10 things you may not know about Stavanger
Rich history, culture and cuisine on tap. Stunning natural attractions at hand. Excellent and easy travel connections. It’s no wonder Stavanger, Norway’s fourth-largest city and urban heart of the scenic southwest, makes for the perfect base of adventure operations for your fjord holiday.
This charming and cosy city of 135,000 inhabitants has long prospered as a center of shipbuilding, fish canning and, most recently, offshore oil production.
But don’t let the industrial bona fides of Norway’s “Oljebyen” (Oil Capital) fool you: Stavanger is the perfect jumping-off point for nature-based adventures, too. It’s also packed with plenty of heritage for the history buff in you.
Interested? Intrigued? Here are 10 fun facts about Stavanger that are sure to seal the deal.
Stavanger is a stone’s throw from two of Norway’s most breathtaking natural attractions — Preikestolen (Pulpit Rock) and Kjeragbolten (the Kjerag Boulder). Just a short bus ride away from the city center, both of these Instagrammable natural wonders perched high above the Lysefjord can be hiked in one day.
Preikestolen is a steep cliff looming 604 m. (1,942 ft), above the fjord. The Kjerag Boulder, meanwhile, is a large rock perilously wedged in a mountain crevasse some 984 m. (3,228 ft), above Lysefjord. Edging out onto these iconic sites for sky-high, bird’s-eye views of the fjord is a once-in-a-lifetime, bucket list type of thrill. Keep an eye out for BASE jumpers!
Fjord highlights — and hideouts
Stavanger is also a short boat ride from the stunning, 42-km (26-mile) Lysefjord, lined with sheer cliffs and mountains soaring more than 1000 m (3,300 ft).
Although the fjord is only 13 m (43 ft) deep at its mouth, by the time ships pass under Preikestolen cliff, its depth reaches 400 m (1300 ft).
Several boat cruises depart from Stavanger daily. Marvel at Preikestolen’s storied heights from the safety of sea level and explore Fantahålå, or “Vagabond’s Cave,” where a group of suspects on the run famously once hid from local police.
Life’s a beach. Beaches? Stavanger? Yes!
The popular, 2.3-km (1 mi) Solastranden has been named one of the world’s most beautiful beaches by London’s The Sunday Times. In summer, it beckons not only swimmers but wind- and watersports enthusiasts, as well. Spot some traces of World War II-era structures nearby, too.
Solastranden is part of the larger, 70-km-long (43 mi) Jæren region of beaches , parts of which are state-protected plant and wildlife reserves.
Oil is king
While commerce in Stavanger once meant shipyards and fish canneries, all that changed back in 1969 when oil was discovered in the North Sea. The city was chosen as the new oil industry’s on-shore center — and the boom times for Stavanger, and Norway, began.
Much of the local industry is now centered on petroleum production. It’s said production of offshore oil platforms alone accounts for around 40% of manufacturing jobs.
Credit: Espen Grønli | Norsk Oljemuseum
Medieval — and modern — marvels
Although it only legally became a municipality in 1838, Stavanger is actually one of Norway’s oldest settlements. The area was first populated as long ago as the last Ice Age, and a busy market town had arisen by the 12th century.
Stavanger is home to Norway’s oldest cathedral, whose completion year — 1125 — also marks the city’s traditional founding date. The sanctuary is an architectural and cultural jewel not to be missed.
Meanwhile, the best-preserved medieval monastery in Norway, Utstein Abbey, hugs the southern shore of Klosterøy island. Dating from the 13th century and restored in the 20th, the abbey now serves as a concert and convention venue. It can be reached by a short 30-minute drive via the Byfjord Tunnel, a 5,875-m (3.65-mi) wonder in its own right that was once Europe’s deepest tunnel, reaching 223 m (732 ft) below sea level.
A wooden urban wonderland
Gamle Stavanger, or Old Stavanger, is the city’s postcard-perfect historical heart — and visitor haunt. Some 173 well-preserved wooden structures, dating as far back as the 18th century, grace a small area just west of Vågen, the city’s harbor. It’s Northern Europe’s largest such collection.
Mainly small, white cottages, the wooden houses were nearly razed in a wave of post-war urban renewal but were saved by city architect Einar Hedén.
Today, they still serve as private homes but also house many art galleries and handicraft boutiques popular with tourists.
Gamle Stavanger, however, isn’t the be-all and end-all of the city’s wooden architectural heritage. There are actually around 8,000 such picturesque structures dotting the urban landscape, ranging in period and style from Empire to Art Nouveau. Open your smartphone camera app and snap away!
Speaking of Stavanger’s charming centre, it’s compact enough that you can reach most attractions easily on foot. Within a few steps, you’ll find innovative museums devoted to a variety of disciplines.
Not far from the petroleum museum (norsk oljemuseum), Gamle Stavanger is home to the Norwegian Canning Museum, located in a preserved fish cannery that operated from 1916 to the mid-1950s.
The museum is part of the wider Stavanger Museum system that also includes the Stavanger Art Museum, Stavanger Museum of Natural History and the Norwegian Printing Museum, among others. (Extra, extra! It’s a little-known fact that Stavanger has always been one of Norway’s premier printing centers.) All kinds of shopping and dining is at hand, too.
Credit: Kaitlin Bailey | Matador Network
Cruise a “colorful street”
Smack-dab in the centre of Stavanger, you’ll find Øvre Holmegate, inspiration for the trendy hashtag #fargegata (or “#colorstreet”) and so named for its bright, multihued buildings.
Home to many of those aforementioned retail and culinary musts, the area’s referred to as Stavanger’s take on London’s Notting Hill. Hipsters and hangers-on alike owe all the fabulousness to local hairdresser Tom Kjørsvik, who spurred a renaissance back in 2005 when he hatched the repainting scheme with help from artist Craig Flannagan.
Street art’s a thing here
It’s not just Øvre Holmegate that’s colorful. All of Stavanger is something of a mecca for street art, and its buildings serve as canvasses for scores of outdoor works by leading street artists from around the globe.
The annual NuArt Festival, first held nearly two decades ago and annually each September ever since, is a celebration of this ever-more-popular artform. The official festival app offers exact locations for each work of street art in the city, along with info on the artist and date of creation.
The festival foundation also runs a gallery, and visitors can avail
themselves of guided street art tours, too. Stavanger: Scandinavia’s outdoor art gallery!
A feast of festivals
NuArt is just one of many major festivals taking place in Stavanger each year. Street art not your thing? How about eats? Gladmat is Scandinavia’s largest annual food festival, attracting more than 250,000 foodies each July.
MaiJazz, meanwhile, has drawn jazz fans to Stavanger each May for over two decades and is now known as one of Norway’s leading music events.
Things get even more niche with Norway Chess, an annual June gathering of game enthusiasts whose latest titleholder is the country’s own chess rock star, Magnus Carlsen.
There’s an event for nearly every interest, from wine festivals and science weeks to marathons and ski competitions.
Plan a visit to Stavanger and indulge your pet passion!
Credit: Kaitlin Bailey | Matador Network