In Old Stavanger, workers’ homes huddle along narrow cobblestone streets. This town within a town is Northern Europe’s largest concentrations of wooden buildings, populated by grateful residents. The city dates back to 1125, when bishop Reinald arrived from England with craftsmen to build a cathedral. But it was during the rich herring fisheries of the 19th century, and again after oil was discovered offshore in the 1960s, that Stavanger blossomed into a true city. The Petroleum Museum and the Cannery Museum yield insights into these prosperous times. At Hafrsfjord, three giant swords set in stone are a monument to Harald the Fair-haired, who united Norway into one kingdom.
Layers of history
The open and fertile agricultural district of Jæren, south of Stavanger, is known for its sand dunes and endless beaches. Hundreds of grave mounds in this region date back three thousand years, while other archaeological finds are far older. Further south is a wilder landscape, uneven and stony. The winding road forces you to slow down and look more closely at its stark beauty. If you continue along the coastal road, you arrive at the dramatic Jøssingfjord, the southernmost fjord in the four western counties. Here, Hitler provoked an incident that he used as an excuse to invade Norway.
Inland from Stavanger, the Lysefjord passes between towering cliffs and mountains. The most famous of them is the Pulpit Rock. A brisk hike takes you to the top – where an overwhelming vertigo awaits you at the edge. The truly brave jump onto the Kjerag boulder, perched in a crevasse 1200 m above the fjord further inland. Or just enjoy the view from below, and think of the express boat or ferry ride as a bargain cruise!
By boat or bicycle
If you are on a boat holiday, it is not difficult to find a sheltered cove all your own in the complex system of fjords and hundreds of islands between Stavanger and Haugesund. This is also a wonderful area for bicycling, as is the rest of Rogaland county. The town of Haugesund also owes its prosperity to herring, as does the charming Skudeneshavn on the nearby island of Karmøy. On the inner shore of Karmøy, near the well-preserved Church of St. Olav, is a recreated Viking farm. Here you can spend hours listening to stories around the fire.