December 9th – January 4th.
Winter on Lofoten is a delicate balance between snow and rain. Or, as I like to say, Lofoten looks colder than it actually is (most of the time!). If you are traveling to Lofoten for the ‘winter look’ of the islands, then mid January to late March is the best period. Before the new year, the weather is too inconsistent, it might snow or it might just rain. With January, more reliable winter conditions arrive, but not always! It can be 6˚C and raining for a week at any time, and typically there is some fluctuation between above and below freezing temperatures on a regular basis.
December is the darkest month of the year on Lofoten. Unless you’re going to experience the polar night, I’d say skip it, as conditions aren’t consistent enough. November is often dark and rainy, perhaps the worst month of the year to visit. January is dark with the sun barely rising above the horizon in the first half of the month, but the light is simply amazing; a continuous sunrise to sunset which lasts for 2-4 hours. Winter conditions also become more reliable in January, making it a good month to experience the winter atmosphere on Lofoten.
The days grow longer in February, though the sun still remains quite low on the horizon until the middle of the month. It’s a good mix of short days and long nights, providing enough time to get to separate locations for sunrise and sunset and a few other things at midday. By March the days begin to feel normal in length at the sun is relatively high in the sky; the long nights of the arctic winter are now gone. There will still be plenty of snow around and the sun will start rising more to the east and setting in the west. March is a good month if you want an active trip to the islands: climbing, skiing, etc.
By April the islands are beginning to thaw out. Winter storms and snow flurries often blow through, but in the long days the snow begins to disappear from the lower elevations as winter loses its grip over the land. April can be a bit drab for certain landscapes as the grass is brown and matted, and the trees are still leafless and barren as they await the arrival of spring. The nights grow short by the end of the month with a true darkness never occurring, giving the sense that summer is just around the corner. These twilight nights of late April, on the edge of the coming of the midnight sun, provide some fantastic light and leave little time for you to sleep as you will want to be shooting until 5:00am most nights.
Don’t expect to find much, if anything, open tourism wise during the winter months. Even finding a coffee can be a bit of a challenge in some places. On the bright side, the temperature never gets too cold for such a wintry looking destination; you should be prepared for somewhere down to -10˚C or so. However, it is the wind that can really suck the heat out of you. Bring warm, windproof clothing and a good pair of gloves as you won’t produce much heat just standing around and taking photos. You don’t want to have to stop shooting because you’re cold. Another nice thing about winter is you can sleep in until 9:30am and still be up for sunrise!
It is best to have a shelter of some sort, you will miss out on 90% of Lofoten if you don’t have a way to drive yourself around. Plus, waiting 2 hours for a bus at 7am can really be a miserable, character forming experience. Before moving to Lofoten, I often couldn’t afford both accommodation. On those trips I would typically sleep in my rental cars all but a night or two when I need to charge my camera batteries. A weekly shower doesn’t hurt either. It can be a bit drafty at times, but I’m glad I have something sturdy to sleep/wait in as on more than a few nights over the years, even a 4-season tent would have had its work cut out for it.
Winter sunrise – sunset times
Jan 1: No sunrise/sunset
Jan 15: 10:45 – 13:45
Feb 1: 9:27 – 15:12
Feb 15: 8:27 – 16:14
Mar 1: 7:24 – 17:13
Mar 15: 6:25 – 18:06
If you’re wanting to photograph the islands in winter condition then January to March is the best time. If you’re poor like me and have to camp or sleep in your rental car, than January can be a bit rough. But when you get a good day, the light is simply amazing and you’ll be going non stop from dawn till dusk – which isn’t so bad as it’s only about 4 hours. February brings a few more hours of daylight, and thus more time to work and get to a few different locations. Even at noon in February, the sun is not very high in the sky so it’s no problem to photograph throughout the day. In March the islands are still fully embraced in winter, yet the days are long enough to head out into the mountains for a few adventures. Though I feel that the light loses some of the magic that is present in January and February.
Sunrise occurs roughly 30 minutes earlier as each week passes, so don’t forget to adjust your alarm forward every few days.
If making your first visit to the islands for winter, then I’d say February or March would be the best months for somewhat reliable conditions.