If you’re cruising to Norway from the UK or Europe, chances are your Norwegian Fjords cruise will include a visit to the charming port city of Stavanger. We’ve visited on both of our cruises to the region so far, and are scheduled to stop here again in September. So what is there to do in Stavanger? Let’s explore!
When you arrive in to Stavanger by cruise ship, you sail immediately in to the heart of this beautiful maritime city. As soon as your feet reach the dock, you are mere steps away from a charming market, Stavanger Old Town and a myriad of museums. The dock it’s self is both small and simple, enabling you to get straight to your adventure.
Museums & Architecture
The most talked about museum with cruise passengers is also positioned conveniently adjacent to the port – you can’t miss the Norwegian Canning Museum with an iconic sardine tin ‘open’ sign! The museum might not seem like a must-do at first, but I would recommend taking a walk through Old Stavanger anyway. The quaint white timber houses that line the cobbled streets really transport you to the historic port city that Stavanger once was. Residents take great pride in their home and often add bright foliage to make it all the more charming.
Then there’s the modern marvel that is the Norwegian Petroleum Museum. Despite it’s rather unusual subject matter, there is a surprising amount of things to do for kids aged 3+ here! Although we haven’t been in to the main museum before, we have experienced the Geopark which sits outside the museum and is free to all. It’s a totally unique space to explore – a port side playground come urban wasteland! Did I mention it is great for pictures too?
In the heart of the city, just a stones-throw away from the port, is Stavanger Cathedral. As well as Norway’s oldest Medieval cathedral, it boasts vibrant stained-glass windows which are well worth visiting. Behind the cathedral is Breiavatnet, a small lake centred around a fountain, serving as a relaxing oasis to take a pause and enjoy the city’s unique atmosphere. It’s worth knowing that many of the city centre buses will stop here too, just incase you were thinking of venturing out on wheels! Also within a few minutes walk of the lake is Valberg Tower (Valberget Utsiktspunkt) – an old Watchmen’s tower built in the 1850s – the base of which serves as a fantastic viewing platform. It’s worth bearing in mind that in order to get a good view of the city, you need to go up, and that means walking up a fairly steep (but thankfully paved) hill.
Art & Culture
If you fancy a long walk through the city, you can visit “Sverd i fjell” (that’s ‘Swords in Rock’ to you and me) on foot. On our first visit, we decided to do this walk aided only by Google Maps. It took much longer than the hour-or-so we estimated, and paired with the urban landscape and persistent drizzle, it was not the scenic stroll we had hoped it would be. When we eventually got there, there was no coffee shop or toilet facility open within reasonable distance (it was out-of-season for the ice cream shop when we visited in April). With that, we took the best pictures we could in the soggy circumstances, then headed straight to the nearest public bus stop to get us back to the port, pronto! Next time we would take bus route 6 from Jernbaneveien to Madlamark Kirke, then walk the final 10 minutes. Buses run regularly and are inexpensive. In summary, Sverd i Fjell is worth doing, but the walk is not, so do yourself a favour and take the bus!
Whether you are a dedicated follower of fashion or a wandering window shopper, Stavanger has got you covered. The most popular place for purchases is in picturesque Fargegaten. Brightly coloured boutiques adorn the streets, with art installations and quirky displays piquing the interest of even the most hardened window shopper. If you are after something a little more mainstream, Arkaden Torgterrassen is a small shopping mall with familiar brands like H&M, Lindex and Starbucks. Once again, all of this is within easy walk of the port.
Not sure what to buy? Popular souvenirs in Norway include traditional knitwear and soft cuddly moose toys, but by far the most celebrated items are the Norwegian Trolls. They find their origin in Norwegian folklore and have become synonymous with the mountains of Scandinavia. If you are lucky enough to dock at Åndalsnes on your cruise, you can visit the Mountaineering Museum to watch the fun and informative short film “Trollfolk” which explains more about these mystical mischief makers!
Food & Drink
Tactically placed at the end of the port is a fresh fish market & restaurant called ‘Fisketorget Stavanger’. Popular with both tourists and locals alike, the friendly staff greet you with the warmest welcome and encourage you to sample their seafood delicacies. It’s open Monday – Saturday and is definitely worth a visit. Still not sure? Check out their TripAdvisor reviews & customer gallery for reassurance!
Popular local delicacies to look out for are “sursild” (pickled herring), “brunost” (brown cheese) and “lefse” (a Norwegian flatbread that can be served sweet or savoury). We haven’t yet braved the herring or brown cheese, but the warm lefse with cinnamon sugar we sampled were delicious! Both the fresh and smoked salmon from this region are also incredible.
If you want something a little spicy, how about giving ‘Daran Thai’ Thai restaurant a go? I know what you’re thinking – you go all the way to Norway to eat Thai food? Well, we didn’t anticipate this before we arrived either, but after a week of seafood, meat & potatoes, we fancied something spicy! We had no idea where to go, so we turned to our old friend TripAdvisor for advice. We simply sorted the results by highest customer ratings within a 1km radius and thought “if it’s good enough for the locals, it’s good enough for us”. We weren’t disappointed! You can read our full review here on TripAdvisor. It might not seem beautiful from the outside, but my goodness it’s tasty (and inexpensive too)!
Stavanger is a lovely city with plenty to see and do on your own. As you would expect for a city with its roots in maritime industry, the cruise port is conveniently located right in the heart of the action, so the only time we would ever recommend booking an excursion is if you want to explore areas outside of the city.
One of the most recognised images used to publicise Norwegian Fjords cruises is that of Preikestolen, also known as The Pulpit Rock. It’s even made it as a dramatic filming location in the 2018 film “Mission: Impossible – Fallout” starring Tom Cruise (check out the behind-the-scenes video here)! The funny thing is, you can only really get to it from Stavanger by booking an excursion! The excursion will generally include a coach trip along or cruise up the Lysefjord to the start of the hiking route, and a knowledgeable guide to escort you along the hike itself. The walking route is roughly 8km, and due to the 500 meter elevation, takes around four hours for a round-trip. This is not a gentle or easy hike either, so I will be sitting this one out whilst Joe goes along his merry way to the top! I would also recommend you book this with your cruise line directly or through an accredited cruise excursion vendor as they will guarantee to get you back to the ship in time. You can look out for a full excursion review later in the year when Joe has completed the hike himself!
As I am sure you can tell, we love Stavanger for it’s laid-back atmosphere and abundance of things to see, tase and do. It is clear why Stavanger is almost always on a Norwegian Fjords cruise itinerary! Sure, it might not be the sunniest city of all time, but with so much to keep you busy, you won’t even notice the weather!
“Christmas Cruising with Susan Calman”, Channel 5. Click here to watch now on “My5” (UK only)
Have you ever visited Stavanger? Are you planning a visit but don’t know what to do? Let us know in the comments – we love hearing from you!