Hammerfest is a city in the far north of Norway, located along the northwestern coast of the large island called Kvaløya, connected to the mainland by a road bridge. This city, famous for being among the most northerly in the world, is also home to one of the most important natural gas processing plants in the world. Furthermore, Hammerfest is also home to a UNESCO World Heritage Site, a pillar that is part of the Struve Geodetic Arc, an ingenious system developed in the first half of the 19th century to establish the exact size and shape of the earth.
Hammerfest is now a quiet harbor town and one of the most important ports of Hurtigruten. Despite its ancient origins, the city center dates back to the mid-1900s, as it was completely destroyed by the Nazis during the Second World War. Today it houses some interesting museums and is a good place to find out more about the far north of Norway.
What you will find in this travel guide to Hammerfest:
- Hammerfest: Interesting Facts and Things to Know Before You Go
- Best Things to Do and See in Hammerfest
- Best Hammerfest Hotels
- Best Restaurants in Hammerfest
- How to Get to Hammerfest
Hammerfest: Interesting Facts and Things to Know Before You Go
Hammerfest is the northernmost city in the world with over 10,000 inhabitants (it has over 11,000) and one of the oldest cities in Northern Norway. Located in the remote lands of the far north, Hammerfest has been an important port and base for Arctic exploration. Hunting and fishing expeditions once set out here to Svalbard and the icy waters of the Barents Sea.
The importance of the port of Hammerfest has exposed it to various naval battles and attacks, since the Napoleonic era. But the worst was in WWII, when the retreating Nazis razed the city, which since 1940 had become an important base for German troops and U-boats. Hammerfest was completely destroyed, only the cemetery chapel was saved. Today the city has been rebuilt and still retains its peaceful atmosphere of a far north port town.
Hammerfest is now world famous for the extraction and processing of natural gas. Just in front of the city is the island of Melkøya, which houses a huge natural gas processing plant: here comes the gas pipelines coming from the gas fields in the Barents Sea which are among the most important in the world.
Best Things to Do and See in Hammerfest
The Hammerfest Kirke is the real heart of the small town of Hammerfest. This beautiful church was inaugurated in 1961, during a larger city reconstruction project, after being burned to the ground by the retreating German Army as they left Finnmark in 1944. There were earlier churches here before, the oldest of which dates back to the early 1600s. The only building that survived the destruction of WWII is the cemetery chapel, located just in front of the Hammerfest Kirke.
The church shape recalls the typical wooden structures widespread throughout Norway and used for drying fish in the sea breeze. The interiors features a beautiful organ, colorful stained-glass windows, and richly decorated wooden friezes depicting some salient moments in the town’s history.
Museum of Reconstruction (Gjenreisningsmuseet)
One of the most interesting things to do in Hammerfest is to check out the Museum of Reconstruction for Finnmark and North Troms, which chronicles the city’s tragic past during the forced evacuation of 1944 and the gradual return to a normal life after the war. The museum, particularly popular with Norwegian travelers, tells an important piece of history of these areas of the far north, which during WWII were severely tested by Nazi barbarism.
The different rooms of the museum tell, through pictures, documents and videos, life in Hammerfest before and after the war. The tragedy of the evacuation is told through the personal stories of those who lived in the town. In particular, the days when Hammerfest was razed by the Nazis, and the difficulties that the locals had to face in the following days and years, are well told.
The inhabitants of Hammerfest were left out of the blue with nothing, no home and no money. It was a long and gradual process of reconstruction and rebirth, still alive in the memory of this community on the edge of the Arctic. The museum also includes an interesting exhibit on the history of telegraphic communications, which tell the story of the construction of the first telegraph lines that brought this remote place into contact with the rest of the world.
Royal and Ancient Polar Bear Society
It seems Hammerfest has a great tradition of wacky places. One of them is the Royal and Ancient Polar Bear Society, located in the same building as the tourist office. Now, don’t expect to see polar bears around Hammerfest. You will have to go to Svalbard for this. But in the early 1900s, Hammerfest was an important base for Arctic hunting expeditions. From here the ships sailed to Spitsbergen, in the Svalbard Islands, and returned with numerous captive polar bears, which were then shipped to zoos around the world.
The Royal and Ancient Polar Bear Society, established in the early 1960s, is one of the most famous cultural associations in Northern Norway. Travelers from all over the world come here to join, even Elvis Presley wrote to the Society in 1973 asking to become a member, but his application was rejected because you can only become a member by coming to Hammerfest in person. Lifetime membership is obtained by paying a fee that starts from 220 NOK, and you get a certificate, a pin and other amenities.
At the headquarters of the Royal and Ancient Polar Bear Society, you can see an interesting exhibit on the history of this remote town, its importance as a remote port in the wild north, and life in the Arctic. The exhibition features a profusion of stuffed animals and objects related to Arctic hunting and traveling. An interesting section is dedicated to Adolf Henrik Lindstrøm, a local cook who accompanied some of the greatest explorers (including Amundsen and Nansen) on their expeditions, ending up traveling on more polar expeditions that any other person on earth.
Salen Hill (Viewpoint Hammerfest)
The best view of Hammerfest is from the small hill called Salen Hill, located just behind the Rådhus (Town Hall). Pass through the small park and take the uphill path that will take you to the top of Salen Hill in about ten minutes. From here you can enjoy a nice view of the town, the fjord and the Hurtigruten harbor.
In the background you can see the island of Melkøya which is home of one of the most important natural gas processing stations in Europe, and which is the endpoint of the undersea pipeline that transports natural gas from the Snøhvit natural gas fields in the Barents Sea, one of the most important in the world.
The Struve Geodetic Arc Norway (Meridianstøtten)
One of the quirky things to do in Hammerfest is to stroll down to the Fuglenes Peninsula, opposite the harbor and the Royal and Ancient Polar Bear Society, to see Meridianstøtten. This modest marble column was erected to commemorate one of the most important scientific tasks of the 1800s.
In fact, here was one of the triangulation points of the so-called Struve Geodetic Arc, an ingenious work led by Friedrich Georg Wilhelm von Struve (1793–1864), a German geophysicist who was the director of the stellar observatory at the University of Dorpat in Russia (now Tartu in Estonia).
Von Struve created a network of 265 triangulation points (used to measure distances on earth) from Norway to the Black Sea, forming a 2820 km-long arc that allowed to measure the exact shape and size of the planet in 1816. It was an extraordinary example of collaboration among governments and scientists from different countries. Today the monument called Meridianstøtten is a UNESCO World Heritage Site as part of the Struve Geodetic Arc.
Best Hammerfest Hotels
Being a small town, Hammerfest has a small choice of accommodation, but the top three hotels in town are of a very good standard and the rates are similar to other Norwegian cities.
The best hotels in Hammerfest are undoubtedly:
- The Thon Hotel Hammerfest, located right in front of the Hurtigruten harbor, which offers super-comfortable rooms with wonderful views, right in front of the harbor;
- The modern and stylish Smarthotel Hammerfest, offering great accommodation with fjord views and a fabulous breakfast included in the price.
- The classic Scandic Hammerfest, offering great, comfortable rooms and a wonderful breakfast buffet included in the price.
Best Restaurants in Hammerfest
The town of Hammerfest has a small choice of restaurants ranging from different international cuisines, from burgers to sushi, with some good local cuisine options. Prices are a bit high (consider spending around NOK 500 per person for main course, starter and drink).
For some good local specialties (including reindeer or whale meat) you could go to Du Verden Matbar. Another good address is
Brygga Mathus (now closed), which serves good lutefisk and other local seafood specialties. There is also a good sushi restaurant, Niri Sushi & Dinner, which serves excellent local seafood in an oriental way.
How to Get to Hammerfest
Hammerfest Airport is located just outside the city, and has direct flights to and from Tromsø, Alta, Kirkenes and other small airports served by Widerøe’s turboprop-powered regional airliners.
There are direct buses to and from Alta (2.5h), Honningsvåg (3.5h) and Karasjok (4.5h).
The best way to reach Hammerfest is the Hurtigruten coastal ferry, which calls the port once a day in each direction (Kirkenes or Bergen). Hurtigruten ships stop at Hammerfest for 1.5 hours. You can buy a port to port ticket on the Hurtigruten website, and this could be a comfortable way to travel from Tromsø to Hammerfest.