To make the most of your time on a cruise stop, check out these ten awesome things to do in Stavanger in a day
Hello! I’m Piers and I’m from Guildford
This is the warm welcome I receive at the Norwegian Canning Museum (Norsk Hermetikkmuseet). The story of how an English Egyptologist ended up as the curator of a museum celebrating the Norwegian fish canning industry is almost as compelling as that of the fluctuations in the fortunes of Stavanger.
Settled in the 8th century, the Norwegian coastal city of Stavanger received a royal trading charter in the 15th Century. However, it remained relatively insignificant until the opening of the first fish preserving plant in 1873.
From this date until the closure of the last cannery in 1982, 350 of these plants came and went. In 1972 alone, there were more than 70.
But the demise of the fish canning industry did not herald Stavanger’s descent into obscurity. With the discovery of Ekovosk, the North Sea’s largest oil field, in 1969, Stavanger’s fortunes changed once again. Sardine City became Oil Central.
But there is more to this pretty harbour city than fish and fuel. To help you make the most of your time there, here is my pick of the best things to do in Stavanger in one day.
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The Best Things to do in Stavanger, Norway in a Day
Visit The Norwegian Canning Museum (Norsk Hermetikkmuseet)
For the fishy tale of Stavanger’s past
Start your day in Stavanger in the Norwegian Canning Museum.
On the face of it, visiting a fish canning museum may not be an obvious choice. However, the combination of its multi-layered history and the boundless enthusiasm of Piers made this my favourite thing to do in Stavanger.
Miss it at your peril!
The fishing industry has been central to Norway’s economy and as recently as the 1960s, the canning plants were Stavanger’s main industry and source of employment. The museum is housed in one of these former plants, the interior dating from 1880 – 1930.
In addition to documenting the fish canning process, the museum reflects on societal change and technological innovation within the industry. A large proportion of the workforce were women, which in the late 19th century represented a minor revolution, freeing them from the confines of the marital home.
As Piers put it:
They earned a little bit of money, had a gossip about what was going on in their street and, importantly, whose son should go out with whose daughter
The word ‘little’ is an important one in this sentence. Compared with their salaried male co-workers, women were paid piecework rates.
In 1920, women brought in an annual salary of 400 NOK (£40) whilst the men earned up to 720 NOK (£72) a year. Those men who smoked the fish could earn over 2,000 NOK (£200) annually. A small fortune!
Smoking fish was equal parts art and skill, requiring three years’ training. An additional perk was the two free bottles of beer a day that the men were allowed to drink in the workplace. >
A quest for greater productivity fostered technological innovation.
If you think your job is bad, spare a thought for the women working in the plant. Until the 1950s, they removed the fish-heads one-by-one with a pair of scissors.
The introduction of a decapitation machine – a custom-made guillotine if you like – saved them from this task and significantly increased productivity to 4,000 fish per hour. With their nimble fingers, the women could pack 6,000 cans of sprats per day.
Not that it was a competition, but the men soldering the cans shut could not keep up, only able to seal 600 cans a day.
The canning plant had a problem.
After a shaky start, automated sealing machines appeared from 1960 onwards which were able to seal up to 10,000 cans per day.
Step onboard the Stavanger Maritime Museum
For all things nautical
The mildly diverting Maritime Museum traces the city’s maritime history over the last 200 years.
Housed in two former fish warehouses dating from the late 18th century, facing Stavanger’s wharf, it gives you a picture of what life was like for local merchants through its displays of all things nautical. These range from archaeological finds to reconstructions of shipping offices and stores.
Make sure that you check out the collection of old photos.
Wander around Gamle Stavanger (Old Stavanger)
To capture those picture-postcard perfect streets
No day in Stavanger is complete without strolling around the streets of Gamle Stavanger.
Located on the western side of the harbour, Gamle Stavanger has the largest concentration of 19th-century wooden buildings in Northern Europe and is Stavanger’s jewel in the crown.
The 173 white-painted houses are the result of a boom between 1810 and 1870 when millions of herring made an appearance off the shores of the city. Stavanger flourished and new homes were built to accommodate local seafarers, craftsmen and cannery workers.
Wooden stores and warehouses flank the quayside, with clapboard houses rising in terraces along narrow, cobbled lanes behind them.
Although Gamle Stavanger is deservedly popular, it has not been blighted by tourism.
Unlike too many other places, these properties are neither chi-chi galleries or swanky cafes. Instead, this is a firmly residential area complete with hanging baskets, picket fences and tiny gardens.
An unmissable thing to do in Stavanger.
Hunt for Antony Gormley statues
For a brush with the work of a contemporary British sculptor
Stavanger commissioned Antony Gormley to create his “Broken Column” work. This series of 23 sculptures of blank-faced human figures, reportedly modelled on Gormley himself, aim to represent the many facets of the city.
The most accessible statue is beside Torget’s fish market at the head of the harbour.
Visit the Cathedral (Domkirke)
For a slice of medieval Stavanger
At the other side of the Torget, you will find Stavanger’s Cathedral, which has a strong British connection.
Built by English craftsmen in the early 12th century under the direction of Bishop Reinald of Winchester, it is dedicated to St. Swithun, who was also Bishop of Winchester for the last few years of his life. According to local tradition, Bishop Reinald brought an important relic to Stavanger, St. Swithun’s arm, which was removed to Denmark during the Reformation.
For you architectural boffins out there, it is a Romanesque church (think pointy-hat towers) with a later Gothic choir (think pointed windows and flowery tracery). Its star turn is the richly decorated pulpit dating from the 17th century. Carved by the Scottish craftsman Andrew Smith, it spans biblical history with a generous sprinkling of cherubs and angels.
To blow your travel budget on a beer in a cool cafe
If you continue walking along the east side of the harbour you will reach Skagen. In contrast with the monochrome Gamle Stavanger, Skagen is a riot of colour.
Yellow meets green with a hint of pink; fuchsia, lime green and lavender mesh together in unexpected harmony. It shouldn’t work but it does.
Take your pick of the great cafes for a pit-stop. A refreshing pint of local beer can be yours for only 100 NOK. Savour every last drop.
Skagen is centred around Øvre Holmegate.
Examine Stavanger’s street art
For cutting-edge urban art
There are so many cool things to do in Stavanger but this must be near the top of the list.
In recent years, the street art scene in Stavanger has burgeoned. Each September, the city hosts the Nuart Festival, showcasing national and international street artists.
Download the self-guided street art tour or check out the map on the festival’s website.
Stavanger’s street art can be found across the city but there is a cluster in and around Øvre Holmegate.
Fondle a drill bit at the Norwegian Petroleum Museum (Norsk Oljemuseum)
For a thoughtful exploration of Norway’s offshore oil industry
As improbable as it may seem, one of the best things to do in Stavanger is to discover more about the current source of the city’s wealth. Oil.
Located by the waterfront at the far end of Skagen, the superb Norwegian Petroleum Museum takes you on a geological, industrial, economic and environmental journey of oil exploration off Norway’s shores. Whilst visiting a museum dedicated to fossil fuel may not be an obvious addition to your Stavanger itinerary, you’ll be glad you went there.
Norway currently has 62 active oil fields and employs in excess of 200,000 people. The discovery of these oil reserves has made Norway a wealthy country, with an oil fund valued at over 8,000 billion NOK.
From a daily output of 40,000 barrels on the first day of drilling in 1971, it now produces 3 million daily. A new oilfield, Johan Sverdrop, 180km west of Stavanger, is due to start production in 2019.
The museum asks searching questions about how the country manages its vast wealth.
I feel that it has done this extremely well. The key principles of Norwegian Oil Policy are state ownership and the proceeds benefitting all. As Alison, a fellow visitor, put it:
I wonder that if the UK was in the same position (as Norway) would they plough the revenue back into health and social welfare? More likely it would go into the pockets of some fat cat shareholders.
I found her point of view difficult to argue against.
As well as absorbing facts, figures and philosophy, you get to embrace your inner child and play with stuff.
Fondle an assortment of oil drill bits or pretend that you are in a helicopter en route to work. And this is likely to be the only opportunity that you will get to enter an oil rig and operate a drill. Good for bringing our the 10-year-old boy – or girl – in all of us!
Sobering though it may be, the museum raises the issue of the environmental effects of fossil fuel burning. Its stance is mildly apologetic – mea culpa with a small measure of breast-beating – about its role in global warming.
In an attempt to reconcile its position as one of the world’s largest exporters of oil and gas, Norway feels that it must take a lead in refraining from the use of fossil fuel. To this end, it has undertaken to increase the proportion of renewable energy use from 60 to 67.5%.
Let’s hope other nations will follow suit.
The final two things to do in Stavanger require a little more effort and, for one of them, a lot more time. But they are unlikely to disappoint.
Be awestruck by Pulpit Rock
For one of the most spectacular views in Norway
Towering over 600 meters above the majestic Lysefjord, Pulpit Rock, also known as Preikestolen or Prekestolen is a popular excursion from Stavanger.
Sculpted by nature during the last ice age in Europe – around 10 000 years ago – this natural rock formation, with a 25-meter squared plateau, was featured in Mission Impossible – Fallout and is considered to be one of the world’s most impressive viewpoints.
There are two ways to get to Pulpit Rock: gazing up at it from a Lysefjorden cruise (or a Norway Fjords cruise) or hiking to the rock from Preikestolhytta.
If your Norway fjords cruise takes you along Lysefjorden you have this covered.
Several companies operate sightseeing boats departing from the main harbour in Stavanger for Pulpit Rock, with a scaled-down service outside of the peak summer months. As the trip takes a maximum of 3 hours and 30 minutes you will have plenty of time left to check out some of the other great things to do in Stavanger on your return.
This will not be the case if you hike to Pulpit Rock, which will pretty much take up most of your entire day in Stavanger. If you are in Stavanger as part of a cruise, your schedule may not accommodate an excursion of this length.
The hike to Pulpit Rock, one of the most popular in Norway, starts at the car park at Preikestolhytta. GoFjords offers a seasonal return bus transfer to the start of the trail from 329 NOK.
Alternatively, in the summer you can catch a ferry to Tau and then a bus from Tau to the trailhead and back. In Norwegian terms, this 5-mile hike with an elevation gain of 1200 feet is considered to be easy, although I feel that it veers towards moderate.
The return hike takes around four hours. However, your reward will be one of the world’s most spectacular vistas.
Make sure you bring clothing layers – although the sun may be making the water in Stavanger’s harbour sparkle it can be considerably colder at the higher elevation of the plateau of Pulpit Rock – and wear sturdy shoes. And don’t forget to bring water and snacks.
If you prefer to book an organised excursion with free cancellation, why not check out this selection of day trips?
Honour Norway’s history at the Sverd i fjell (Swords in rock) monument
To reflect on Norway’s history in scenic surroundings
Commemorating the victory of King Harald at the Battle of Hafrsfjord in the year 872, thereby uniting West Norway and Norway into one country, this striking monument overlooks the bay in Hafrsfjord in the outskirts of Stavanger. Although there is no conclusive evidence, it is thought that this battle took place in Hafrsfjord.
Made by Fritz Røed (1928-2002) and unveiled by King Olav in 1983, these three Viking bronze swords stand 33 feet tall and symbolise peace, unity and freedom.
How to get to Swords in rock from Stavanger
You’ll need to take a bus or taxi to reach Swords in rock. Take bus number 16 from bus stop 20 or 32. from Stavanger city centre and get off at bus stop Madlaleiren, From here it’s approximately 300 metres walk along Madlaveien. Return by the same bus number (direction Stavanger city centre).
The journey should take around 15 minutes.
Plan Your Visit to Stavanger, Norway
How to get to Stavanger
If you are not visiting Stavanger on a cruise, it has good air, train and ferry links.
The city has its own airport. A shuttle bus will whisk you to the centre in half an hour.
There are regular trains from Oslo via Kristiansand. The journey takes around eight hours.
The closest ferry terminal is at Tananger (a 20-minute drive) and Kristiansand (a four-hour drive). From Stavanger’s boat terminal you can visit some of Norway’s most popular fjord.
How to get around Stavanger
Owing to its compact size, Stavanger is easily navigated on foot.
Where to stay in Stavanger
Stavanger has a range of accommodation catering to all budgets. Here are a few good mid-range choices that I have found:
- Radisson Blu Atlantic Hotel – Smack bang in the centre of town, this 4-star hotel offers a selection of rooms, the price point depending on the view.
- Thon Hotel – Another centrally-located option with great online reviews
Visiting Stavanger on a Norway Fjords Cruise
How I visited Stavanger on a cruise
- Cruise operator: P&O
- Cruise ship: HMV Britannia
- Time in port: 9 am – 6 pm
Getting to Stavanger from the cruise terminal
This is super easy. As cruise ships park up in town, you simply walk off the ship. Cruise ships berth at four different locations in Stavanger but as they are all in the heart of the city, they are equally convenient. In exceptional cases, ships may have to tender.
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.