Here 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 – God willing – to the land of my birth (Francesco Negri, 1664).
The most northerly point in EuropeThe North Cape, around 71 degrees north and approximately 2,000 km from the North Pole, is located on Magerøya at the very end of the European landmass. The plateau itself rises 307 metres almost straight up from the Arctic Sea, but it is flat at the top. A little way down the mountain slope stands the rock formation known as the “North Cape Horn”, which is an ancient Sami site of sacrifice. From the plateau, you can look to the left all the way to Knivskjellodden, which is actually more than 1 km farther north. The North Cape is thus not really the most northerly point, but it is tradition to refer to the North Cape the northernmost outpost of Europe.
Midnight sun at the North Cape
The North Cape is the most northerly point of Norway, and thus enjoys the midnight sun longer than anywhere else in the country – from 14 May until 29 July. However, midnight sunshine is far from guaranteed during this period, as cold and warm currents in the Arctic Sea generate a good deal of fog in the area. This means that it is even more beautiful when the sun hangs high in the sky above a bronze-coloured sea. However, the reason to come here is not to see the sun – but to be able to say that you have stood at the end of the world.
The North Cape in the winter
It is also possible to travel to the North Cape in winter. A bus trip to the North Cape departs daily, and in bad weather it drives behind a snow plough. On the plateau you are at the mercy of the elements, but you can counteract this to a large extent by dressing appropriately. After all, it should not be too comfortable to travel to the end of the world.
From Knyskanes to North Cape
In 1553, the English Captain Richard Chancellor sailed around the North Cape on an expedition searching for the North-East Passage to Asia. When he saw the coastline turning southwards again, he named the impressive, 307-metre-high headland the North Cape. The people who lived in the small fishing villages on Magerøya were unaware of this, however, and continued to use the old name: Knyskanes. Richard Chancellor never found a north-eastern link to China, but he did discover Kvitsjøen and was thus able to open a trading route between Western Europe and Russia.
The rise of North Cape tourism
The first person who travelled north with a view to reaching the North Cape was the Franciscan minister Francesco Negri, who – after a journey lasting several years – was finally able to look out over the Arctic Sea from the plateau in the winter of 1664. In 1795, Louis Philippe d’Orléans – later to become King Louis XVIII of France – visited the North Cape on his travels to the north. It is said that he left genetic traces among the people of Finnmark … In 1873, however, North Cape tourism received quite a boost when the sprightly young Swedish-Norwegian King Oscar II climbed the 307 metres from Hornvika to the North Cape itself. In 1907, the place was even visited by King Rama V of Siam.
From the end of the 1800s, when British, German and French tourists began to travel all the way up to Northern Norway, the North Cape became a popular “finishing point”. Cruise ships often anchored in Hornvika, and visitors climbed the steep slope to the plateau itself. A small champagne pavilion was built on the plateau in 1892, but was later blown down by the wind. A more permanent stone hall was constructed on the plateau in 1959, and additional buildings have since been added. In 1965, a road to the North Cape was completed, so visitors no longer have to make the climb themselves. Today, the North Cape is visited by more than 200,000 people during a busy summer season, and a few hardy souls are starting to make the trip in winter, too.
Give yourself plenty of time at the North Cape
Many travellers set aside an evening to visit the North Cape, and the experience can easily become too hectic and even a disappointment if the weather is poor. To make the most of your visit, set aside a little more time to go exploring on Magerøya. The bird-watching safaris from Gjesvær on the west side of Magerøya to Gjesværstappan provide an opportunity to encounter hundreds of thousands of birds: puffins, auks, common guillemots and northern gannets. From Skarsvåg, the most northerly fishing village in the world, you can travel to Kirkeporten (The Church Doorway), which is a natural stone arch through which you can see the North Cape itself. People with plenty of energy will happily walk 8–9 hours to Knivskjellodden and back to see the North Cape from the sea side. After such a trip, you have certainly earned a beer at Nøden, the legendary meeting place in Honningsvåg.
Visit Nordkapp, the local tourist information, has a very informative website with all the practicalities: www.nordkapp.no