Some 20km from Kåfjord, ALTA’s primary claim to fame is the most extensive area of prehistoric rock carvings in northern Europe, which are impressive enough to have been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. At first blush, however, the view of the town is somewhat less than encouraging. With a population of around 20,000, it comprises a string of unenticing modern settlements that spread along the E6 for several kilometres. The ugliest part is Alta Sentrum, now befuddled by a platoon of soulless concrete blocks. World War II polished off much of the local Sámi culture that used to thrive here, as well as destroying all the old wooden buildings that once clustered together in Alta’s oldest district, Bossekop, where Dutch whalers settled in the seventeenth century.
That being said, the settlement is an excellent place to base oneself in for explorations out to the Finnmark plateau. The area around here gets very green in the summer months, and hiking, canyoning and riverboat safaris are all on offer. In the wintertime, the stable (if very cold) climate allows for plenty of outdoor activities, including dog-sledding, snowmobiling, cross-country skiing and chasing the northern lights. Additionally, Europe’s largest dog-sled race, the Finnmarksløpet (wfinnmarkslopet.no), is put on here in mid-March, complemented by a big week-long cultural celebration, the Borealis Winter Festival.