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Rorbuer: The Place to Stay in Lofoten

“Stay away from Svolvær. It’s too big and you won’t experience the real Lofoten. Go to a little fishing village and stay in rorbuer. That’s the way to experience the Lofoten Islands properly.”

That’s the refrain I read over and over again when I was researching my trip to the Lofoten Islands. And while I don’t agree with part of it — I actually enjoyed my stay in Svolvær — I do agree with one thing. When you’re in the Lofoten Islands, you really should stay in a rorbu, even if it is just for one night.

Svinøya Rorbuer in Svolvær

Svinøya Rorbuer on Svinøya Island, Svolvær.

Rorbuer in General

So what exactly is a rorbu? It’s basically a wooden cabin, usually painted a brilliant red, that sits on the edge of a fjord or the open sea. It’s one of the most traditional forms of lodging in Lofoten, having been used for many years as fishermen’s housing. Specifically, it was where fishermen lived while fishing for cod during the winter peak fishing season.

Reflections of Rorbuer

Reflections of rorbuer.

Many of the villages in Lofoten — Reine, Å, and Henningsvær to name a few — have converted some of these cabins into tourist accommodation, and the city of Svolvær even has one group of them (although they come with a massive price markup due to their location, which is still not as scenic as some of the smaller villages).

What makes staying in a rorbu different from say, staying in a cabin in another location? For me, it was being right in the thick of things. There was no need to walk a long distance to get a good view. And, in summer, if you want a nice picnic or even a short dip in the cold waters, all you would have to do is walk outside.

My Stay at Reine Rorbuer

I stayed in Reine Rorbuer, which is perched on the edge of Reinefjord in the southern end of the Lofoten Islands. My bedroom window looked out across the fjord, as this photo shows:

Reine, as seen from my rorbu's window.

Reine, as seen from my rorbu’s window.

While I didn’t get that view lying in bed, it was close enough; all I had to do was sit up and see the fjord all around me, complete with the hundreds of squawking & divebombing seagulls playing in the water. It was that view that brought it home to me that I was actually in northern Norway.

To the left of the photo was the dock that fishing trawlers pulled into in the afternoon, meaning that from the comfort of my room, I could watch them unload the day’s catch. While this sounds like it might make the rorbu quite smelly, it wasn’t…at least not on the inside. The air inside was pleasantly fresh and I made sure to keep the door closed so it stayed that way!

Rorbuer on Reinefjord

Rorbuer with a great view across Reinefjord.

That said, the first thing I noticed when arriving at Reine Rorbuer was the constant stench of fish. I quickly learned that this smell hangs over the entire village due to its numerous racks filled with cod, slowly drying so it can be shipped off to places like Portugal (where it is known as bacalao) and Africa. It’s a smell I got used to reasonably quickly (except when a tractor full of cod passed by while I was walking down the road) and I really couldn’t complain…after all, there wouldn’t be a village there to stay in without the income that fishing provides!

I stayed in a medium-sized rorbu as it was recommended to me that I didn’t book the smallest since it had no kitchenette. A kitchenette is a must in Reine during the winter since there are no restaurants open in the area (although I suppose you could live off pølse — hot dogs — sold from the gas station across the road).

Looking back at a cluster of rorbuer.

Looking back at a cluster of rorbuer.

There was also room for an entire family since there was a loft with two single beds as well as a comfortable living area. For 4 people, the price of 1000kr a night would have been almost a steal. For just me, it was a bit expensive (although not nearly as expensive as Booking.com, which only offered the largest rorbuer), but it wasn’t any more expensive than accommodation in the rest of Norway.

The owner of Reine Rorbuer, Sarah, was extremely helpful. She answered all of my questions in multiple phone calls and let me change to a smaller rorbu after I realised that I’d inadvertently booked one of the largest ones. I can’t imagine how big that would have felt — mine felt big enough! Also, she very kindly got out of bed, heated up her car, and came to pick me up at the Moskenes ferry terminal at 12.30am (taxis in Moskenes, at least in winter, only run from 7am-7pm).

Inside my rorbu.

The kitchenette and living area in my rorbu.

So if I were to go back to Lofoten on my own, with no need for a cabin that fits 4 people, would I stay in a rorbu again? Absolutely. And next time, I might even eat some fish while I’m there!

Reine Rorbuer is located across from the Statoil petrol station in the village of Reine. Prices vary depending on season; winter rates are roughly 700kr-1400kr per night.

Reine can be reached either by the car ferry from Bodø-Moskenes (5km away) or by road from Narvik (390km) or Svolvær (120km). 177nordland buses run from Narvik daily.

Information on other rorbuer around the islands can be found at Switchback Travel.

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