Rising out of the turbulent waters where the Atlantic meets the Arctic Ocean, the North Cape quite literally took my breath away. The stark beauty of the cliff, combined with the frigid temperatures, caught in my throat as I stepped off of the bus. Here I was, about as far north as you can go without leaving Europe, on a cliff 307 meters above the freezing waters of the Arctic Ocean. Epic didn’t even begin to describe the way it felt.
The Royal History Of The North Cape
I enjoy a challenging hike, but as the bus wound its way up the cliff to the North Cape I had time to reflect on the convenience of motor travel. Earlier visitors climbed the steep cliff on foot, facing treacherous conditions and a grueling trek, all for the view at the top.
The first known explorers to reach the summit arrived in 1553. Their search for the North-eastern Passage did not end well. Of the three British ships that made it this far north, two never returned. Steven Borough, the captain of the third and only surviving ship, gave the North Cape its name.
100 years later, the North Cape caught the attention of Francesco Negri, an Italian priest. The holy manâ€™s reasoning for the journey resonated with me as I prepared to take a look around the windswept clifftop. Negri wanted to see the view.
â€œHere I stand at the North Cape, the outermost point of Finnmark. I could even say that this is the end of the entire world, as no point farther north is inhabited by people. My thirst for knowledge is now sated, and I will return to Denmark and â€“ God willing â€“ to the land of my birth (Francesco Negri, 1664).â€
The priest might have been the first tourist, but he was not responsible for generating the interest in the North Cape that still holds the imagination of travelers around the world today. That honor goes to Swedish-Norwegian King Oscar II in 1873 and King Chulalongkorn of Thailand in 1907.
Perhaps the experience humbled those kings with the same awe I felt as I gazed around the panoramic view as snow blew around my feet. Their reports certainly attracted the public attention. Thanks to them, the North Cape became the tourist attraction it is today.
Getting To The North Cape
The North Cape is located on the island of Mageroya, which translates in English to the Meagre Island. The island is accessible by European route E69, where the North Cape Tunnel dips beneath the sea to bring visitors from Honningsvag on the mainland to the island.
Honningsvag Airport is the closest airport, with flights to larger TromsÃ¸ Airport. From TromsÃ¸, travelers can connect with major European airports like Oslo, Bergen, Trondheim, and London-Stansted.
Truly intrepid travelers can also reach the North Cape by the EuroVelo bicycle route, which runs from Sagrew, Portugal to the North Cape.
Personally I visited the North Cape as part of a Hurtigruten Arctic Circle cruise which stopped at HonningsvÃ¥g, the northern most city in Norway. Visiting the North Cape is one of the many excursions that are available from the ship. You can see more details here.
Things To Do At North Cape
The first thing most visitors do upon arrival is walk to the edge of the cliff. I was no exception, eager to look out over the water and the rest of the island. During the summer the view captures the midnight sun on the horizon. Visitors during the winter enjoy spectacular views of the northern lights if they are lucky, although you definitely want to wear your winter clothing. It gets cold up there!
The view is not the only attraction North Cape has to offer. Many visitors plan to spend the evening there, watching either the midnight sun or the Northern lights. If you can budget more time, try and spend a few daylight hours exploring the island. The stark landscape is beautiful, and bird watchers delight in the hundreds of thousands of puffins, auks, common guillemots and northern gannets that flock to the island. In the summer, many take a bird watching safari from Gjesvaer on the west side of the island.
North Cape is often referred to as the northernmost point in Europe. This is not entirely true, as Knivskjellodden is a kilometer farther north, but it certainly feels like the end of the world. The North Pole is only 2,000 km away. Hardly walking distance, but closer than most people ever get in one lifetime.
North Cape Visitorâ€™s Centre
I enjoyed the visitorâ€™s center almost as much as I enjoyed the view. Now open year round, the North Cape Hall is a stone building built firmly into the cliff. The builders learned their lesson several hundred years ago when the first building blew away in a storm.
The Centre offers all the facilities a traveler could hope for. I took a break from the cold to watch a film about the four seasons at the North Cape displayed on the Centreâ€™s Supervideograph wide-screen and absorbed some history from the exhibitions.
Every journey comes with a little hardship. I faced some tough choices in the Hall, torn between a lovely hot chocolate complete with a freshly baked waffle from the Hallâ€™s coffee house and a meal at the Kompasset restaurant. Both looked delicious, especially after a few hours out in the arctic cold. Unable to choose, I did what any intrepid traveler would and sampled both.
After a filling meal and a hot chocolate, I tried to avoid the gift shop, not wanting to carry anything else in my pack, but I couldnâ€™t resist. The shop carries a vast collection of souvenirs and I ended up leaving with a few myself. It didnâ€™t seem right to travel to the end of the world and come away empty handed.
Farewell To The North
Leaving North Cape was hard. I lingered for a last look out over the ocean, and snapped another photograph of the iconic globe before grabbing one of the few remaining seats on the bus back. I knew I would never forget the sight of the lonely cliffs gazing out over the farthest northern reaches of Europe.