Explore the rural beauty of indigenous culture in the heart of Norway’s Sámi country, and of course, get up close and personal with reindeer
Karasjok is a charming inland village in the heart of the northeastern Norwegian municipality of the same name. This is considered “Sámi country” and offers an enlightening glimpse at the different cultures of the region, as well as a gateway to Norway’s Eastern neighbours. Its modern-day coat of arms – three gold flames on a red background – represent the three main cultures living here: the indigenous Sámi majority, the Norwegians, and the Finnish Kvens; the latter are recognised as an ethnic minority in Norway.
The majority here are definitely reindeer – over 60,000 of them, which vastly outnumber the 3,000 residents of Karasjok village. Karasjok, which comes from the Sámi name Kárášjohka, also happens to be the capital of Sámi Norway. It is the home of the seat of the semi-autonomous Sámi government – its parliament, the Sámediggi, was founded in 1989 – as well as the epicenter of Sámi cultural institutions.
If you’re heading to this area in the summer, be prepared to face the midnight sun – that is, the sun doesn’t set for about five weeks, and the constant light can be difficult to get used to.
Things to do
Cross-country and expedition skiing are popular pastimes around Karasjok – visitors can also sign up for tours to watch reindeer migrations, and snow-shoeing. There’s also camping, Finnish-style saunas, and a popular snowmobile 'safari' experience. Thanks to the strong Sámi presence, mushing is an extremely important part of the cultural landscape here – learn about the sport and art of dog-sledding at the Engholm Husky Design Lodge. Thanks to the numerous small lakes in the area, fishing is plentiful.
The main cultural attraction here is Sápmi, a cultural park dedicated to the Sámi people, which features hands-on opportunities to learn about the local culture. Check out the Stálubákti (The Magic Theatre) to learn about tribal life, survival techniques, and the siida – a pastoral indigenous community focused on reindeer, and browse indigenous handicrafts. Sing along to joik – once banned by the church in the 1950s, these traditional spiritual songs are considered one of Europe’s oldest musical traditions.
The Old Karasjok Church is another local landmark. Built in the early 1800s, this quaint white structure now hosts special events for the village residents.
Things to eat
Get ready for lots of reindeer – a staple meat in this region – game, berries, and fresh fish from the ponds and lakes around Karasjok. Bidos is a special celebratory Sámi dish – a thick, hearty reindeer stew that often includes the reindeer heart, with root vegetables like potatoes and carrots. Common meat preparations include smoking and drying, which were traditional preservation techniques for long winters. Sámi-style food will often be served in a traditional setting, around an open fire.