Medieval Architecture & Stave Churches: Driving through the Numedal Valley

  • Pass four stave churches
  • Climb the mountains and over to Geilo, Norway's famous ski town

The Numedal Valley is perhaps one of the best-kept secrets in Norway. Located between Kongsberg and Geilo, the valley contains the largest number of medieval wooden buildings in Norway; an impressive 40 ancient farm buildings and 4 stave churches. On this drive, we’ll see a lot of it!

Practical info can be found at the bottom of this article

On this road trip...

Is this drive for you?

  • This drive is great for: people who love history and architecture, anyone who wants to do Norway ‘off the beaten path’
  • It’s a good alternative road to western Norway if you want to avoid the E highways – Geilo is where you join the highway. In Geilo you can also find the train connection to Bergen or Oslo
  • The drive gives you a good look at what the mountains look like high up but without having to take any of those tricky roads! However, don’t expect mountain peaks; it’s rather flat as you climb 1100m over sea level. 
  • This drive lacks: Shops, museums (it has small museums, but they cater more to Norwegian crowds)
  • Scenery: It’s a beautiful drive, but lacks the steep mountains and fjords many expect when coming to Norway
  • How hard is this drive? It’s easy and suited to those who may not feel comfortable on the narrow mountain roads. It’s well-marked, wide, and easy to see well ahead of time. 

The Drive

  • Start: Kongsberg
  • End: Geilo
  • Distance: 159km / 98 miles
  • Drive time (without stopping): 2.5 hours
  • How long did it take us? 4 hours
  • Tolls: No
  • Ferries: No

 

On the previous day, we drove through Telemark from Dalen to Heddal. We spent the night in Kongsberg. You see that days drive by clicking here. 

Watch on YouTube

Start: Kongsberg

Kongsberg is a fascinating town to explore, and if you have a full day I recommend making the most of everything on offer. 

Historically, Kongsberg is an important place. It was founded by the Danish/Norwegian King Christian IV as a mining community in 1624 after the discovery of silver. One year later, the Kongsberg Silver Mines were established.

With the rise of silver mining, Kongsberg became the largest industrial centre in Norway until the 19th century. The silver mining contributed to 10% of Denmark-Norway’s GDP, which was mostly spent on Denmark’s endless wars with Sweden.

Christian IV hired Germans from silver mines in Germany to help with the establishment and education of silver mining in Norway. Most of the workers throughout the mines history were Germany, though Norwegians gradually took over. 

The mines also contained high-purity gold and a large amount of copper, cobalt, lead-zinc and flourite. 

The Kongsberg Mines were energy intensive and difficult to work in. Eventually gunpowder was used in the mines. This also helped establish Kongsberg’s defence industry. Today, Kongsberg is known as the home of Norway’s major defence contractor, Kongsberg Gruppen. Two of its well-known products are Kongsberg Cold and the Krag-Jørgensen rifle.

Kongsberg is also the site of the Royal Norwegian Mint, which mints Norwegian coins and produces circulating and collectors’  coins for other countries.

In Kongsberg you’ll find many museums. You can also visit the Kongsberg Mines, where some buildings are still standing. The mountain has many hiking trails for all levels, and many choose to hike to Kronene i Håvet, a collection of royal monograms in the side of the mountain (click here for info). 

Due to the huge Danish and German influence, the architecture in Kongsberg is unique compared to other pats of the country. It has also largely escaped fired. 

Things to see and do:

Where to stay:

Kongsberg is a short train journey or drive from Oslo, so you can visit it in a day. However, I recommend having a car as the mines are located a little ways out of town. There are some chain hotels (Best Western Plus and Comfort Hotel) here. 

Driving Directions:

Head north on the Fv40 (Fylkesvei 40, or county road 40) out of Kongsberg. Signs will be pointing towards Geilo, our last stop on this drive. 

All of the stave churches are marked with brown signs, so you can’t miss them. Some are on the main highway, some are just off the highway. 

Flesberg Stave Church

Flesberg stavkirke

The Flesberg Stave Church is the first of the four churches we’ll see today. It is first mentioned in history in 1359, but is probably from the latter half of the 1100s or the first half of the 1200s.

It doesn’t look like much of a stave church, doesn’t it? It’s changed a lot over the years. The first-ever painting of a stave church is of Flesberg stave church, and it’s from 1701. We can see just how much it’s changed.

In the 1730s, the church underwent its first restoration. It was expanded and some of the old parts were removed; as you can see, the new parts weren’t in a stave style. In 1792, the church got a new roof and the stave church choir was torn down.

Today, the only original part of the stave church is on the western side, where you can see stave decorations around the portal. There are so few parts of the old church left.

 

Driving Directions:

Continue on the Fv40. Turn right and leave the highway when you see the signs pointing to Rollag Stave Church. Almost immediately you’ll drive through Rollag village. The road here narrows and it is used by farmers, so be careful. 

The road we are now on is the Fv107, where you’ll see many nice examples of old wooden architecture. 

Rollag Open Air Museum

Rollag bygdetun

The Rollag farmstead is now an open-air museum. The farm consists of fourteen buildings around a courtyard. The museum shows what farms looked like in this valley, and the architecture is authentic. The buildings come from other farms in Rollag. There are over 1,000 objects that show everyday life in the village.

You’ll see signs to the museum about 30 seconds before reaching Rollag Stave Church. 

The museum is open in the summer months.

You can view their website here. 

Rollag Stave Church

Rollag stavkirke

The Rollag Stave Church was built in the 12th century as a single nave church, the simplest type of stave church. In the 17th century, it was rebuilt as a cruciform church.

While there isn’t much of the original church left, Rollag Stave Church is still regarded as one of the most beautiful rural churches in Norway.

Around the church you’ll find ancient stone walls. Some have rings for horses. In the cemetery is an ancient stone cross. It’s believed this site was an ancient gathering place for Christians before they got a church.

Rollag Stave Church

The Rollag Stave Church is a beautiful rural church from old times. Read my guide about everything you’ll see at the church.

Read More »

Driving Directions:

Now we make our way back to Fv40, the main road. Just keep following this small road (Fv107) and you’ll eventually see a wide opening left turn – there’s no signs. Once you cross a bridge, turn right onto the Fv40. If you miss it don’t worry; the road eventually ends at the Fv40, you’ll just miss Veggli.  If you’re using navigation, it will do all this for you.  

Gamle Mogen Landhandel

This is an old country store turned museum. It was established in 1840 when a man from Telemark got a permit to sell liquor and make a store here. Inside you’ll find a good representation of an old country supermarket and general store. It’s not marked on Google Maps, so keep an eye out! There’s also a place called “Gamle Logen” in Oslo that Google Maps thinks you are talking about.

Veggli

The next town we pass through is called Veggli.

The population here is 348 people. Veggli Church is located here. The church is from 1859 and is a typical rural church from this period.

In Veggli you can drive a trolley on the disused Numedalsbanen. The trip starts in Veggli and ends at Rødberg. The trolley was used to inspect the railway line and was an important means of transportation for operators on the line.

Behind the church in Veggli is an old cemetery. This is where a stave church used to be located. When the population grew substantially in the 17th century, the town needed a new church. At first, they rebuilt Veggli Stave Church just like they did with Rollag. However, when the new church was built in 1859, they demolished the old church. Only the apse wall survives, and it’s at the historical museum in Oslo. Some of the doors and details of the stave church were sold to farmers, who still have them on their properties.

Driving Directions:

Continue following the Fv40 – right after Veggli you’ll cross the river (this is where the Fv107 joins up). You’ll cross into Nore og Uvdal Municipality and then on your left will be tourist signs to an old farm. 

Mellom Kravik

This is considered to be one of the oldest private residences in Norway. The rooms on the ground floor are supply rooms, while the first floor has bedrooms. The loft has two rooms and each room has an entrance from the outside. It was likely constructed in the 14th century.

The building is on a private residence and opens for the annual Medieval Week festival in the Numedal Valley.

Next to it is an even older loft called Søre Kravik. Its architecture is descended from the Viking’s royal halls. This building is from the year 1300. The building functioned as a feast hall; the guests would sleep on the second floor and the main festivities took place on the first floor.

Driving Directions:

Continue following the Fv40. You’ll see a brown sign directing you to Nore Stave Church, which is to the left across the bridge. Keep following the brown signs. There is a large parking area outside the church. 

Nore Stave Church

Nore stavkirke

The Nore Stave Church is the third church we pass. Its age is unknown, but judging the wood the church may be from 1167. The portal is the same as the one at Flesberg, which is from 1163-1189. 

The floor-plan of this church is unique; no other church has this in Norway. Maybe other stave churches had this floor plan; there used to be 1,000 and now there’s only 28. There is also a central mast in the middle of the church, another unique element. 

The inside of the church is absolutely beautiful and comes from all time periods, though most of it is from 1650-1750. 

The church is open during the summer months. 

Nore Stave Church

Nore Stave Church is located in the Numdal Valley. This articles goes over its architecture, history, decoration and visitor information.

Read More »

Driving Directions:

Make your way back to the Fv40 and continue north on it.

Sevle Loft & Sevletunet

This is the newest of the lofts in Numedal. It’s from 1632 but the shape is typical medieval. What makes this one interesting is that it’s a bnb! The owners of the bnb are descendants of the original owners. One of the buildings is the old post office and the interior contains some original pieces. You can also stay in an old barn!

Driving Directions:

Continue along the Fv40

Rødberg

Rødberg is the largest town in Numedal with a population of 498. There are two powerplants here that utilise the waterflow from the dam (to the right). Rødberg was the terminal station of the Numedal railway line.

See Also

Driving Directions:

Continue along the Fv40. Eventually you will see brown signs leading you to Uvdal Stave Church

Uvdal Stave Church

Uvdal stavkirke

Compared to the other churches, Uvdal is located high on the hill-side and is surrounded by old farm buildings. The church was in use until the 19th century, when a new church was built further down the valley. The new church looks just like a stave church.

It’s believed Uvdal stave church is from 1169. It has a central mast like Nore, used to hold up the bell. When excavations were done here, 200 coins were found from the 13th century and earlier. 

The like other churches on our drive, Uvdal has been extensively restored over the years. The inner core is the original stave church. 

More info is found below

Uvdal open-air museum

The museum is a historic farmstead located in the former village. You can see the vicarage storehouses, school house, and farm buildings. The open-air museum is open in the summer months, when they have local artisans with stalls.

Driving Directions:

Make your way back down the way you came up, and turn right to re-join the Fv40

Uvdal Church

This is not a stave church! Uvdal Church was built in 1893 to replace the Uvdal Stave Church as the main church. It’s built in the dragestil style, which takes inspiration from medieval and stave architecture in Noway. This church seats 350 people. You’ll notice this church has huge glass windows; that’s completely unseen in stave churches.

Driving Directions:

Continue to follow the Fv40. Eventually you’ll reach the top of the mountains; there will be plenty of snow warnings ahead of time. If you are doing this drive during a month with snow, you will need the proper gear to continue up.

The road may close in winter due to bad weather. 

Dagali

Dagali is a small mountain village close to Geilo. It is one of the highest settlements with permanent agricultural operations.

Dagali has an airport that is today only used for recreation. There’s also the Dagali Opplevelser, which offers outdoor activities like wafter rafting and snowmobiling. In Dagali you’ll find an open-air museum with farm buildings from around the area.

The climate here is subarctic, meaning there are very cold and very snowy winters and somewhat cool summers. Dagali airport has some of the coldest temperatures in southern Norway.

Driving Directions:

Continue to follow the Fv40. You’ll pass through another cabin area before Geilo appears. 

Geilo

We’ve made it to Geilo! With a population of 2,400, Geilo is primarily a ski resort town and one of the most famous ski areas in Scandinavia. It’s a great but expensive place to spend some time; after all, Geilo is known for having some of the most luxurious and expensive holiday cabins in Norway.

The town is located roughly halfway between Bergen and Oslo on the national road 7 (E7), making it very accessible. Additionally, there’s the Bergensbanen, or the railway line linking Bergen and Oslo. Geilo was developed only when the railway was constructed, and it quickly gained a good reputation for winter sports.

Geilo is the first skiing resort in the country and is still one of the largest. 

The ski season lasts from late October to late April. There are 39 slopes covering 33km. There’s also an extensive cross country system in Geilo with 220km of tracks.In summer, there are plenty of sports activities.

In the summer months, many Norwegians come here to go hiking or mountain biking. The Rallarvegen route from Finse to Flåm is extremely popular. That road is an old construction road that was used when the railway line was being constructed. 

The town centre has a number of shops, including many outdoor and sports shops. There are two small shopping malls with free parking, and inside you’ll find supermarkets, cafes, bakeries, electronic stores and clothing stores.

There are understandably many hotels in Geilo, and some of them are quite expensive. Some of them reflect the cabin lifestyle so may be basic, while others are more luxurious. They will have higher prices during the Norwegian summer holidays (late June to late August) and over the winter season. If you can, I recommend renting a cabin on AirBnB. When the owner isn’t using it they sometimes put it up for rent. It gives you a great opportunity to see what Norwegian cabins are like, and you really don’t need to stay in Geilo centre. More info below. 

Where to go next

From Geilo, we followed the E7 towards Gol and then crossed the hills into Fagernes, another famous ski area. Along the way, you pass the Torpo Stave Church, in case you haven’t seen enough stave churches already!

The following day we made our way to Gudbrandsdalen. This can be seen in my next video. 

From Geilo you can also go towards Western Norway. The E7 will take you to the the Hardangerfjord via the famous Vøringsfossen. You can then take the Hardanger Scenic Road all the way to Bergen, or head towards Flåm from Voss. 

If you follow the E7 to Hagafoss and then take the Fv50, you’ll take an incredibly scenic drive down to Aurland, which is close to Flåm. 

Where to stay

My best recommendation is to stay near Geilo in one of the cabins, but not necessarily in the town. The landscape here is beautiful, and it’s a great opportunity to spend the night in a real Norwegian cabin. 

Food & services

  • You are never far from a town
  • At minimum, towns will have service stations that will serve baked goods and some hot items, like hot dogs! 
  • We don’t have roadside stops in Norway like you do in the United States or Australia, for example. There are no signs on the highway pointing to the nearest McDonalds. In fact, there are no fast food options on this drive. 
  • Get food at a service station or supermarket, or spend some time at a ‘kro’ (our version of a roadside diner) or a local cafe. Everyone is friendly!
  • Some of the towns will have a place to get food, others won’t. 
  • Service stations have restrooms
  • On the mountains you’ll see large buildings that are both accommodation and places for food. The cafes will be open. I have these marked on my map. 

Driving tips

  • The road between Uvdal and Geilo is open all-year round, but if there is bad weather in the winter it may close so workers can clear snow.
  • Always check road information at Statens Vegvesen (our road authority) before driving. Click here to view their page. It’s in Norwegian but easy to figure out. They also have a Twitter and some cars have announcements on the radio
  • If you do drive here in winter, there will be snow and ice
  • In summer, you will encounter construction work. Expect delays
  • All the roads are single lane. If you get stuck behind a truck or caravan, in most cases you have to wait it out
  • The road (Fv40) is wide and modern, so it’s an easy drive compared to other roads in Norway

Tell me what you think!

If you have done this drive, or have any questions, let me know in the comments 🙂 

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