Sandja, located between Tromsø to the east and Lofoten and the Vesterålen archipelagos to the west, is often overlooked by international travelers, but it is a lasting favorite among Norwegian tourists.
This is because Senja is Arctic Norway at its natural best. Sea views, icy fjords, rugged mountains, sandy beaches, hiking trails and picturesque fishing villages are within a few hours drive on Norway’s second largest island.
Senja’s northern coastal road is one of Norway’s 18 designated national scenic routes, roads that have been specially developed and maintained as attractions by the state. This investment keeps the roads in good running shape and has provided toilets, architectural sights and vantage points along all routes.
The most convenient way to reach Senja for too many visitors is by ferry from Tromsø to either Finnsnes or Lysnes. Head north to the island to the signed tourist route, which mainly covers 63 miles along Route 862. Driving from east to west are some of Senja’s attractions here.
The picturesque fishing village of Husøy is a short detour from the start of the route at Botnhamn.
Given its remote location, you might expect this small island village to be a living museum, yet it is still an active fishing community with a few hundred permanent residents. The island is located inside the Øyfjord, so there is impressive nature, no matter what you look like.
Another small fishing village with surprisingly much life, Mefjordvær, is worth a 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 toilets here, most other services can be found in the 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 landscapes, yet with chilled water.
Even if you are not brave enough for a dip, Ersfjordstranda is a popular place for a walking or photography break about halfway along the route. The gilded angular toilet building is a sight in itself.
For many of the highlights in Senja, the Tungeneset picnic area is best known for its view of the tagged Oksen peaks over the Ersfjord. These mountains, known as the Devil’s Jaw, make a good impression – especially in bad weather.
A specially built wooden walkway leads visitors from the parking area closer to the sea for a better view of the open sea and the mountains. You will often find photographers who spend the day here waiting for the variable lighting conditions to provide the perfect shot.
As the road rises in height towards the western end, the outlook gets a new perspective. The 144 meter long viewing platform at Bergsbotn offers two different views of the fjord and the valley.
The road is narrow along this stretch, so keep an eye on cyclists. The route is part of European cycle route 1, which hugs much of the Norwegian coastline.
After a less dramatic, but no less pleasant stretch of coast, the route ends at the fishing village Gryllefjord. During the summer, a car ferry connects Gryllefjord with Andenes on the northernmost tip of the Vesterålen archipelago, a crucial link for those planning a more extensive trip in northern Norway. Another of the 18 scenic drives starts in Andenes.
Hiking in Senja
Challenging hikes with rewarding views are common on an island with so many mountains. The sugar top the 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 Ersfjorden and Bergsfjorden and the famous Oksen peaks.
Finally, a few practical tips. Senja has only 8,000 inhabitants, so the 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.