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There is a saying that a destination is defined by the people who inhabit it. This is especially true for Helgeland, a region where the warmth and friendliness of its residents complement the slow living and raw nature, creating a unique atmosphere. Helgeland isn’t just a place to see; it’s a feeling, a state of mind that words like “magical” and “breathtaking” fail to fully capture.

As echoed in the famous Norwegian folk song “Vi skal ikkje sova bort sumarnatta,” which roughly translates to “we shall not sleep away the summer night,” the essence of island hopping on the coast of Helgeland is about seizing every moment while the midnight sun colours the sky.

Island Hopping Made Easy with Nordland Express
The Helgeland coast is a rather special part of Norway. Here lies 10,000 small and larger islands like pearls on a string, inviting you to island hopping and world-class experiences. The Nordland Express (NEX) offers a special summer itinerary, allowing you to explore at your own pace. Hop off anywhere along the route and continue your adventure whenever you wish.

This 6-day itinerary begins in Bodø and takes you to the charming small island of Støtt. From there, you will continue to the coastal communities of Træna and Lovund. The journey then heads southward to Sandnessjøen and the picturesque islands of Herøy and Dønna, before concluding in Mosjøen. To finish, a scenic train ride will take you back to Bodø, crossing the Arctic Circle, offering beautiful views of both the Norwegian coastline and mountain scenery along the way.

Express boat route: Bodø to Støtt
Time: 1 hour and 10 minutes

From Bodø to Støtt: An Authentic Norwegian Island Experience
Already as your plane descends towards Bodø Airport, the unique Norwegian nature unfolds beneath you. Towering mountain tops, combined with crystal clear water gives you a taste of what lies ahead. Make sure to book a window seat, preferably on the right hand side for the best view! When you land in what is Nordland counties largest city, located just north of the Arctic Circle, a short 15 minute walk takes you straight to the docks, where the Nordland Express awaits.

Bodø Harbour

The beauty of this express boat is that it is so much more than just a means of transportation, it is an experience in itself. Locals and tourists combined, you can enjoy a spacious lounge, adjustable seats that give you the perfect angle to enjoy the view and a cafe that tempts you with traditional Norwegian waffles, as well as refreshments. Here you don’t need a book, the view does its job.

When arriving at Støtt, the northernmost point of Helgeland, you’ll discover a quiet island rich in history. Once a bustling trading post and fishing village dating back to the 17th century, Støtt was a vital stop for fishermen before they ventured across to Lofoten, offering a safe haven for seafarers. Here, you’ll be welcomed by Eva Ann Andersen and her brother Sven, the owners of the unique hotel Støtt – Top of Helgeland. They continue the tradition of generosity and hospitality that has defined Støtt for hundreds of years.

Eva’s personal story is a testament to her dedication, uprooting her life in Oslo to return with her three children to the island where she grew up, preserving her great grandfather’s legacy. Since 1897, her family has run a shop on the island. However, in 2011 the siblings took over the old trading post, transforming it into a hotel and atmospheric restaurant. Hotel Støtt has earned its place amongst “De Historiske”, a unique membership organisation consisting of the best hotels Norway has to offer.

Many of the original trading post buildings have been meticulously restored, blending historical authenticity with modern comfort, and they proudly offer a unique travel destination that honour the island’s rich past. Guests have the opportunity to stay in the oldest building on the island, the old storehouse which was the only building that withstood a major fire in 1870. Or the historic rorbu, onced used by fishermen as a place to sleep and eat. Even the old bakery has been transformed into charming accommodations, yet it feels like Støtt is somehow frozen in time.

The history of the island is bound in every activity offered, and there are plenty of them! Whether you want to join a traditional fishing boat to get the catch of the day, or kayak to the nearby white sandy beaches with Meløy Adventure. Or maybe a guided walk up on Svenningen plateau to explore old German bunkers from World War II, where Sven will share stories on how locals coexisted with the occupiers, and eventually even formed unforeseen friendships that lasted a lifetime.

What used to be a port of refuge for fishermen, is now a quiet and peaceful refuge for visitors. There is no denying you feel very welcomed, almost like you’re a part of a family in a sense. When stepping on the boat to continue your adventure, it feels like stepping out of a quiet and calm bubble. Nothing here takes the attention away from nature and the experiences offered together with the other guests.

Express boat route: Støtt to Træna, then Træna to Lovund
Time: 3 hours and 15 minutes and then the last route approx. 30 minutes

Træna islands: Culture, Nature, and Community in Northern Norway
As you wave goodbye to the quiet calm of Støtt, lean back and enjoy the scenic ride to the islands of Træna

Located on the outermost edge of the ocean, Træna is Norway’s oldest fishing community and one of its smallest municipalities, with just under 500 residents. These residents, known as “Havfolket” (which translates to “people of the sea”), live on the islands of Husøy, Selvær, Sanna, and Sandøy. Every summer, the internationally known Træna Festival multiplies the population tenfold, attracting visitors from all over the world.

Husøy is the main island, where most of the islanders reside, with a vibrant community that welcomes you with open arms. Here you will find both shops, accommodation, places to eat, a museum and much more. Rent a bike and explore the cultural sights, eat lunch at Aloha Café (in honour of Træna-Hawaii – two siblings living in island communities on the opposite sides of the world), visit the museum to see tons of artefacts gathered by locals over the years, and enjoy a talk to its residents. The stories they have to tell are truly remarkable.

Or take the express boat over to Selvær, Husøy’s charming little sister island, which is home to about 50 residents. Here, you’ll meet people like Marlieke Luit, originally from the Netherlands, who made a significant life change by relocating to Selvær three years ago. She followed the call when she heard that the small island at the gap in the sea in Northern Norway was looking for young and international individuals to breathe new energy into the community. Today, she and her partner run a local farm and are an integral part of the island’s life, having seamlessly integrated into the community. They’ve really found a sense of home in this peaceful part of Norway.

Selvær is an authentic community with a proud heritage. Generations of islanders and a great variety of birds have found their livelihood here; eagles and eider ducks are just two of the more than 200 bird species you may encounter as you explore this island.

And let’s not forget Sanna, situated a stone’s throw away from Husøy. A place where time slows down and nature takes centre stage. With only two year-round residents and about 20 in the summer, Sanna offers a peaceful retreat, with captivating landscapes. The island is famous for its iconic mountains, including the majestic Trænstaven, which rises 338 metres above sea level.

Here you can explore the fascinating Kirkehelleren cave, known for its exceptional acoustics and ancient Stone Age discoveries. Or wander along the “love path”, admiring the charming little houses, and enjoy freshly baked waffles and coffee at Grendahuset, where locals and tourists meet. Opening hours during the summer months are usually from around noon until the last express boat leaves in the early evening. Or if you feel up for a hike, Gompen awaits through a 300-metre tunnel for a panoramic view of Helgeland. End your visit with a refreshing swim on the island’s white sandy beach. Sanna is a haven for those looking to reconnect with nature, offering moments of true stillness.

As you board the express boat to your next destination the staff greets you with smiles and genuine interest in your journey. Familiar faces (as many travellers follow the same route) spark conversations and shared stories. Locals, overhearing your exchanges, eagerly join in, offering insider tips on must-see spots. It leaves you with an undeniable sense of being on a joint adventure.

Express boat route: Lovund to Sandnessjøen
Time: 1 hour and 55 minutes

Lovund: Historic Fishing Village Combined with Modern Architecture
After having spent time in Træna, Lovund feels more urban with its thriving salmon farming industry and a growing population. Despite this, it remains a small island with approx. 500 inhabitants only. The landscape is dominated by the 625 metre high Lovundfjellet and is most famous for being home to Helgeland’s largest puffin colony, easily spotted on the mountainside during nighttime. Visitors can follow the clearly marked path and stairs to view these magnificent birds, preferably in the ray of the midnight sun.

For accommodation, Lovund Hotel is a natural choice. Rooted in generations of tradition, seamlessly mixing modern facilities with traditional charm. Perfectly located by the waterfront, the hotel offers a fantastic view from every corner of the hotel, including the magnificent sky bar that is the best spot to enjoy the glow of the midnight sun.

Start your adventure by hiking to the southernmost point of the island, where you’ll find a unique driving range set up by the hotel, 60 metres above sea level. Here, you can drive golf balls made of fish food that dissolve in the ocean, adding an eco-friendly twist to your game.

For water enthusiasts, Lovund is perfect for swimming, kayaking, and stand-up paddleboarding. You can rent all the necessary equipment from Lovund Hotell’s self-service activity shop, conveniently located 500 metres from the hotel. Or simply enjoy a quiet afternoon on the city beach. For those who prefer, get your history lesson at the Lovundbåten Museum. It’s the perfect place to dive into the rich history and culture of the island.

However, make sure not to miss a visit to The Coast Coffee, a boutique coffee roastery. Founded by Oleksii, who brought his passion for coffee from Ukraine to this serene island in 2017, where he shares his passion for coffee – adding an urban twist to the island. The café is renowned for serving what must be the perfection of coffee, making it a lovely meeting spot to engage with locals, both young and old.

Time flies and it is yet again time to jump on the express boat. This time taking you all the way to Sandnessjøen, checking in at the perfectly located Scandic Hotel right by the dock. If weather permits make sure to enjoy a cool drink on the deck of the old M/S Helgeland in the late hours of the day, a 70 year old local boat restored for catering.

The Coast Coffee, Lovund

Ferry route: Søvik to Herøy
Time: Aprox. 30 minutes

Exploring Helgeland’s Heart: From Sandnessjøen to Herøy and Dønna
Sandnessjøen is a perfect base for exploring the unique blend of coast and mountains that defines the Helgeland region. With its lively community engaged in fishing, agriculture and trade, Sandnessjøen offers both a bustling atmosphere and easy access to rugged mountains and picturesque islands, serving as somewhat of a gateway to Helgeland. With a population of 7500, Sandnessjøen retains the close-knit community spirit characteristic of smaller islands. Locals often share stories of the bus driver who, upon recognizing passengers returning from the nearby airport, usually drives them straight to their doorstep.

Enjoy the magnificent view of the famous Seven-Sisters mountain range on the short 30 minute drive to the ferry taking you over to Herøy. The ferry is free, but make sure to be there in due time before departure to secure a spot. Herøy is a beautiful island kingdom with more islands than residents, totaling around 1,800 people spread across several of the largest islands connected by bridges.

This picturesque archipelago promises unique outdoor adventures as well as a very tight knit community. Something a Swedish couple, August and Frida, experienced first hand. They found their calling and new home at Herøy Brygge, where they’ve created more than a hotel, it’s a communal hub where locals and visitors alike gather. Embracing inclusivity, they foster a sense of belonging and unity among residents. This for example includes a group of regulars who gather every Tuesday for waffles and a knitting club on Saturdays for the ladies, creating space for shared activities and interests.

Not far from Herøy Brygge lies another gem that adds to the island’s charm: Tommy Eide’s flower shop, Etcetera. Tommy, a Norwegian champion in flower decoration, has crafted a true fairytale world that stands as a counterweight to life’s greyness as he calls it. His shop is a crazy mix of colours, textures, and fragrances, offering visitors an unforgettable experience. Tommy’s philosophy is simple: in a world filled with negativity, people need more colour and positivity. Etcetera is more than just a flower shop, it is a big bundle of creativity, inviting everyone to step in and leave their worries at the door.

If you continue the drive on to Seløy, you can stop by Ingrid and Remi to enjoy what is said to be Helgeland’s best pizza at Skolo. Skolo is not just an ordinary hotel, but the island’s old school, which has been transformed into an architect-designed and exclusive building with soul and historical roots.

As the road trip continues towards Dønna, home to the famous mountain “Dønnamannen”, you’ll notice plenty of bikers enjoying the scenic route. Historically Dønna was a cultural and political centre for Helgeland during the early Iron Age and the Viking era, and right up until the turn of the last century. Take a little detour and stop by Breivika, on the outer side of Dønna, as it is one of the most idyllic sandy beaches in Helgeland. Easily accessible and with a lovely view to the west over the ocean and directly below “Dønnamannen”.

As the day comes to an end, check in at Dønnes Gård, a farm dating back more than 800 years, run by the couple Jens Andreas Carlsen and Tone Andersen. At Dønnes Gård, each room is unique, and comes with a shared bathroom in the hallway. Feel the history oozing out of its walls while enjoying homemade dishes prepared on locally farmed ingredients. Before bedtime, take the route through the woods behind the hotel up Dønnesfjellet, a short, but steep walk that is rewarded with a magnificent view.

The journey through Herøy and Dønna, with its mix of history, culture, and welcoming locals, is truly a memorable experience.

Ferry route: Bjørn, Dønna to Sandnessjøen
Time: 30 minutes

Mosjøen Unveiled: Industrial Treasures and Culinary Delights
It’s time to leave the picturesque landscape of Herøy and Dønna behind and continue the road trip with a ferry to Sandnessjøen, then onward to Mosjøen, just a short hour drive.

Mosjøen, the oldest town in Helgeland, is situated at the foot of Øyfjellet, where the rivers Vefsna and Skjerva join and flow into Vefsnfjord. It is a city rich in contrast and history, initially presenting a heavy industrial facade, but gradually also revealing its charm as you approach the waterfront, unveiling the 19th-century buildings along Sjøgata. Wander through this beautiful area where each building tells its own story. While many residents still call this home, don’t hesitate to stop for a chat and enjoy a cup of coffee at one of the many cafés.

On the opposite side of the salmon river Vefsna, you’ll find Helgelandstrappa, the world’s longest stone staircase. Made by the Sherpa people from Nepal, it has 4175 steps leading all the way up to Øyfjellet, which stands at 818 metres. It is said to be a local fitness route, promising an incredible view over Mosjøen. Warning: your legs will most definitely feel it in the coming days. But worry not, there are several lookout points, so no need to tackle the entire staircase. The descent can be just as challenging, but for those seeking adventure (and a chance to rest their legs), HiNorth offers a thrilling zip line experience back down, providing a unique perspective of the city.

Once safely back down, you can refill with a unique gastronomy experience at the newly opened Huset i Gato, overseen by the 23-year old wine director Filip Birlean. Half Italian, half Norwegian, he draws inspiration from his mother, who owned eight restaurants and earned two Michelin stars in Tuscany. It is filled with an impressive collection of more than 1000 bottles of wine, valued at a staggering 4.2 million Norwegian kroner, featuring some pretty unique selections. Their philosophy? Highest quality at every stage, with passionately prepared food paired with delicious wines. What truly sets them apart though, is their inclusive approach. This is a place where everyone is welcome, whether you’re coming straight from hiking up Helgelandstrappa or dressed for a more formal occasion.

End the day checking into Fru Haugans Hotel, Northern Norway’s oldest, found at the historic end of Sjøgata. Here you’ll find a charming mix of old-world hospitality and industrial history set against stunning natural beauty. It’s a place in Helgeland that you don’t want to miss and if the weather permits, enjoy the midnight sun from their garden.

Train route: Mosjøen to Bodø
Time: 3 hours and 15 minutes

Returning to Bodø: Reflections on Helgeland’s Coastal Paradise
Conclude your journey with the Nordland Line’s scenic train ride, hailed by Lonely Planet as one of the world’s most beautiful ones. Travel from Mosjøen back to Bodø, crossing the Arctic Circle and passing through Nordland’s stunning inland valley- and mountain-landscapes in the early morning hours. Arriving back to Bodø, the European Capital of Culture 2024, mid-day gives you time to explore a little of what the region has to offer. Or if you prefer more time, book a stay at Quality Hotel Ramsalt, conveniently located in the city centre.

Relax at Sauna PUST in the harbour for a mindful start, before embarking on an fast-paced adventure out at sea with Explore Salten. You will fly through the water with their RIB boats, look for sea eagles and experience Saltstraumen (the world’s strongest maelstrom) first hand. Alternatively, discover Bodø´s many museums by e-bike from Opplev Nord or simply enjoy baked goods at the many popular cafés like Brødrene Berbusmel, Samvirkelaget or Påpir Library Bar before heading back to the airport.

The combination of mountains, fjords, archipelago and an exciting cultural history is what makes Helgeland so special. And not least the residents spread across the coastline. As a Swedish world sailor once remarked to a local in Mosjøen: After four years of sailing the world, Helgeland was the one place I simply needed to return too.

So put away your watch, let time sail its own course, and just savour life while exploring the coast of Helgeland with the Nordland Express. This is the experience of a lifetime, where the midnight sun is not made to sleep away but to awaken the adventurer in you. Personally I will bring home the wise words shared by a local I met: that life is composed of countless small moments and it is all about seeking out the good experiences to live a fulfilling life.

About Nordland Express (NEX)
Tickets can be purchased either on board or on their website. It’s advised to book in advance to guarantee your spot on your preferred route. Consider the Travel Pass Nordland, which allows unlimited bus and boat travel for a week at just NOK 1,290.

The express boat operates year-round, though the schedule varies post-summer with more frequent changes. Helgeland is a wonderful destination all year round. Travelling outside of the summer season offers a unique opportunity to get even closer to the locals and experience the region’s authentic culture and natural beauty.

For details about the Nordland Express and an overview over timetables, please visit Reis Nordland’s website.