The charming city of Stavanger is a popular destination for people visiting Norway and it is easy to see why. It’s the fourth largest city in the country coming in behind Oslo, Bergen, and Trondheim. Located on the beautiful west coast in Rogaland county, Stavanger has a lot to offer – a beautiful town steeped in history, interesting and quirky museums, and stunning, unequivocally Norwegian landscapes. Much of Stavanger is made up of wooden buildings. In fact, with 8,000 wooden buildings it is the largest wooden city in northern Europe. We’ve put together a list of what we consider the best things to do if you’re in Stavanger.
Gamle (Old Stavanger)
Gamle is the historic area of the city filled with restored wooden buildings and loads of charm. If you’ve only got a couple of hours in Stavanger, then we recommend placing this area at the top of your list. Located on the west side of Vågen in the city center, this historic district with cobblestone streets is perfect for exploring. Gamle was originally home to the workers of the sardine canning industry. After World War II, it was decided that Stavanger would be redesigned. These plans included demolishing many of the old wooden buildings and replacing them with more modern concrete ones. Fortunately, the city’s architect, Einar Hedén, argued in favor of keeping the original wooden structures and the decision was instead made to preserve the 18th century architecture. Today it’s a trendy district filled with restaurants, galleries, boutiques, and charming residences. Gamle is best experienced during the summer months when colorful blooming flowers in hanging baskets line the streets and the rose bushes are in their full splendor.
Stavanger Cathedral is Norway’s oldest cathedral and the seat of the Bishop of Stavanger who leads the Diocese of Stavanger. This beautiful cathedral is located in the city center and was constructed in 1100. After a fire ravaged Stavanger in 1272, the cathedral suffered heavy damage. It was rebuilt and the Romanesque cathedral was enlarged and restored in the Gothic style. Over the years there have been many renovations and restoration projects on the cathedral altering its medieval appearance. It’s an architecturally interesting place to pay a visit to, one steeped in Norwegian history.
Located in the former Venus Packing Co. cannery, the Norwegian Canning Museum is both quirky and fascinating and well worth a visit. The former cannery was one of about 70 canneries in Stavanger and 250 in Norway as a whole. The museum is set up to look like an authentic sardine cannery would have looked around the time of the First World War. The exhibits focus on the production of Norwegian sardines from 1879 until the mid-1950s. Once the most important export product of Norway, the exhibits illustrate how Norwegian sardines were produced from catch to export. For more information please visit the museum’s website.
Another wonderfully unique museum that makes our list of the best things to do in Stavanger, is the Petroleum Museum. The museum’s architecture is indicative of an oil platform, and that is no accident. This museum provides an interactive setting where you can experience how oil and gas were created millions of years ago, and how petroleum is found and used – fascinating stuff! The museum also provides insight into the way the petroleum industry and its technological developments has affected Norwegian society. For more information on ticket prices and hours please visit the museum’s website.
Obviously no list of the best things to do in Norway would be complete without a visit to a fjord, and the Lysefjord does not disappoint. The fjord is lined with spectacularly dramatic geological formations such as the mountain plateaus Priekestolen and Kjerag, as well as waterfalls, and an array of wildlife. The Lysefjord is 42km long and 422m deep, with Priekestolen standing 604m above the fjord and Kjerag a whopping 1100m above sea level. We love taking in the views from the water on one of the ferries, or boats, available in this stunning region. Another way to enjoy the fjord is by embarking on one of several hikes in the area. The world’s longest staircase, Flørli, and its 4,444 steps is one of the many hiking challenges awaiting you here.
Our top recommendation for a place to take in the epic Norwegian landscape has to be the iconic Pulpit Rock or Priekestolen. Towering a mighty 604m above the Lysefjord, this epic natural viewing platform is a must. We recommend starting your hike to this mountain plateau as early as possible to try and avoid the crowds, as well as to ensure enough time to make it back before dark (if not hiking during the summer months). Be warned that it is a challenging 4-hour hike consisting of a 350m ascent, but it is well worth the climb.
Swords in Stone
The last destination rounding out our list of the best things to do in Stavanger, is the monument, Swords in stone (Sverd i fjell). These visually striking sculptures are located where King Harald Fairhair united Norway into one kingdom in 872. The monument consists of three large swords planted into the ground, symbolizing peace, unity, and freedom. Like most places in Norway, you’ll discover, it makes for a great spot to take some snapshots as a reminder of your time in this beautiful country.
Stavanger is a destination that offers something for families, couples, and the solo traveler alike. We hope that you will consider adding this charming place to your Norwegian travel itinerary, and that you’ll explore our top things to do in Stavanger for yourself.