Ålesund, a fishing town and port on Norway’s west coast, has a distinctive architectural style borne out of devastation.
On a stormy night in January 1904, a fire raged through the town, destroying 850 houses and leaving 10,000 people homeless. Mercifully, only one person perished.
In just four years, a frantic reconstruction project replaced the charred wooden buildings with those built in an Art Nouveau style with a local folkloric twist. The result is a collection of stone and brick buildings with a myriad of turrets, spires and medieval ornamentation, including intertwined animal and human faces, dragons and elaborate flowers.
Let’s explore all these buildings, and more, on this self-guided Ålesund Art Nouveau walking tour.
The walk is around 1 km in length and is a perfect way to spend the day in Ålesund if you are visiting this beautiful town on a Norway fjords cruise.
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Walking Tour Map of Ålesund, Norway
To help you on your way, here’s a map of this Ålesund Art Nouveau walking tour. Click here or on the map to follow the walking route and to get directions.
Art Nouveau Walking Tour of Ålesund, Norway
Climb the 418 steps to the top of Aksla Hill for a panoramic view of Ålesund
This self-guided Ålesund Art Nouveau walking tour starts at the town’s park.
Developed in 1885 and modelled on an English park landscape, curiously Byparken has a monkey puzzle tree amongst its copper beech trees. Pride of place is given to a large statue of Rollo, a Viking chieftain who was born in Ålesund and established the dukedom in Normandy in 911.
A hundred meters from Rollo, a set of 418 steps snake their way to the top of Aksla Hill.
The number of steps is significant. Each step represents a day, and the normal turnaround for a case sent to the City Hall in Ålesund is 418 days. Before the steps’ renovation in 2015, the stairs were built mainly by Lego but visitors couldn’t stop themselves from taking home bits as souvenirs!
The views from the summit are well worth the climb.
Ålesund has a superb setting, built on three islands stretching into the sea, with the Sunnmore Alps as a backdrop. On a clear day, you can see right out to the coast and the islands beyond.
The 418 steps to the summit of Aksla Hill notwithstanding, Ålesund has lots of steep cobbled streets. Leave the stilettos in your suitcase!
Explore Ålesund’s Art Nouveau buildings along Kongens Gate
Leaving the park, walk back down the steep, cobbled streets towards the next stop on our Ålesund Art Nouveau walk, Kongens Gate.
This street has a rich concentration of Art Nouveau buildings, each one with individual flourishes. Take a look at #21, 25 and 28 for example.
Number 21 is festooned with Norwegian dragons and the masts of #25 are inspired by Norway’s stave churches. Stylistically, number 28 screams central European Art Nouveau.
Further along Kongens Gate, look out for 53 steps spiralling their way up to Lihaugatta. Just across the street, The Paper Boy, a sculpture donated by the newspaper Sunnmorsposten in 1998, makes his final delivery.
Wander along Ålesundet to Hellbroa
At the end of Kongens Gate, turn right and follow St Olavs Pass, walking south along Ålesundet, the narrow stretch of water that separates two of the town’s islands, until you reach the Hellbroa.
This bridge is a great spot to capture images of Ålesund’s pastel-painted buildings reflected in the water.
Just over the bridge, stop to look at the two sculptures in front of you.
The first is The Boy Fisherman, symbolising all the optimism of youth and hope for the future.
Adjacent to it is The Herring Wife, a tribute to those women who worked at salting herring, which was one of the town’s main industries.
Visit Ålesund’s old town pharmacy
Across the street from these statues is Apotekergata 16, one of Ålesund’s signature Art Nouveau buildings.
Built as a chemist’s shop and private residence, it was later restored externally but only partially restored internally. Consequently, the chemist’s shop area remains intact. As a registered pharmacist, it held a
nerdy appeal for me!
The pharmacy only shut for business in 2001 and the building now houses Ålesund’s Art Nouveau Centre, which you can visit in exchange for NOK 110 of your hard-earned cash (2023 price).
Visit the spiritual centre of Ålesund, Norway
Head north on Apotekergata and turn left onto Kirkegata to reach the town’s handsome stone church, the last stop on this Ålesund Art Nouveau walk.
Consecrated in 1909, Ålesund Kirke is built in an imposing Norman style and is renowned for its frescoes and stained glass windows. Well worth a peek inside.
Now, make your way back to the town centre for a refreshing Norwegian beer or a more potent Aquavit. You deserve it!
Bonus Sights in Ålesund: Molovegan and Fisheries Museum
If you have time, make your way to Molovegen at the entrance to Ålesund’s harbour. Simply retrace your steps along Kirkegarten, into Apoterkergata and follow the road left into Molovegen.
The Molovegen is home to the handful of wooden houses that survived the 1904 fire and gives us a glimpse of what Ålesund would have looked like until the start of the 20th Century. Don’t miss taking a short stroll along the mole, the harbour breakwater, for great views back to Molovegen.
Time permitting, visit the Fisheries Museum at Molovegen 10 (NOK 70). Open June – August; between September and May by appointment only.
Plan Your Art Nouveau Walk in Ålesund, Norway
How to get To Ålesund
If you are not arriving in Ålesund on a cruise ship, here are your options for reaching the city:
- By air – Ålesund’s airport is around a 20-minute drive from the town centre.
- By ferry – Ferries call at Ålesund’s port. Hurtigruten ships also stop there in the summer months.
How to get around Ålesund
As Ålesund is a small town, it’s easy to get around on foot.
Where to stay in Ålesund, Norway
If you are able to stay overnight in Ålesund, here are a few accommodation choices that are centrally located, close to the town’s cluster of Art Nouveau buildings.
The clue is in the name. Book a room in this original Art Nouveau building from 1904.
>>> CLICK HERE TO CHECK RATES & BOOK
QUALITY HOTEL ALESUND
This more modern property is close to the port and around a 10-minute walk to the main cluster of Art Nouveau buildings.
>>> CLICK HERE TO CHECK RATES & BOOK
Visiting Ålesund on a Norway Fjords Cruise
How I visited Ålesund on a cruise
- Cruise operator: P&O
- Cruise ship: HMV Britannia
- Time in port: 8 am – 5pm
Getting to Ålesund’s town centre from the cruise terminal
This is super easy. Cruise ships dock in the centre of town.
FIND OUT ABOUT THE OTHER STOPS ON THIS NORWAY FJORDS CRUISE
Planning your Norway Fjords Cruise
Packing a guidebook to help you to explore the Norwegian ports of call independently is a wise move. I’m a big fan of Rick Steves and his guide to Scandinavian & Northern European cruise ports is packed full of useful information.