Considering it’s a tiny city, there are SO many things to do in Stavanger. And it also makes a great base for exploring the stunning Lysefjord and other nearby natural wonders.
Stavanger is a quiet city in the South West of Norway, home to a picturesque harbour and filled with old wooden houses and colourful street art. Although Stavanger is Norway’s fourth largest city, it’s got more of a hip small town vibe about it; and I really appreciate its massive selection of independent coffee shops, and boutique and vintage shops. Plus, the Old Town is great for a wander.
(In fairness who doesn’t doesn’t love an Old Town, for goodness’ sake!?)
Although Stavanger has been in existence officially since the 1100s, it was over the last couple of centuries that it really began to prosper. First with the fishing industry and then with the far more lucrative product of oil.
(Not fish oil, in case you’re wondering. Oil oil.)
I spent last Summer visiting Stavanger by cruise ship every ten days, and rather enjoyed getting to know this surprisingly colourful city. Even in the less-than-colourful weather.
Visit the picturesque lanes of Gamle Stavanger
Gamle Stavanger – or ‘Old Stavanger’ to us English-speaking folk- is the largest preserved group of wooden houses in the whole of Europe. Although don’t be fooled into thinking that that means it’s a massive area.
173 18th century wooden houses, which were originally home to factory workers and fishermen line the cobbled higgledy piggledy lanes. Gamle Stavanger is right next to Vågen Harbour in the shadow of the cruise ships that dock there daily, and it normally takes around fifteen minutes to explore.
Unless you’re addicted to photographing doors like me, in which case- the possibilities are endless I tell you!! ENDLESS!!!!
Another picturesque Norwegian city: The Beginners’ Guide to Bergen
The highly picturesque posse of white clapboard houses, colourful doors and bursts of flowers all combine to make Gamle Stavanger one of the most-visited parts of town. Even on a rainy day I appreciate having a wander over the slippery cobblestones just to get some fresh air before retreating into a cosy coffee shop.
Coffee shops in Stavanger
As mentioned above, a good coffee shop is very much in need on a rainy day in Stavanger. Over the few months I spent visiting, I quickly discovered my favourites and stuck to them.
There’s a plethora of quirky coffee places to choose from around the centre of town, although my favourite is Kafé Go Nok on a tiny corner in Gamle Stavanger. There’s something about the unassuming but ramshackle exterior of that little corner-cafe that reminds me of The Giraffe,The Pelly and Me. I’m always drawn to it on dull rainy days, when the good soups and warm glow of the candles inside give the whole place the vibe of a day in late Autumn.
Visit the Stavanger Food Festival
But don’t you worry pals, it’s not all rainy days and cozy coffee shops when it comes to finding things to do in Stavanger, oh no! Occasionally the sun does actually shine (in fact once it shone so much that I even got sunburnt which was rather a shocker). Luckily one of these miraculous sunshiney days I witnessed was when Scandinavia’s biggest food festival happened to be taking place. VICTORY!!!
Gladmat is a ginormous annual celebration of food in all its glory, which occurs every July in the area around Vågen and up to the city’s cathedral. On the day we arrived, the city was heaving with people- I’m pretty sure the entire population of Norway must’ve been there, as up until that point I swear I’d barely seen a soul throughout the country- and the smells coming from every stall were a TRUE DELIGHT.
Gladmat 2020 is a little different from previous years thanks to that tricky old soul Covid-19, with events happening in restaurants, on tour and via the internet.
Visit the most colourful street in Norway
Øvre Holmegate is a quirky street near Stavanger’s second harbour, Børevika. The little lane looks as if a giant has been let loose with a paintbox to spruce the place up a bit; bringing some colour to the many grey days that Norway experiences.
In actual fact it wasn’t the handiwork of a giant after all. This brightly-coloured pathway is all thanks to a local hairdresser who thought it would be brilliant to just make the street a bit more cheery. When the go-ahead was given, every building was given a specific palette of colours which coordinated with those around it. Apparently there were a few problems when male-owned businesses were against having an overly pink building, or female-owned businesses wanted as much pink as possible.
It strikes me as a bit crazy that the colour pink is still that controversial. But eventually it worked out and now the paint job is done it’s most certainly one highly photogenic location.
If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like: Living on a Norwegian Fjords Cruise
Filled with coffee shops galore and a whole load of vintage and new boutiques, Øvre Holmegate is just as interesting on the inside as the out. Although obviously as it’s in Norway you should be prepared to spend a few bob in order to purchase anything at all.
Other parts of Stavanger are almost as colourful; street art plays a big part in the aesthetic of the whole place and gives a bit of a modern twist to an otherwise very quaint-looking location, particularly any art which involves tattooed trolls and other fairy-folk. What a sight to behold, pals!
Visit a quirky Stavanger museum
During the 1920s, with the export of fish from Norway already a Massive Deal, the canning of sardines is what propelled Stavanger towards big time prosperity.
Who would have thought the success of an entire city would depend on some tiny oily fish and a bunch of tin cans? At the height of the industry’s success there were a grand total of 59 canning factories in Stavanger. Which is rather a lot considering the size of the place. And the factory workers mainly resided in Gamle Stavanger.
Back then Gamle Stavanger was actually not-so-desirable to live in. The pungent aroma of fish was somewhat overpowering, you see. But if you fancy seeing how the workers lived throughout time, it’s worth taking a trip to The Workers Cottage– next to The Norwegian Canning Museum. That’s right, there really is a museum in Stavanger dedicated to canned fish and apparently it’s incredibly interesting, would you believe it?
The workers cottage is downright adorable, with the ground floor designed to look like a worker’s cottage from the 1920s and the top floor kitted out with all the 1960s retro mod cons. ln Summer the downstairs kitchen doubles as a cafe serving up coffee, cake and waffles with brown cheese (a Norwegian classic), which makes it all the more worthwhile. And a visit to the workers cottage is one of the few free things to do in Stavanger.
Eventually the popularity of tinned sardines waned somewhat. But luckily for the city of Stavanger, oil suddenly became all the rage after it was discovered offshore in 1969- meaning the city remained one hugely prosperous place to reside and work in. Nowadays Stavanger is known as the Oil Capital of Norway, and many an oil company has their headquarters in the region.
The best day trip from Stavanger – Lysefjord and Pulpit Rock
Don’t get me wrong here pals, Stavanger is a lovely little city, filled with numerous things to do. But when I discovered how close it was to the Lysefjord and Preikestolen- the ominous cliff that towers over the water- I was full on desperate to go and have a look.
Although it’s possible to book an actual official tour, public ferries leave from the harbour throughout the day. With the help of the friendly folk at the Tourist Office, we figured out which combination of ferry and bus we would need in order get from Stavanger to Preikestolen and start our climb to the top.
It. Was. Stunning.
(I thought I was going to plummet to my death in the fjord a couple of times, but it was totes worth it for that view.)
Another Norwegian hiking spot: Hiking in Åndalsnes, the Mountaineering Capital of Norway
- Stavanger city centre is tiny, so if you stay central you can see everything on foot.
- Be prepared to cough up a fair bit of cash for anything you buy. Stavanger is one of the most expensive cities in the world, the cheeky little bugger.
- The closest international airport is Stavanger International Airport Sola, with a shuttle bus conveniently connecting passengers to the city in around half an hour.
- Distance from Stavanger to Oslo if you’re interrailing is around 8 hours by train. Or by bus- around 10.
- Although there are two harbours in Stavanger- Vågen and Børevika- both of them are equally close to the city (ie they’re basically smack bang in the middle of it all), so you’ll have no problem getting about if you’re on a cruise ship in Norway.
- Whilst it would be nice to learn a few Norwegian words at least out of courtesy, the vast majority of Norwegian folk are really great at speaking English, so there shouldn’t be too many lost in translation moments if you’re lucky.