I love Stavanger. It’s one of those places that I didn’t think much of at first, until I really got to walk around. It’s got such a fascinating history, from the Cathedral’s founding to the canning industry and now this oil wealth. When visitors come to Stavanger, they typically go straight to Gamle Stavanger. In my opinion, the city centre is just as charming with its wooden houses, architecture, and history. So, I made a Stavanger self-guided walking tour.
Moreover, I made my ‘Stavanger self guided walking tour’, I’ve tried to focus on the unique aspects and stories of inner city Stavanger. The walk loops through the city centre, passing through most streets and past many highlights.
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Most importantly, a PDF version of this self-guided walk is available so you can print out this walk and do it at your own pace.
About the PDF version:
- Comes with a summary of Stavanger’s history, in the context of this walking tour
- Special spread of Stavanger today, including all the facts and figures you need to know
- A list of important people and words related to Stavanger
- A simple map of the walk, with restaurants, shops and other points of interests
- More detail at each stop
- Specific directions to each point
Welcome to Stavanger! Our walk starts at Torget, the main square and centre of Stavanger. Until the 11th century, it was nothing more than a bay in the middle of a sandy beach. It was filled in and extended by the locals, and over the centuries has become an important commerce and meeting place.
Today Torget has a new fish market building and several restaurants. More houses stood here originally, but over the last century, they were removed. All the old warehouses are now restaurants and bars.
The name Kiellandhagen comes from writer Alexander Kielland. His childhood home actually stood right where we are. Sadly, it was demolished in 1907 so they could build the city’s post office.
Most importantly, during excavations in 1907, archaeologists found items dating back to the Viking Age. Foundations and ceramics shows that it was likely the Olav Monastery that stood here.
Kongsgård Royal Estate
Kongsgård is a historic royal residence. The property owned all this land you see around you now, including the lake. Until the Reformation, the building was used by the bishop and his staff. The bishop’s manor was looted, and houses were burned down during Pentecost 1539 by about 60 pirates. In 1607, the sheriff received permission to rebuilt, and he did. However, by the late 18th century Kongsgård was broke.
Kongsgård became the Stavanger Cathedral School in 1824. Kongsgård is mentioned a lot in the writing of Alexander Kielland as he was a student here.
During World War II, the Germans used Kongsgård as a quarter for the Local German Commander. A fire on Easter Sunday 1942 destroyed large parts of the building. Initially, the Germans didn’t want to let the fire brigade put out the fire. As a result, the extend of the fire was greater than it should have been. 34 students lost their lives during the war. 10 lecturers from the school were sent to concentration camps. From 1945, Kongsgård became the school. The main building is from the Middle Ages and includes the bishops chapel and knights hall.
Until the 1960s, this was part of the Kongsgård property. The part closest to the cathedral used to be a cemetery. It’s believed there was a lavish garden and ponds as far back as 1299.
Stavanger was founded as a city in 1125, around the same time the Cathedral was built. The royals in Norway needed to have some control over the pagans in the south. They introduced Christianity with force and built the Cathedral. Yet, it’s a bit of a chicken and egg situation. What came first – the town or the cathedral? I can’t imagine them building a cathedral in the middle of nowhere, but the town likely didn’t exist until the cathedral was built. Anyway.
Subsequently, a fire in 1272 destroyed the cathedral. Above all, it was rebuilt between 1276 and 1303, this time in stone, and it took on the Gothic feel we see today.
The Ruins of St. Mary’s Church
Yes, there’s no church here today. Most importantly, St. Mary’s Church stood here from the 12th century until the 19th century, when it was torn down. The church has a sad and complicated history.
It is uncertain why St. Mary’s Church stood so close to Stavanger Cathedral. One theory is that is a replacement cathedral from the great fire of 1272. Above all, it took a long time to rebuild the cathedral, so it was necessary to have a temporary house of worship. Another theory is that it was a separate independent church. The church may be from the 12th century. Around that time churches called St. Mary’s went up in Nidaros, Bergen, Oslo and Tønsberg.
However, the church fell into disrepair after the Reformation in 1537. It became a hangout for the towns drunkards. In 1565, the town’s bourgeoisie took over the church and converted into a town hall and parliament. The city’s gallows stood outside. A prison was built in the church and developed a bad reputation for great suffering.
Moreover, in 1865, the church became a fire station. Less than 20 years later, the fire brigade and prison moved out. A city engineer proposed that the building is antique and thus should be torn down. The city demolished the church in 1883.
Certainly, this is the name of the square next to the ruins of St. Mary’s Church. This is the site of the old Bishops Estate. It was the residence of the bishops of Stavanger and bordered the old St. Mary’s Church. For instance, the name of our next point of interest, Laugmannsgata, comes from two lawyers who lived in Bispegården. The building was demolished in 1957. The Norges Bank building is where the NOKAS robbery took place.
Certainly this is one of the city’s oldest streets, linking Domkirkeplassen to Arneageren. The name comes from two lawyers who lived at Bispegården in the 18th century.
Arneageren is a public square. It is home to the culture house, which was built in 1987. The culture house has various galleries, cafes, kiosks, a cinema and an art school for kids.
The Film Theatre building is next to the culture house and a little older. Dating back to 1924, the building is neoclassical. It is regarded as one of the most important representatives of this style in Rogaland county. The Film Theatre was rebuilt in connection with the culture house in 1988. The square is well-known in Stavanger. Throughout the week, political and religious organisations distribute brochures. There is regular music from groups and street musicians.
Søregata runs along the border of the old Arnegård farm. While the street itself is old, the exact age is unknown. In the 19th century, this street was known for its eateries and bars. Many workers and sailors lived along this street and there was a liquor distillery at the end. The cafes would display the dish of the day in the window. It’s not like the Asian restaurants (if you’ve been to countries like Japan) that have plastic displays. No, these cafes used real food. By the end of the day, the food had attracted many flies.
Mauritzengården is a house from 1905. It was commissioned by soap factory owner Svan Mauritzen. The building is considered one of the city’s finest Art Nouveau brick buildings. It is built in red brick with a corner tower and a spire.
Kirkegata is the first ever pedestrian street in Norway – announced in 1960. The name means ‘Church Street’, so the street leads to Stavanger Cathedral. If you turn left you’ll be at Stavanger Cathedral in two blocks.
It’s believed that Kirkegata was a street from before the year 1100. It’s had different names throughout history, including Urgata and Holmengata. Urgata refers to a natural clock. One theory is that building materials for Stavanger Cathedral were stored here, and that a wrecked stone was tipped down and turned into a clock. Holmen refers to the flat edge near the water – today it’s the name fo the northern part of Stavanger inner city. After the fire of 1860, the street got the name Kirkegata.
This is an old street that linked the two main streets Østervåg with Kirkegata. It previously had the name “The Street to Østervåg”, indicating its purpose. Today’s name refers to a stone vessel used to moor boats. A wharf called “Laksebrygga” (Salmon Wharf) used to be here. Until the 1850s, fishermen docked here. The 1860 fire destroyed both sides of the street, so everything was rebuilt after that.
Sølvberggata is from around the 17th century. The name comes from a large rock that used to stand where Arneageren is today; it was blasted away just after World War II. Sølvberg means ‘Silver mountain’ and refers to a large rock that used to stand where Arneageren is today.
We’ve made it to Østervåg! This is the city’s main street. The name roughly means ‘East Bay’ and refers to the stretch of sea nearby. Østervåg was the natural harbour for scheduled shipping traffic and the fishing fleet. The bay area used to have shipyards.
Østervåg is one of the most important streets from the Middle Ages. The property Arnegård was here, and Østevåg ran through it. The street linked the bishop’s pier (Bispebrygga) to the Stavanger Cathedral. Østervåg is first mentioned in 1297 in relation to this pier. It’s believed that this was the medieval town centre.
The area we are on is very narrow, but it gradually becomes wider. This marks where the 1860 fire spread. The narrower part of the street was untouched, whereas the wider part of the street had burned down and was regulated and levelled after the fire. The fire started at the corner of Østervåg and Breigata.
Geoparken (built 2008) is a playground built with items used in the oil industry. The layout is designed to replicate the formation of the Troll Field in the North Sea.
Norwegian Oil Museum
The Norwegian Oil Museum is an excellent place to learn about the Norwegian oil industry. The museum covers the entirety of Norway’s oil journey. It stars from early exploration to discovery, foreign help and current environmental concerns. The museum has a lot of information boards, photographs, footage, and objects used to help develop the oil platforms.
The Colour Street
Welcome to Norway’s most colourful street!
The concept of having a colourful street starts in 2005. Hairdresser Tom Kjørsvik wanted to create a vibrant atmosphere to draw more visitors to the area. Scottish artist Craig Flannagan designed the colours to have a Miami Vice theme. It’s not only the colours that make the street work. The houses have deliberate colour combinations. Each house as a series of colours for its facade, doors and window frames. Each colour scheme harmonises the house.
Valberget Viewpoint is the site of the city’s old fortress. The date of the fortress is unknown. The land was likely given to Stavanger during the Nordic Seven Years’ War in 1567. The city likely needed defence for the sea after the Swedes were trying to take Bergen from the sea in 1564.
Above all, fires have destroyed the fortress many times. There’s not much of the original fortress remaining. Its current appearance is from the 19th century. They had 12 12-pound cannons circling the tower. In 1840, they discarded the cannons when four men went on trial for refusing to shoot with them. They were acquired because the cannons were proven to be life threatening. Today the cannons are decorations on the viewpoint.
The tower is not original – it was built in 1850 and is a lookout tower.
Skagen is a street that runs parallel along the bay, Vågen, linking Torget to Holmen. It is one of the city’s liveliest streets with many shops and nightclubs. But it is also home to some of Stavanger’s oldest buildings.
That is to say, the name Skagen is common all throughout Scandinavia and refers to a headland. It’s believed the street was here in the Middle Ages and is largely unchanged from the 13th century. Archaeological finds show that there were buildings here in the Middle Ages.
We are in the upper part of Skagen, making our way down to the lower and older part.
The Clarion Hotel is where a cannery used to be. The cannery ran for three generations before being demolished in 1964 and replaced with the hotel. For example, Chr. Bjelland & Co, is one of Stavanger’s most famous canneries (see the history section).
Certainly, as we walk along Skagen, you’ll notice many references to shipbuilding, merchants, and steamships (dampskip). It indicates what exactly this street was used for.
Most importantly, Skagen 18 is one of the city’s oldest and most famous buildings. It is from after the 1684 fire, though a building stood here before then. The oldest known inhabitants are Sidsel Olsdatter Cruys and Albert Albertsen Libert. They aren’t famous Norwegians; just residents who have been remembered in history thanks to their house being the longest lasting. They lived here between 1687 and 1700. Moreover, inside the building are rosemaling decorations from before 1710. Merchant and shipowner Ole Smith Plow is the next owner; establishing his business in 1768. In 1787, the building got its Rococo facade.
Today it is a bakery.
Rogaland was built by the local shipyard in 1929. She sailed in the Coastal Express Service between Oslo and Stavanger during the day. At night, she did the Night Service between Stavanger and Bergen.
In Bergen in April 1944, during the occupation, there was a large explosion on the harbour. That explosion killed one crew member of the Rogaland, injured five and seriously damaged the ship. The ship sank to the bottom of the bay. Declared a write-off, compensation went to the owner and the Stavangerske Company bought the wreckage. It was sealed in a shipyard in Bergen and then towed to a shipyard in Stavanger for repairs. Repairs finished in 1947. The ship resumed regular service at a limited passenger capacity.
After sending service in 1965, a group of enthusiasts purchased the ship in the 1980s. After lots of restoration, it is operational and can carry up to 100 passengers. The ship features in the 2016 film Dunkirk as a painted white hospital ship. The ship may or may not be in the harbour. If you walk onto the other side of the bay, you’ll see an information board for the ship.
We’ve made it back to Torget and are now at the end of our walk.
Most importantly, I hope you enjoyed this Stavanger self-guided walking tour.
Loved this walk?
This Stavanger self-guided walking tour is available as a PDF download.
- Not a Wiki article: This walking tour is actually written by me in the style of how I’d present it to a group. It’s not copied/pasted with info from Wikipedia. It doesn’t have a bunch of dates you’ll forget and names you won’t remember. It’s full of interesting stories and covers only the places you’ll care about.
- Straight to the point: No fluff, just the good stuff.
- Simply crafted: The PDF is as minimal as possible, meaning you won’t destroy your printer when you print it. Also, it’s easy to follow when you are out on the road doing the walk!
- Suggestions: I’ve included many points of interest and suggestions for longer walks, so you can take detours in a style that suits you!
- Know Before You Go: This unique section of the PDF gives you an overview of all the facts, history and figures about Stavanger. This is so you aren’t reading a wall of text when you are on the walk – you can read it all before you leave!
What you get
This Stavanger self-guided walking tour comes with:
- 1x PDF file with the walking guide and a custom-made map (total pages: 32)
- 23+ points of interest for your own exploration
- UNLIMITED updates. Every time I update the map (e.g. new opening hours, ticket prices), you’ll be notified and will receive a new download for free (just opt-in at checkout)
- A self-guided walking tour that sounds like you have a guide right next to you!
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