At 68° north, a fair distance above the Arctic Circle, is Sortland, Norway’s Blue Town. Sortland is the capital of the Vesterålen Archipelago; less famous, perhaps, than its neighbour to the south, the Lofoten Islands, but no less stunning.
But why is Sortland blue? Well, despite its über-gorgeous surroundings, Sortland was a dreary town in need of a major renovation. Enter local artist Bjørn Elvenes, a man with an idea: why not paint the town blue?
The Blue Town was launched at the very end of the last century and in the years hence, the town has simply become an outdoor art project. Everywhere you look, you’ll see blue. Sortland has become a poetic city as well; little verses are painted on the walls, penned by famous Norwegian author Lars Saabye Christensen and local kids.
I’ve seen you run through the rain and catch up with the sun.
There’s midnight sun all year long. You just have to look for it.
In a corner of town lives silence. To find the silence you must find that corner.
There are so many nice things that haven’t been said yet
Fish balls. And nature.
Another quirky claim to fame of this archipelago is fish balls, made from cod fished in the cold, clean waters here in the Arctic. Fish balls is a traditional Norwegian staple meal – usually served with boiled potatoes, curry and white sauce. Or with small, green peas and prawns in millefeuille shells. Most famous, perhaps, is Vesteraalen Fiskeboller, who celebrated 100 years of fish ball production this year.
But blue houses, street poetry and fish balls aside, nature is Sortland’s main draw.
Blue Town practicals
This far north, the sun’s up 24/7 from mid-May to mid-July. For another month at either end there’s no real darkness at this latitude. Vesterålen is also an excellent place to spot the elusive Aurora Borealis. If you’ve seen photos of the Northern Lights in National Geographic, chances are good they’ve been taken right here.
- The nearest major airport is Harstad/Narvik (EVE), about 2 hours away by bus or hire car. The tiny, local Skagen airport is only 20 minutes away.
- Hurtigruten (The Coastal Express) stops in Sortland twice a day, the southwardbound around noon, the northwardbound at about 02.30 am.
- Strand hotell and Sortland hotell are the main accommodations options, both with simple and comfortable rooms and in the town centre. There’s also a hostel, in Norway known as vandrerhjem (meaning wanderers’ homes) in Sortland.
- Don’t miss Lihallen Kulturgård, a gorgeous art gallery, and
- last, but not least, be sure to get out on the fjord.
What a gorgeous place. It doesn’t hurt that I love all things blue but WOW – I am so impressed at how a coat of paint can transform a town. I would make an effort to see this town should I make it to Norway and the Lofotens are on my wish list – and have been for at least a dozen years.
Happy New Year Sophie.
So true – sometimes it doesn’t take all that much to transform – whether it’s a building, town or even a person, I suppose. Happy new year, Leigh 🙂
Looks like I just found my future hometown! I LOVE the colour blue, regardless of the supposed “cold” connotations it supposedly has attached; coupled with the chance to be amongst art in an artfully nurtured place makes me excited to visit.
Thanks for pointing Sortland out, and also; Happy New Year!
This is the place for you, then. The town is painted blue, the fjord is so very blue and the blue light of the Arctic is forever fascinating and otherworldly. And although the weather is cold, the people of Northern Norway are anything but.
Thanks for stopping by and happy new year to you, too.
Wow. Some really, really lovely colors in these shots. Heading to the far north myself in a couple months. Hope the photography is this good.
Thanks, Michael 🙂
Beautiful photos, blue is my favorite color…
Since blue is my favorite color, too, (Probably part of the reason I love Greece–all that blue and white) I guess I’ll just have to go there!
Be prepared for colder temperatures than in Arizona 🙂
I’ve been to Lofoten, but never hear of Sortland. Stunning place. But what’s the Danish author Lars Saabye Christensen doing on Atlantic blue walls?
Half-Danish, Mette. Half… 🙂
Also, he used to live in Sortland for several years so he’s got a close relation to the city 🙂
Yes, I got the impression they’re quite proud of him there.
Wow – this is a first – I’ve never seen a town painted all the same colour…pretty sure I’d be tired of that quite quickly if I lived there but what a great destination novelty. Happy New Year! =)
They haven’t painted the entire town blue yet, still a few red, yellow and white houses.. But the blue in all its varieties really seems to work here.
A beautiful photo series, Sophie. I’m fascinated by what you show here, and how well you’ve shown it. So many reasons to go there, then. l’m noting this all down for a future trip to Scandinavia.
All the best for 2013!
Blue town, blue water — very cool! I’d never heard of Bjørn Elvenes, but he has a new fan.
I had never heard of him before either.
What a great town and wonderful idea. Those vivid blues would definitely stand out against the dreary landscape. I gotta get myself there one day. Cheers.
It is pretty creative.
Seems like… after watching the water of the sea.. the blue color is indeed the best one for sortland. My eyes need glares!! Awesome pics though!
Interesting. Enjoy quirky stories like this.
Quirky indeed 🙂
I’d love to experience the sun 24/7. A friend from Sweden tells me she always sleeps with the lights on when she’s in the US.
Yeah, I love the long, light summer nights up here. Hard to leave the country in summer.
Happy New Year, Sophie!!
Looking forward to reading more about your adventures in 2013.
I want to go there! It looks so beautiful! It’s one of my dreams to see the Northern Lights…
Well, this is the right place for it – and now is the right time 🙂
Sortland’s newly found blue colour isn’t uncontroversial. Opinions about it among the local people are divided. If you get out of the town, you won’t find many blue houses. There’s a reason for that. Most people feel that blue coloured walls give a sense of coldness and unfriendliness. The natural blue of the sky and the sea, especially on a dark day in November, is something different. There is a charm and beauty in that. But blue buildings, now also with intense blue lights added in some places, makes the town feel gloomy and cold. The turquoise and green in between doesn’t make it feel any nicer.
Sortland doesn’t have any tradition for blue buildings, unlike a few genuine blue places in the world. In fact the first part of the town’s name, “sort”, means “black”. The blue paint is a fancy idea from a local artist that has been adopted by the local council. Some people do like it, that is true. But many don’t particularly care to live in such “artwork”. They are more concerned about streets that are bumpy and dirty, and the town centre where most of the buildings (painted blue or not) have as much architectural charm as the average petrol station.
The blue paint doesn’t cost the local council very much, except for some planning costs. It is apparently easy to find sponsors for the project, not least is a certain paint factory very happy because the council mentions their name every time there is talk about “blue Sortland”. But one can wonder why it seems to be so easy to find sponsors for blue paint and not for things that there is actually a need for. We never hear about sponsors to get streets and roads into a decent shape, no one ever donates money to bring schools up to a decent standard. Blue paint is fancy, it creates publicity, someone gets to have their name and face in the local newspaper. Worn out roads and moldy school buildings isn’t news, it doesn’t matter much.
Maybe someone would care if we painted the roads blue?
Thanks very much for taking the time to comment. Very interesting to get a local perspective (I assume you’re a local :))
This is my hometown, and I love the blue buildings. I wish and hope that all of the buildings would be painted in the same “arty” colors. You have really captured the spirit of Sortland in your pictures, and I hope that all your readers can appreciate our beautiful town. And for all your followers who also is on instagram, you can see alot of pics from Sortland and our stunning nature by following the hashtag #Sortland or #Vesterålen or my instagram account http://www.instagram.com/lisekristin .
Happy new year, people! Hope to see you soon 😀
Wow the view is amazing. I’ve always thought about Norway as boasting stunning landscape, I might take a trip while I’m in Italy, just waiting for a little warmer weather 😉
[…] recounted a charming story about the thriving and talented artistic community in Sortland, a town in the northern part of her native Norway she recently visited. There is an outdoor art […]