Forget what you think you know about beaches. Norway has a different story to tell, and it’s a tale of windswept dunes, Iron Age burial mounds and reveling under the midnight sun.
With 100,915km (62,705 miles) of fragmented coastline, Norway harbors hundreds of coves, many of them pristine and remote. These idyllic spots aren’t known for their on-the-sand bars, palm trees or tropical temperatures, but they each offer a Nordic seaside experience that’ll challenge what it means to take a beach vacation. Here’s our pick of the best beaches in Norway.
1. Skagsanden Beach, Lofoten
Best beach for photographing the northern lights
Often missed by average travelers in favor of better-known Lofoten shores, Skagsanden Beach has not been overlooked by photographers. Though not a true black sand beach (it’s not volcanic), rivulets create meandering dark patterns on the shoreline that make for intriguing shots. Meanwhile, the weather can play tricks on the eye to create the illusion of a moody expanse of dark arctic sand with snowy peaks beyond.
But these are just a sideshow for the main event. On calm, clear nights during the Arctic winter, photographers flock here for the chance to capture the northern lights. Flickering green and purple, they surge upwards in the vast yawning sky above the serrated mountains. The flat stretch of glassy sand mirrors the celestial light show as the aurora hunters capture the spectacle, one millisecond at a time.
2. Telegrafbukta, Tromsø
Best city beach
The sun won’t set on your summertime revelry at Telegrafbukta, 350km (217 miles) north of the Arctic Circle. On the southern shores of Tromsø island, not far from Tromsø city center, this petite crescent of blonde sand is lapped by ice-cold water all year round. The beach fringes the edge of a forested recreation area and draws city residents to its trails, playground and beach volleyball court.
In July join the party-goers for Bukta Open Air music festival, when the midnight sun promises 24-hour daylight to soak in the mountain views towards Balsfjorden. But come winter the shoreline is illuminated by the swirling, celestial light show of the aurora borealis. Brace yourself against the arctic winter and head out to witness the northern lights reflected on the still, frigid waters of the fjord below.
3. Sjøsanden, Mandal
Best for families
Basking in the (relatively) mild temperatures of the southern coast, Sjøsanden could well be the most famous sandy beach in Norway. It’s possibly the most conventional too: there’s certainly nothing out of the ordinary here. But the shallow water on the foreshore makes it perfect for families with young children, who splash with delight in the calm sea.
And when the view becomes tiresome here, locals simply pack up and head to one of the other beaches in the Furulunden nature park – there are at least six of note including Sjøsanden – or jump on a bike and ride along the park’s forested trails.
4. Orrestranda, Jæren
Best for walking
Norway’s longest sandy beach beckons with its 3km (2-mile) stretch of pale golden sand, backed by grassy dunes that shelter protected birds and plant species. Orrestranda stands out among the renowned cluster of beaches at Jæren, southwestern Norway, for its wild, windswept charm.
The joy here comes from simply sauntering along the unspoiled shore, with the waves rolling in rhythmically on one side, while the grasses sway on the other. But if your visit happens to coincide with a balmy summer’s day, recline with the sunshine crowd and dare to take a dip in the deceptively chilly turquoise water.
5. Munkholmen, Trondheim
Best beach near Trondheim
The tiniest beach on this list is also the quirkiest. Munkholmen offers the most unusual location for a patch of sand in Norway – there aren’t many other places where you can say you’ve sunbathed on a Viking-era execution site.
A 15-minute boat ride from Trondheim, this islet has been a monastery, a fortress, a prison and a customs house. Today it pulls summertime day-trippers to its museum, who stay to loll on the grass and eat ice cream before heading down to the petite sandy sweep for a bracing dip in Trondheimsfjorden.
6. Hoddevik, Stad
Best beach for surfers
Believe it or not, competition is stiff for the title of Norway’s best beach for surfing. The waves of Lofoten and Jæren have mighty credentials but Hoddevik, on the westernmost tip of the country, takes top billing here. The adventure begins on the hairpin bends of the narrow road leading down into the bay. Before you is an amphitheater of craggy mountains cradling a square inlet, lined with light yellow sand.
Though the mountains offer some protection against the wind, the waves rolling into Hoddevik from the Norwegian Sea can be powerful. In summer, beginners are trying their luck at standing up; by autumn, the fair-weather thrill-seekers have made way for the committed adventurers in full hooded wetsuits. Steeling themselves against the elements, they drop in to ride the biting waves, surrounded by snow-dusted peaks.
7. Mølen, Larvik
Best for history
Revealed over 10,000 years ago at the end of the last ice age, the vast pebble beach at Mølen is part earth-science time capsule, part archaeological treasure trove. Some 230 mysterious cairns punctuate the beach here, some as large as 25m (115ft) in diameter. These ancient Iron Age burial mounds face the bleak North Sea and offer us a glimpse of 2000-year-old end-of-life rituals.
The glacier that created this moraine on the southern reaches of Norway dragged around 100 different types of rocks from miles away. A unique geological pick-and-mix, Mølen is now protected as a Unesco Global Geopark. Join other slack-jawed visitors in pondering the mighty landscape and our tiny place within it, just as those who were buried here did centuries before us.
City beaches near Oslo and Bergen
Tjuvholmen City Beach, Oslo: If you can find space on a warm summer’s day, cool your feet in the Oslofjord at this diminutive artificial city beach. It’s right beside modern art gallery Astrup Fearnley Museet.
Kyrkjetangen, near Bergen: The region’s rocky geography means that a true beach in Bergen is hard to come by. Kyrkjetangen is worth the 8km (5-mile) trip from the city center for some small stretches of sand, fjord swimming and a diving board for those fearless enough.