Although known as the oil capital of Norway, Stavanger is much more than just a hub for energy industry execs. Located on Norway’s southwestern coast, Stavanger serves as an ideal base for those venturing to the iconic Pulpit Rock and as a gateway to the Lysefjord.
Yet there’s plenty going on in the city itself to interest the curious traveler. From the historic cathedral to the central district of white, wooden houses, to the street art that brightens up downtown, here are the best things to do in and around Stavanger.
One of Norway’s most iconic fjords has very few viewpoints accessible by car, so boat trips and/or hikes are needed to appreciate the Lysefjord in all its grandeur.
1. Sightseeing boat trip to Lysefjord: A three-hour sightseeing cruise departs central Stavanger daily during high season, and several times a week for much of the rest of the year.
It takes about one hour to reach the Lysefjord bridge, marking the entrance to the fjord. After passing underneath the bridge, highlights include Vagabonds cove, the sight of Pulpit Rock from fjord level, a family of goats that somehow call the steep coastline their home, and the beautiful Hengjane waterfall.
2. Pulpit Rock hike: For an awe-inspiring view of the fjord that’s hard to beat, you’ll need to tackle one of Norway’s most famous hiking trails. Pulpit Rock—or Preikestolen in Norwegian—is a clifftop dangling almost 2,000 feet above the water.
The 4.7-mile hike features a total elevation gain of approximately 1,500 feet and will take most people a total of 4-5 hours for the roundtrip. Hiking experience is advised. Daily bus shuttles link downtown Stavanger with the trailhead.
3. Climb the 4,444 steps at Flørli: An optional stop on some fjord cruises is the historic fjord village Flørli. Home to one of Norway’s first hydropower plants, Flørli is today a popular vacation spot and a challenging hiking destination with a difference. Its 4,444-step wooden staircase up the mountainside is billed as the world’s longest.
Highlights of Central Stavanger
4. Old Stavanger: This historic district of white, wooden houses is just a short walk from arriving cruise ships. The old town, known as Gamle Stavanger, boasts a few hundred timber homes, impeccably looked after by their owners.
A stroll along the cobbled lanes that weave their way between the white houses, brightened up by vivacious blooms spilling from hanging baskets, is hard to beat in the summer. If you have the time, it’s worth calling into the Norwegian Canning Museum to understand the city’s major pre-oil industry.
5. Stavanger’s street art: In Stavanger, age-old wooden houses blend seamlessly with dynamic street art, painted by both local and international artists. Driven largely by the Nuart festival, Stavanger’s art scene is vast and varied.
From graffiti and muralism to stencil art and activism, the city’s street art ranges from vast eye-catching murals to more subtle work designed to blend in. Artists like Pøbel, Banksy, Dotdotdot, Dolk, and Martin Whatson have made notable contributions.
6. Walk the colorful street: Although the street art provides some color, things are dialed up a notch on one central street. In stark contrast to the white buildings that define much of central Stavanger, Øvre Holmegate—known locally as Fargegaten (Colorful Street)—is filled with color.
Join locals for a coffee or light lunch early in the afternoon in one of the many sidewalk cafes, or visit later for a more boisterous atmosphere.
7. Petroleum Museum: The hub of Norway’s oil and gas industry is home to the family-friendly Norwegian Petroleum Museum, showcasing the history of oil, its economic impact on Norway, technological progress, and even controversial topics such as disasters and the industry’s impact on climate change.
Despite its serious theme, kids can enjoy various interactive models and exhibits. Older children can test a real rescue slide and life raft, while a mini oil platform entertains the younger ones. Outside the museum, Geopark is a playground and performance space made from former oil and gas industry components.
A little farther afield
8. Admire the sword monument: Take the local bus for 15 minutes to visit Sverd i fjell (Swords in the Rock), a striking waterside monument unveiled in 1983. It features three enormous bronze swords embedded in solid rock, symbolizing peace, unity, and freedom.
The monument stands as a reminder of the historical significance of this location. In the year 872, King Harald Fairhair united Norway into one kingdom after the Battle of Hafrsfjord.
9. Visit Flor & Fjære: An unexpected find in Northern Europe, Flor & Fjære is a tropical garden sanctuary, beautifully juxtaposed against the rugged Nordic backdrop. Visitors to the family-owned island arrive by boat to be greeted by palm trees, vibrant flower beds, and tranquil water features. Following a guided tour, lunch or dinner is served in the on-site restaurant showcasing locally-sourced dishes.
10: Relax on Sola beach: The Stavanger region is renowned for having some of Norway’s best beaches. One of the most impressive and easiest to reach is Sola, just a few minutes’ drive from Stavanger Airport. The historic Sola Strand Hotel offers a set three-course dinner menu and spa treatments alongside its easy access to the beach.