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Kenneth Kiesnoski

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3 mins read

10 Reasons to visit Ålesund

From its turn-of-the-century streetscape to its glorious natural surroundings, this chic but small seaport of 66,000, straddling seven islands between fjord and sea, packs a lot of attractions punch.

THE STYLE 

Art Nouveau, anyone? Ålesund — to many, Norway’s most beautiful city — is synonymous with this century-old architectural style, also known as Secessionist or Jugendstil. After a devastating 1904 fire leveled its historic core, the town was rebuilt with the flamboyant, organic flair that defined Art Nouveau at the time. 

Ålesund is now one of Europe’s premier repositories of turn-of-the-century urban design. Stroll its streets — everything old is cool again!

The more adventurous can take an Art Nouveau kayak tour through Brosundet.

THE ISLANDS

Cruise ships, fishing boats and coastal ferries all call at this busy port. Step aboard a ferry, speedboat or — if you’re a landlubber — bus bound for nearby islands like Godøya. Walk up the island’s 497-m (1,631-ft) hill or climb the 145-year-old Alnes Lighthouse. 

Soak in ocean and coastal views before heading back down to peruse the lighthouse’s historical exhibition or snap up local souvenirs and handicrafts in its shop.

THE BIRDS

In this case, “for the birds” is a compliment! Birders and other nature lovers visiting   Ålesund should make a beeline for another nearby island, Runde, which attracts half a million migrating sea birds each year. 

About 100,000 pairs of adorable puffins nest on the island, which also draws gannets, shags and great skuas each nesting season, too. Runde also boasts a historical but now automated lighthouse that lit its first beam way back in 1767.

THE EATS

Dig in! As you’d expect from an important fishing port, Ålesund is a seafood lover’s paradise. Slurp down a bowl of fish soup or tuck into some fish and chips while savouring their views out over the city’s harbour. How about some bacalao — or klippfisk, as locals call it? Two-thirds of the world’s supply is from here. 

Fish not your thing? There’s plenty of traditional, New Nordic and international fare on offer citywide, too. For dessert, how does pastry packed with unusually sweet, locally sourced — in season, of course — strawberries or raspberries sound?

THE VIEWS 

Take it higher. Scale the 418 steps up Mount Aksla to the Fjellstua Viewpoint for fantastic views of the Ålesund archipelago — and maybe a bite or a cuppa at the café. 

Other hiking hotspots within town limits include Sukkertoppen and Høgenakken, where you’ll spot the nearby Sunnmøre Alps, soaring up to 2,000 m (6,560 ft) above nearby fjords.

THE HIKES

You’re already walking — so why not keep going?! In good summer weather, experienced hikers strap on boots, head out of town and make for Slogen — rated a Top 10 hike in Norway by those in the know. 

Thought by many to offer the best views in, and of, the Sunnmøre Alps, this stunning peak soars 1,564 m (5,131 ft) from the shores of the gorgeous Hjørundfjord to its summit.

THE FJORDS 

Lying at the mouth of the 110-km (68-mi) Storfjord, Ålesund’s the gateway to the waterway’s most famous arm: the Geirangerfjord. Winding for 15 km (9 mi) through some of the steepest mountain scenery in Norway, this UNESCO World Heritage List site has shimmering waterfalls, old-fashioned farmsteads and unspoiled scenery to spare. 

Closer still to the city is the Hjørundfjord, where heavily wooded slopes of Sunnmøre Alps shoot up straight from its banks to dizzying heights.

THE DRIVES 

Hire a car or book a coach tour for a scenic drive through the breathtaking landscapes surrounding Ålesund. 

One must from May to November is Trollstigen, a series of hairpin turns snaking their way down the side of a mountain pass at a heart-stopping 10-degree incline. At the top of the zigzag, you’ll find parking, a state-of-the-art visitors centre and several platforms offering views out over both the road and the 320-m (1,050-ft) Stigfossen waterfall spraying mist out over the slow parade of vehicles navigating its 180-degree curves.

THE SLOPES 

Feel like a schuss? Winter sports fans are spoiled for choice, with six ski centres within an hour’s drive of downtown Ålesund. What could be better than skiing down a mountain slope than doing so with the full glory of a Norwegian fjords splayed out in its full glory below you? 

More a cross-country or snowshoe type? There are plenty of options for you, too, including guided ski tours and nighttime runs on the slopes.

THE BEACH

Believe it or not, yes. When you think Norway, you might not think beach, but where there’s a shore … there’s a way. The Sunnmøre region is actually known for its stretches of sand, and there are several excellent fjord and ocean beach options near Ålesund. 

Come summertime, grab a blanket and umbrella and aim for spots in Herøy, Brandal and Hellesylt.

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