Every once in a while, a place strikes me as so otherworldly that I can’t stop thinking about it. That was Magerøya.
Last summer, I had the chance to visit this barren island at the top of Norway that is mostly only known from being home to Nordkapp, or the North Cape.
In this post...
Reasons to Visit Magerøya, Norway
Nordkapp was cool and I understood why so many people desired to visit or had it as the top spot on their Europe bucket list.
But, the large island of Magerøya is what left me speechless. The landscape was void of trees and looked like it had centuries of stories solidified under the harsh tundra.
While visiting Nordkapp and the top of Norway tends to be done mostly by cruise ship at the Honningsvåg harbor or by RV or motorcycle, our approach was different. We flew into Honningsvåg, rented a car, and cruised around for a couple of days.
Magerøya was the last stop on our trip. The trip had consisted of time spent in Bodø, the Lofoten Islands, and Tromso. Not all was new territory for me so I pined for the North Cape, an area I had not yet explored.
And, given we had a rental car, we were keen to see as much as possible, including our random day trip to Stabbursdalen National Park a bit south of Magerøya.
We drove every piece of road and explored nearly every corner of Magerøya. While we didn’t get to do any extreme hiking, we got to know the island and its villages fairly well.
Here are 6 reasons to visit Magerøya, the remote and dramatic island at the top of Norway.
The Scenery Will Leave you Speechless
Magerøya has no trees. Aside from a little bit of mountain birch that I never really saw, it is completely barren. I have seen many harsh landscapes around Norway over the years, but this island took the cake. How on earth did people live here?
But, they do. And there are traces to settlements on Magerøya dating back 10,000 years. The land is unforgiving but that is part of its appeal. It was wild and magnificent. It looked like something from another planet.
It wasn’t until 1999 that you could easily drive there once a tunnel was built connecting it with the rest of Norway. Now, people are visiting the North Cape in large numbers.
But, what we quickly realized is that those same people are driving in an RV or on a motorcycle and they don’t always get to explore the rest of the island.
Not to mention, many people are coming via cruise ship. They don’t get to see anything aside from the Honningsvåg harbor and whatever is out the window on their charter bus to Nordkapp.
Fortunately, Norway allows you to hike and stroll wherever you’d like on public lands, so you can park your car somewhere and wander about through the nature (just don’t go too far)!
Bird Watching in Gjesvær
My favorite village that I visited on Magerøya was definitely Gjesvær, a small fishing village about 34 kilometers northwest of Honningsvåg. When you approach Gjesvær, you go down a large hill or mountain and descend into the city. It is really quite remarkable.
As you arrive in Gjesvær you will feel like you arrived in a village without people (although 220 people actually do live there). There are houses everywhere but it was eerily quiet and almost a bit spooky as a result.
I believe we arrived on a bad day, however, because the place is home to bird safaris, so I do know that people must visit it.
Nevertheless, the village was small and walking around it was peaceful. Next time, we are heading back to go out on a bird safari. Gjesværstappen is home to puffin, razor-billed auk, kittiwake, gannet, cormorant, guillemot, and sea eagles… and I intend on seeing them all next time I’m there!
You can find out more about taking a Nordkapp bird safari here.
Ola’s Bird Safari
The premier bird safari to join in Gjesvær is called ‘Ola’s Bird Safari’ and they began running regular boats to the Gjesværstappan Nature Reserve in 1992.
One of the smaller islands with a heavy bird population is called Kirkestappen and the island has been in Ola’s family for a long time.
Ola’s Bird Safari runs ethical and environmentally-friendly tours and bird watching in Gjesvær and on Magerøya is the second most popular thing to do besides visiting Nordkapp.
Make a Stop in Skarsvåg
Another fishing village worth stopping at on a Magerøya road trip is Skarsvåg, a village that claims to be the world’s northernmost fishing village. Whether that is true or not, we found the harbor area to be particularly beautiful and worth a little bit of time.
Again, this place was extremely quiet and we were the only ones around. Granted, not many people call Skarsvåg home, but it was still a great place to drive to for beautiful scenery and to get lost in your own thoughts.
Skarsvåg is known for two things- delicious cod fresh from the harbor and being the northernmost settlement in the world accessible from a major road- the European route E69.
Hang Out in Honningsvåg
It’s quite interesting that the city of Honningsvåg flies somewhat under the radar for those traveling to Norway. Most people refer to the area as Nordkapp and you don’t really hear the name ‘Honningsvåg’ thrown around all that often.
Anyway, it is the northernmost city in Norway and definitely is a cool place to call home for a few days! Norway declares cities to be anything over 5,000 inhabitants, but Honningsvåg was granted the status despite only having half of that.
However, I really loved the place and recommend staying there for a couple of days if you have the chance!
Honningsvåg is the ideal base for exploring Magerøya. There are many hotels located there that you can stay in and they cater to all budgets (I stayed in two different hotels there- one luxury and one budget!)
In addition to hotels, you will find several delicious restaurants, cafes, and quirky shops in the city. It also has one of the most idyllic harbors I have ever come across in Norway!
We recommend checking out Honni Bakes, a charming cafe with awesome cinnamon buns and coffee. It was one of our Honningsvåg highlights!
Go Reindeer Spotting
Don’t worry, this will just automatically happen if you have a car! They are everywhere and are very curious.
Definitely don’t get too close or disturb them, but you can easily admire them from afar and grab some photos of them with a good zoom lens.
During the endless Magerøya summers (starting in April), six Sami families from Karasjok bring around 6,000 reindeer to the island to graze throughout the summer.
You will find them scattered about on the island and they are marked. They are truly beautiful animals and a lot of fun to witness as they have nowhere to hide in such a barren landscape.
Visit the Nordkapp
And, of course, last but not least… you should head to Nordkapp. That is likely the reason you found yourself in this part of the world, anyway.
In order to get to Nordkapp from Honningsvåg, you can join a tour or you can drive there yourself. If you opt to drive there with your own rental car, you will pass Skipsfjorden, an area where you’ll find a huge Norway campsite and Sami cultural center.
It’s kind of a natural playground of sorts and a place to spend a bit of time at if the weather is conducive and you want to hike, rent a boat, go fishing, or do some rafting.
You will also be on the road that leads to another fishing village called Kamøyvær. There are about 150 residents there and it is a nice stop if you have a rental car.
Back in the day, you used to have to climb your way to Nordkapp. Fortunately, a road was built between Honningsvåg and the North Cape in 1956 that makes the journey more accessible and a bit less intense.
Now, you can simply show up, enjoy a glass of Champagne at the top of the world, and explore the North Cape Hall and the exhibits that exist there.
Nevertheless, a visit to Nordkapp is essential for those visiting Magerøya. It will be one of your fondest travel memories- I can assure you!
Bonus: Go Hiking on Knivskjellodden
I am not an avid hiker if it requires multi-day trekking but I definitely enjoy day hikes if not overly strenuous. The northernmost point on Magerøya is actually not the North Cape as many may suspect, but rather Knivskjellodden.
It can be reached by hiking 9 kilometers from a section along the E69 highway, 6 kilometers or so south of the Nordkapp.
If you’re an active traveler, I recommend you putting a hike to Knivskjellodden on your list! It will offer some stellar views!
Getting Around Magerøya
Renting a Car in Honningsvåg
The best place to rent a car to drive around Magerøya is in Honningsvåg. We rented from the airport and the company was waiting for us with the keys there.
Before you take to the roads in Magerøya, you need to know a few things:
- Reindeer are often on the roads. Please just wait for them to pass and don’t put them in distress by honking and screaming. They will move along. Also, drive slowly!
- Weather is ever-changing! Fog and snow movies in at the snap of your fingers. We experienced pretty much all the elements during the middle of the summer! Be warned.
- Drive carefully. There are many RVs and motorcycles on the roads up there. Many of them drive recklessly but that doesn’t mean you need to. Be careful and alert at all times.
If you’re keen to rent a car in Honningsvåg, click here for rates and availability.
Travel Insurance for Norway
Definitely make sure you have travel insurance for your trip to Magerøya and the North Cape.
Our recommended insurance provider is SafetyWing, a Norwegian company that offers affordable policies and widespread coverage. That is who we use when traveling to Norway!
Where to Stay in Magerøya
While we were on Magerøya, we stayed in two different places… one was more luxurious and one was a budget place.
The first place we called home was Scandic Bryggen and it was a harborside hotel right in the middle of Honningsvåg. It has a great breakfast and a tasty restaurant you can eat at for dinner. It was in easy walking distance of pretty much everything in Honningsvåg.
The second place we crashed at was Nordkapp Vandrerhjem. It was kind of a hostel and hotel combined. We found guests of all ages here and we had our own room but shared bathrooms with other guests.
The walls were thinner than I would have liked, so bring earplugs if you’re a light sleeper!
We hope that this post about Magerøya inspires you to visit and take a drive around the island! It was one of the most astoundingly beautiful places I have ever visited and I am extremely stoked to return one of these days!
If you have additional questions, please reach out to us! Thanks!
YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE:
- Things to do in Honningsvåg
- What to know before you visit the North Cape
- How to get to Stabbursdalen from Honningsvåg
- Things to do in Hammerfest
- Best ice hotels in Norway
- Winter in Norway packing list
- Beautiful photos of Magerøya
PIN IT FOR LATER!
Megan is a travel blogger and writer with a background in digital marketing. Originally from Richmond, VA, she now splits her time between Frankfurt, Germany and Arctic Finland after also living in Norway, Armenia, and Kazakhstan. She has a passion for winter travel, as well as the Nordic countries, but you can also find her eating her way through Italy, perusing perfume stores in Paris, or taking road trips through the USA. Megan has written for or been featured by National Geographic, Forbes, Lonely Planet, the New York Times, and more. She co-authored Fodor’s Travel ‘Essential Norway’ and has visited 45 US states and 100+ countries.