Arctic Sortland: Norway’s Blue Town

Sortland, the Blue Town

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?

Sortland, the Blue Town, Arctic Norway

Sortland, the Blue Town, Arctic Norway Sortland, the Blue Town, Arctic Norway

Sortland, the Blue Town, Arctic Norway Sortland, the Blue Town, Arctic Norway

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.

Wall poetry in Sortland, the Blue Town, Arctic Norway

I’ve seen you run through the rain and catch up with the sun


Outdoor poetry, Sortland, the Blue Town, Arctic Norway

There’s midnight sun all year. You just have to look closely.


Outdoor poetry, Sortland, the Blue Town, Arctic Norway Outdoor poetry, Sortland, the Blue Town, Arctic Norway
In a corner in town lives silence,
to find silence, you must find the corner

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.

View from Lihallen kulturgård, Sigerfjord, Sortland

On board Nordlandsjekta Brødrene, Sortlandssundet

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.

Arctic Circle from above, Northern Norway

  • 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.

Nordlandsjekta Brødrene



36 Responses to “Arctic Sortland: Norway’s Blue Town”

  1. Leigh 31 December 2012 0220 #

    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.

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 31 December 2012 1646 #

      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 🙂

  2. ANGLO/Dale 31 December 2012 0413 #

    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!

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 31 December 2012 1649 #

      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.

  3. Michael Hodson 31 December 2012 1801 #

    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.

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 2 January 2013 1029 #

      Thanks, Michael 🙂

  4. Muza-chan 1 January 2013 2018 #

    Beautiful photos, blue is my favorite color…

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 2 January 2013 1029 #


  5. Vera Marie Badertscher 2 January 2013 0418 #

    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!

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 2 January 2013 1030 #

      Be prepared for colder temperatures than in Arizona 🙂

  6. ItalianNotes 2 January 2013 0907 #

    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?

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 2 January 2013 1031 #

      Half-Danish, Mette. Half… 🙂

      • Håvard 11 January 2013 0010 #

        Also, he used to live in Sortland for several years so he’s got a close relation to the city 🙂

        • Anne-Sophie Redisch 11 January 2013 1031 #

          Yes, I got the impression they’re quite proud of him there.

  7. Andrea 2 January 2013 1621 #

    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! =)

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 7 January 2013 0704 #

      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.

  8. Andrew Graeme Gould 2 January 2013 1639 #

    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!

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 7 January 2013 0704 #

      Thanks, Andrew.

  9. Cathy Sweeney 2 January 2013 1648 #

    Blue town, blue water — very cool! I’d never heard of Bjørn Elvenes, but he has a new fan.

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 7 January 2013 0705 #

      I had never heard of him before either.

  10. Deb 2 January 2013 1727 #

    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.

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 7 January 2013 0705 #

      It is pretty creative.

  11. 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!

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 7 January 2013 0706 #

      Ta, Suzzane

  12. Stephanie - The Travel Chica 5 January 2013 2153 #

    Interesting. Enjoy quirky stories like this.

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 7 January 2013 0706 #

      Quirky indeed 🙂

  13. InsideJourneys 6 January 2013 0048 #

    Soothing, blue.
    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.

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 7 January 2013 0707 #

      Yeah, I love the long, light summer nights up here. Hard to leave the country in summer.

  14. InsideJourneys 6 January 2013 0050 #

    Happy New Year, Sophie!!
    Looking forward to reading more about your adventures in 2013.

  15. Izy Berry - The Wrong Way Home 6 January 2013 2316 #

    I want to go there! It looks so beautiful! It’s one of my dreams to see the Northern Lights…

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 7 January 2013 0708 #

      Well, this is the right place for it – and now is the right time 🙂

  16. Freddy 10 January 2013 1533 #

    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?

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 11 January 2013 1005 #

      Thanks very much for taking the time to comment. Very interesting to get a local perspective (I assume you’re a local :))

  17. Lise 12 January 2013 2359 #

    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 .

    Happy new year, people! Hope to see you soon 😀

  18. Angela 16 February 2013 1209 #

    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 😉


  1. A Chance Encounter Turns into a Winning Day | Real Art Muse - 31 March 2015

    […] 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 […]

Leave a Reply