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Culture in the fjords: 7 must-do experiences in Stavanger

With its vibrant street art, locavore restaurants and incredible architecture, Stavanger is a small city that punches well above its weight when it comes to culture.

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Facing the North Sea, Stavanger’s inhabitants have been proud travellers since the days of the Vikings. And, since the discovery of North Sea oil, it has become a hub for the industry and a magnet for people from across the world.

When you’re not discovering the beauty of the fjords on a hike or cruise, it’s worth taking some downtime in the city to discover everything it has to offer.

Check out the street art in the Nuart Festival

Street artists from around the world descend on Stavanger each September and make their mark on the city as part of the Nuart Festival. One of Europe’s most dynamic public art events, it’s an opportunity for famous, up-and-coming and completely unknown artists to let loose and express themselves. During a stroll around the city you’ll see incredible works spanning a range of genres – from playful comic culture to tongue-in-cheek activism, subtle stencil art to intricate muralism as well as colourful post-grafitti.

Whatever time of year you arrive, you can enjoy the spirit of the festival on the Nuart Street Art Walking Tour. Covering pieces from 15 years of the festival, it offers an interesting glimpse into the city’s artistic side.

Drive the Ryfylke Scenic Route

The fjords of Norway are home to 10 of the country’s 19 scenic routes, including the Ryfylke scenic route which starts and ends in Stavanger. As well as spectacular natural scenery, this roundtrip route includes traditional and modern architecture. Best of all, it can be completed in a day.

During the drive you’ll pass Peter Zumthor’s Allmannajuvet Zinc Mine Museum in Sauda. Its simplistic, black buildings sit on stilts and are inspired by the area’s mining operations and the tough lives of the people who worked there. You’ll also see Geir Grung’s architecture at the Energy hotel in Nesflaten. Built in the 60’s, it is made from concrete and has a UFO-like look. You can stop in for a fine dining lunch or stay the night in one of the minimalist rooms.

Appreciate the wooden architecture by the wharf

Stavanger’s wooden buildings reflect the city’s maritime history. Down by the wharf there are around 60 buildings, dating back to the late 18th and early 19th Century, which were once used for a range of purposes – from salting herring to storing logs. Painted in bright colours, today they’re home to restaurants and shops.

Grab a drink in Øvre Holmegate

Stavanger’s answer to Notting Hill, Øvre Holmegate is known locally as Fargegata – the colourful street. It’s one of the most colourful streets in Norway, with each of the wooden townhouses painted in different rainbow and pastel hues. During the summer people spill out of the pubs, restaurants and cafés onto equally brightly-painted tables and chairs to sip drinks and watch the world go by.

Learn about local industry at the Norwegian Petroleum Museum

Stavanger is the hub of the Norwegian oil industry, and you can learn all about it at the Norsk Oljemuseum. Another architectural gem, it was designed by Lunde & Løvseth Arkitekter and looks like a small oil platform – making it an instant landmark in Stavanger’s port area. The exhibits are interesting too, tracking Norwegian North Sea oil activity from the 1960’s from the first drilling platforms to the flexible production ships and subsea systems that are in use today.

Discover the region’s Viking heritage

Viking heritage is strong along the west coast of Norway, especially in the fjords. Just north of Stavanger is the town of Haugesund, which was once home of the Viking Kings. Anyone who held the nearby Karmsundet strait, by the island of Karmøy, held all the power. In Viking times it was known as Nordvegen (the way to the north), giving Norway its name as we know it today.

Although there were lots of Viking kings, the most powerful lived beside the strait in the Avaldnes settlement. Today you can visit a reconstruction of the village on the island of Bukkøy, just ten minutes walk from St Olav’s Church. Take a guided tour and learn about the history, check out the excavations or just wander in and out of the buildings which show how people would have lived.

Another Viking must-do is a trip to the Sverd i Fjell – sword in stone – monument. This symbolises the battle of Hafrsfjord, where the viking King Harald Hårfagre united Norway to become one kingdom in the year 842. In Stavanger you can learn more about this first king of Norway at the Viking House attraction. Board a Viking ship and step back into time as virtual reality and video imagery bring the world of the Vikings to life in a modern (and much more attractive) way.

Enjoy local fine dining

Stavanger is surrounded by some of Norway’s most lush farmland, which provides even the humblest restaurants with world class ingredients. Head down to Fisketorget for harbour views and freshly-landed fish and seafood, or visit the intimate Tango and indulge in a seven course seasonal menu.

Fine dining fans will find plenty to enjoy – although Stavanger is a small city, it has two one-Michelin Star restaurants. RE-NAA was the first restaurant outside Oslo to gain a star from the Scandinavian Michelin Guide, and focuses on creative cooking made from the best local ingredients. The other Michelin-listed eatery is Sabi Omakase, a sushi restaurant showcasing local seafood at its finest.

How do I get to Stavanger?

It’s super easy to get to Stavanger from London. Three airlines offer direct flights from three of the city’s airports, and they all take less than two hours.

AirportAirlineFlight time
London HeathrowFly direct with SAS1hr 50
London GatwickFly direct with Norwegian1hr 40
London LutonFly direct with Wizz Air1hr 40

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