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Much more romantically situated than Svolvær is the port of Kabelvåg, lying 5km (3 miles) to the south. This is also a much better introduction to the quaintness of the Lofotens than Svolvær. The port of wooden buildings encircles the shore of a narrow inlet. In its heyday it was the major village in the Viking era, a position it maintained until the early years of the 20th century. The first rorbuer (fishermen's cottages) were erected here in 1120.

One of the best walks in the area, giving you a flavor of the Lofotens, is the road between Svolvær and Kabelvåg. You go from the hustle and bustle of Svolvær, without all that much charm, to a little center of wooden houses hugging the shore of a knobby inlet. Along the way you're treated to seascapes of a certain majesty. Otherwise, frequent buses (every 20 min. in summer) run from Svolvær, taking 15 minutes and costing NOK50 ($10/£5) for a one-way fare.

Seeing the Sights

For NOK140 ($28/£14), you can purchase (at any of the sites) a combination ticket, granting admission to the Lofoten Museum, the Lofoten Aquarium, and the Galleri Espolin.

Lofoten Museum, Storvågan (tel. 76-06-97-90), was constructed over the site of the first town built in the polar world. The regional museum depicts past life in the Lofoten, and excavations continue at the site of an old trading post. On the museum grounds, you can visit a boathouse with antique boats, rorbu cabins from the 18th and 19th centuries, and cultural artifacts dating from prehistoric and medieval times. Admission is NOK60 ($12/£6) for adults, NOK25 ($5/£2.50) for children. Open June to August daily 9am to 6pm; May and September Monday to Friday 9am to 3pm; closed Saturday, Sunday 11am to 3pm; October to December 20 and January 2 to April Monday to Friday 9am to 3pm.

For the adventurous is a Killer Whale Safari in inflatable boats. Day trips to spot whales -- the largest group of killer whales in the world come to the Lofotens -- are staged from November 1 to January 11. Trips take 4 hours and cost NOK940 ($188/£94) per passenger. Departures are daily at 9am and 1:30pm. To arrange a tour contact Tysfjord Turistsenter based in Storjord (tel. 75-77-53-70; www.tysfjord-turistsenter.no).

Jann's Adventure Lofoten (tel. 76-07-89-10; www.lofoten-aktiv.no) offers the best sailing trips around the Lofotens in boats built of wood. On these trips, boats cross open water to get from one island to the other. Three-hour trips cost NOK475 ($95/£48) for adults and NOK324 ($65/£33) for children 15 and under. Departures are daily on request.

This same outfitter also offers cycling trips around the archipelago. These leave at 3pm on Saturdays throughout the summer, as it doesn't get dark because of the midnight sun. The cost of a 1-day jaunt is NOK845 ($169/£85) per person. If you possess the necessary skills, you can also rent kayaks to test your luck in the waters of the Lofotens. A single kayak for the day rents for NOK420 ($84/£42). Fishing trips are also arranged, with no more than 12 fishermen aboard at one time. Trips last 4 hours and cost NOK350 ($70/£35). Departures are daily at 6pm in summer.

Close by and opening onto the sea, Lofoten Aquarium, Storvågan (tel. 76-07-86-65; www.lofotakvariet.no), offers nearly two dozen aquariums of various sizes filled with fish and other marine animals, including mammals, from the Arctic world. Of special interest are the seal and otter ponds. There's also a salmon-farm exhibit, and much attention is given to the "noble" cod, which has sustained life in these parts for centuries. Admission is NOK80 ($16/£8) for adults, NOK40 ($8/£4) for children ages 5 to 15, and free for children 4 and under. Hours are February to May 31 Monday to Friday 11am to 3pm, June 1 to August 31 daily 10am to 7pm, and September to November daily 11am to 3pm.

The distinctive, contemporary Galleri Espolin, Storvågan (tel. 76-07-84-05; www.galleri-espolin.no), is devoted to the works of artist Kaare Espolin Johnson (1907-94), one of Norway's best-known artists. Espolin was drawn to the archipelago and was fascinated by its life and that of its fishermen. Amazingly, this almost lyrical artist was practically blind for most of his life. He painted not only the fishermen, but also their wives, their boats, and the drama they faced at sea. From June 11 to August 8, the museum is open daily 10am to 7pm (closing earlier off season). Admission is NOK60 ($12/£6) for adults and NOK25 ($5/£2.50) for children.

On the eastern approach to town, along E10, stands Vågan Kirke (tel. 76-07-82-90), a church from 1898 that is the second-largest wooden church in Norway, with a seating capacity of 1,200. It was constructed to house the seasonal population of fishermen who came mostly for the winter catches, swelling the population of little Kabelvåg. Admission is NOK20 ($4/£2), but the church keeps no regular hours (it's usually open during the day in summer).

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.