The southbound Hurtigruten docks in Vardø at 3:45pm and leaves at 4:45pm, giving you around 50 minutes to walk through the town. However, keep in mind that the ship is typically late into Vardø. In some cases they will delay the departure time to allow a decent walk, but this isn’t always the case.
The ship docks right in the heart of the town, and it’s a 5-10 minute walk to the major attractions.
As you leave the ship, you will notice that almost everyone heads towards the fortress – even the expedition team. This is definitely the place you want to go first. However, if you aren’t interested in the fortress, head towards the church instead (see below). If you want to head for the Witch Trials Memorial, walk at a steady pace and follow the fortress crowd.
Vardø Fortress (Vardøhus)
Vardø Fortress is the northernmost fortification of any kind in the world, and this also makes Vardø the world’s northernmost fortified town. The first fortress was built here in 1306 to oversea the fur and fish trade, as well as keep an eye on the Russians. The fortress has never really been used – a second fort was built on the other side of Vardø in the 15th century. Because of that, by the 19th century, Vardø Fortress was in disrepair. It was restored and used to defend the town during World War II, and was even a prison in the immediate post-war years.
Today, Vardø Fortress is a museum. There is a small entry fee to enter (50 NOK) but it is not always staffed. There is a donation box where you can leave your fee – please do that!
It takes 5-10 minutes to walk to the fortress, and it’s more or less a straight line from the ship to the entrance. The easiest way to do it is to follow the crowd.
On the way, you’ll see (in the distance) Nordpol Kro. It was originally built in the 19th century and is one of the oldest hotels/pubs in Northern Norway. It was used by Russians during the Pomor Trade and was the place where Fridtjof Nansen had a beer before setting off to the Northwest Passage.
You’ll pass typical North Norwegian houses, clearly battered by the windy weather, before seeing a statue of the Norwegian King Haakon VII. Behind him is the entrance to the fort.
If you do decided to pay the admission fee, you will see Vardø’s only tree! Protected from the wind by the fortress walls, the tree is clearly hanging in there by a thread. Still, trees can’t grow here and this one has managed to. There are also some buildings you can enter. The exhibits are very simple, but it’s still worth having a look at.
Opening Hours: 16 April – 15 September 10am – 9pm / 16 September – 15 April 10am – 6pm
Admission: 50 NOK
Note: Sometimes the fortress is staffed, sometimes it isn’t. If it isn’t staffed, please leave money in the mailbox or use Vipps to send money to the museum.
Normally you only have enough time to visit the fortress. However, if you have extra time there are some places you can go to:
Witch Trials Memorial (Steilneset)
This you can see from the fortress, but if you are a fast walker you can head over to the memorial. Steilneset commemorates the trial and execution in 1621 of 91 people for witchcraft. The long, narrow building has information boards inside, but you’ll only ever get time to look at it from the outside. Still, it provides a gorgeous view out to the surrounding landscape.
Roughly halfway between the memorial and the fortress is Vardø’s chapel, which was built in 1908 and survived the Second World War. It’s simple in style, but still nice to take a look at.
Vardø City Hall & Church
For those not interested in the Vardø Fortress, I’d recommend heading towards the city hall and church. Both are good examples of immediate post-war architecture. The church was built in 1958 but the first church was built on the site in 1307. The previous church was built in 1869 but destroyed by retreating German forces.
The city hall and church are located next to each other and are a 5-10 minute walk from the ship in a different direction from the fortress.
View of the Warehouses
Back at the ship it’s possible to get a wonderful photo opportunity of Vardø. This can be combined with the fortress or the church visits, and it’s perfect for those who would rather stay close to the ship.
When exiting the ship, take an immediate left (or walk towards the right of the ship when coming back from the fortress). Standing at the pier, you will be able to see the Vardø Church with a row of Pomor trading warehouses (the wooden waterfront buildings). In the distance it’s possible to see the Globus II Radar, which is used by the Norwegian army to monitor space junk. The Russians think it’s used to monitor them.
Here’s my picture from the viewpoint:
From the ship
If you want to stay on the ship altogether, you still get an excellent view out to Vardø. Here is a picture from the ship.
If possible, leave your shopping until you get to Hammerfest. Many medicines, snacks & toiletries can also be found on the ship. If you do have time or need to go shopping, there is a tiny general store across from the ship.
Souvenirs are practically non-existent in Vardø; there is a small knitwear store on the pier that’s worth looking at. However, it is commonly crowded when the ship has docked.
There are no easily accessible ATMs in Vardø; wait until Hammerfest.
Since you have so little time in Vardø, I don’t recommend looking for somewhere to eat!
- Due to the wind and the Barents Sea, the ship is typically late into Vardø. Sometimes the ship will change the departure time to give you enough time to walk through Vardø, but this isn’t guaranteed. Keep an eye on the time and announcements
- The Expedition Team often walk to the Vardø Fortress. If you are feeling unsure of where to go, look out for them. Otherwise, you typically see most of the ship passengers heading towards the fortress.
- You can almost always see the ship from wherever you go in Vardø – it helps you not get lost!