Why You Should Visit Stavanger, Norway in Winter!
Updated: Jan 19
There are a lot of places in the world I want to visit, but ever since I was a teenager playing World of Warcraft and listening to Scandinavian rock bands, I have wanted to visit Norway. From the imposing mountains, to the bottomless fjords, to the cute little wooden houses, I love everything about the Nordic Utopia. Needless to say, I was thrilled when my boyfriend surprised me with a trip to Stavanger for my 24th birthday in November last year.
Stavanger is a city in south west Norway, next to Lysefjord, known as the country’s oil and energy capital. Along with a great assortment of museums, it has the best-preserved wooden house settlement in Europe (aka the iconic Scandinavian wooden buildings). The city is surrounded by gorgeous scenery, and can act as a perfect base to explore the area and go on a variety of hikes. The most popular of these is the hike up to Pulpit Rock (Preikestolen in Norwegian) a steep cliff 604m above Lysefjord, which is about an hour-long boat and bus journey from the city.
For me, our trip would not be complete until I had conquered that mountain and got a photo on top of it.
We travelled with Wizz Air from Luton Airport, and a return for both of us for 3 days cost £35! I had never travelled with Wizz Air before, so I was intrigued to see what it was like, and all I can say is that it is slightly better than Ryan Air. However, for the price, I don’t think I can complain. Surprisingly, the flight wasn’t full up at all, which meant that, even though we couldn’t bring ourselves to pay £8 extra to sit next to each other, we were able to anyway.
After 2 hours we arrived at Stavanger airport and caught the Flybussen coach from directly outside the airport to Fiskepiren, which is the final stop in Stavanger city by the ferry terminal. From what we saw, it was one of only two Flybussen coaches that stopped outside of Stavanger, the other going towards Sandnes, which we almost booked our Airbnb near but decided not to when we realised it sounded too much like sadness.
We didn’t want to jinx our trip.
Our Airbnb was a 20-minute walk from Fiskepiren, a quaint basement studio nestled away in a whitewashed wooden suburb outside of the city. The only problem we had with it was that on the first night we didn’t have any heating… But it was fine, we just slept in a lot of layers… We did badger our host rather relentlessly to give us a heater the second day though.
Things to do in Stavanger:
On our first day we decided to go on a boat tour of Lysefjord in the morning, a 2-hour round trip of the fjord, stopping briefly at the bottom of Pulpit Rock and other sights along the way. Tickets are 580 NOK (about £48) and are available on board the boat, which departs at 11am from the harbour near the Maritime Museum. Luckily, we got there just in time to nab a window seat, so to avoid disappointment make sure to get there 30 minutes early!
Once the tour got going I was captivated by the changing scenery. Every mountain we passed seemed to sprout a bigger one out of its peak, with wooden cabins scattered across them in seemingly unreachable places. The beauty of visiting Stavanger in early Winter is that some of the trees haven’t shed their Autumn leaves yet, so the mountains are coated in vibrant reds, oranges, and golds.
We passed Vagabonds Cave, a hideout fugitives used to use to escape the police, Hengjane Waterfall and eventually arrived at the bottom of Pulpit Rock (which was a bit daunting when I realised how far up we'd have to walk the following day). If you’re brave enough, you can even go on top of the boat during the tour, and battle the elements like a Viking on a voyage to conquer a distant kingdom. We did try this, but soon realised why most people were choosing to stay in the heated cabin instead.
Then again, a trip to Norway in Winter wouldn’t be complete without getting battered by wind and rain at least once.
After lunch, we escaped the rain by visiting the Petroleum Museum, which I had read good things about online. I got free entry because I work at a museum in the U.K., but normal tickets are 150 NOK (about £12). My favourite part of the museum was the film at the beginning, which explains the history of oil in Norway and really humanises the whole topic. The museum is also very interactive, and I genuinely enjoyed pressing every button available and pretending to escape a fiery explosion through a slide-like chute.
If it wasn’t near closing time, we could have easily spent 2 more hours there.
We finished the day walking around Gamle, a historic part of Stavanger full of white cottages and cobbled streets. Thankfully, the sun made a brief appearance, illuminating the houses and making everything look golden and magical. It felt like walking around a Norwegian fairy-tale. I can imagine it looks even prettier with flowers lining the streets and windows in the Summer. But in Winter, the streets are deserted, and it was lovely to feel like we had the place to ourselves. I was hesitant to take photos with my film camera at the beginning of the trip, because Lomochrome Purple film doesn’t tend to work well under dark conditions (and Norway is definitely dark in Winter), however the shots I took here came out quite well.
On our way back to our Airbnb we walked through Øvre Holmegate, which is a small street full of colourful cafes, quirky shops, and twinkling fairy lights. The whole street screams Christmas, especially if you visit it at night, and prompted me to excitedly play a 2-hour Christmas playlist when we returned to our Airbnb. Another great thing about visiting Stavanger in Winter, or any Scandinavian country for that matter, is how authentically Christmassy it feels. The houses, the decoration and the scenery all look like something straight out of a Christmas carol, and I love it.
I actually loved the street so much that we had to go back on our final day so I could get a shameless selfie in front of it.
On our second day we scaled Pulpit Rock. I have decided to write a separate blog post about our journey up it, because there is a lot to cover, but what I will say is that it is so worth a trek. The views leading up to the rock are fantastic, and I would argue perhaps more so in Winter than in Summer, because everything looks darker and far more dramatic. Once we reached the top of the rock, I cannot accurately describe what it felt like to look across the fjord from such a height, it was an exhilarating combination of accomplishment, fear, and wonder.
And I got the shot I wanted on top of it!
Even in early Winter, the walk up to the rock isn’t too hard, though we were woefully under-dressed (5 layers of cheap Primark t-shirts does not equal one good quality thermal vest). However, on our way back down we saw monks walking the trail in nothing but robes and sandals, so perhaps we were just being a couple of moany Brits.
Originally we had planned to cook our own meals in our Airbnb, as we often do when we go travelling, however after realising how expensive supermarkets are in Norway (and that they don’t sell alcohol after 8pm) we decided we might as well eat out on our last full day. In Winter most of the restaurants that are open are down by the harbour, and we went to N.B. Sørensen Dampskibsexpedition, a cute maritime themed restaurant with a cosy Scandinavian feel to it.
I had fish soup as a scrumptiously salty starter, and a Norwegian Christmas dinner as a main, because I was still in a Christmassy mood from Øvre Holmegate. It was delicious. It was also fun trying to spot the rich oil tycoons in the restaurant and imagining what ludicrously luxurious lives they must lead.
Final day and thoughts
Before our late afternoon flight back to Luton, we took one more stroll around Stavanger, spending far too much time in the Geopark playground outside the Petroleum Museum, which is a reconstructed oil and gas field, and soaking up the sun in Byparken by the cathedral, which are both great areas for kids to explore.
In Winter especially, I think a long weekend is the perfect amount of time to spend in Stavanger, because there are fewer tourists around and you can visit the main attractions at a comfortable pace without running out of things to do. The landscape also has a melancholy beauty to it, and the temperatures in early Winter aren’t unbearable either.
For me, the must-see things in Stavanger are The Petroleum Museum and Pulpit Rock. However, as Winter progresses, the coach to Pulpit Rock stops running, because the trail becomes too dangerous for the average walker, so if you travel to Norway a little later in the season, I recommend the boat tour instead.
If we were there longer, I would have loved to hike up Kjerag, a mountain which has a boulder wedged in its crevasse, and visit the Canning Museum, which was unfortunately closed when we visited (it opens again in October 2020). I also want to see what Norway looks like in the Summer, with sapphire lakes and emerald mountains, and experience the midnight sun too, so I will definitely visit the country again.
My only regret is that I should have packed faster film. After I got my film developed I realised, with the exception of 2 Lomochrome Purple shots and a few Kodak ColourPlus 200 shots, most of my photos were underexposed. Thankfully, I took quite a few photos on my DSLR, which made the pill easier to swallow. But if I ever visit Norway again in the Winter, I will pack faster film, possibly with an ISO of 800.