Avaldsnes Norway: In the Footsteps of the Viking Kings

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The drive towards Avaldsnes, Norway took us past emerald-green pine trees intermingled with alluring glimpses of glass-topped lakes. It seemed no wonder the Viking Kings had claimed the island of Karmøy as their home…

Our travels had brought us to Norway. More specifically, to Karmøy Island on Norway’s western coast. Otherwise known as the  ‘Homeland of the Viking Kings’. 

Having been infected with enthusiasm for Viking history after watching the hit series, Vikings, this seemed the ideal place to be. And Avaldsnes, Norway was where the Viking Kings held their seats of power and wandered the very ground we were to stand on.

It appears we were not the only ones eager to learn more about the beguiling Vikings and their intriguing lifestyle. In an interview with Vikings creator, Michael Hirst, the BBC History Magazine reported that when he had visited the Oslo Viking Ship Museum, the curator had informed him that admissions had doubled since the Vikings show had begun.

In this Article:

  • The Nordvegen History Centre, Avaldsnes
  • Norway’s Viking Age
  • The Avaldsnes Viking Farm
  • The Avaldsnes Viking Festival
  • St.Olavs Church of Avaldsnes
  • The needle-like pagan predictor of the World’s Day of Judgement.

So, let us walk in the footsteps of the Viking Kings themselves. Let’s immerse ourselves in the real history, culture and lifestyles of the Vikings here at Avaldsnes, Western Norway.

Bukkoy Island Avaldsnes Norway

Bukkoy Island, Avaldsnes Norway



The small town of Avaldsnes lies to the north of Karmøy Island, about a 25-minute drive north from the historic fishing town of Skudeneshavn, or a 10-minute drive south from Haugesund. It is the oldest Royal seat in Norway. Avaldsnes was the seat of power, not only for the Norwegian Vikings in the Viking Age but for chieftains and kings for over 3000 years.

Avaldsnes - overlooking the Karmoy Straight

Overlooking the Karmsund Strait from St Olav’s Church, Avaldsnes


Avaldsnes lies on the narrowest point of the Karmsund Strait, the main shipping channel to the North and was the only safe passage for ships along the Norwegian Coast. It was known as  the Nordvegen – the ‘North Way’ – eventuating in the country’s name, Norway.

Ships had to wait at Avaldsnes for the right currents and winds. As such, it was the perfect place to strategically control the shipping traffic and to impose trading taxes. Thus the Vikings were able to build a powerful base here.

The picture below shows an artist’s impression of the sight that would greet ships as they looked across to the Royal Manor from the Karsmund Strait at Avaldsnes around the year 1300.

Artist impression of Royal Manor at Avaldsnes

Artist impression of Royal Manor Avaldsnes Norway

Artist impression of the inside grounds of the Royal Manor
Sign at the homeland of the viking kings showing the way to the history centre and the viking farm


The best place for us to start our journey back in time is at the Nordvegen History Centre in Avaldsnes.

The Centre itself is built underground so as not to compromise the surrounding historical buildings and landscape. Its circular shape represents Mimir’s ‘Well of Wisdom’. Norse legend tells us that Odin sacrificed one of his eyes to drink from the well in order to gain its wisdom.

To the left of the picture are two signs that read Viking farm and cultural path. On the right a circular wall which is the entrance to the history centre on the land of the viking kings

On the right, you can see the circular entrance to the History centre, Avaldsnes

Thousands of visitors come to the Nordvegen Centre each year to learn more about the infamous Vikings and the history of Avaldsnes. Our guide, Mette Brinchmann, tells us that since the growth in popularity of the tv show Vikings, visitor numbers have increased here too.

An introductory film weaves the stories of the gods, Vikings and Norse legends together narrated by the main Viking King himself, Harald Fairhair.

There is an ambience of magic and mystery as you wander through the artefacts and displays at the Nordvegen History Centre, learning more about Norse mythology, the ancient language of runes and the traditions and culture of days gone by.

An end of a long boat poking through a sheet showing the grass mound it would be buried underneath. It is these mounds that the viking kings would be buried

Avaldsnes Nordvegen History Centre

The exhibition room - in the ceiling are tree branches. There are 10 display boxes on the ground floor and there are small lights in the ceiling representing stars. The centre and exhibitions show many details of the Viking kings and other Norwegian histories

The tree branches within the centre represent the roots of Yggdrasil, the Tree of Life in Norse Mythology.


One of the most renowned of the Viking Kings, King Harald Fairhair, united Norway into one kingdom. Legend tells us that he did so to gain the hand in marriage of Gyda, who would only marry a worthy king of all Norway. He swore not to cut his hair until he had control of all the smaller counties. That doesn’t sound too onerous for a Viking to me but maybe there is more to the saga.

The Battle of Hafrsfjord, just south of what is now Stavanger, is said to have been the deciding factor in Harald Fairhair (or Harald Hardraga) becoming king of all Norway. You will now find three huge swords buried into the rock there, representing this historic occasion.

Visitors can dress like a Viking warrior and Viking king clothes are displayed and can be worn by visitors alongside the most models of the famous King Harald Fairhair. and his Queen Gyda

Visitors to Nordvegen History Centre, can dress like a Viking warrior and Viking king alongside the most famous of Viking Kings, King Harald Fairhair and his Queen Gyda

It is believed that Harald Fairhair is buried in a huge burial mound in Haugesund, just North of Avaldsnes. A National monument, erected on that spot in 1872, overlooks the sea and commemorates the unity of Norway by Fairhair, around one thousand years before.

The central granite obelisk represents a unified Norway and the 27 stones surrounding it, the old Norwegian counties.

The National Monument in honour of Harald Fairhair at Haugsland - one singular obelisk in the middle with 27 granite stones about a fifth of the height around it

The National Monument in honour of Harald Fairhair at Haugesund


Did you know there was an actual ‘Viking Age’?

It was a limited era just like the Stone Age, Middle Ages and so forth. The Viking Age lasted for about 300 years; beginning from the first recorded Viking attack of the Lindisfarne Monastery, Northern England in 793AD, to their terrible defeat in the Battle of Stamford Bridge in 1066.

Some of Harald Fairhair’s decendants that used Avaldsnes as their royal residence were: Eric Bloodaxe, Haakon the Good, Olav Tryggvason, St Olaf, Haakon Haakonson and Haakon V Magnusson.

Learning more about the way of life of the Vikings, you cannot fail to recognise that perhaps they have got a bad rap in terms of their historical reputation of barbaric, axe-wielding murderers.

It is clear that they were actually incredibly talented; excellent seafarers, skilled craftsmen, avid storytellers and fierce, relentless warriors. The Vikings have left lasting imprints through their trade (furs, iron, amber and timber), and establishment and colonisation of old and new territories.

Viking Battle at the Viking Farm at Avaldsnes

Re-enactment Viking Battle at the Viking Farm, Avaldsnes

Yes, they were a force to be reckoned with in battle; their belief in their Norse Gods and in Valhalla, (a great place in the afterlife reserved for warriors and heroes), resulted in a strong psychological advantage in battle. That said, they were many things other than warriors.

Viking Society viewed women as valuable members of society. They had much more power than their equivalent European counterparts of the time. Viking women could divorce their husbands, own property and sell their handiwork. Viking culture taught that it was shameful for a man to harm a woman.

Parts of their culture were, therefore, more in line with our values of today, than compared to the Christian way of life at that time.


Avaldsnes Viking Farm map on a sign

Avaldsnes Viking Farm Map

Just a 10-minute walk from the Avaldsnes Nordvegen History Centre is the small Island of Bukkøy, which houses an authentic reconstruction of a Viking Farm.

In the Summer, it’s open to tourists and you can learn about the daily life of a Viking. Here you’ll find an authentic reproduction of a Viking longhouse and boathouses.

The Viking Farm at Avalsdnes is alo used as a historical school camp. Eager students come here to experience life as a Viking; making cream, butter, bread and porridge. They catch fish for their dinner and after an exhausting day, without all the home comforts, they go to sleep laying on reindeer fur.

Vikings wandering around amongst the visitors.A long house made of wood is by the waters edge.

Avaldsnes Viking Farm

We were lucky enough to visit the farm during the 4 day annual Viking Festival, so it was alive with festivities, tradition and Viking culture.


The largest annual Viking Festival in Western Norway is held on Bukkøy Island, Avaldsnes. It is normally held in the second week of June  and around two hundred ‘Vikings’, come together from Europe and the Baltic States.

The island is filled with traditional music, Viking battles, jesters and sword fighting demonstrations. Vikings display their crafts and sell their wares in the Viking Markets. Many are members of Viking groups who meet to share stories, skills and a common love of the ancient Viking traditions.

The festival organiser, Monica Dimitrova, told us that over the four days, the festival attracts some 15,000-18,000 people. She said the most popular events were the musicians, sword fighting, re-enacted battles, and the jesters.

A woman dressed as a viking spinning yarn
Five musicians dressed in viking clothes one with a flute, one with drum, two with guitar like instruments and a bag pipe looking instrument.

Traditional Viking Music fills the air at Avaldsnes Viking Festival


A member of the local Viking club, Jan, was displaying his hand-carved wooden bows. I asked what it was that attracted him to his craft. He had a quiet, calm way about him as he explained that his main trade was carpentry. Although he uses modern tools for his day-to-day work, he enjoys a special connection with the wood when working by hand. “You feel closer to the material,” he said. “You can even hear how sharp the blade is; it’s relaxing.”

A man dressed as a viking with a dark green cloak and dark trousers. In front of him are wood shavings and an old wooden vice beside him
Many wooden arrows and wooden bows on display at the viking festival

Further along a row of tents, I came across a striking woman with long, white hair. She sat, intensely spinning wool into yarn by hand. When she spoke, her zeal and passion for her craft were palpable.

This captivating woman, named Henny, explained that she was using a ‘drop spindle’ to spin the wool. The wool is only collected from wild sheep as they don’t smell – unlike domestic sheep apparently.

Once spun into yarn, she makes hats and mittens using the traditional Viking art of needle binding. Enthusiastically she reaches for one of her handmade hats and explains that the more you wear it, the warmer it gets due to the binding getting tighter over time.

Woman dressed as a viking with a white dress and a blue cloak over top. She has long white hair and holding a woodenspindle and spinning grey wool into yarn
Blue, grey and brown mittens, hats and neck warmers displayed on a table with a pot of wooden large needles.

Amongst the Viking Markets there were plenty of traditional wares and craft demonstrations enabling visitors to capture a glimpse of Viking life. From animal skin drums painted with pigmented tar to chicken leg necklaces, there were interesting wares for every taste.

Drums painted in various designs such as birds, trees, in blue brown and red.

Animal skin drums for sale at the Avalsdnes Viking Festival

Chicken leg holding a ball of glass as a necklace

Chicken leg pendants – a Viking taste in jewellery


Just beside the Nordvegen History Centre, on the hill overlooking Karmsund Strait, sits St. Olav’s Church of Avaldsnes. The stone church we see today was built in 1250, but it is believed that it replaced a wooden church built by King Olav Tryggvason in around 1000AD.

It was at that time that the Viking kings started to favour Christianity. It is likely that the wooden church was built on an old pagan temple site. In fact, one of the original temple stones is still present to this day.

Emerging from the ground is a seven-metre high stone monument, now called the Virgin Mary’s Needle. This ancient stone dates from around 200AD.

St Olav's Church with the Stone 'Needle' 9.2cm away from the church wall. The church is on the homeland of the viking kings

St Olav’s Alvadsnes Church with the Stone ‘Needle’ 9.2cm away from the church wall

The story passed down through the ages is that if the stone touches the Viking church then Doomsday will descend upon us. Legend suggests that priests would climb up the pillar at night and chip away pieces to make sure it did not touch the church. Hence, we are apparently now 9.2 centimetres away from the end of the world!

St Olaf's Church Avaldsnes

St Olav’s Church Avaldsnes Norway


Surprisingly, the filming of the hit show, Vikings mainly takes place in Ireland. Some visuals were originally shot in Norway, but the competitive tax incentives offered in Ireland made it the country of choice to film the show.

However, the majority of the new hit Netflix show, Norsemen, a kind of Monty Python meets Vikings, is filmed onsite at the Viking Farm in Avaldsnes. Watching that series, you can get an idea of the real landscape our Norwegian Viking Kings were treading.

Two women walking across the homeland of the vikings towards the viking farm. Landscape is flat beside path with rough grass .In the distance is the island with pine trees.

Walking across towards the Viking Farm on Bukkoy Island, Avaldsnes


There is something quite visceral about standing in a place where history has been so powerful. Here in Avaldsnes, overlooking the Karmsund Strait, in Western Norway, you sense the commanding and important forces that were once at play here.

At Avaldsnes you get a glimpse into the craftsmanship and spiritual side of the Vikings as well as their ruthlessness and fighting abilities.

By visiting Avaldsnes, you can experience their way of life and you can walk in the mighty Viking Kings’ footsteps yourself.


Avaldsnes History Centre

Admission Prices (Includes History Centre and Viking Farm):

  • Adult NOK 170
  • Child NOK 60
  • Student/Senior NOK 140

Opening times vary – you can check them here 

Avaldsnes is about a 25-minute drive from the beautiful historic town of Skudeneshavn, which is a must-see town if you are in the area.

READ MORE:  Things to do and see in Skudeneshavn and Karmøy.

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We would like to give a special thank you to Mette Brinchmann, at the Nordvegen History Centre, who spent a lot of her valuable time explaining the history of the area and showing us around.



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Shelley, a former primary school teacher with a law degree, and her husband Lars co-own Lifejourney4two. Their adventure began in Perth, Australia, and has since taken them through Europe and Africa in motorhomes and bush campers. Shelley's travel guides combine practical advice with engaging stories, mirroring their shift from 'One Day' to 'Day One'. Together, they aim to inspire others to embark on their own travel dreams.

6 thoughts on “Avaldsnes Norway: In the Footsteps of the Viking Kings”

  1. I was here in 1988/89 when I was visiting my best friend!!!! I was an exchange student living in Tonsberg and took the train and bus to see her. Her parents took me here on a cold windy (when is it not windy on Karmoy lol) day. I have pictures of me all over the place but my favorite was the Needle. The whole story behind it is fascinating!
    This has been so exciting to read and see. I’ve never been able to get back to Norway, but articles like this help me feel a little bit closer to my home away from home!!
    Takk for alt!!

    • We’re so glad you enjoyed reading this article Christa and that it brought back some great memories. The needle is so interesting and definitely agree that it has such a fascinating story behind it. Thanks so much for taking the time to write and we hope you get back to Norway someday – it’s such a beautiful country.

  2. I remember watching the Vikings series and really enjoying it but getting to see bits of true Viking history is even better. The festival sounds like all kinds of fun. This sounds like a place I would love to visit and as a bonus, there is a good history lesson to be thrown in as well.

  3. A great article. Thank you. After being glued to the screen watching Vikings, it’s interesting to know we can continue the journey through the documented history and travel to find out even more of the Viking lifestyle and customs. To travel one day to these shore would be so interesting.

    • So glad you enjoyed the article Fenella, and thank you for taking the time to leave a comment. As a huge fan of ‘Vikings’, it was really interesting to find out more about the history and Norse Mythology. I hope you get to visit someday 🙂 Michelle


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