Stavanger: The fourth largest city of Norway

Sep 29 2023.

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Cruising along a fjord was an item on my bucket list that I wanted to tick off and when I saw a cheap flight to Stavanger, the fourth largest city in Norway I grabbed it with both hands as The Lysefjord is considered a major attraction of Stavanger which is a South Western port city that is known for mountains, sandy beaches and of course fjords. Stavanger also welcomes many cruise ships where passengers disembark eager to explore the city famed for its Viking history, quaint wooden buildings and urbanity as a result of its petroleum and canned sardine industry.  

A few years ago Stavanger was the European Capital of Culture and continues to be an attraction for travellers keen on adventure and nature at its most raw. Given its small size, Stavanger can easily be explored in two days and makes for an ideal and unusual addition to your European travel itinerary. 
Arriving on a Friday night I braved the night revellers as I made my way to my hotel on public transport which was safe for a solo female traveller. After a restful night at the centrally located Radisson Blu, I made my way to the historic centre of Gamle Stavanger. Restored wooden buildings which were built in the 18th and 19th centuries are in abundance. There are approximately 8000 wooden structures which make it the largest wooden city in Northern Europe.

The quaint Old Town is on a hill of sorts and offers many Instaworthy photo opportunities.  Once at the Old Town head to Øvre Strandgate, the main cobbled street, where you find all the white wooden houses which are reminiscent of houses from a fairy tale. After meandering through the warren of streets in Øvre Strandgate, it was time for me to embark on the cruise on The Lysefjord.

Heading out of the harbour you see the Petroleum Museum which occupies pride of place in Stavanger given its close links to the oil industry. Small boats flanked us as we made our way out of the harbour and down The Lysefjord. The southernmost of the biggest fjords in Norway this 40-kilometre-long fjord is flanked by steep mountains, some more than 1,000 meters and is an arresting sight to behold. 

In the Lysefjord the two most well-known sights are the Pulpit Rock also known as  Preikestolen and Mount Kjerag. The Pulpit Rock towers 604 metres on the northern side of the Lysefjord. Movie buffs will recognise Pulpit Rock as the place where Tom Cruise dangles from the towering cliff face in the film Mission Impossible: Fallout. The duration of the boat ride is three hours and takes in all the sights. An English commentary explains all the places of interest and historical facts. 

A love of salmon, I found it interesting to see how they farm salmon in the cold waters of the fjord.  For those keen on hiking there is a stop-off point on the return journey where you can climb to the top of Pulpit Rock. Given my aversion to rigorous physical activity, I decided to forego the hiking experience. 
Cruising along the fjord is a wonderful experience as it gives you a chance to recharge your batteries while enjoying the pristine beauty of nature. Also, no trip to Norway would be complete without exploring a fjord. 

One of the places the guidebooks recommend is a  visit to the Canning Museum.  This was my next stop after the fjord excursion. The museum pays homage to the humble canned sardine which was a leading industry in Stavanger in the 1800s and 1900s. This interactive museum encourages visitors to understand the various machinery and learn about every step of the sardine canning process. From the arrival of the fresh fish usually brisling, a type of herring to smoking in the oven to the canning process itself.  Printing the labels for the cans was a competitive process. There are over 35,000 can labels on display. The museum also highlights the history of printing in Stavanger and how it shaped the printing of the labels for the sardine cans. A thoroughly informative museum this was the highlight of my weekend in Stavanger. 

Another landmark not to be missed is the Domkirke, a medieval cathedral in the middle of the city. It is one of the best-kept churches in Norway and the only cathedral in continuous use since the 1300s. 
If lots of colour floats your boat then include a stop at Ovre Homegate which is a street full of multi-coloured buildings with various street art. Known locally as Fargegaten which translates as the Colour Street, Øvre Holmegate used to be a street like any other in the old shopping district of Stavanger. However, its fortunes changed in 2005 when local hairdresser Tom Kjørsvik decided he wanted to create a vibrant environment to draw more visitors to his salon and the neighbouring businesses. The houses on either side of the street were painted in different colours, based on a Miami Vice-inspired colour scheme suggested by the Scottish artist Craig Flannagan. Each house was given a series of deliberate colour combinations for its façade, doors and window frames designed to harmonize with its neighbours. Try and visit early morning so that you avoid the herds of Instagrammers who swarm the place to get that perfect Instapic. 

A  few streets away from the harbour you will find the Valbert Tower. Constructed between 1850 to 1853 this served as an observation tower. The tower was the permanent lodging of the watchmen in Stavanger. The tower is open to the public and has a museum on the topmost floor.  A climb up the tower gives you an unfettered view of the marina below. 

The quayside and the marina form the focal point of the harbour with many bars and restaurants lining either side along with a few museums. The restaurants serve almost every cuisine but try as I might I could not find a restaurant that served Norwegian fares. The only time I managed to sample salmon was at the breakfast buffet at the hotel and it was simply divine. 


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Tina Edward Gunawardhana

Tina Edward Gunawardhana is a journalist specialising in travel, fashion, lifestyle, cuisine and personalities. She is also the Deputy Editor for Hi!! Magazine. An intrepid traveller, she likes to show readers the world through her eyes and experiences. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram - tinajourno [email protected]


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