Stavanger is a pretty port town in southwestern Norway. Your cruise ship may have Stavanger as a port of call on a Northern Europe cruise itinerary. Or you may choose to make Stavanger your base for doing some thrilling Norway hikes. Whatever your reason for visiting, this cool city will leave a big impression. Read on to get the scoop on the 10 best things to do in Stavanger, Norway!
Though it’s the third largest urban area in Norway, after Oslo and Bergen, Stavanger doesn’t feel like a big city. Its Old Town is charming, its laid back harbor a place to linger over a drink, and its shopping streets a lively mix of color and activity.
If you’re wondering what to do in Stavanger, you have lots of options, from taking in the breathtaking scenery surrounding the city to attempting one of Norway’s great hikes nearby. Stavanger has a stellar collection of museums if it happens to be raining when you visit.
10 BEST THINGS TO DO IN STAVANGER, NORWAY
Stavanger was officially founded in the year 1125. Till the first part of the 20th century, Stavanger was known mainly for shipbuilding and fish canning. But in 1969, oil was first discovered in the North Sea, and Stavanger was chosen to be the land-based center for Norwegian offshore oil operations. Today Stavanger is known as the Oil Capital of Norway. It’s an affluent city, and like much of the rest of Scandinavia, an expensive city.
Wandering around Old Stavanger and the charming city center, you’ll not see any signs of industrial operations. What you will find are charming little houses, many unique museums, and lots of quirky street art. All this, plus a location in the midst of some of Norway’s most spectacular natural beauty.
So here are the 10 best things to do in Stavanger, Norway:
#1 Wander the streets of Gamle Stavanger
You’ll find Gamle Stavanger on the west side of Vågen Bay, a short walk from the city center. Walk through the streets of Old Stavanger to admire Northern Europe’s largest collection of white wooden houses.
Wandering the streets of the Old Town to see this historic collection should be at the top of your list of things to do in Stavanger, especially if it’s your first visit. It’s a beautiful walk, it’s very close to the port and the city center, and it’s a free attraction!
The white houses line both sides of pretty cobblestone streets. The stark white facades act as perfect backdrops for baskets of colorful flowers, pretty vines, and bright fuchsia or royal blue front doors. Picture perfect!
Considered a seedy and run down part of the town when the houses were saved from being torn down after World War II, today Gamle Stavanger is all spruced up and considered a trendy neighborhood. You’ll find boutique stores and small businesses in the white houses, but folks live here as well.
When we wandered around Old Stavanger, it was still early in the day, and the only people we met were folks that live here.
Allow about 1 hour. It’s not a large area, but you will want to stop often to take photos!
If you go: Gamle Stavanger, Gamle Prestveien, 4025 Stavanger, Norway
#2 Cruise the spectacular Lysefjord
One of the absolute best things to do in Stavanger is the 3-hour cruise of the stunning Lysefjord. 26 miles of stunning natural beauty await you on this cruise, especially if the weather is fine on the day you go.
Although Preikestolen (Pulpit Rock) is advertised as the highlight, the cruise is much more than the single experience of seeing the iconic cliff. In fact, seeing Preikestolen from below doesn’t come close to the drama of standing on it, looking down at one of the most magnificent vistas on the planet.
But you’ll see plenty to charm and captivate you on the cruise. No wonder it’s one of Stavanger’s top attractions! Look for little houses on the banks, reflected perfectly in the inky waters of the fjord. Stare in awe at the towering walls of granite on either side. Their light color gives the fjord its name, Light Fjord. See waterfalls cascade down the rocks.
We did the Stavanger cruise of Lysefjord with Rodne. The boat is comfortable, and you’ll hear commentary in several languages. Enjoy the brisk breeze on the open deck if you are bundled up, or relax in the glass-enclosed cabin.
Allow about 3.5 hours.
Pro Tip: If you make your way to the front of the bottom level of the boat at the waterfall, you’ll get to taste some of the ice cold water!
#3 Stroll the picturesque Stavanger harbor
When planning what to do in Stavanger, make sure you put the pretty harbor on your itinerary. It’s fun, it’s historic, and it’s colorful.
If you visit Stavanger as part of a cruise, you will start your explorations at the pretty port. If not, walk on over to the harbor in the earlier part of the day, to see beautiful reflections in the still waters of Vågen Bay. The buildings at the harbor are charming.
Later in the day, the area bustles with activity and you can join the fun at one of the cafes or restaurants that line the street. It’s a great place for people watching if you get a spot in the sun at an outside table. We also saw a couple of cool nautical sculptures.
Don’t forget to look down: apart from the drain covers inscribed with the name and founding year of the city, look for tiles with the footprints of Nobel Peace Prize winners. We came across the bronze footprints of Al Gore, Desmond Tutu, and Dan Hammarskjold. I discovered that the project is the brainchild of the Point of Peace Foundation, and the footprints create a Path of Peace along the harbor. What a cool idea!
Allow about 45 minutes to 1 hour if you are only walking/wandering, more if you eat here or have a drink.
#4 Enjoy the color at Øvre Holmegate
If you want to get photos of arguably the most colorful street in Norway, walk over to Øvre Holmegate! This once drab street got a makeover in 2005. Based on a color palette by artist Craig Flannagan, the buildings on the street were painted in pleasing rich hues. And today Øvre Holmegate is one of the most Instagram-worthy places in Stavanger!
I thought it was very cool that just a few minutes’ walk apart in the same town, you can see both a pristine white neighborhood, and this street bursting with vibrant color. That’s Stavanger!
You can walk the street, admire the street art, browse the boutique stores, and, of course, take lots of photos. Then hang out at one of the several cute cafes and bars that line the street. Enjoy some hot chocolate or hot tea or coffee at an outdoor table. Øvre Holmegate is a popular spot for both locals and travelers, and makes for great people watching.
Allow about 1 hour.
If you go: Øvre Holmegate, 4006 Stavanger, Norway
Pro Tip: Go to Øvre Holmegate later in the day to see it lively and bustling with activity. Shops and cafes here don’t open until late morning so it looks pretty deserted early in the day.
#5 Admire the Stavanger Cathedral
Visiting the Stavanger Cathedral should be on your list on things to do in Stavanger. It’s one of the best preserved cathedrals from medieval times you will see in Norway. It’s a 5-minute walk from Øvre Holmegate.
The Stavanger Domkirke is also the oldest cathedral in Norway. It was built in the first half of the 12th century, by an English Bishop. The cathedral was significantly destroyed by a fire in the year 1272, and rebuilt as a mix of the Romanesque and Gothic styles.
The lovely stone walls of the cathedral you see today were covered over with plaster in a “restoration” attempt in the 19th century. Much of the plaster was fortunately removed later, to re-expose the beautiful natural stone.
Admire the gorgeous organ inside, and the lovely stained glass. In the pulpit, you’ll see painted and sculpted Biblical scenes.
Allow about 1 hour.
If you go: Stavanger Domkirke, Haakon VIIs Gate 2, 4600 Stavanger, Norway
Pro Tip: Just south of the Cathedral, view the pretty Lake Breiavatnet. It’s a man-made lake, with a fountain in the middle and lots of birds.
#6 Explore the Norwegian Petroleum Museum
There’s no shortage of museums to visit in Stavanger, but when you’re in the Oil Capital of Norway, you must visit the Petroleum Museum, right? Seriously though, you will love this museum.
First, admire the facade…the museum building looks like an oil platform on the water! How cool is that?
Inside, discover the history of Norwegian oil operations in the North Sea. It’s a young industry, because oil was first discovered here only in the 1960s.
You’ll see early drilling platforms and their evolution into the modern systems, and the impact of oil on Norway’s economy and society. But the museum is anything but dry. You’ll be surprised by how interesting and interactive the exhibits are. There’s even an escape slide! Don’t forget to pop into the mueum shop for cool gifts and souvenirs.
Allow about 2 hours.
If you go: Norwegian Petroleum Museum, Kjeringholmen 1a, 4006 Stavanger, Norway
#7 Visit the Stavanger Maritime Museum
Stavanger’s past and present are linked to its location on the North Sea. Before it became an oil powerhouse, it was a center for shipping and shipbuilding and fish canning.
Visit the Maritime Museum just off the harbor for a peek into Stavanger’s history. It’s appropriately housed in an old warehouse building. You’ll see lots of boats, of course. But what’s unique about this museum is the attempt to show what life was like during Stavanger’s shipbuilding days.
View recreated historical interiors, such as the general store, a ship owner’s office, and a merchant’s apartment. Go to the fourth floor to see the Sail Loft, a recreation of a historical worksite for the town’s sail makers.
Allow about 45 minutes to 1 hour.
If you go: Stavanger Maritime Museum, Strandkaien 22, 4005 Stavanger, Norway
Pro Tip: If you buy a MUST (Museum Stavanger) ticket, you can get free/discounted entry into other MUST museums on that day.
#8 Enjoy and learn at the Norwegian Canning Museum
Rounding out the trio of unique Stavanger museums you must visit is the Norwegian Canning Museum. It’s housed in an old canning factory in Gamle Stavanger. I loved how each of the three museums is located exactly where it should be!
See the workings of Stavanger’s most significant industry for the first 60 plus years of the 20th century, until oil took over. The equipment and machines in this former factory still work, and on Sundays (and Tuesdays and Thursdays in the summer), you can taste sardines smoked in the oven, right in front of you!
Join a guided tour if you want to learn more as you tour the museum. Try your hand at sardine threading or packing, with fake sardines! Don’t miss the colorful display of can labels. The museum contains thousands of labels, although only some are displayed.
Allow about 1 hour.
If you go: Norwegian Canning Museum, Øvre Strandgate 88, 4005 Stavanger, Norway
#9 See some Viking history at the Swords in Rock Monument
There are many cool things to do in Stavanger, and seeing the Sverd i fjell monument is definitely one of them! Made of bronze, each sword is 33 feet tall. They stand at the edge of the water at a scenic spot just outside Stavanger in Hafrsfjord.
The monument commemorates the Battle of Hafrsfjord in the year 872, following which all of Norway was united under King Harald. According to the Norse tales, King Harald wanted to marry Gyda, a princess, who turned him down because he was not powerful enough. She said she would only marry him if he became king of all of Norway. And so the battle ensued, and the rest is history! The largest sword represents the victor, and the two smaller ones the vanquished.
Take a walk along the beautiful bay after you view the monument if you have the time.
To get to this Stavanger must-see sight, you can drive, or take the bus or a taxi from the city center. The bus ride is about 15 minutes. The monument may be part of an excursion if you are on a cruise. You can also stop here on your way to the airport or drive south from Stavanger.
Allow about 1 to 1.5 hours.
#10 Hike to the top of Preikestolen!
Around Stavanger, you have your pick of challenging Norway hikes. You can stand on the famous Kjerag boulder after a leg-busting hike to the top of the highest cliff at Lysefjord. Or climb the 4444 steps of the world’s longest set of wooden stairs at Florli.
But most easily accessed from Stavanger and doable if you are reasonably fit is the hike to the top of Preikestolen. Your reward? One of the most spectacular views on the planet. Doing the hike to the top of Pulpit Rock on a gorgeous day is one of the absolute best things to do in Stavanger. It’s a memory you will hold dear forever!
Join a guided hike to the top of the 2000-foot Pulpit Rock. Or drive yourself to the trailhead parking lot at Preikestolen Fjellstue, about 1.5 hours from Stavanger. Or, in season, take the ferry to and from Tau and a bus from Tau to the trailhead and back. You can also do a combination Lysefjord cruise and hike to Pulpit Rock.
The hike is classed as moderately difficult, about 2.5 miles each way and an elevation gain of about 1,200 feet. Allow about 4-5 hours for the hike. You can hike between May and October, subject, of course, to weather conditions on the specific day. Make sure you are attired for the weather, wear proper hiking shoes, and carry food and water.
Allow pretty much an entire day for this activity: it’s a full day trip with transport from and back to Stavanger.
Getting to Stavanger
Stavanger has an international airport so you can fly into Stavanger from other cities in Norway or from outside Norway. You can also travel to Stavanger by train or bus from Oslo or Bergen in Norway. You can also make Stavanger a stop on a self-drive road trip through Norway. And if you are cruising Northern Europe, you may have Stavanger as a port of call.
Getting around in Stavanger
Stavanger is compact and you can pretty much walk everywhere in the city center. You’ll only need transport for the Rocks in Sword monument and for any hikes you plan in the area around Stavanger.
Where to stay in Stavanger
The Thon Hotel has a central location, just a few minutes’ walk from the train station. Furnishings are contemporary with bright pops of color, beds super comfy, and the breakfast buffet is sumptuous. An onsite dinner buffet is available as well.
Book a stay here
The Radisson Blu Atlantic Hotel is a wonderful alternative choice, with a central location and contemporary furnishings. Fabulous views, a great breakfast buffet, spacious rooms, and comfy beds make this hotel a great option for your Stavanger holiday.
Book a stay here
Where to eat in Stavanger
For a seafood lunch, try Fisketorget, right on the harbor. My husband loved the fish soup, and as a vegetarian, I enjoyed my salad.
For dinner, splurge on a great dining experience at RE-NAA. The menu is fish and seafood predominant, with quality ingredients and beautiful presentation. Don’t skip dessert!
When to visit Stavanger
Late spring, summer, and early fall are the best times to visit, when the days are relatively long and daytime temperatures pleasant. We visited in late May and it was perfect. Beautiful weather and no crowds to speak of.
Only one day in Stavanger?
If you visit Stavanger as part of a Northern Europe cruise, you’ll likely have less than one day in Stavanger. But the good news is that the city center is compact, walkable, and right off the quay. So you can spend all your time you have on the activities that most appeal to you.
You may want to stay in town, especially if you have cruised the Norwegian fjords elsewhere. In that case, you should be able to walk the town with a local guide or on your own, see the cathedral, and pop into a couple of museums, or discover Stavanger’s cool street art. But if this is your only opportunity to do a Norwegian fjord cruise, I think the Lysefjord cruise is beautiful, especially if the weather is fine when you visit.
So there you have it…my suggestions for the best things to do in Stavanger. Have you visited? What did you love most about your visit to Stavanger? If you are planning to visit Norway, I hope you add Stavanger to your itinerary, along with nearby Bergen!
And if you are planning to visit neighboring Denmark or Sweden, my Scandinavia itinerary will take you through the most iconic places in the region in just 10 days: plus, I offer suggestions for modifications if you have less or more time planned for Scandinavia.
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