If you’re driving away from Oslo towards Bergen or the mountains, you may end up passing through Fagernes (Far-ger-nez). At first, it looks like a standard town with a shopping mall, a huge hotel, and tiny main street. However, Fagernes is worth stopping in. It’s the main town in the traditional district of Valdres and is proud of its rich cultural traditions. There’s an excellent museum, walking paths, and festivals here to take advantage of.
In September 2020, when I was on my 10-day road-trip around Norway, we stopped in Fagernes for the night. We were between seeing the Numedal Valley and the Valdresflye Scenic Road. We absolutely loved Fagernes and had a lot of fun wandering through the town. Here’s a collection of things I learned about Fagernes during my visit, as well as what you should do in the town and where you can go from there.
The Pretty Headland
Fagernes is not an ancient town, though it is likely farming has been taking place here for thousands of years. Most of the town was underwater until the 18th century. The farms were high on the hillside and the lake Fagernes sits on was much deeper than it is today. When the lake began to retreat, a town emerged. The name means ‘pretty headland’ (Fager = pretty and nes = headland) and it certainly is.
A Perfect Spot on the King’s Road
The Valdres Valley is part of the King’s Road (Kongevegen), the old road between Bergen and Oslo. The road was built through the valley in the late 1700s and was the most important road in the country. It was also the first road where people could drive a horse and cart between the east and the west. It replaced the old track from the Middle Ages and postal road from the 17th century.
Because of this position, Fagernes emerged as a trading town around 1857. Otto Stuve (1822-1871) is considered to be the founder of Fagernes, and one of the first names for the town was Stuvenes. He came to the area in 1857 when there was not much here and bought a plot of land. With this land, he built a lavish country store and hotel building. Eventually, others came to the area to establish a small trading business. The downtown area still has many of the old businesses. There are English-language signs on each building explaining its history. Sure, the English version is just a short overview of what the Norwegian part of the text says, but it’s still something.
Tourism is an Important Industry
Again, thanks to the King’s Road, Fagernes grew almost immediately as a tourist town. We also have Otto Stuve to thank for this; he did build the first hotel, after all. After his sudden death, his brothers inherited the property and quickly sold it off. The hotel then changed hands many times.
It was the Fosheim family who gave the hotel some much-needed love. Ole Fosheim bought the property around 1882 and sold it to his son, Lage, who was 23 years old. With his wife Guri, they operated the hotel for 56 years until retiring in 1938. During that time the hotel was expanded and gained notoriety for its facilities and its great location.
Sadly, the hotel burned down in 1946 and everything in the oldest part was destroyed. Fagernes Hotel did not operate for another 20 years. In 2000, it became the Quality Hotel & Resort Fagernes, and now it is known as Scandic Valdres. It is where we stayed on our trip and I highly recommend it. More on that further down.
The must-see of Fagernes is its open-air museum. I know, travelling around Norway shows that almost every town has an open-air museum. Trust me, the Valdres Folkemuseum is one of the best. Founded in 1901, the museum contains 95 houses and constructions with around 20,000 items. It is currently the fourth-largest Norwegian outdoor museum.
If you visit in summer, you’ll be treated with folk music festivals, theatre performances and more.
Some of the buildings inside the museum are very old. For example, Hovistabburet is from the 13th century and has an unusual room called the virgin room. Handeloftet is the main farmhouse from the period 1530-1640. The buildings are beautiful and from the Valdres valley, so they are worth checking out.
A Town Rich in Traditions, and Rakfisk.
As you can see from the Folkmuseum, Fagernes is proud of its cultural traditions. They have a unique bunad design, dialect, and are well-known for their folk music. Every year the Jørn Hilme Festival takes place. It’s Norway’s oldest folk music festival and is named after the most famous fiddler from Valdres.
Another important tradition here is the production of rakfisk, a fermented and salted fish. The fish used is typically trout or char, which you can fish in the lakes. It is fermented over two or three months, or even up to a year. It’s eaten without cooking and has a salty flavour and strong smell. You’ll see signs on the road with farmers selling rakfisk, or you can attend the Rakfisk Festival in Fagernes. Each year, they crown a rakfisk champion. The festival usually takes place in November. Click here to view their website.
Fagernes is proud that there are many summer farms in the surrounding area, and you can visit many of them yourself. There, the farmers give an overview of the old Norwegian farming traditions. This is a great opportunity to see the real Norway. Click here for more info.
Close to Norway’s Natural Beauty
The biggest reason people come to Fagernes is because of its proximity to some of Norway’s most beautiful places. Fagernes has good connections to the Valdresflye Scenic Road, the Jotunheimen National Park, the West Norwegian fjords and the Gudbrandsdalen Valley. The nearby resort Beitostølen is famous in Norway for its great skiing facilities, and is very popular in the winter. In the summer, people come here to hike the king’s road.
There are places to walk in Fagernes itself. The town sits on the lake Strandefjorden. There’s a walking path that goes along it from Scandic Valdres to the Folkemuseum and beyond.
In Eastern Norway, you’ll see a lot of lakes called ‘fjords’. In Norwegian, fjord can mean many different types of bodies of waters, and they don’t necessarily have to be connected to the sea.
From this walking path, you can take a bridge over to an island called Vesleøya, which is absolutely beautiful.
The most popular hike in Fagernes is to Kvitberg, a historic farmstead high on the hill that was inhabited until 1936. The remains are still there today. It’s a hard but short hike, and the signs start from the tourist information office. Click here for more info.
Where to Stay
As mentioned above, Scandic Valdres is by far the largest hotel in the area. While it is a little dated, we found the hotel to be clean, cosy, and the staff to be incredibly friendly and helpful. There’s a lovely restaurant inside (where you can try rakfisk) as well as a bar. Almost every room has a lovely view. There’s a huge parking area outside, and you’re a stone’s throw from walking paths and the Folkemuseum. Also, in 2019 the hotel won the prize for having the best breakfast in Norway. I can attest to this; the breakfast is great.
There is a camping ground located in Fagernes right next to the Folkemuseum. If you don’t have a caravan, they have very cute cabins with private bathrooms from 795 NOK for a night.
Many people from Oslo own cabins in Valdres. If you want to experience Norwegian cabin life I recommend getting on AirBnB and finding a Norwegian cabin.
Where to Go From Here
As mentioned above, Fagernes is in a good spot with road connections to many wonderful places. Fagernes is on the E16 (European Highway 16) which follows the King’s Road from Oslo to Bergen. If you keep following the E16 you’ll reach Vang before crossing the mountains to Borgund, where you can see the famous stave church. From there, it’s easy to get to Flåm and Bergen.
If you follow the E16 towards Oslo and then turn-off and follow the Fv33, you reach Lake Mjøsa, the largest in Norway and home to popular towns like Hamar and Lillehammer. From there, it’s a short drive to the Gudbrandsdalen valley.
If you follow the Fv51 south, you reach Gol and eventually Geilo, Norway’s oldest ski town. There you can cross the Hardangervidda Plateau to Eidfjord and the Hardangerfjord, the second-longest fjord in Norway.
Lastly, and what we did, is follow the Fv51 north. You’ll reach Beitostølen, the popular ski resort, and then be at the Valdresflye Scenic Road, one of Norway’s national tourist roads. On the other end of this road is the E15, which links you to Geiranger and the famous Geirangerfjord. Or you can continue on the E6 to the E136 and onto Åndalsnes (a very famous road with Trollstigen) or towards Trondheim.
After we did Valdresflye, we crossed over to Gudbrandsdalen before making our way to Røros. Just note that the Fv51 closes in winter.
As you can see, there are so many options from Fagernes. It’s a great stopover town when leaving Oslo and heading into the countryside. Spend the afternoon and night in Fagernes, and on the next day continue onto somewhere wonderful in Norway 🙂
You can see my videos of the drive from Fagernes to Vang (the King’s Road) and then from Beitostølen to Gudbrandsdalen on my YouTube channel. Hopefully, I’ll be able to record more videos of the area, just got to convince the husband we need to do another road-trip!
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Have you done this drive or are you planning to? If you have any questions or comments let me know below.