Road-Tripping around Finnmark in Arctic Norway
I love a good old road trip and it’s one of my favourite ways to explore new places, to check out local cultures, taste new food, learn new languages and of course, to empty the bank accounts as the cost of fuel in these parts are not cheap. In Europe there are lots of road trips to be had and most people can create one very easily. Some road trips I do involve going along some of the longest roads in Europe and in this post I be telling you the best parts of the E6 from Kirkenes (in the Finnmark region) at the top of Norway to Utsjoki on the Finnish/Norway border and hopefully very soon I will bring you more exciting places to check out on the rest of the route.
The E6 (European Route 6) is the main north to south road through Norway and continues on through to Southern Sweden. It is 2,084km (1,295 miles) long and is one of the harshest main roads to drive along in the winter months, especially within the Arctic Circle.
I started the E6 where it starts/finishes (depending how you see it) just east of the centre of Kirkenes, which lies on the shores of the Arctic Ocean. This is a small fishing town which has been totally rebuilt after the Second World War when the Nazi Germans burnt down the whole town. Only thirteen houses remain of that era. As a visitor to the area, there is not much to do. The highlight is the church which has stood here since the 1850s but was rebuilt after the war and stands on a small hill overlooking the centre. The town of Kirkenes is actually named after the church (Kirkenes means ‘Church Headland’). I took a walk around the area and probably checked out the centre with the towns seafront in around thirty minutes (this would have been quicker if it wasn’t for lots of ice on the ground). The views of the seafront is worth checking out, seeing the beautiful rugged coastline with small hills surrounding the harbour. Apart from that I moved on out of town.
One fascinating fact about this part of Norway is the time zone. Kirkenes is east of Finland (and of course, Istanbul, Saint Petersburg, Kiev) and is ONE hour behind Finland as the region kept the same time as the rest of Norway. Traveling west and entering Finland, I would jump an hour. Coming towards Kirkenes from Finland and I would lose an hour. Also going into Russia nearby (about 14km away), in the summer months I would lose an hour but in the winter I would lose two hours. This is a crazy part of the world when it comes to timekeeping.
To the south-east of the town (slightly off the E6 but signposted in both Norwegian/Russian) is the border checkpoint. Managing to park up on the right hand side before the actual checkpoint area which is on the E105 route and had a great view of the lake. However no walking to the border is allowed and car vehicles can’t go through unless visitors have a visa (which can’t be brought at the control point). Just before I got back in the car, I noticed a tiny souvenir cabin on the other side of the road where Norwegian/Russian products can be brought and is owned by a man who moved here from Oslo so he could ‘just get away from it all’. He has got that right and I landed up talking to him for around forty minutes talking about the E6, Russia, Norwegian politics and the breakup of the relationship between Britain and the European Union and how happy he was to see us (the Brits) join his brothers (Norway, Iceland, Switzerland and Liechtenstein as they are not part of the European Union).
Back on the road and heading west passing the airport (which is on military land so no taking photos around this area, it’s clearly signposted), the road passes beautiful sloping hills but the land can be barren. Villages alongside the fjords can be seen and checked out whilst reindeer walk and look for food by the roadside. To be honest the road itself isn’t a problem to drive along but it’s the concentration which is needed. Reindeer and moose can jump out at any second, there could be huge chunks of snow blowing onto the windscreen, snow ploughs whizzing down the road and lots of ice can be on the road surface during the cold months.
After 82km, there is a turning to the right signposted Bugøynes which is another 20km along the coastal road. Here is a beautiful fishing village where views overlooking it must be had before driving down to centre and checking out it’s wooden church. There is a shop and a restaurant here serving King Crab which has been given rave reviews on the internet but it was closed so no crab for me. The brown sandy beaches is a bonus and it’s here in the winter months crazy people from the south known as Finnish folks come here to get naked and jump into the sea.
Back on the E6 and heading around the south/western end of the Varangerfjord, the road gets very exciting as there is a major roundabout junction in Varangerbotn to manage. This happens 118km after the last roundabout/major junction so you can imagine what sort of distances I was driving before seeing a road sign, changing gears in the car or having to turn my head left to right to look for oncoming traffic (which there was none). This is a major junction with the E75 (which goes towards Vardø) but also there is a gas station (which sells nice sausages to go), an Italian restaurant (which is reasonably priced) and a museum of the local area.
17km to the west (the E6/E75 share this bit of road all the way to Utsjoki in Finland), is Tana Bru (which is English means Bridge on Tana river). To be honest in this major road junction with a population of around 600, bugger all happens here apart from getting some gas, getting some sleep in a hotel, checking out the souvenir store and buying expensive beer from the supermarket. Otherwise just keep driving…….
The E6/E75 runs alongside the northern shores of the Tana river and there is not much to see unless stopping off for those beautiful photos of the river itself. The next major junction is where the E6 and E75 splits just north of Utsjoki. The E6 carries on westwards towards Alta and Narvik and this is where I leave the road for now. Head south on the E75 and across the bridge into the small town of Utsjoki where the Norway-Finland border meets which means lots of cheaper food, gas and beer are to be had.
Sights include the Sami Bridge (the bridge which links Norway and Finland in this part of the world), see one of Europe’s largest salmon fishing rivers, check out the local church plus the Kirkkotuvat which are accommodation huts for the church. Then there is also the chance to have a hotel snack and drink in the local cafe, buy souvenirs from the shop (which has a lot of handmade souvenirs) and there is also the northernmost bar in the European Union to check out. Also Utsjoki is an excellent place for Northern Light chasing with the local Aurora Holidays tour operator which is worth checking out.
Whilst driving around the Finnmark region of Norway, I took in spectacular scenery which I have never seen in any other region in Europe, saw beautiful wildlife, a lot of snow and the folk around here are just dam too pleasant. I love this region and I hope to return one day.