A lightbulb painted on a greenish wooden door as street art. The filament says Utsira
Norway

Why Utsira Should be on your Norway Bucket List

The island of Utsira, off the western coast of Norway, may be small, but its spirit and soul instantly capture your heart.

Utsira, with its wild and rugged landscape, is bound by an enormous community spirit. The island is a haven for bird life, and is so infused with international street art, that the whole island feels like an open-air art exhibition. The moment you step foot on Utsira’s alluring shores, you are caught in its net of enchantment. If Utsira is not yet on your Norway bucket list, it should be.

A landscape view across Utsira , craggy grey rocks in the foreground , trees to the laft and green fields in between. some red and white houses can be seen in the distance.

Discovering Utsira

We have been staying in Skudeneshavn, on the most southern tip of the Island of Karmøy, Norway, for almost three months, experiencing most of the area’s main sights. Many of them have been popular Norway destinations, such as Priekestolen, Kjeragbolten, Stavanger and the Sognefjord area.

What had not been on our radar, was Utsira. Why this charismatic and breath-taking island is not on the lips of everyone travelling through Western Norway, I have no idea. I guess it remains relatively undiscovered by the masses, making it an even more attractive destination, to add to your Norway bucket list.

Old North Harbour - Red, white and yellow fishing huts along the side of the water of the calm harbour.

Welcome to Utsira

Utsira resident, Atle Grimsby, met us from the ferry. He came to the island for a visit 26 years ago to birdwatch, and here he stayed when he met and fell in love with Tove, his now wife. He works in the Utsira Municipality, but has several hobbies including birdwatching and guiding on the island. This is, “Something I do for the community,” he tells us. That sentiment, we discover, seems to run through the veins of the people of Utsira.

Utsira is the smallest municipality by population in the whole of Norway, with only about 200 people living on the six square kilometre island. It sits about 18 km west of Karmøy and is only accessible by boat.  A ferry runs from the main town, Haugesund, with the trip taking about 70 minutes. There is no need to take a car, as the distance from north to south of the island is 2 km, and about 3km east to west. However, you may consider taking a bike, which has free passage on the ferry.

A tourist information office is beside the North Harbour jetty, and here you can pick up a map of the island with marked walking trails and main points to visit.

A green map of Utsira showing red dots marking main attractions and walking routes.

The walk to the lighthouse took us past old harbour walls, heritage listed buildings, bird-watching hot spots and amazing street art that appeared in the most unexpected places.

Our first stop – the Lighthouse Café. Here we met Atle’s wife, Tove. Over coffee and warm waffles, served in the typical Norwegian style with sour cream and jam, Atle and Tove shared the island’s history, its strong sense of community and told us more about the unique street art.

Utsira Art and Community

Community Art Projects

Near to the iconic lighthouse, you will find two cabins, one pink, one blue. They seem a stark contrast to the weathered, remote landscape, but the brightly coloured huts give a modern, vibrant touch, inviting you to relax and take in the spectacular view out over the ocean.

Two smal huts, one pink, one blue on the craggy landscape of rocks and grass

The blue hut is called the ‘Conversation Hut’ (Havsula). In this little retreat, away from the pressures of life, you can enjoy the peace and soak in the serenity.

The pink hut, the ‘Love Hut’ (Nyperosa), can be booked for the night. It has a double bed and looks out over the rugged landscape to the ocean beyond.

The pink and blue hut with a view of the red lighthouse in the background and the large white house that was the lighthouse keepers quarters.

Across the other side of the island is the green hut. Made from bits of plastic collected from the sea, it is a candid reminder of the need to protect our precious oceans from plastic pollution.

A multi-coloured hut made of plastic from the sea near the ocean. Grass and rocks in the background

Community Hut

Another combined art and community project on the island is the workshop cabin.  It was dismantled in Haugesund and reassembled, plank by plank by the residents of the island. A reflection of the community working together.

a part of the community hut is shown. It is white with some painted signs on the front in norwegian. A bike is beside the hut and through the door of the hut you can see a rope swing.

Here you can find some free bikes that are available to the community and tourists alike. Inside the cabin, lies a small workshop for fixing bikes or for small carpentry projects. I was particularly drawn to the indoor rope swing.

You can just sit here, swing and think about life” Atle adds when he notices my interest in the swing. Yet another demonstration of how important community is to this diminutive island.

Island Community

The nearest town to Utsira is Haugesund, and with a 70-minute ferry ride away, it’s not that easy to just ‘pop into town’. Although there are facilities on the island such as a grocery store, school, library and restaurant, haircuts and dental visits mean a trip to the mainland.

So what is life like, living on the island?

Atle and Tove, man in green shirt and shorts with binoculars around his neck and woman wearing white t shirt and green pants.
Atle and Tove Grimsby

Everyone knows everyone and everything, it’s the way. We’re in the same boat, a big family,” says Tove.

She explains that if they need anything, the community uses Facebook and will send out a message, “Anyone in town today?”.

Both Atle and Tove agreed that there was a strong community spirit on the island. “When something good happens, it’s good to live here, and when something bad happens, it’s also good,” Tove adds.

Many of the islanders are younger generations of those who came before them, but there are also families from Somalia, Nigeria, The Netherlands, Philippines, Denmark and more, that make up this tight-knit community.

Utsira’s Street Art

The amazing pieces of art around the island tantalise and surprise; you are never quite sure where they will pop up next. If you want to be sure that you don’t miss any, you can download a map, detailing the locations and the artists.

A large water tank with a mural of an old womans face on it .
The first female mayor of Utsira, painted on the water tower as part of the street art project

The Utsirart Project, ‘Street Art on the Island Without Streets’, began in 2014. Street Artists came from around the world to paint their murals and designs across the island. Since then, various other artists have also contributed to the growing street art found on Utsira.

One of the most famous, whose characteristic stick figures stand tall and proud on this small island, was street artist Stik, from the UK.  He began painting in 2001, in his hometown of Hackney, East London, to, “Wordlessly tell the story of his community”.

His 26-metre tall figures are on the two wind turbines on the island. The turbines, installed in 2004, were the world’s first wind and hydrogen energy project. It supplied energy to ten of the houses on the island.

The two giants, named after the Norse goddesses Frigg and Freyja, welcome the ferry as it arrives from the mainland. – Stik

A tall white wind turbine witha stick figure in black and white on the side
The characteristic stick figures of Stik on the two wind turbines on Utsira (Photo Credit: Stik)

Stik continues to do a lot of work with charities and creates artworks with communities around the world. His book features many of his unofficial street murals spanning over a decade, telling the stories and motivations behind them.

The other artists include JPS, Ella and Pitr, LaStaa, 3F, ATM, Pichi&Avo and children’s author and illustrator, Sarah McIntyre who have all contributed to art on the island.

Street art painted on an old wooden door. It is a large light bulb and the filament says utsira

street art of sheep wearing a scarf with a criss cross pattern on it

A side of a building with pink blue grey design of two roman style figures

A painting of a boy wearing blue clothing and a blue hat on the side of a concrete block.

 

Street art of a black and white ballerina on the side of a house

The most recent addition to the island’s art is a large mural by Borondo, who captured the idea of the small island residents all being in the same boat and working together as a community. This reflects the essence of Utsira’s community spirit perfectly.

A large mural on the side of a house with a fishing boat in the middle and people stood around it. It is painted from a birdseye view and the colours are mainly pale grey, dark grey brown and blue.
Borondo Mural (Credit: Art Organisers)

Utsira Street Art Gallery

Another of the street artists, JPS, inspired by Banksy, has a gallery of his art in Utsira’s old school basement. The theme is ‘Scream’, and the art here definitely leaves a gruesome impression. The gallery is free and always open.

A wall on the basement of the old school basement by the blue door it says gallery. Beside the door onthe left side is a picture of a scary looking man wearing a green and red striped top and black trousers and a black het holding a doll by the hair. The words beside say A nightmare

The basement with blood covered nurse painted on the wall

A painting of a big brown bear on the wall with a gun strapped to its side and a young bot riding it with a pistol in his hand

Historical Utsira

Utsira Lighthouse

There are two heritage listed lighthouses on the island which are the only remaining twin lighthouses in Norway.

The old grey light house on a hill
One of the twin lighthouses, this one is abandoned and no longer in use
The red lighthouse at the top of the hill
The other lighthouse, which is still in use.

Only one of the two is operational and has the important job of sending weather recordings to Oslo six times a day. The lighthouse’s lantern, which was first lit in 1844, sheds its light routinely once a month and on special occasions. The second lighthouse is abandoned, harbouring some secret street art.

The inside of the lighthouse lantern showing the two bulbs

From the top of this lighthouse, which sits at the highest elevation of all of Norway’s lighthouses, at 68m above sea level, you can look out over Utsira’s striking, wild landscape. If you are keen-eyed, you may also spy some of the street art from here.

At the top of the light house looking out, on the left of the photo is the lantern and then the buildings below can be seen through the window

view across Utsira from the top of the lighthouse - can see two buildings and an expansion of green areas with rocks.

The lighthouse is open during the school holidays and by appointment. Fancy a stay overnight? You can rent out the large lighthouse-quarters.

Utsira Harbour

North harbour with a yellow, white and red hut beside the harbour wharf. A red and white boat is in the foreground.

Western Norway has undergone a few booms and busts when speaking of herring fishing. Around the mid 19th century, during one of the good periods of herring fishing, you could find up to a thousand fishermen on Utsira. Sleeping under their upturned boat in freezing conditions, was the only option for many who would head to the island hoping for their share of the spring herring. The North Sea could be treacherous, and the cold, dark weather conditions made for dangerous cirumstances. Most had simple wooden boats with oars and sails so there was a need for a safe harbour. Therefore, in 1866, the inner harbours on the island, which still stand today, were built by about 100 stonemasons. In 1870 they were completed and are now heritage listed.

Utsira harbour - od buildings along the side, one red, one white and two weathered wood. There are four small boats in the foreground.

Today, having both the North and South harbours, ensures that there is a least one safe port into Utsira that is protected from the strong, buffeting winds.

Sea Pilot Competition –  Display of Manhood

On the top of the hill to the east, you can find a square yellow building, Utsira’s last remaining Sea Pilot Station.The yellow square hut on the to of the hill - the sea can be seen in the background.

Before 1922, seven families, over five generations, had built their own huts on the peaks of the hills and competed to pilot the incoming ships to the harbour. When the incoming sailboat lowered their flag, this acted as a request for a pilot to come out and guide them safely into harbour. The father and grandfather would be watching in the station and the kids would be in the boat at the harbour ready for the race to begin. Whoever got their hand in the boat first, got the job of guiding the ship into the harbour. This was at the time, an ultimate display of manhood.

The yellow square hut shown on the top of the hill with 6 wooden steps leading up to it.

It is a bit of a climb to this vantage point, but you get a spectacular view across the island and can see both the North and South Harbours.

A clump of rock with a wooden staircase leading up the side of the rock.

The view of Utsira's South Harbour - an inlet and ocean can be seen at the end of an expanse of green fields and hill on left side.
Utsira’s South Harbour
The view of the North Harbour
Utsira’s North Harbour

Norway’s First Female Mayor – Embarrassment or Pride

Historically, Utsira was ahead of its time when, in 1926, it established its first council of eleven women and one man. What’s more, this event also marked the inauguration of Norway’s first female mayor, Åasa Helgesen.

The grey bust of the first mayor of the island, Aasa Helgesen in front of the red wooden building of the Utsira municipality

Their very first policy was the lowering of their own wages to help the island’s economy. Next, they had roads built so the children did not have to arrive at school with wet feet.

What is extremely interesting is that places such as Mexico and Venezuela sent telegrams congratulating the island on its first female mayor, yet locals and those on mainland Norway, mocked the island being run by women, nicknaming them the ‘Petticoat Council’. For a whole two generations, it was not talked about outside of the island because of the shame that was felt. Today though, that shame has been replaced by pride.

Åasa Helgesen was both a midwife and farmer. Back in the day, the men would be out fishing for months on end, only coming back at harvesting time. The women on the island ran the farms and raised the children. The community had to work together and help each other which is a legacy continued in the thriving community spirit on Utsira today.

Utsira Church

 church which is made of white wooden horizontal planks

The timber church was built in 1785 but underwent renovation in 1870. However, the original pulpit is still in place. The inside was very different to the décor in most churches we have seen and the choice of colours, pink, blue and white was unusual. In line with the nautical connection of the island, a ship hung near the altar.

Inside the church the walls are white with pink trimming and the alter has a gold cross surrounded by a pale bright blue.

Immersion in Nature

Bird Haven

Over 300 bird species have been recorded on this internationally known birdwatcher’s paradise. 26 of them being extremely rare. It even has its own ringing hut (where they catch a bird and ring its leg for recording purposes). We didn’t see anyone with binoculars but definitely saw plenty of bird life.

A rock with a bird painted on the side

The main hotspot for bird watching is in a local resident’s garden which actually used to be the house of the first female mayor.

Until 1945, seagull catching was popular on the island. Why this came to be, is that the gulls were poaching from the spring herring shoals, so the islanders set traps. They used the seagull feathers to fill quilts, about 80-100 birds filled one quilt. The birds were also eaten if food was scarce.

A wooden door with a girls head painted on. Her hair is made up of loads of tiny birds

Geocaching

Although not so good at bird spotting, what we did know how to spot and find were geocaches. We were short on time, so only managed to search for three. However, we could easily have spent a day hunting the many hidden caches across Utsira’s diverse landscape.

A map showing geocaching green dots over the island
Geocache locations on the island

Walking Trails

There are three main marked walking trails throughout the island and plenty of opportunity for exploring the rocky coastline and wild terrain. The island is believed to have had inhabitants dating back to the stone age. Indeed, some of the walking trails take you past remains of Celtic settlements.

A rock formation with a bird painting on with a black and a white sheep stood nearby. The ocean is in the background

A white hut with jellyfish painted in the middle of the front of the hut.

A wooden sign that says 'Turisti' and a path leading around the rock and green field.

Utsira is shaped like a butterfly. The valley runs through the middle like the butterfly’s abdomen and either side the hills rise to form the wings.

A view across the valley towards the sea. In the foreground are rocks and in the valley are houses and trees.

pink heather in the foreground with craggy rocks in the middle and the ocean in the background

Butterfly Memories

Five hours on this wild island retreat were not enough. We would recommend at least staying overnight, in order to enjoy all the island has to offer.

picture of the island with a butterfly shape overladen to show the island is a little shaped like a butterfly

Perhaps it is not by chance the island resembles a butterfly, for you will experience a change. Utsira cannot help but impress itself upon you, transform your moments and seep deep into your soul.

The butterfly counts not months but moments and has time enough. 

– Rabindranath Tagore

 

Helpful Information

Getting There

Ferry times and prices

The journey by ferry from Garpaskjærdkaien Quay, Haugesund to Utsira takes about 70 minutes each way, and costs 320NOK return.

The voyage can sometimes be rough but the ferry has stabilisers and roll control which helps in rough seas.

Where to eat

Lighthouse Cafe (near the Lighthouse)

Dahmsgard Restaurant   (Tel. 986 61 981)

Dalanalstet (Pub Restaurant – Tel. 418 52 330)

Island Supermarket – Joker (Tel: 52 74 92 20)

Accommodation

Details for accommodation can be found: here and here



Booking.com

If you are visiting Norway, this enchanting, alluring and charismatic island must be on your Norwegian bucket list. Has anyone already visited? What do you think would be the main attraction for you to this island? We’d love to hear from you, leave a comment below.

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Michelle

Author: Michelle

After finishing my Law Degree I decided to become a teacher. I am passionate about teaching, learning and most of all, about inspiring others. Now, as a writer and blogger, I love sharing our travels and our musings on life’s journey. I hope, through these, we can play a part in inspiring you to do whatever ‘satisfies your soul’.

6 Comment

  1. A lovely post about a lovely place! I’ve been to the Oslo area, but not Utsira. I’d love to visit there and stay at the lighthouse. Thanks for sharing, Michelle!

  2. Utsira looks delightful. I have to say that Norway has never been high on my radar. But, I’ve so enjoyed your posts about your time and travels there. You have hooked me!

    1. Thank you so much Danielle, it’s always great to know our articles are enjoyed:) We agree, Norway is beautiful, and the landscape is so diverse. We hope more people will find this spectacular island – it certainly captured our hearts.

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