom facilities, architectural points of interest and lookout points along all the routes.
The most convenient way to reach Senja for many visitors is by ferry from Tromsø to either Finnsnes or Lysnes. Head to the north of the island for the signed tourist route, which covers 63 miles mostly along route 862. Driving from east to west, here are some of Senja’s must-see sights.
The picturesque fishing village Husøy is a short detour from the start of the route at Botnhamn.
Given its remote location, you might expect this small island village would be a living museum, yet it remains an active fishing community with a few hundred permanent residents. The island is nestled inside the Øyfjord, so there is impressive scenery whichever way you look.
Another small fishing village with a surprising amount of life, Mefjordvær is worth the short detour along the edge of the Mefjord.
The breakwater is an ideal place for a stroll to break up the journey. Although there are restrooms here, most other services can be found in nearby Senjahopen.
Northern Norway hides a surprising amount of sandy beaches among its fjords and islands. Ersfjordstranda is a perfect example of an Arctic beach, sandy and surrounded by spectacular scenery, yet with bone-chilling water.
Even if you’re not brave enough for a dip, Ersfjordstranda is a popular spot for a walking or photography break approximately halfway along the route. The gold-plated angular restroom building is a sight in itself.
For many the highlight of Senja, the Tungeneset rest area is best known for its view of the jagged Oksen peaks across the Ersfjord. Known as the Devil’s Jaw, these mountains make quite the impression—especially in poor weather.
A purpose-built wooden walkway leads visitors from the parking area closer to the ocean for a better view of the open sea and the mountains. You’ll often find photographers spending the day here waiting for the variable lighting conditions to give the perfect shot.
As the road increases in elevation towards its western end, the views take on a new perspective. The 144-feet-long viewing platform at Bergsbotn offers two different views of the fjord and valley.
The road is narrow along this stretch so keep a look out for cyclists. The route forms part of European cycle route 1, which hugs much of the Norwegian coastline.
Following a less dramatic but no less enjoyable coastal stretch, the route ends at the fishing village Gryllefjord. During the summer, a car ferry links Gryllefjord with Andenes at the northernmost tip of the Vesterålen archipelago, a crucial link for those planning a more extensive tour of Northern Norway. Another one of the 18 scenic drives starts in Andenes.
Hiking in Senja
Challenging hikes with rewarding views are commonplace on an island with so many mountains. Sukkertoppen mountain is much-loved among Norwegian hikers, although the full 3-4 hour route ends in a steep section that makes the overall hike quite challenging. Husfjellet offers an alternative, gentler hike, with fantastic views of both the Ersfjord and Bergsfjord and the famous Oksen peaks.
Finally, a few practical tips. Senja has just 8,000 residents so shops are few and not well-stocked. Gas stations are available at both ends of the route in Botnhamn/Husøy and Gryllefjord. For the budget conscious, Ersfjord beach is a popular place to camp.