It's quite likely that you've seen at least one Norwegian rorbu when viewing pictures of Norway online. Perhaps you're even dreaming of staying in one when you visit Norway? These picturesque cabins weren't always what they are today. In fact, they've had quite an important role in Northern Norway since 1100.
What are Rorbuer
Today, most rorbuer are either hotels/accommodations, rented out as vacation homes or a museum. These small "cabins" are most common in the northern parts of Norway but more specifically the Lofoten Islands. To understand how they came to be, the early 900s winters, more than a thousand years ago.
The Lofoten Islands have always been an attractive place for fishermen. Already in the early 900s, fishermen would row towards the islands to take part in the seasonal cod fishing. Besides fishing along their local coasts, it became known that Lofoten had a very rewarding winter season; which led to fishermen from all along the north coast travel up to several weeks in their open row and sailboats, to try their luck.
With all these fishermen coming towards the Lofoten Islands, they needed somewhere to stay throughout the winter. In the year of 1120, King Øystein decided that rorbuer would be built for traveling fishermen to stay in. They would be located in Kabelvåg, which then was named Vågar. This describes exactly how important fishing was for the country's economy even a thousand years ago.
The name "rorbu" comes from the Norwegian word "ro" which translates to rowing, which was what the traveling fishermen did. The second word is "bu" which can mean either a small house/place to live or a storage place. Basically, a "Rorbu" is a house the fishermen lived in while fishing on the Lofoten Islands.
Typically, the cabins consisted of two rooms; a storage room and a living room with beds. Food and fishing equipment were stored in the storage room but it was also used to prepare for another day on the rough ocean. What is characteristic of many of these small homes are that they are built on poles and standing partly in the ocean. The majority of them are red since this was the cheapest painting at the time.
Even though the name rorbuer originally was used to describe the fishermen's homes in Lofoten, it became more common later. Today, the name rorbu is used to describe this types of houses all over Northern Norway (and other parts if there are any).
Rorbuer has become an iconic part of the Lofoten Islands. When you hear someone talk about Lofoten they will most likely point out 3 things: rorbuer, rugged mountains, and northern lights. While they aren't used as fishermen's houses anymore, the rorbuer have become extremely attractive for those seeking accommodation on the Arctic archipelago.
Many of the rorbuer you can stay at today are authentic cabins once used by traveling fishermen. They are renovated to suit today's requirements and standards but you still get an impression of how it's like to live on the border between land and ocean.
There are several places along the Lofoten Archipelago where you can stay at one of these authentic cabins. While some are renovated with modern furnishing, others have kept a more minimalistic/authentic style; meaning you can get just the amount of comfort you desire.
The most visited and photographed rorbuer on the Lofoten Islands are the Eliassen Rorbuer, situated in Hamnøy on the impressive Reinefjorden. With the majestic mountains surrounding the cabins, it's not hard to understand why they have become among Lofoten's most popular.
Å is one of the best-preserved fishing communities on the Lofoten islands. While most of the rorbuer are used as vacation rentals some are still used by 4th generation fishermen, which gives the small village an even more authentic feel. Å i Lofoten is by many described as the most beautiful village in Lofoten. Its panorama views are rather stunning with the dramatic mountains behind the houses and the open ocean in front; with views all the way to mainland Norway.
Located at the iconic Reinefjorden, the village of Reine houses several noteworthy and picturesque rorbuer. As one of the most visited villages on Lofoten, you better make sure that you book your accommodation early. Even if you're not planning to stay there, walking around the village offers several impressive views that you will not forget.
These are just some of the picturesque rorbuer you can find on the Lofoten Islands. You can find these cabins all over Lofoten, both in villages and more remote areas. When you travel to the Lofoten Islands you'll realize that something beautiful awaits around every corner. Be prepared to get spoiled!