The island of Utsira, off the western coast of Norway, may be small, but its spirit and soul instantly capture your heart.
Utsira Island Norway
Utsira Kommune, Rogaland, with its wild and rugged landscape, is bound by an enormous community spirit. Not only that, but Utsira Island is also a haven for birdlife and is so infused with international street art, that the 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. We have enjoyed our hiking in Norway and exploring Utsira on foot was a fascinating journey across this lesser-known part of Norway.
Find out everything you need to know about visiting this intriguing island and all the things that you can see and do on Utsira.
View across Utsira
Quick Look: Top Things to See and Do on Utsira Island
- Visit Utsira Lighthouse – the highest in Norway
- Have coffee and waffles in The Utsira Lighthouse cafe
- Stay overnight in the ‘Love Hut’ or relax in the ‘Conversation Hut’.
- Find the Green hut – a piece of art made out of pieces of plastic collected from the sea.
- Have a swing or borrow a bike from the Utsira Community Hut
- Go on a Street Art Treasure Hunt across Utsira
- Visit the Street Art ‘Scream’ Gallery
- Climb the mountain to the old Seapilot Hut
- Find the bust of Norway’s first female mayor
- Step inside the nautical themed 1785 Utsira Church
- Birdwatch in this bird spotters paradise
- Find the many geocaches hidden on the island
- Hike the many trails around Utsira
- Explore the historic Utsira harbour
Discovering the Island of Utsira
We had been living in Skudeneshavn, on the most southern tip of the island of Karmøy, Norway, for almost three months and had experienced most of the area’s main sights. Many of them popular Norway destinations, such as Priekestolen, Kjeragbolten, Stavanger and the Sognefjord area.
However, what had not been on our radar, was Utsira. The island remains relatively undiscovered by the masses, making it an even more attractive destination to add to your Norway bucket list.
Why this charismatic and breath-taking island is not on the lips of everyone travelling through Western Norway I have no idea.
Welcome to Utsira
We’d arranged to meet a local on our arrival, Atle Grimsby, to find out more about Utsira. He originally came to the island for a birdwatching visit twenty-six years ago, and here he stayed when he met and fell in love with Tove, his now wife.
One of his hobbies is being a guide for Utsira, “This is Something I do for the community,” he tells us. That sentiment, we discover, runs through the veins of the 200 or so residents of Utsira, who all, “…look out for each other“.
Utsira is the smallest municipality by population in Norway, with only about 200 people living on the six square kilometre island. It sits about 18 km west of Karmøy and is accessible only by boat.
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 a few facilities on the island such as a grocery store, school, library and restaurant, the islanders need to visit the mainland for a haircut or to see the dentist. Many of the islanders are younger generations of those who came before them. However, there are also families from Somalia, Nigeria, The Netherlands, Philippines, Denmark and more, that make up this tight-knit community.
One of the most prominent features of Utsira is its lighthouse, Utsira Fyr, but you’ll find there is so much more as you wander past old harbour walls, heritage-listed buildings, bird-watching hot spots and amazing street art that pops up in the most unexpected places.
A ferry runs from the mainland town, Haugesund at Garpaskjærdkaien Quay, with the trip taking about 70 minutes. There is no need to take a car when visiting Utsira 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.
On arrival, you’ll find the tourist information office beside the North Harbour jetty. Here you can pick up a map of the island with marked hiking trails and the main points to visit.
Map of Utsira Island
How to Get to Utsira
The only form of public transport to Utsira is by car ferry. The ferry trip from Garpaskjærdkaien Quay, Haugesund to Utsira takes about 70 minutes each way and costs about 320 NOK return.
The voyage can sometimes be rough but fortunately, the ferry has stabilizers and roll control which helps in rough seas.
Rutebåten Utsira runs the ferry from Haugesund to Utsira. Their website is in Norwegian but their Facebook page translates to English and you can find out the Utsira Ferry running times, prices and whether cancelled due to bad weather.
Utsira Amazing Things to See and Do
1. Utsira Lighthouse
There are two heritage-listed lighthouses on the island, which are the only remaining twin lighthouses in Norway. Only one of the two is working 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, shines its light routinely once a month and on special occasions. Although the second lighthouse is no longer in use, it does harbour some secret street art.
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. From here, if you are keen-eyed, you may also spy some of the street art.
The lighthouse is open during the school holidays and by appointment.
One of the twin lighthouses that is no longer in use (find the hidden Street art inside)
2. Utsira Lighthouse Cafe
Just before you arrive at the Utsira Fyr,the lighthouse, you’ll come across the Lighthouse Café. Treat yourself to coffee and warm waffles, served in the typical Norwegian style with sour cream and jam.
3. The ‘Love and Conversation Huts’.
Near to the iconic lighthouse, you will find two cabins, one pink, one blue;both created as part of the Utsira Community Art Project. They seem a stark contrast to the weathered, remote landscape, but the brightly coloured huts give a modern, vibrant touch to Utsira, inviting you to relax and take in the spectacular view over the ocean.
The ‘Love’ and ‘Conversation’ Huts on Utsira
The blue hut is the ‘Conversation Hut’ (Havsula). In this little retreat, away from the pressures of life, you can enjoy the peace, and soak in the serenity of your surroundings.
The pink hut, the ‘Love Hut’ (Nyperosa), is available for booking. It has a double bed and looks out over the rugged landscape to the ocean beyond.
Have a peek inside the huts in this short video:
4. Ocean Pollution Green Hut
Across the other side of the island you’ll find this ‘green’ hut. It’s made from pieces of plastic collected from the sea, and is a timely reminder of the need to protect our precious oceans from plastic pollution.
The ‘Green’ Hut on Utsira
5. Utsira 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. An interesting reflection of how the Utsira community work together.
Here you can find 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.
The Utsira ‘Community’ Hut
6. Utsira’s Famed Street Art
The amazing pieces of art around the island tantalize and surprise; you are never quite sure where they will pop up next.
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.
The map below details all of Utsira Street art locations and the artists.
One of the most famous artists, 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 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 who have contributed to art on the island include JPS, Ella and Pitr, LaStaa, 3F, ATM, Pichi&Avo and children’s author and illustrator, Sarah McIntyre.
The portrait of the first female mayor of Utsira painted on the water tower as part of the street art project
Utsira street art is eye-catching and interesting
Brightening an otherwise drab wall, Utsira street art
The most recent addition to the island’s art is a large mural by Borondo, who captured the idea of the island residents all being in the same boat and working together as a community. This reflects the essence of Utsira’s community spirit perfectly.
Borondo Mural (Credit: Art Organisers)
7. 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.
You’ll find it at Gamleskolen Ovlandsvegen 39.
Utsira’s ‘Scream’ art gallery
The other Utsira lighthouse, which is still in use.
8. Utsira Sea Pilot Station
On the top of the hill to the east of Utsira, you can find a square, yellow building, Utsira’s last remaining Sea Pilot Station.
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 was a signal requesting 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.
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.
Ultsira Sea Pilot Station
Climb to the Utsira Sea Pilot Station via steps
Access to the Sea Pilot Station
9. 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 marked the inauguration of Norway’s first female mayor, Åasa Helgesen.
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.
Utsira’s First Female Mayor
What is extremely interesting is that places such as Mexico and Venezuela sent telegrams congratulating the island on its first female mayor. In contrast, 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. As a consequence, the women on the island ran the farms and raised the children. This meant that the community had to work together and help each other. A legacy that continues in the thriving community spirit on Utsira today.
10. Utsira Church
This timber church was built in 1785 but underwent renovation in 1870. However, the original pulpit is still in place. The inside was very different from the decor in most churches we have seen. Moreover, 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 Utsira Church
11. Utsira Bird Haven
Currently, over 300 bird species have been recorded on this internationally known birdwatcher’s paradise. Twenty-six of them being extremely rare. In addition, Utsira has its own ringing hut (where a bird can be tagged with a ring on its leg for recording purposes).
We didn’t see anyone bird spotting but we definitely saw plenty of bird life. Interestingly, the main hotspot for bird watching is in a local resident’s garden, which used to be the house of the first female mayor.
Until 1945, seagull catching was popular on the island. This is because, the gulls were poaching from the spring herring shoals, so the islanders set traps. Once caught, the seagull feathers were used to fill quilts, with about 80-100 birds filling one quilt. Also, if food was scarce, the seagulls became a source of nutrition.
Birds are even represented in the street art on Utsira
12. Geocaching on Utsira
Although not so good at bird spotting, what we did know how to spot and find were geocaches. Unfortunately, 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.
Here’s a map that shows all the geocaches you could find on Utsira.
Geocache locations on Utsira Island
13. Utsira Hiking Trails
There are three main marked hiking trails throughout the island which provide 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.
- Austramarka/Trollstien – The eastern side of Utsira Island (3.2km)
- The Viking Trail /Utsira Trail- The Western side of Utsira (4km)
- North Sea Trail – Part of a larger hike around contries in the North sea. The Utsira part of the trail goes past the Utsira Bird Station and includes the path from Nordvikvågen to Utsira Lighthouse.
Utsira Hiking Map
14. Utsira Harbour
Western Norway has undergone a few booms and busts in regards to 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 conditions were dangerous. Most had simple wooden boats with oars and sails so there was a need for a safe harbour. Consequently, in 1866, the inner harbours on the island, which still stand today, were built by about 100 stonemasons. Completed In 1870 they are now heritage listed.
Today, having both the North and South harbours, ensures that there is a least one safe port into Utsira to protect the incoming vessels from the strong, buffeting winds.
Utsira’s North Harbour
Utsira: Good to Know
Where to eat in Utsira
- 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 in Utsira
- One of the top-rated stays on Utsira is at Bolgen-Overnatting Utsira apartments
- The pink hut, the ‘Love Hut’ (Nyperosa), is available for booking.
You can also check out other Utsira accommodation here.
* Our Bonus Blooper Video on Utsira
Finally, here is a video we filmed whilst at Utsira … and then something happened…
If you are visiting Norway, then this enchanting, alluring and charismatic island must be on your Norwegian bucket list. Have you already visited? If so, we’d love to hear from you.
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