Best Things to do in Stavanger and Surrounds
Stavanger abounds with things to do and its surrounding area offers plenty of diverse landscapes to explore. You’ll find museums, pretty photogenic streets, long sandy beaches, famous street art, historical monuments, dramatic coastal scenes, mountain hikes, fabulous fjords and of course, plenty of Norway’s Viking heritage dotted throughout this southwestern area of Norway.
Stavanger can be traced back to the 12th century. However, it underwent massive growth when oil was discovered off the coast in 1969. The development of its oil and gas industry has given Stavanger the accolade of being the oil capital of Norway.
Fortunately, it has retained much of its charm and it is a contradiction of any industrialised image that such a label may infer.
This charismatic city is fourth in size after Oslo, Bergen and Trondheim, but it feels much more personal than a large city. Two of its main streets are some of the most photographed in Europe, one for its vibrant colours, the other for its white timbered houses and floral charm.
The centre of Stavanger is neatly packaged around the harbour and invites you to unwrap its enticing sights step by step.
Stavanger was awarded the European Capital of Culture award in 2008 and hosts various cultural festivals each year, such as the ‘Nuart‘ Street Art Festival, ‘Utopia Music Festival and Gladmatsfestivalen, which attracts over 200,000 people.
Not only is the city itself full of things to do, but Stavanger also has more than 250 tiny islands sprinkled around its shores. Much of this archipelago is accessible by bridges and undersea tunnels. The Jæren lowlands to the south take you through the area’s important agricultural lands and the dramatic mountain peaks and sparkling Lysfjord call to you from the east.
To help with your planning and orientation I’ve included a colour-coded map and broken the things to do in Stavanger and its surroundings into separate areas.
- Things to do in Stavanger City
- Day Trips to Mountains and Fjords From Stavanger
- Things to see and do on the Fringes of Stavanger
- Driving the Jaeren Scenic Route
Map of Stavanger and Surrounds
Snapshot of Stavanger and Surrounds Video
Things to do in Stavanger City
All of these things to see and do in Stavanger are within walking distance of the city centre. To visit Stavanger’s surrounds you will need your own transport but some are accessible by bus or via tours.
1. Wander the Old Streets of Stavanger (Gamle Stavanger)
Here, you’ll find 173 wooden houses built in the late 1700s and early 1800s. In summer, vibrant flowers spill from window boxes and hanging baskets flood the narrow street with colour and charm. This is a street that demands you dawdle as every step seduces with its alluring appeal.
Wild strawberries grow in the cobblestone cracks and the subtle scent of roses floats in the air. The white timber houses in old Stavanger welcome you with the overflowing flowers and foliage.
We are on Øvre Strandgate, another of Stavanger’s most photographed streets in the heart of Gamle Stavanger, (Old Stavanger). In 1975, UNESCO designated Old Stavanger as one of the cities worthy of preservation in Norway.
If you appreciate this part of Stavanger, with its beguiling old, white wooden houses, then we suggest you include the more off-the-beaten-path town of Skudeneshavn in your trip. It is about a two-hour drive northwest of Stavanger, on the island of Karmoy. Its idyllic old streets wind organically between granite rocks and the harbour and are a more intimate experience for the visitor.
Old Stavanger wooden houses on Ovre Strandgate
2. Visit the Canning and Printing Museums
Between 1900 and 1950, before the discovery of oil, it was the canning industry that dominated the city of Stavanger. In 1918 there were 60 canning factories in the city.
Both the Canning and Printing museums are next to each other in the old town area of Stavanger with the Iddis café and brasserie nestled between them.
The name of the café is derived from the word, ‘Iddisar’ — a local Norwegian term referring to the collection of the sardine can wrappers. And it is these wrappers that inexplicably linked the canning and printing industries of the past, together.
About 40,000 different labels were printed and Norwegian children used to collect the sardine wrappers much like you would collect postcards or stamps.
Jakob Høines, a local in the area, now in his 60s, told me that as a child he had a huge collection and he would exchange wrappers with other children to build his collection. He wished he had saved them because today they would be worth a lot of money.
Canning Museum in Stavanger
Norway’s sardine canning industry wasn’t packing any normal sardine though. The icy waters around Norway were home to brisling sardines, said to be one of the highest quality sardines and one of the tastiest.
Today, there is not even one factory canning sardines in Stavanger — however, one of the factories is now home to the Canning Museum, which tells Stavanger’s sardine story through interactive and historical exhibits. Visit the two museums to learn more about the interesting history of the sardine canning industry and its eventual demise in Stavanger.
Printing Museum and Iddis Cafe
3. Have a Coffee or Meal at Iddis Café
The Iddis café, as mentioned above, recently opened and sits between the Canning and the Print Museums. There is also a museum shop in the cafe selling memorabilia and of course … sardines. The vibe is friendly and the food looked delicious.
4. Stroll Through Øvre Holmegate — the Street of Colours
Øvre Holmegate, or as locals call it, ‘Fargegata’ (the street of colours), is one of the most photographed streets in Stavanger. Locals and tourists alike enjoy this vibrant strip of cafes, bars restaurants and shops.
The terraces are bustling, filled with cheery chatter and laughter. The street exudes vivaciousness and you almost expect the many street art figures to jump off the walls and join in all the frivolity.
And it’s not just the tourists that have the hots for Øvre Holmegate. I asked Martinus Bjerga, a local who works at the Oil Museum, his favourite part of Stavanger. I was surprised to learn that it was this street of colours.
Quite often, places that are tourist attractions seem to drive the locals away to find less busy, secret local spots.
But here it seems the vibrant ‘Faregata’ is home to all.
The street of colours in Stavanger — Ovre Holmegate
5. Enjoy a Viking Virtual Reality (VR) Experience
At Viking House, near the Tourist Information office, you’ll find Norway’s first Viking virtual reality experience. Take a seat on the Viking boat and experience the saga of Harald Fairhair — who is said to have been the first Viking King of a united Norway.
Although at times the figures in the VR seemed a little jerky, the overall experience was quite extraordinary. My favourite part was watching the northern lights shimmer above us, while Lars’ favourite parts were the battle scenes. I wouldn’t recommend that children under the age of ten watch it because there were a few scary parts.
A virtual reality experience – experience the saga of Harald Fairhair, the first King of Norway
While at Viking House in Stavanger, you can also satisfy any cravings for all things Viking. There is a shop selling clothing, books, swords, and jewellery, and you can even forge your own Viking-style coin.
Steinar Raaen, the Viking Smithy, handcrafts many of the items. His most popular piece of jewellery that he sells is the ‘Lothbrok Twist’, a Viking arm ring. If you are a fan of the hit TV series Vikings, you’ll recognise the Viking arm ring used as a pledge of loyalty to the kings and the Norse Gods.
You can make your own Viking penny at Viking House in Stavanger
6. Visit Norwegian Petroleum Museum
Much of Norway’s wealth has come from oil and gas, and therefore, front and centre in Stavanger is the Oil Museum.
The museum is an impressive and modern-looking building from the outside, with parts of it jutting into the ocean mimicking an oil platform. Here you’ll find a wealth of information about Norway’s oil history, with films, timelines, models and interactive exhibits.
For the last 50 years, Norway has relied on jobs and revenue from the oil and gas industry. This has led to Norway accumulating enormous wealth, which it has used to provide excellent public services to Norwegians. However, it is now faced with the challenge of finding new solutions in light of climate change and energy production.
The museum has an interesting exhibit on the Energy and Climate challenge, posing many questions about Norway’s options for the future.
The Stavanger Petroleum Museum recommends you allow about 1.5 hours for your visit.
Inside Stavanger’s Petroleum Museum
7. Search Stavanger’s Streets for Awesome Street Art
Every year, Stavanger hosts the Nuart Street Art Festival and both Stavanger and the surrounding area are now rich with fascinating creations, of all artistic genres, from artists around the world. You can download the Nuart Festival app to help locate the art and to discover its artist.
Take your time strolling through the streets and remember to look up as well as down. You’ll discover cheeky little paintings hidden around corners and in the most unusual places. You can see more examples of Stavanger’s street art in our Stavanger video. You could spend a whole day here just hunting down Stavanger’s street art.
Street Art in Stavanger
8. Find all 23 Broken Column Sculptures
You can find 23 of these ‘rusty man’ figures throughout Stavanger. They are part of the ‘Broken Column’ sculpture project of Stavanger Art Museum. The sculptures all sit at a different level above sea level and all face the direction of the sea. The first is in the museum, the last in the sea just outside a reef at Natvigs Minde.
The British artist, Antony Gormley, describes the idea as follows:
“They are displaced vertebrae from an imaginary pillar, where the head of one connects to the foot of the other“.
Gormley is most well known for his creation, the ‘Angel of the North’ erected in the north of England in 1998.
Broken Column sculpture – one of 23 in Stavanger
9. Admire Stavanger Cathedral
Stavanger Cathedral presides over the city. As with many historical dates here in Norway, legends and sagas tell us when events may have happened. According to legend, the church was built in 1125. This makes it one of the oldest churches in Norway. This cathedral is the only one in Norway that has kept its Middle Age original architecture and the only Norwegian cathedral that has been in continuous use since the 1300s.
It was in the process of renovation while we were there in July 2021 and this is scheduled to continue until 2022.
10. Visit Stavanger Maritime Museum
Many of the sea houses on the wharves in Stavanger were originally used for salting herring. The herrings were then stored in barrels before being loaded back onto ships and sold to European countries. In later years canning factories operated in the sea houses. The Stavanger Maritime Museum is in two of the sea houses opposite the harbour.
Other museums and cultural buildings that you may be interested in are:
- Norwegian Children’s Museum
- Breidablikk Museum — Norway’s best-preserved villa dating from the 1880s with authentic interior
- Kunstall Stavanger — Norwegian and international contemporary art
Day Trips from Stavanger to the Mountains and Fjords
Stavanger is the ideal city to organise day trips to the incredible surrounding mountain peaks and azure fjords. Here are a few we recommend which include options for the adventurous and for those who’d prefer a leisurely visit to this area of natural beauty.
11. Hike Kjeragbolten
To hike to Kjeragbolten, you do have to be relatively fit. It is a demanding 4.5-hour hike with alternating steep inclines and declines. However, if you are up for the challenge, you will be rewarded with magnificent scenery and will come face to face with my nemesis, the Kjerag Bolt.
It was here that my story about the hike, Fear at the Rockface, came to fruition. Did this rock, unbelievably wedged between two cliff faces at 1000 metres above Lysefjord below, defeat me? Or did fear fade in the name of adventure?
Find out here, along with all the information you’ll need to know about hiking Kjergbolten:
READ MORE: Hiking Kjergbolten & Fear at the Rockface
12. Cruise along Lysefjord
Several cruises take you along the serene Lysefjord, including a fjord tourist ferry.
Contact Stavanger Tourist info for details of prices, times and availability.
Lysefjord view from Lysebotn
13. Hike to Pulpit Rock (Preikestolen)
Hiking to Preikestolen or Pulpit Rock is easier than hiking to Kjeragbolten, but can still be challenging. The views over the Lysefjord and the scenery during the hike are well worth the climb to this iconic Norwegian precipice, 604 metres above the fjord.
We hiked to Pulpit Rock on a beautiful warm summer’s day in the late afternoon. You can find out all about how to get there, what it’s like and see the incredible views from our photos in our post here:
14. Climb the Flørli Steps
The Florlitrappene are 4,444 steps that follow water pipelines and rails that were used to transport a trolley from the top of the mountain down to Lysefjord below. It’s one of the longest staircases in the world. Not on my list of things to do in the Stavanger region, but for those adventurers for whom height and vertigo aren’t an issue, then this might be a climb and hike to consider.
It is recommended to only climb up the stairs and to hike around the circular route for your return. Note that this hike is listed as challenging.
Things to see and do on the Fringes of Stavanger
Heading south from Stavanger, you venture onto the Jaeren Scenic Route taking you through the lowlands of Western Norway. It is here that you come to some of the sandiest beaches in Norway. Heading north from Stavanger, you’ll find Stavanger’s archipelago of tiny islands offering an escape from city life.
15. Take a Trip to Utstein Monastery
Thirty minutes north of Stavanger, on one of its many islands, Mosterøy, you’ll find Norway’s only preserved monastery. The Utstein Monastery was built in 1260 and it is believed to have been farmland owned by the first king of Norway, Harald Fairhair. Harald’s throne was further north at Avaldsnes, on the island of Karmoy, known as the home of the Viking Kings. The Utstein Monastery is now part of the Stavanger Museum.
16. Feel Small Next to Sverd i fjell (Swords in the rock)
Peace, Unity and Freedom. That is what is represented by the three Sverd i fjell (Swords in the rock).
This impressive monument overlooks Hafrsfjord. It is believed that an important battle took place here in the late 800s, between Western Norway’s king Harald Fairhair and several other kings ruling various parts of Norway. Norse sagas tell stories of Harald’s Viking army winning the battle and uniting Norway into one country.
Sverd i Fjell, Stavanger
17. Step Back in Time at the Iron Age Farm (Jernaldergåden)
The Iron Age farm in Ullandhaug is part of the Stavanger Museum of Archeology. It provides an insight into life in the late Iron Age, 1500 years ago. This farm has been built on the original ruins that date back to approximately 350 – 550 AD. Here you’ll find an exhibition area, a visitor centre and many interactive activities.
18. Explore the Aviation Museum (Flyhistorik Museum)
If you are interested in Norwegian aviation history then you will want to stop here. The museum covers the history of Norway’s aviation from WWII to the present.
19. Get the Sand Between Your Toes at Solastranden Beach
Solastranden Beach, ranked as one of the best beaches in the world, is a 2.3 km white sand beach sheltered by dunes. It’s popular for watersports, such as surfing, windsurfing and kite-surfing.
Solastranden Beach, Stavanger
20. Imagine Pagan Times at Domsteinane
Domsteinane is like a mini-Stonehenge. Stone circles are not common in Norway, and this is one of the most peculiar in all of Scandinavia. The original stones were first described in 1745, but some think they may have been older, dating from the early Iron Age or earlier.
The 24 stones are arranged in a circle with a rectangular stone slab in the centre and eight rows of smaller stones, like spokes on a wheel, radiating out from the centre. It isn’t known what the purpose of the stones was. But the circular design suggests it was a place of some sort of worship to the Gods.
Domsteinane historical site
Things to see and do on the Jaeren Scenic Route
21. Take a trip along the Jaeren Scenic Route
Take a trip along the Jaeren Scenic Route Jaeren/ Jæren — part of the larger North Sea Route from Kristiansand to Haugesund. Jaeren boasts the largest lowland area in Norway and stretches for 41 km between Ogna and Bore.
Laced along Jaeren’s coastline are dunes and rocky boulders, wildflowers and wide ocean views, cultural heritage sites and historical buildings.
The Jaeren Route is one of Norway’s scenic routes. But the road itself does not have the type of stunning scenery we have grown to expect from Norway. The landscape seen from the road is rather repetitive. After all, it is the largest area of lowland in Norway, so there are endless fields of crops and cattle farms.
The green fields, stone fences and cute calves are enticing at first, but Jaeren’s appeal is not on the route itself, but on what you’ll find on its many sideroad detours towards the coast.
22. Get Back to Nature at Orrestranda Beach and Conservation Wetlands
Stop here in summer to wander through these protected wetland areas. A boarded path winds its way towards Norway’s longest sandy beach, Orrestranda. On the way towards the dunes, you’ll pass a narrow stream festooned with river reeds. Cheerful chirps fill the air, suggesting that you may spot one of the many bird varieties that visit over summer if you are patient.
This is a place beckoning you to unwind, to sit among the wildflowers while bees and butterflies flit around you.
If you have time – take a detour to Frøylandsvatnet. The lake is excellent for bird watching and has a 230-metre uniquely designed bridge, the Midgardsormen Bridge.
Pathway to Orrestranda Beach – through the protected wetlands
23. Enjoy a Coffee and Culture at Hå Old Vicarage, Cafe and Burial Grounds
Hå old vicarage, dating from the 17th century, is now an art and culture exhibition building and also an art shop. Here you’ll also find a Café serving local food with terrace seating overlooking the ocean.
The burial ground at Hå dates from about 500 AD.
24. Hike along the Kongevegen Route
Kongevegen is an easy-rated 8.4 km hike that takes you along Jaeren’s coast from Hå Gamle Prestegard to Varhaug Church. It’s about three hours one way, and it takes you along some of the old remains of the ‘King’s Road’ from the 1600s.
25. A Sleepover at Obrestad Lighthouse?
Just south of Hå old vicarage you’ll see Obrestad Lighthouse on the peninsula. It was built in 1873 and is now a cultural history museum. The lighthouse keeper’s house is available for holiday accommodation.
26. Stop to Admire the Photogenic Old Churchyard of Varhaug
The first Varhaug church was built in the 13th century but it was demolished in 1905 and now a small chapel sits in its place.
We spoke to a local who was visiting the grave of his great-great-grandfather buried in the old churchyard in 1914. He mentioned that this chapel is a popular place for wedding ceremonies because of the picturesque setting.
The chapel has uninterrupted views of the vast ocean ahead of it. Apparently, we were lucky to see it on a warm summer’s day, because most of the time the North Sea winds buffet this tiny chapel.
Varhaug Chapel on the Jaeren Scenic Route
27. Admire the Coastline at Kvassheim lighthouse
The Kvassheim lighthouse was one of the last lighthouses to be built along this stretch of coast in 1912, guiding ships safely past the dangerous stretch of Jaeren coast until 1990. Restored and reconstructed, this red and white wooden building contains exhibitions about marine rescue missions and local nature.
28. Hang out with the Sheep Around Hitler’s Teeth
During WWII the Germans used prisoners of war to build a concrete blockade on Norway’s shore to prevent allied troops from landing with tanks.
The Germans believed that due to the topography of the land in this area, then an attack was likely. Apparently, Norwegians mixing the concrete, altered the sand content to reduce the strength of the blocks.
The sheep are making good use of ‘Hitler’s Teeth’ on the Jaeran Route
Where to eat in Stavanger
There are plenty of cafes and restaurants to choose from in Stavanger. Popular places include the cafes and restaurants around the harbour and at Ovre Holmegate, (the colourful street).
The Iddis café by the Print Museum, bustled with locals when we were there, which is always a good sign.
Indian food is one of our favourites, so we popped into the Mogul Indian Restaurant. It did not disappoint. In fact, we had one of the best Indians we have ever tasted.
Where to stay in Stavanger
We stayed in Scandic Stavanger City hotel with central Stavanger being within easy walking distance. It had a fabulous buffet breakfast included and was reasonably priced.
For more options in Stavanger and for current offers check Booking.com here.
Things to do in Stavanger … That’s a Wrap
Stavanger has a fantastic fusion of diverse experiences and makes for an excellent base to explore this part of Western Norway.
Please let us know if you have any questions and let us know if you visit and what your favourite thing to do in Stavanger was.
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