Why you have to visit stunning Stavanger, Norway

StavangerPhoto: Alexey Topolyanskiy / Unsplash

Fjords galore and ancient wooden architecture paired with exciting cultural and gastro scenes. Welcome to Stavanger, Norway.

Stavanger is the fourth-largest city in Norway – and one of the country’s oldest.

From its early-second-millennium beginnings as a tiny market town, it’s expanded into an international, urban, and university city with the endless things to do and sights to see to prove it.

We’re bringing you a complete guide to the splendid Scandinavian metropolis that is Stavanger, Norway.

Sightseeing across Stavanger, Norway

In this section, we’ll explore the intriguing history of Stavanger and divulge the details on how and where you can experience the city’s living heritage today.

From 3000 BC to the Viking Age

Archeologists have found evidence of human occupation, in the form of cave dwellings, in the Stavanger area dated as far back as 3000 BC. However, modern-day Scandinavia is thought to have been first inhabited around 10,000 years ago.

Today, you can view rock carvings created by the ancient people of southwestern Norway between 1800 and 500 BC at Fluberget.

You’ll find this archeological cliff site about 200 meters from the nine-kilometer-long Hafrsfjord.

Thought to have once been tied to spirituality, Fluberget was discovered in 1879.

Captivating carvings of longships, mysterious objects, and hands await Fluberget’s visitors – along with stretching vistas of the surrounding Stavanger fjord. 

Hafrsfjord sits just below Stavanger, Norway. Photo: Giuseppe Milo / Unsplash

On Hafrsfjord, along with many other areas surrounding Stavanger, you’ll find some of Norway’s best surfing spots. The beaches of nearby Jæren are touted for having the best conditions for surfing in the entire country.

Another go-to spot to sightsee ancient rock carvings is Solbakk, located 35 kilometers northeast of Stavanger. The carvings at Solbakk date to about 500 BC and were discovered in 1923.

Mostly depicted are longships (almost 30) along with suns (of which there are eight). Solbakk is also thought to have been tied with religious rituals or expression.

The roadway to Solbakk is the Norwegian Scenic Route of Ryfylk. If you follow it 16 kilometers further, it’ll take you to the parking lot where the famous Stavanger Pulpit Rock, also known as Preikestolen, hike starts.

Stavangar Pulpit Rock
The Stavanger Pulpit Rock. Photo: Samuel Killworth / Unsplash

The six-kilometer hike lasts around four hours and is moderate in difficulty with a 350-meter ascent.

During the May-October hiking season, you can also explore the Stavanger Pulpit Rock, and its surrounding 42-kilometer-long Lysefjord by kayak, bike, zip line, boat, glider, and more.

Lysefjord as seen from the air. Photo: Hendrikje Glauner / Unsplash

Why not channel your inner Lara Croft or Indiana Jones and explore the nature surrounding Stavanger in tandem with the archeology? 

From the Viking Age to the Middle Ages

The area surrounding Stavanger, Norway is one of the country’s most prominent Viking Age settlements.

The great Battle of HafrsfjordIt was fought around 872 AD at (you guessed it) Hafrsfjord. Combat was waged from ships right on the Stavanger fjord and was initiated by Harald Fairhair against petty kings from various regions in Norway.

This battle is considered the kick-off point of a unified Norway. After it, Harald is thought to have successfully gathered the nation under his rule. 

Dissidents decided to leave Norway rather than submit to Harald – many left for the British Isles or the newly founded settlement on Iceland.

Meanwhile, Harald became King Harald I of Norway – the country’s first monarch.

Below is a painting, completed in 1870 by Norwegian artist Ole Peter Hansen Balling (1823-1906), depicting the famous battle.

Battle of Hafrsfjord
The Battle of Hafrsfjord. Photo: Nasjonalmuseet / Wikicommons

Much of what we know about the battle comes from the Icelandic sagas of Snorri Sturluson (1179-1241).

No archeological evidence has been found to support the written source yet.

Today on the Hafrsfjord, you can view a monument called Sverd i Fjell (translating to ‘Swords in Rock’) created by Norwegian sculptor Fritz Røed (1928-2002) to commemorate the battle.

Sverd i fjell monument
The Sverd i fjell monument. Photo: Tomas Eidsvold / Unsplash

If you can never get enough Viking history, Stavanger’s got you covered.

For a taste of what Norway looked like just before the Viking Age, you’ll find a reconstructed Iron Age farm called Jernaldergården at Ullandhaug, three kilometers from Stavanger.

The farm was rebuilt atop ruins from a farm dated back to between 350 and 550 AD.

At Jernaldergården, you can explore turf-covered houses plus watch – and partake in – demonstrations such as clay pot construction and decoration, wool-making, and open-fire cooking.

Viking turf house
A turf-covered house in Norway. Photo: Andrew Ly / Unsplash

Nearby sits the University of Stavanger’s Museum of Archaeology. In this interactive museum, you’ll discover the Viking longhouse, Viking treasures brought back to Norway from across the world, Viking weapons, and oodles of other artifacts.

The medieval to modern eras

In the early 12th century, Stavanger was a thriving market town and port. It became an officially established city in 1125 under the decree of King Sigurd I Magnusson of Norway (c. 1089-1130).

Around this time began the construction, overseen by then-bishop Reinald of Winchester, of the Stavanger Cathedral, which is today one of Norway’s most charming churches.

Stavanger Cathedral
The modern-day tower of the Stavanger Cathedral peeks out over the town’s harbor. Photo: Victor Malyushev / Unsplash

The Stavanger Cathedral was damaged by a fire in 1272 and rebuilt in the Gothic style it flaunts today.

In 1425, Stavanger was granted royal status as a trading town. It continued to grow steadily over the centuries.

Another addition to the Stavanger Cathedral came in the late 1650s when an ornate pulpit was added and designed by Scottish craftsman and artist Andrew Lawrenceson Smith (c. 1620 – c. 1694) – also one of the prominent figures of the 1600s Stavanger Renaissance.

At the turn of the 18th century, a series of wooden buildings was constructed on the central west side of the city’s harbor.

Today, 173 of the buildings, most of which are quaint, white cottages, still stand as an important part of Stavanger heritage.

The city has won multiple awards for its conservation efforts of this neighborhood which is now known as Old Stavanger.

Old Stavanger
The streets of Old Stavanger. Photo: Caitlin Wynne / Unsplash

Old Stavanger is currently a residential area dotted with groovy galleries, artisan boutiques, and museums (here, you’ll find the Stavanger Maritime Museum and the Norwegian Canning Museum).

A 20th-century transformation

The second half of the 20th century was one of the most defining periods in Stavanger’s history.

This era began in 1963 when the Norwegian Government declared sovereignty over the two-million-square-kilometer Norwegian Continental Shelf.

Norwegian Continental Shelf
The area of the Norwegian Continental Shelf. Photo: Troy Bouffard / University of Alaska Fairbanks

The government made this decision for gains in terms of both territory and natural resources… And, needless to say, it paid off.

After oil was discovered about 320 kilometers southwest of the coast of Stavanger in 1969, drilling began in the North Sea for the first time in 1971.

Stavanger, known as Norway’s capital of petrol, became the center for service activities tied to the oil and gas industries.

These industries, and their efficient financial management, are a large part of the reason Norway enjoys economic prosperity today.

Stavanger’s 21st-century swagger

In modern-day Stavanger, things to do are abundant. Stavanger has grown to Norway’s fourth-biggest city following Oslo, Bergen, and Trondheim.

Stavanger street life
Stavanger street life. Photo: Victor Malyushev / Unsplash

Stavanger Norway’s population at the time of writing is almost 122,000. 

Stavanger eats and entertainment

Seafood is the name of the gastro game in Stavanger.

Stavanger harbor
The Stavanger, Norway harbor. Photo: Thomas Wolter / Pixabay

Along with spunky hole-in-the-wall eateries and cafes, the city is home to two Michelin-starred restaurants: Sabi Omakase and RE-NAA, both of which source fresh ingredients from local producers daily.

If you’re in town for the winter holidays, don’t miss out on a bowl of traditional Norwegian rice pudding and porridge (riskrem and risgrøt).

In further celebration of the Stavanger area’s local cuisine, the Gladmatfestivalen food fest and Stavanger Vinfestival are usually held in the city each summer. Additionally, in nearby Hjelmeland, you can catch a salmon festival, and in Bryne, a local potato festival.

Not to mention the city’s buzzing nightlife scene (with spunky going-out spots like Cafe Sting and Checkpoint Charlie), concerts and theater shows galore.

Stavanger cafe
A cafe bar in Stavanger, Norway. Photo: L O / Pixabay

The newcomer on Stavanger’s cultural scene is flourishing street art. Since 2001, the city has hosted the Nu Art Festival of street art which was founded and is creatively directed by renowned artist Martyn Reed.

So now you’ve scratched the surface of Stavanger’s many hidden secrets – but many more wait to be discovered.

Ready for some R&R in the city of petrol (and much, much more) yet?

Stavanger sunrise
Stavanger, Norway and its gorgeous sunrises await you! Photo: Malasoca / Pixabay

So, where exactly is Stavanger?

Stavanger is situated on the southwestern coast of Norway.

Stavanger map
A Stavanger, Norway map. Photo: Google Maps

This Stavanger map shows the city’s proximity to other urban centers in Norway and northern Europe. The distance from Stavanger to Bergen is 210 kilometers, Stavanger to Oslo 540 kilometers, Stavanger to Copenhagen 760 kilometers, and Stavanger to Stockholm 980 kilometers if you’re interested in road-tripping from other major Scandinavian cities. 

For non-roadway trips, the Stavanger Airport has you covered.

It’s internationally connected to the following cities: Aberdeen, United Kingdom; Alicante, Spain; Amsterdam, Netherlands; Antalya, Turkey; Barcelona, Spain; Billund, Denmark; Copenhagen, Denmark; Dubrovnik, Croatia; Edinburgh, United Kingdom; Esbjerg, Denmark; Gdansk, Poland; Katowice, Poland; Kaunas, Lithuania; Krakow, Poland; London, United Kingdom; Malaga, Spain; Manchester, United Kingdom; Milano, Italy; Murcia, Spain; Newcastle, United Kingdom; Nice, France; Palma de Mallorca, Spain; Split, Croatia; Stockholm, Sweden; and Szczecin, Poland.

The airport also has domestic flights to and from Bergen, Bodø, Harstad/Narvik, Kristiansand, Oslo, Sandefjord, and Trondheim.

Stavanger map satellite
A Stavanger, Norway map on an almost-global scale. Source: Google Maps / Terrametrics

You’ll find the city of Stavanger on the 50th latitude north.

The city is too far south to see the northern lights and the midnight sun; though it does experience large differences in daylight hours year-round.

On December, the Stavanger sun sets around 3:40 PM and rises around 9:30 AM, making for about six hours of daylight. December is also the coldest month with temperatures averaging between 1 and 5 degrees Celsius.

In July, the sun sets around 10:50 PM and rises around 4:30 AM: that’s about 18 hours per daylight every day. July is the city’s warmest month with temperatures averaging between 12 and 19 degrees Celsius.

Source: Norway Today


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