National Tourist Roads of Norway
Rocky mountains, steep cliffs and scenic views. The Ryfylke Scenic Road is a true gem of southern Norway; built to serve the new hydropower plants, it’s hard to believe that this wasn’t designed as a tourist road. Today, it’s a scenic alternative to the main highway between Bergen and Stavanger.
I did the Ryfylke Scenic Road in September 2020 as part of my Ultimate Norwegian Road Trip. Here’s my driving guide with what you can see and experience, as well as a summary of the history and significance of each major sight. I’ve also included as much practical information as I can so you know exactly what to expect on the road.
End: Stavanger (Stavanger Guide)
Distance: 220km / 137 miles
Drive time (without stopping): 4 hours
How long did it take us? From Odda to Stavanger it took us a little over five hours
Tolls: One toll close to Stavanger. Cost: 18.48 NOK
Ferries: One ferry close to Stavanger. Their website is here.
Ryfylke is a traditional district and part of the Rogaland County in south-west Norway.
The name comes from the Old Norse word meaning ‘person who eats rye’ and refers to the Rugiere, a Germanic tribe that emigrated from southwestern Norway to Pomerania in what is today Poland sometime around 100AD. Likewise, the county Rogaland means “the land of the rugi”. 1https://no.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rugiere
The landscape in Ryfylke is characterised by high mountains though the outer islands are much flatter. Narrow fjords cut into the mountain areas throughout the entire area. The oldest settlement in the county took place in the mountains at least 7,000 years ago. Around the time of the Viking Age, there was a new period of growth.
The inner districts have significant power production, but it is more localised to Sauda. Horticulture is practiced on the islands, including a significant cultivation of fruit and vegetables; otherwise there is some milk production. There is some sheep production in areas of Ryfylke. The lumber and timber industry is also significant, especially in the village of Tau.
The most famous attraction in Ryfylke is Pulpit Rock (Preikestolen), a square rock resembling a pulpit that stands 604m above the Lysefjord. It is one of the most popular hikes in the country.
As of 2020, Ryfylke has eleven settlements; three of which have over 2000 inhabitants.
Odda is a small industrial town located at the end of the Sørfjorden. It’s growing in popularity thanks to its nearby natural attractions, namely the Troll Tongue hike and the Folgefonna National Park.
Directions: From Odda make your way towards a small village called Horda. It’s fairly straight-forward as you follow the E13, which turns into the E134 at Skare.
Sandvinvatnet is the lake you’ll pass immediately after leaving Odda. The lake is 4.3km2 (1.7 sq mi) and is close to the Buarbreen glacier, which is on the opposite side from where we are driving. You can take a detour there, but it adds considerable time.
Along the lake is a parking area for Tjørndalsfossen, a rather unknown but nevertheless scenic waterfall along the E13 highway.
You can’t see the waterfall from the road, but it’s only a short walk from the car park to get there. In less than 10 minutes you reach the base of the waterfall.
You see this waterfall on the other side of the river. There is a bus stop opposite it if you want to stop to take photos, but it’s difficult to park as there are private houses here.
This is one of the most popular places for visitors to take photos, and understandably so! It’s just before the village of Skare.
The waterfall is 95m (312ft) high and is well-known for the two separate streams flowing down from a lake on the hill. They then go under the E13 highway, and there is a historic stone six-arched bridge over the falls.
There is a carpark and footpath here. Just keep in mind it’s still a major highway so cars do rush past, and parking is very limited for such a popular attraction.
I’ve got a full article about the waterfall, which you can read here.
Directions: We are following signs to Røldal and remain on the E134
Skare is a small village just after the waterfall. There’s not much here, except a Joker grocery store.
It is here that the E13 turns into the E134. You’ll turn left to head towards Hordla.
A quick note about the E134 – this road actually follows a historic route that connects Eastern and Western Norway.
The next area you’ll pass through has many cabins; this is the Korlevoll hiking area that doubles as a popular place for cross country skiing in the winter.
If you’re short on time you can opt to take the tunnels to Horda, but if you want to see some scenery you can take the old road over the mountains to Horda. The turn off is just before the Seljestadtunnelen.
The Seljestadjuvet road has recently been re-paved so it’s a modern road, but it’s very narrow and consists of several hairpin bends. The road was built between 1859 and 1865 and is considered a piece of Norwegian history. The repaved road is newer than this; it is possible to hike the original 1850s road. Pilgrims used to use this road as they made their way to the historic Røldal Stave Church (coming soon); it was also used by traders on their way to Røldal Market and travellers on their way east.
The road is only open for vehicles under 2m.
You can see the entire road on my YouTube video.
Any road-trip through Norway means many tunnels. This tunnel is 475m (1558ft) long and is known for turning almost a complete circle while continuously traversing a gradient of 7%. The tunnel replace a series of hairpin-turns on the old road.
Horda (or Håra) is a small village. There’s not much here besides a couple hotels and cabins. From here you can start the Ryfylke Scenic Road. If you have some extra time, take the five-minute detour to the Røldal Stave Church.
Røldal Stave Church is located 4.1km / 2.6 miles from Horda, so it’s not a long detour. And it’s well worth it.
The village of Røldal must’ve been an important stopping point for travellers going between east and west Norway, especially since it is located on the border of three counties: Hordaland, Rogaland and Telemark. The reason for the stave church is probably linked to Røldal’s important position on the old road. The stave church is one of the main pilgrimage destinations in Norway due to its Jesus statue that is said to sweat every Midsummer, providing healing power.
The Røldal Ski Centre is famous for receiving the most snowfall of any populated area in Norway.
Grocery stores (Coop Marked)
Petrol station (Shell)
To continue on the scenic road, we go back to Horda and then turn left onto the Riksvei 520.
Important note: If you look at the National Tourist Road website, you can see that the Ryfylke Scenic Road splits at Horda. If you have time or are spending the night in the area, you can take both sections of the road. When I did this road, I didn’t have time to explore both sides. We chose to do the county road 520 over the E13 highway as it goes through more rugged scenery. However, the highway is of course the quicker route with a wider road.
The first part of the drive is up and across the mountains. The landscape here is very rocky and there are plenty of places to stop for photos.
This viewpoint is a lovely view out to the hairpin-turn-road you just took as well as the Røldal Lake.
Note – it’s not signed! It’s just after completing a hairpin turn and very easy to miss.
Shortly after the viewpoint you leave Vestland County and head on into Rogaland County, where Stavanger is!
This next stretch of road has some lovely scenery of the very rocky landscape. Always keep an eye out for places to stop and takes photos alongside the road.
Located on one of the highest points of the road is a bronze relief of Knut Vesthassel. He was the director of Saudafallene AS, one of the main power plants in Sweden Norway. He also drove the construction of this road, which was completed in 1960.
There are lovely views from up here too. You’ll see the memorial well in advance, giving you plenty of time to prepare to stop for photos.
Note – there are no signs pointing to this stop, and it’s not on Google Maps. However, you’ll see it ahead of you well in advance.
After this memorial, the road begins to go down the mountain.
After a nice drive down the mountain you’ll reach Hellandsbygd, a small village located in a river valley. The mountain Kyrkjenuten lies to the north and the mountain Skaulen is to the south.
We’ll be hearing a lot about mining for the last portion of the drive because this is a historically important mining area. Another important industry is hydroelectric power, of which Hellandsbygd is also part of.
There’s not much to stop at here as most services are in close-by Sauda.
Continue on Fv520 (County Road) through Hellandsbygd. You’re following signs to Sauda from here on. Soon you’ll start seeing signs for the next point of interest.
This area was the site of a large zinc mine that began operations in 1882 and closed in 1899. At its peak, the mine employed 160 people and was a major exporter of zinc in Norway.
The area underwent a large re-design between 2008-2016, with a new rest area, museum and cafe built.
The museum is open between June and August. They offer guided tours along the mine road and to the mine itself, which would be great to see – you even get a torch and helmet!
I didn’t go to the museum (I did this drive in September), and I must say there’s not much of the original mine to see today. The rest area is really nice, though, and the scenery is excellent. It’s beautiful to drive through.
Sauda is a few minutes from the mines.
Quite possibly my favourite tourism ad of all time. It’s not in English, but you don’t need it to understand the charm.
Sauda is one of the larger towns you’ll pass through, so it’s a great place to stop and rest.
Archaeological excavations show that people have lived here since the last Ice Age. The Black Death hit the area hard in 1349, with two-thirds of the populating dying from the plague. Despite this, the population continued to grow throughout the medieval period.
The reason for Sauda’s success was the strong waterfalls that could be exploited for power. Locals built up numerous sawmills close to the waterfalls, and large-scale lumber production began. People from all over the world, especially the Netherlands, began trading with Sauda.
The mining industry came to Sauda at the end of the 19th century. In 1910, the American (some websites say Canadian and some say American) company Electric Furnace Company came to Sauda to build (at the time) Europe’s largest smelting plant; they chose Sauda because of the waterfalls and rivers that made it possible to built powerplants close to the smelter.
During World War II, the Germans used Sauda for the construction of a large Aluminium Melting Plant, though this was closed in 1946.
The buildings for the industry were demolished by the municipality in the 1950s, and it wasn’t until the 1980s that industry began again in Sauda with the construction of a glass production factory.
Today Sauda has a population of around 5,000 people and is becoming increasingly known for its natural scenery.
The mountains surrounding the valley are known for their excellent ski conditions, and there are ski resorts up in the mountains.
If you’re looking for a break, here are some of the attractions in Sauda:
Sauda Church was built in 1866
Sauda Smeltverk is the smelting plant built by the Americans. It is possible to visit it if you book in advance, but you can clearly see it in the town
Åbobyen: This suburb was built by the Americans at the beginning of the 20th century and today it’s Norway’s best preserved North-American style suburb. You can walk around the suburb easily, and some houses have information boards in front of them. If you visit in summer, the museum has guided tours.
Inside Åbobyen you’ll find the Industrial Worker’s Museum inside an old home.
Download the app! There’s a free app called Ryfylkemuseet that acts as an audio guide for the area.
Hotels (Grand Hotell Sauda)
Cafes & Restaurants
Grocery store (Bunnpris, Kiwi, Coop Extra)
After Sauda, you remain on the Fv520 – following the signs indicating ‘Ryfylke Scenic Road’.
Shortly after leaving Sauda is Svandalsfossen There’s a carpark, you walk through an underpass to the other side of the road, and then you get excellent views of the waterfall. There’s a staircase to the top if you want to do a little more. The waterfall has a free fall of 40 metres.
Continue driving until the road 520 turns into 46. You’ll reach a turn-off. This is where we leave the road and start heading towards Stavanger. We are heading towards (and through) Drengstigtunnelen. The road eventually becomes Indre Ryfylkevegen.
After some time, the road will merge with the E13, which we were on earlier. There are places to rest along the way, but no major attractions.
Now we continue on the E13 towards the ferry at Nesvik. Here’s what we pass through along the way:
The Erfjord and the village (of the same name) is the next area you’ll pass. This is a 16km (9.9 mile) long fjord.
For the next portion we drive along the Jøsenfjord. The fjord is 24km long and used to be a major transport route for the area. Fish farming can be found in the fjord for both salmon and halibut.
Nesvik is a small settlement on the Jøsenfjord. According to historical sources, the area used to be Norway’s largest export port of timber to Scotland. Today Nesvik is known for its ferry connection to Hjelmeland, where we go next.
Nesvik – Hjelmeland Ferry:
Join the queue for the ferry heading to Hjelmeland (this is always clearly marked). Remain in your car and drive onto the ferry when instructed. If your car has an electronic toll tag (all rental cars have this), the staff will scan the electronic toll tag once you’re on the ferry – you don’t have to do anything or talk to them 🙂
You can leave your car while the ferry is going, but this is a very short ride. Restrooms are on the same level as where your car is.
Once off the ferry, you follow the E13 to Stavanger – all signs are marked to Stavanger.
This part of the drive is gorgeous. I’m kicking myself for not recording it. We also didn’t stop for photos as we were running late for a dinner reservation in Stavanger. You’ll see when you begin to drive it 🙂 Here’s a screenshot from Google Maps, just after Hjelmeland.
Hjelmelandsvågen is a small town on the south side of the Jøenfjord. The village isn’t known for much, except it’s ‘World Largest Jaeren Chair (Jaerstol)’. Oh Yes, that’s right. You can see the world’s largest traditional Jaerstol! The Jaerstol is a southwestern type of chair braided with reeds or straw. The chair is famous thanks to the Vincent Van Gogh painting (see here), but it was actually invented in Hjelmeland! The reed for the seat was taken from points on Jaeren, which is how it got its name.
This small village is so picturesque. If you have time, I’d really recommend stopping here. They have a number of attractions as well as scenic roads. Click here to visit the Wikipedia page (English).
Tau is a small village just before the Ryfylke Tunnel. It has a population of 3,212. The name is rather strange; it comes from the Old Norse word taufr which means ‘witchcraft’. There was an ancient sacrificial field here in the Iron Age. The largest employer here is Comrod Communications, which manufactures antennas for military use.
Now we get to go through the brand-new Ryfylke Tunnel. The Ryfylke Tunnel is 14.km (8.9 mi) long and is currently the world’s longest and deepest subsea tunnel. The tunnel does have a toll of 140 NOK for vehicles.
You come out on the other side in Hundvåg before quickly going back into the tunnel. The next time you re-appear, you’re in Stavanger!
The oil museum covers the history of the discovery of oil in Stavanger, plus what the future holds for the industry against issues like climate change.
The Norwegian coastline is littered with lighthouses. Many of them are simple, uninteresting modern lighthouses, but the older ones often have a story to tell. If you’re doing the Jæren Scenic Drive in Southern…