Imagine immersing yourself in the grandeur of Fjord Norway — a region of towering snow-capped peaks, wild waters, and breathtaking views — at the height of winter, when the air is crisp, the darkness long, and there's a silence and solitude unlike anything else.
This is the heart of Norway's Viking country, and like the brave and fearless warriors that have gone before you, you can best experience this vast and untamed wilderness in cooler weather, from October to April. Are you ready to Go Viking and follow in the footsteps of these intrepid Norwegians? Read our previous guides to visiting Bergen and Hardangerfjord, as well as Sognefjord and Loen.
Then, read on for more on Stavanger and the culture- and nature-saturated regions of Haugesund and Ryfylke.
The south of Fjord Norway is situated in the country’s rugged southwest and is punctured all along its North Sea coast with countless fjords, rivers, bays, and inlets. Its capital and its largest urban center, Stavanger, sits on a peninsula and was founded in the year 1125. In addition to being one of Norway’s oldest cities, it’s also an important cultural and maritime center filled with museums, historic churches, and a charming old town. Many travelers coming through this area use Stavanger as their base before venturing out to the county’s many natural sights and cultural sights.
Start in the Heart of the City
A picturesque port city and gateway to the surrounding wild and rugged outdoors, Stavanger is an ideal spot to start your explorations of this region. Stroll around Gamle Stavanger, or the old city, which is filled with northern Europe's largest concentration of historic wooden homes — most of them painted white – that date to the beginning of the 18th Century. Another architectural gem is the Stavanger Cathedral, Norway's oldest. On the other end of the design spectrum, you’ll also find the modern Norwegian Petroleum Museum in Stavanger. Opened in 1999 and with a distinctive design that’s meant to echo the look of an oil platform, it’s the place to learn about the history of the abundant oil and gas production in the region through interactive exhibits. This is an especially good spot for families.
For a trip through Stavanger’s history, the Maritime Museum is a must. Here, you’ll learn about the long legacy of herring fishing in the city, and can view beautiful reconstructed interiors, including a general store and a sail-making loft.
For a more modern take on the city’s culture, take in its incredible street art scene, which includes everything from smaller stenciled works to massive murals covering entire homes. If you enjoy this, venture just twenty minutes from Stavanger to the town of Sandnes, which has an official Street Art Trail — Norway's first.
Uncover the Real Vikings
Viking history and culture abound in this entire region. The region of Haugesund is known as “the homeland of the Viking kings". Avaldsnes, outside Haugesund, has been a place of power since before the Viking Age. Here you can delve into the story of Harald Fairhair, Norway’s first king, who ruled in the year 870. Explore this storied past at the Nordvegen History Center and Viking Farm. Situated mostly underground, the center uses dioramas, sounds, and video to bring this former royal seat to life. Olav’s Church, also located in this area, was built in 1250 but is surrounded by burial markers that are more than 1,000 years older than that, including “Mary’s Needle,” which is more than twenty feet tall. The city of Haugesund itself is regarded as a contemporary cultural capital, too. You can catch a jazz, rock, or comedy show here almost any night of the week and enjoy its beautiful Art Nouveau architecture. And of course, no trip to Haugesund is complete without a stroll along the Kyststien, a rugged coastal walking trail that winds past Haraldshaugen, Norway’s National Monument and the grand burial site of Harald Fairhair himself.
South of Stavanger, in the harbor village of Sogndalstrand, you'll find pedestrian streets, charming cafes, and beautiful 17th and 18th-century wooden houses jutting out over a gentle river that flows through town. One of the most popular stops in the south of Fjord Norway, you’ll find yourself snapping many a photo in this picturesque spot.
For an unparalleled road trip that combines natural and cultural sights, set out along the 161-mile Ryfylke Scenic Route. Beginning in the town of Oanes, which is about an hour from Stavanger by ferry, and ending in the town of Hara, this winding – and sometimes hair-raising – route includes both modern and historic man-made sights, as well as breathtaking natural ones. Zinc mines and industrial buildings, waterfalls, historic churches, dense forests, cutting-edge modern architecture, panoramic fjord views, and sheer cliffs are just the beginning. Part of this route takes you past the incredible Preikestolen and the Lysefjord, which we’ll describe in detail below.
Have an Outdoor Fjord Adventure
Whether it's hiking among falling autumn leaves or under the boughs of budding birch trees in early spring, there are a myriad of ways to Go Viking in Fjord Norway’s expansive wilderness.
For a classic outdoor escape, set off on a sea journey to Ryfylke by catamaran from Stavanger harbor to the stunning Lysefjord, which is about 16 miles away. One of the major sights here is the Preikestolen, or “Pulpit Rock.” This legendary, 1,981-foot-high plateau is one of Norway's most recognizable natural landmarks. Winter and spring bring smaller crowds, so you'll be among the few savoring its spectacular cliff-top views. A great way to see this area is with a fjord cruise and guided hike that you can book through Outdoorlife Norway or Lysefjorden Adventure. Sunset hikes and off-the-beaten-path routes are offered as well.
Another excellent tour option from Stavanger is Rødne Fjord Cruise Tour, which also lets you explore Ryfylke with a trip to the Lysefjord and Pulpit Rock.
Consider putting your Viking prowess on full display with a four-hour guided winter kayaking trip with Fjord Expedition. You'll traverse the wild and wintery Lysefjord, paddling icy waters amidst a changing landscape of sandy beaches and imposing granite walls. This tour begins in Forsand in the district of Ryfylke, about an hour from Stavanger.
Coastal Adventures hosts fun – and daring – “coasteering” excursions that let you dive into the surf all year long in the coastal waters around the town of Egersund, south of Stavanger. In October and November, join a Salmon Safari river float. Wearing a wetsuit to shield you from the elements, you'll get an up-close look at salmon and trout in their natural river habitat as you brave the frigid waters alongside them.
If you love climbing and mountaineering, Via Ferrata Kyrkjeveggen, situated in Fjæra in Åkrafjorden, is perhaps Norway's toughest Via Ferrata route. The route is primarily on rock surface, and steps and holds have been installed for easier access at the most challenging points. At its highest section, you'll rise to more than 2,500 feet above sea level.s
Eat a Hearty Meal and Raise a Glass
From Michelin-starred meals to cozy eateries utilizing fresh ingredients straight from the North Sea, there are plenty of unique ways to satisfy your Viking hunger in the south of Fjord Norway, one of Norway's gastronomy hotspots.
Batter-based svele cake (a kind of pancake) is common throughout the region, and can even be purchased when you’re on board a ferry en route to your adventures. Game meat, including reindeer and mutton, are common on menus throughout the region, and you’ll see plenty of local fish. And of course, keep an eye peeled for local beers and cider.
In Stavanger, you’ll find excellent haute cuisine, including the Michelin-starred RE-NAA, where the prix fixe menu is an ever-changing culinary journey through Norway's natural bounty. Book well in advance for a table. The same goes for Sabi Omakase, which also has a Michelin star. With a single pre-set menu and a sushi-only focus, a meal here is truly an experience. Ninety percent of the restaurant’s fish are locally caught.
Where to Stay on Your Viking Adventures
In Stavanger: The Thon Hotel Maritim is a comfortable and easy walk to the city's cultural hub. Another option in the town center is Comfort Hotel Square, which combines smart, functional design and affordability.
Just Outside Stavanger: Ryfylke's Lilland Brewery Hotel is only about 30 minutes by ferry from Stavanger – for now. Starting in 2020, you can drive here via the world’s longest undersea tunnel. It features soothingly minimalist rooms and a breakfast buffet. Be sure to try the herb-infused beers and the hearty salmon and lamb dishes at the on-site brewery and restaurant.
For Road-Tripping Along the Ryfylke Scenic Route: Suldal's Energihotellet is a family-run design hotel known for its distinctive concrete architecture as well as panoramic views of its mountainous surroundings. Hiking and cross-country skiing opportunities abound here.
Getting There and Around
Stavanger is an easy flight from major European hubs such as Amsterdam (KLM) and Copenhagen (SAS). You can also explore this region by flying into Haugesund on SAS (from Copenhagen or Oslo), Norwegian (from Oslo) or Wideroe (from Bergen).
Video courtesy of It's waterful og Moxy