As an important junction where roads connect to Honningsvåg, Kirkenes and Kautokeino, Alta is often called the "Gateway to Finnmark." Its population of about 15,000 is strung out across a number of scattered settlements while the community is undergoing rapid development.
Formerly, Alta wasn't Norwegian at all but was for decades Finnish, populated by the Same (Lapp) people. During those years, the town was host to an old and much visited Same fair. Unfortunately, this colorful event came to an end during the last war; recurring fires destroyed all the old buildings except for the church.
Alta's most remarkable attractions are the rock carvings at Hjemmeluft, which are on UNESCO's World Heritage List. They are the most extensive of their kind in Europe, testifying that people have been living in this area for 9,000 years.
Outside of Alta, there is beautiful scenery, including a 19th-century church of the copper-mining period which ended in 1878, and the remains of the region's first Northern Lights Observatory. About 20 miles south of Alta is Europe's biggest canyon, a scenic experience in good weather but not recommended when the road is wet and treacherous.