On the southern cusp of the Lysefjord, in southwest Norway, Stavanger is where the country’s coast begins to splinter into a thousand islands, skerries, waterways and inlets. It’s little wonder, then, that this city — the fourth largest in Norway — should have been defined by water, both geographically and culturally. It first made big bucks in fish canning, then in North Sea oil, as two of its main museums recount. Yet, today, it surprises visitors with newfound urban cool.
While everyone raves about Bergen, Stavanger’s northern, more famous neighbour, here you’ll find fewer crowds in equally lovely cobbled alleys. Harbourside cafes fizz with life, streets are splashed with Norway’s finest street art — homegrown talent like Pøbel and DotDotDot alongside big names like Banksy and Pure Evil — and ingenious chefs reach for Michelin stars.
A weekend is enough for a taster, but you’ll be kicking yourself if you didn’t book that extra time off. Tag on an extra day or two to climb knife-edge, fjord-side cliffs or enjoy a blissfully silent night in an off-grid nature escape.
Day one: Fjords & fine dining
Wander around the old town, where the streets are lined with pretty timber houses — most from the 18th and early 19th centuries. Those on Fargegaten street are painted in a rave of colours, while Gamle Stavanger has whitewashed, flower-draped alleys.
Stop at Fisketorget in the Vågen harbour for an early al fresco lunch. The menu reflects the day’s catch, but fishcakes and shrimp sandwiches are delicious staples. Out front, you’ll notice a sea-facing steel sculpture; Stavanger has 23, all based on a cast of sculptor Antony Gormley. Part of the Broken Column art project, they link up in a tour ending at the Kunstmuseum, the city’s contemporary gallery.
After a romp around town, you’ll be itching to explore the fjord. Tour operator FjordEvents gets you out on the water with a windy two-hour RIB ride, with the last departure at 2.30pm, right from the harbour. You’ll pelt across the water at speeds of up to 50mph, passing islands, crashing falls and cliffs razoring up to Pulpit Rock, the fjord’s most famous crag.
If you’d rather paddle under your own steam, take to the water in a canoe or kayak with Rogaland Aktiv, drifting in and out of inlets at the foot of the mighty cliffs. Few crowds and no engine noise ups the chances of sighting wildlife, too: look out for porpoises in the water, seals on the rocks and sea eagles wheeling above.
Kick-start your evening at industrial-chic Pjolter & Punsj. It was nominated for Norway’s best cocktail menu at the 2023 Bartenders’ Choice Awards, and for good reason: owner Truls Thomsen whips up imaginative, season-led concoctions, from sea buckthorn martini to rhubarb spritz.
Providing you booked weeks ahead, you can then take a seat at 10-cover, Michelin-starred Sabi Omakase, where chef Roger Joya puts a Nordic spin on some of the best sushi in the country. Sit at the counter and marvel at the meticulous preparation of bite-sized dishes: tuna nigiri with marinated seaweed, reindeer sashimi, flat oysters with salmon caviar — it’s all sublime.
These luxe lodges stand cliff-edge above the fjord. Architects from Norwegian bigshot Snøhetta have applied minimalist flair to the glass-walled, high-ceilinged spaces, dressed with sheepskins and Eikund furniture. The fjord views are as riveting in winter storms as summer sun.
Reidunn Botnehagen welcomes guests on her grandfather’s farm, on the shores of its very own cliff-rimmed lake, a 50-minute drive from Stavanger. Hike, wild swim or fish for trout on a rowboat before calling it a day in a turf-roofed husmannshus (smallholder’s cottage).
Stay at this lakeside base camp to be the first up on Pulpit Rock. Sleep in a traditional hut or opt for the comfortable mountain lodge. Kayaks and paddleboards are available; the floating sauna is great for a post-hike unwind.
Day two: Culture & cocktails
Start the day with organic coffee and a pastry at boho Bøker og Børst. Behind an ochre timber facade, this laid-back spot brims with colour, pot plants and retro furniture, and there’s a leafy courtyard out back.
Next, dip back into the lanes of Gamle Stavanger (old town) to visit the recently revamped and expanded Norwegian Canning Museum, which shares a space with the Norwegian Printing Museum. Before Stavanger became the ‘oil capital of Norway’, canning was big business here. Housed in a former sardine cannery, the museum’s interactive exhibits shed light on the entire process, from threading to smoking — you can even try your hand at sardine packing.
Located in the glass-walled Stavanger Concert Hall, Spiseriet has one of the best Sunday brunches in town. Rock up at midday, sit on the terrace overlooking the fjord and enjoy a feast of eggs and pastries, with meat and fish from the carvery.
For a look at what made Stavanger’s modern fortunes, close by is the Norwegian Petroleum Museum. The building itself is architecturally striking, designed to resemble bedrock. Inside, it taps into Stavanger’s oil operations with hands-on exhibits, from a rescue chute to a catastrophe room (a pitch-black escape room used for safety training). Themes swing from cutting-edge technology to climate change.
For drinks with a shot of art nouveau glamour, make for Salon du Nord at Hotel Victoria. With dark wood, high ceilings and polished marble, it’s a sleek spot to converse over signature cocktails like The Receptionist (Tanqueray, peach, passion fruit, pineapple, lemon and egg white).
Next, head to Söl, a modern-rustic bistro opposite the cathedral. One of few restaurants open on Sunday evening, it has an ever-changing menu where regional, seasonal ingredients shine, from cucumber with oyster emulsion to sea buckthorn with dandelion and sorrel. All are paired with juices or natural wines — great for raising a toast to the end of your trip.
A fine example of Scandi interiors style, this light-drenched, blonde-wood coffee bar doubles as a design store. The minimalist lighting and furniture set the scene for sipping freshly roasted coffee and nibbling on cheesecake or blueberry scones.
With warm colours, cushioned nooks, vintage tables and art-splashed walls, this bakery-cafe is the baby of a Danish baker who takes pride in serving organic bread, pastries and pizza. Stop by for blueberry smoothies and spelt sandwiches with red pesto.
Tom and Hanne Helge Sørensen prepare food with a reverence for top-quality ingredients at this cool, stripped-back bakery, located in a former factory in Stavanger’s up-and-coming east. Tom is a cheese connoisseur and his club sandwich is legendary, but the raw cakes, brunch plates and salads with local salmon and crab are also spot on.
South of town in Lagårdsveien, this circus-themed cafe is the bakery offshoot of two-Michelin-starred Restaurant Renaa, headed up by local food god Sven Erik Renaa. Pop by for a sourdough sandwich, pastries, gelato and — as day slips into evening — perfectly thin, crisp Neapolitan pizza.
This foliage-draped, sky-lit cafe on the east side is an arty spot for Stavanger-made drinks and bites, with cheese from the dairy next door, local craft beers and in-house fermented kimchi and kombucha. Come on Sunday for brunch, lunch concerts and jazz sessions.
Go further: On the rocks
Preikestolen (Pulpit Rock)
This dramatic fist of rock punches 603 metres above the blue sweep of the Lysefjord and glacier-scoured granite cliffs. In high season, make sure to arrive early to beat the crowds: with a head torch and local guide from Lysefjorden Adventure, you can start as early as 1am. Hike through the night, arrive at the plateau by dawn and be back in Stavanger for breakfast.
Prefer to go it alone? It’s a moderately challenging, five-mile, five-hour round-trip from the trailhead at Preikestolen Mountain Lodge. Hikers wind through a forest of pine and birch, and up rocky steps made with Sherpa expertise, before traversing granite slabs and exposed cliffs en route to the vertical rock wall.
Deep in the Lysefjord, the roadless hamlet of Flørli has its very own stairway to heaven: Flørli 4444. This engineering masterpiece, built in 1918 for one of Norway’s first hydropower plants, is the world’s longest wooden staircase. There are 4,444 steps to puff up, leading up from the shore and past forested cliffs to a 740-metre viewpoint that offers views of Pulpit Rock and the Lysefjord. It’s a tough, three- to four-hour round-trip — a stiff, two-hour ascent, then down on rocky trails, either past lakes and back through the Flørdalen valley (two hours) or directly into Flørdalen (one hour). On summer weekends, cruise provider Rødne offers day trips from Stavanger, which is less hassle than taking the bus and ferry.
At the top of 1,100-metre Kjerag mountain. wedged between two sheer cliffs, is a five-cubic-metre granite boulder. It looks like a giant marble dropped by a Norse god. If you’re good with heights and game for a tough hike involving an 800-metre ascent, the 5.5-mile trek to the top is one you’ll talk about for years. The walk begins at Øygardsstølen car park, just above Lysebotn at the eastern tip of the fjord. Getting here by public transport can be a pain, so it’s wise to consider enlisting a guide from a tour operator, such as Lysefjorden Adventure. It’s a long day trip from Stavanger, starting around 7am and dropping you back into the city for 6pm — but it’s certainly worth it.
Norwegian flies direct from Gatwick to Stavanger in 1h 40m. Alternatively, Widerøe flies from Stansted, Liverpool, Dublin and Aberdeen to Bergen in around 1h 45m; connecting flights to Stavanger take just over half an hour.
Art nouveau Hotel Victoria has elegant, recently refreshed rooms by Stavanger’s waterfront. Doubles from €180 (£155), B&B.
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