The cultures of the Far North

The far north of the Norway, on the bleak edges of the continent, is land of big contrasts. From sharp mountain peaks and broad fjords to the endless inland plateaus: it leaves a vast and empty impression. The North is home to no less than three cultures: Besides the Norwegian people, there live Sami and Kven people.

The Sami people live in Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia. Photo:

The Sami (previously called Lapps) are the best known ethnic minority in Northern Europe. A proud Finno-Ugric people, they were the original inhabitants of large portions of the Scandinavian peninsula. Nowadays, they are to be found in the arctic regions of Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia. Although there are Sami in the whole of Norway (there is even a Sami-language daycare in Oslo), the most of them live in the province of Finnmark, with Karasjok and Kautokeino being the biggest Sami towns.

Photo: Kirill Pustozerec
Photo: Kirill Pustozerec

A journey to Northern Norway is therefor a dive into Sami culture. Although the Sami are a modern people as anyone else, the traditional culture is being held alive as well. Therefore you’ll see people wearing the traditional colourful dress. If you have the opportunity to visit a traditional Sami tent or hear some of the «joik» chanting, you shouldn’t miss it! Maybe you meet someone who still herds reindeer, the traditional Sami way of life. Actually, herding reindeer is still an important part of the Sami, as up til 16% of the population is connected to reindeering in one way or another.

The Sami parliament in Karasjok

The Kven people are a smaller minority in Finnmark. They are descendants of immigrants from northern Finland, and continue to speak the Kven dialect of Finnish. There are also Kven communities in neighbouring Sweden.

Our hostel in Mehamn, as seen from the sea!
Our hostel in Mehamn, as seen from the sea!

HI Norway has two hostel in Finnmark, in HI Alta and HI Mehamn. Alta is often thought of the gateway to Finnmark, offering accommodation all year.

Mehamn is our northernmost hostel, on the tip of the Nordkinn Peninsula, the northernmost point of the European mainland. It is open all year round, and is the ideal base for your northern adventure!

Also at our hostel in Sortland it’s possible to experience Sami culture. There’s a small Sami community living nearby, and you can visit their reindeer-farm.

2019 HI Sortland (57)
Visiting the reindeer farm at Sortland

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Photo at the top:

written by Robin Van de Walle


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