Harstad is situated on Hinnøya, the largest island in Norway. It is the third largest city in Northern Norway, and an important centre of commerce for the entire region. The paved market square in the city centre is only a short walk from shops and cafes. Harstad is known for its high-quality restaurants and cultural events throughout the year. Several annual festivals take place, such as Ilios. During the annual North Norwegian Festival of Culture in late June, streets will be teeming with people and music pouring out of pubs, churches and concert halls.
Harstad has a sheltered location and a good harbour. Forests, mountains, fjords, islands and miles of trails offer unforgettable outdoor experiences all year round. Terraced buildings lead up from the harbour, against a backdrop of forests and mountains. While the sea on one side has brought activity to the town, the relatively fertile farming communities to the west and north have provided a good basis for the dairy and meat processing industries.
Just outside town lies Trondenes Church, the world's northernmost medieval church, dating back to the 13th century.
In recent years, a 3,000-year-old bronze axe and a 2,600-year-old bronze collar have been found at the Trondenes peninsula, just north of the city centre. These, together with the burial cairns built close to the sea, are indications of a well-developed Bronze Age culture in the Harstad area. There is also substantial archeological evidence of a well-developed Iron Age culture in the area, around 200 AD. Trondenes was as a power centre in the Viking age, and a place to meet and discuss important issues (Trondarting). The city’s name most likely originates from the Old Norse word Harðarstaðir. The first element is the male name Hörðr, and the last element is staðir, meaning homestead or farm. Harstad flourished during the ‘herring years’ at the end of the 1800s and acquired town status in 1904.