Discover Norway’s second largest island. Senja is an arctic holiday destination with plenty of hiking opportunities, picturesque villages, coastal routes and much more.
Sandwiched between Tromsø and the Lofoten and Vesterålen archipelagos, Senja is often overlooked by international travelers, but it’s an enduring favorite of Norwegian tourists. That’s because Senja is arctic Norway at its best.
There are many opportunities for outdoor activities for the active. But if you want to relax, a drive around the island is a pleasant way to spend time while visiting the north.
How to get to Senja
For many visitors, the most convenient way to reach Senja is to take the ferry from Tromsø to Finnsnes or Lysnes. It is also possible to drive directly to the island via the Finnsnes Bridge.
Once on Senja, head north of the island for the signposted tourist route, which covers 63 miles mostly along road 862.
Drive the Senja National Scenic Route
The North Senja Coastal Route is one of Norway’s 18 designated National Scenic Routes, routes specifically developed and maintained as attractions by the state.
This investment keeps the roads in good driving condition and has provided sanitary facilities, architectural points of interest and viewpoints along all routes. Many of Senja’s most famous sights and other points of interest can be found along the route.
Let’s look at each of them. Driving from east to west, here are some of the must-see sites in Senja.
The quaint fishing village of Husøy is a short detour from the start of the route in Botnhamn. Crammed into a small island in the Øyfjord, the village is surrounded by mountains and looks fantastic at any time of year.
Given its remote location, you might expect this small island village to be a living museum, but it remains an active fishing community with a few hundred permanent residents.
For many years, the island was only accessible by boat. Today a 300 meter long causeway connects Husøy to the rest of Senja.
Another small fishing village with a surprising life, Mefjordvær is worth a detour along the edge of the Mefjord.
The breakwater is an ideal place for a stroll to interrupt the trip. Although there are toilets here, most other services are near 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, but with freezing water.
Even if you’re not brave enough to take a dip, Ersfjordstranda is a popular spot for a walk or photo stop about halfway through the course. The angular gold-plated restroom building is a sight in itself.
For many, the highest point in Senja, the Tungeneset rest area is best known for its view of the jagged peaks of Oksen across the Ersfjord. Known as Devil’s Jaw, these mountains make a big impression, especially in bad weather.
A purpose-built wooden walkway leads visitors from the car park closer to the ocean for better views of the open sea and mountains.
You’ll often find photographers spending the day here waiting for the varying lighting conditions to deliver the perfect shot.
As the road increases in elevation towards its western end, the views take on a new perspective. The 144-foot-long viewing platform at Bergsbotn offers two different views of the fjord and the valley.
The road is narrow along this stretch, so watch out for cyclists. The route is part of the European Cycle Route 1, which runs along much of the Norwegian coastline.
After a less dramatic but no less enjoyable coastal stretch, the route ends at the fishing village of Gryllefjord.
During the summer, a car ferry runs from Gryllefjord to Andenes at the northern end of the Vesterålen archipelago, a crucial link for those planning a more in-depth visit to northern Norway. Another of the 18 scenic routes starts in Andenes.
Hiking in Senja
Challenging hikes with rewarding views are commonplace on an island with so many mountains.
Sukkertoppen mountain is popular with hikers in Norway, although the full 3-4 hour route ends with a steep section that makes the overall hike quite challenging.
Husfjellet offers an alternative, gentler hike with fantastic views of the Ersfjord and Bergsfjord and the famous peaks of Oksen.
Ånderdalen National Park
Ånderdalen National Park, covering an area of 134 square kilometres, was created to preserve the pristine forest and coastal landscape of northern Norway. There is a permanent population of moose, semi-domesticated reindeer, and red foxes, among other wildlife.
Living in Senja
The island is located in the municipality of Senja, which was created in January 2020. About 7,864 people live there, mostly along the east coast of the island.
Silsand is the largest urban area on the island, connected to the municipal capital Finnsnes by the Gisund Bridge.
Fishing and agriculture remain important industries within the municipality. Tourism jobs are also available, although many tend to be seasonal.
Senja has only 8,000 inhabitants, so shops are few and not always well stocked, especially along the scenic route.
Petrol stations are available at both ends of the route at Botnhamn/Husøy and Gryllefjord. For those on a budget, Ersfjord Beach is a popular place to camp.