A Visitor's Guide to Stavanger

Monday 19 May 2014

It's that time of year again here on the Western coast of Norway.  The cruise ships have returned bringing with them thousands of tourists to our quaint little city on the North Sea.  I'm not sure how I feel about this - on one hand, it's the mark of Spring and Summer and it's impossible not to be happy about that and there's a jovial sense to the centre of town.  The streets are bustling and the patios are full.  On the other hand, living regular life amongst those that are moseying along, stopping in the most awkward of places can make errands seem more frustrating and tiresome than usual.

Whether you're a cruise ship passenger just here for the day or those that are lucky enough to stick around for a night or two, I have some suggestions for you to make the most of your time in Stavanger.

To See:

-Sentrum:  Pedestrian friendly, small cobblestone paths lined with shops and restaurants - this is the hub of Stavanger.  This is also home to the Stavanger Domkirke, Norway's oldest cathedral.
-Gamle Stavanger (aka Old Stavanger): Directly across the tiny harbour from the central shops and restaurants sits the largest concentration of wooden homes in Northern Europe.  It is impossibly quaint and charming.  Bear in mind, aside from a couple of artist studios, these are actual homes.  I've heard stories of cruise ship passengers letting themselves in thinking they were open for viewing - they're not!
-The Lysefjord: Stavanger's most famous fjord can be viewed a number of ways but the easiest and quickest would be to take the sightseeing boat from Sentrum.  It'll take you down the fjord, you'll see Preikestolen (The Pulpit Rock) from below and you'll return to Sentrum.

To Do:

-There are a multitude of museums in Stavanger (see this post) but the two most popular are The Canning Museum and The Norwegian Petroleum Museum.  I think both are worthwhile, particularly if it's raining.
-Flor og Fjaere: Located off the coast of Stavanger, this is a beautiful island garden and is certainly worth a visit particularly if you are interested in horticulture.  One chooses either a lunch or a dinner trip and it includes a garden tour and a meal.  You can check out our experience here.

-Hike Preikestolen:  While you can quite easily view the Pulpit Rock from a boat, there is nothing quite like hiking it.  This is a full day activity but even so, I might say that it'll be one of the most memorable experiences of your trip.  If you have a car, I recommend taking the Lauvik ferry on the way there and the Tou ferry on the way back for a nice loop (or vice versa.)  Without a car, you can board the Tou ferry from Sentrum and catch one of the buses to the base of the hike.  Either way, budget yourselves 2.5-3 hours for travel there and back and then 4+ hours for the actual hike.  Do note, the hike is challenging.  Dress appropriately and bring food and water. (See our hike here.)
-Drive the Lysebotn road.  If you aren't up for the hike but have a car and wanting a more unique experience, head to the Lauvik ferry station and board the Lysebotn ferry. (See our cruise here.)  You and your car will cruise the length of the Lysefjord and will end in the tiny village of Lysebotn where you can drive up the mountain via its 27 hairpin turns.  The return trip through the countryside is stunning.  (This will also take you to the base of Kjerag, another crazy Norwegian hike albeit longer & more challenging than Preikestolen.)
-Go for a bike ride!  Bike paths are all encompassing and well developed in Stavanger.  There are bikes at the Tourist Desk near the Cathedral and they'll be able to help you find the perfect route. (Heading over to Sverd i Fjell (Three Swords) would be worthwhile.
-Check out Sola Beach.  It's out near the airport (easiest if you have a car) and the white sand and bright blue water is something one doesn't expect in Norway.

To Eat/Drink:

-Coffee: If you're looking to stop of a coffee or tea somewhere, there are places every few steps but my favourites for good coffee are Steam Kaffebar (they also make good fruit smoothies) and Bluebird Cafe (away from the harbour not far from the small lake & bus station.)  I'd also recommend a stop on the colourful street (you'll know when you're there.)  Sjokoladepiken has mouthwatering desserts and chocolate and across the street Bøker & Børst will be brimming with a more eccentric crowd.  (It's also great for a beer.)
-Cafes for lunch:  Ostehuset is certainly a favourite.  You can order off the menu or choose from their ready made selection at the counter.  The decor and atmosphere is typically Norwegian and the food is fresh and yummy.
-Beer:  Tou is the local lager which is a pretty standard and often the cheapest beer.  (It's nothing to write home about but it's fine on a warm day.)  Otherwise, I'd ask for the local brewery, Lervig.  There are options from IPA to Brown to Pilsner and usually a couple of seasonal varieties as well.  On the harbour, you'll find plenty of options with large terraces.  Any will do but I tend to prefer Hansen Hjørnet.  If it's rainy and you want to get out of the elements, definitely head to The Cardinal.  It's more of an English pub style place but the beer selection is unrivalled in the city.  Advice for all, take a deep breath before you get the bill.  A pint of beer in Norway does not come cheap.
-Dinner or a long(er) lunch: Renaa Matbaren and Bølgen & Moi are nice options with a modern, Norwegian menu.  Kitchen & Table is a bit out of the main centre but still within walking distance is another good option.  Our favourite Thai place is near the colourful street and is called Thai Cuisine.  The best Indian in town is easily Mogul India (don't let the seedy pub below scare you away - the food is amazing.  Get the tasting menu. It's worth it.)

There is plenty to do in Stavanger to keep you busy for a few days.  Happy exploring!

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