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Since the days of the Vikings, Stavanger's fate has been tied to the sea. The region in southeastern Norway was first settled 10,000 years ago, and Vikings set forth on their seafaring expeditions from these shores. In more modern times, fishing was the city's moneymaker, and sardine canning was big business. Today, the North Sea oil industry rules Stavanger, which is often referred to as the Oil Capital of Norway.
Stavanger is Norway's fourth most populous city, but it won't seem like a bustling metropolis when you set foot off your ship. The harbor area where ships dock is easily walkable, with the small white cottages of Old Stavanger immediately to the west, a tangle of pedestrian shopping streets to the east and restaurants housed in old warehouses lining the harbor itself. Most major attractions, such as the Canning and Petroleum museums, are a quick stroll away.
If you came to Norway to immerse yourself in fjords, Stavanger is the jumping off point for boat trips into the Lysefjord, with its dramatic cliffs (including the towering Pulpit Rock) and gushing waterfalls. However, if you want to learn a bit about what makes Norway tick, Stavanger can offer unique museums not typically found in other destinations. Sardines and petroleum might not be your first loves, but Stavanger's museums find ways to make the seemingly mundane fascinating.
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Other Baltic & Northern Europe Cruise Ports:
Aarhus • Akureyri • Alesund • Amsterdam • Bergen • Berlin • Bremerhaven • Copenhagen • Flam • Gdansk • Geiranger • Hamburg • Helsinki • Ilulissat • Invergordon • Kristiansand • Moscow • Oslo • Reykjavik • Riga • Rostock (Warnemunde) • Spitsbergen (Svalbard) • St. Petersburg • Stavanger • Stockholm • Tallinn • Travemunde (Lubeck) • Tromso • Trondheim • Visby
Sweaters and knitwear with Norwegian designs make beautiful souvenirs but can be quite expensive. For true quality, try Dale of Norway (one of the largest producers of traditional Norwegian sweaters; Skagen 4) or Oleana (women's fashions in a variety of local wools; Kirkegate 31). Both have shops in the warren of shopping streets between the tourist office and Petroleum Museum, and sweaters will run you hundreds of dollars.
For more affordable souvenirs, look for troll figurines and cheese slicers (apparently invented in Norway), often with a moose or other decoration on the handle. A large souvenir shop is located in the Stavanger Port Authority building along the harborfront.
Norwegian is a varied language, with two written forms -- Nynorsk and Bokmal. When speaking, Norwegians use their own regional dialects but generally can understand each other. Most people speak excellent English, as kids learn it in school from an early age.
A few key phrases to know include: hallo (hello); tak (thank you); ja (yes); and nei (no).
Currency & Best Way to Get Money
Currency is the Norwegian krone (NOK). For updated currency-conversion figures, visit www.oanda.com or www.xe.com. Most shops and restaurants will accept credit cards, but there are ATM's (called minibanks) throughout the harbor area if you need to withdraw cash. There are two by the tourist office, on either side of the Spare Bank building. You can also change bills only at the tourist office.
Where You're Docked
Ships dock right in town, at the Port of Stavanger. There are four berths, two in the inner harbor and two in the outer harbor. No matter your location, you'll be a five- to 10-minute walk from most downtown attractions.
There are no port buildings with facilities, but the tourist office drops off a box of maps, set on a table as you walk out of the secure area into town. Shops, museums, restaurants and other attractions are all within walking distance.
On Foot: If you're sightseeing within town, you can walk to all attractions. Parts of Old Stavanger and the harbor area are pedestrian-only zones.
By Bus: A hop on, hop off bus is available if you want to visit multiple museums, including the few not immediately in the harbor area (although it's not the typical red City Sightseeing bus company you'll find in other ports). The buses park right by the premier cruise ship berth by Old Stavanger and go to the tourist information office/Stavanger cathedral, the Petroleum Museum, Stavanger Museum, Museum of Archaeology, Stavanger Art Museum and the royal home Ledaal. Buses depart every half hour, and the circuit takes 45 minutes. Tickets may be purchased at the tourist office or onboard the bus.
Local buses will take you to the Iron Age Farm (about a 10-minute ride) or to the beaches at Sola and Valard. Inquire at the tourist office for more information.
By Bike: You can rent bikes at the tourist office. One scenic cycle route takes you from Stavanger to the beach at Sola.
Watch Out For
Norway is very expensive; crewmembers report buying a Big Mac, fries and a milkshake for $40! Be prepared for sticker shock if you're planning on dining in town or doing any shopping.
Also, the weather in Norway can be changeable. On a July day in Stavanger, bright sun and downpours switched off throughout our visit. Wear layers and bring rain gear -- even if it seems nice when you're preparing to disembark.
Old Stavanger: For a lovely walk and photo opportunity, head to Old Stavanger, a neighborhood of wooden houses dating from the turn of the 18th century. All the cottages are painted white and often decorated with colorful flowers. As nearly all are residences, you cannot tour inside the buildings.
Norwegian Canning Museum (Norsk Hermetikkmuseum): Did you know the sardine can key was invented in Stavanger? Learn how sardines were caught, smoked and packed in 19th and 20th century Stavanger in this museum, housed in an old canning factory. Twice a week, they smoke fish the old way and let visitors taste the results. Free tours (with admission) are conducted in English on the hour and are well worth it for making sense of all the contraptions jumbled together in the main downstairs area. Your ticket also gets you entry to the Stavanger Maritime Museum and The Norwegian Printing Museum. (Ovre Strandgate 88 in Old Stavanger; open daily 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.)
Norwegian Petroleum Museum: Interactive exhibits, 3D movies and models of oil rigs make learning about the formation and extraction of Norwegian oil interesting and fun. The museum is surprisingly kid friendly, while looking seriously at the repercussions of oil and gas use worldwide today. (Kjeringholmen; open daily 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.)
Lysefjord and Pulpit Rock: The 42-kilometer Lysefjord is known for its vertical rock walls and Pulpit Rock, a natural rock formation rising more than 600 meters above the water. Sightseeing cruises depart from the main inner harbor in Stavanger and sail down the Lysefjord. Take a ship's excursion, or book independently. Last-minute tickets can be purchased at the tourist office, but you're safer making arrangements in advance. (Note: Hiking enthusiasts might wish to hike to the top of Pulpit Rock, but the all-day outing takes longer than most ships are in port.)
Been There, Done That
Utstein Monastery: This preserved medieval monastery is the only one of its kind in Norway. The main buildings were constructed around 1260, but some parts might date to the 9th century. Take a guided tour of the monastery, now a museum, or set off on a short walk to visit the nearby lighthouse and fort. It's about a half-hour drive from Stavanger. (Mosteroy in Rennesoy; open mid-June to mid-August Monday to Saturday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Sunday noon to 5 p.m.; mid-May to mid-June and mid-August to mid-September closed Mondays)
Valberg Tower: It may only be 48 steps to the top of Valberg Tower, but to reach the base you need to climb up steep streets or outdoor stairs to this old town high point. The first landing features a small museum about the watchmen who originally used the tower to spot fires in the 19th and 20th centuries, and the second offers 360 degrees of windows with views over the city and harbor.
Iron Age Farm: See what farming life was like circa 350 to 550 A.D. at the Iron Age Farm. It's built on an archaeological site, and the farm buildings -- including longhouses, wells and burial mounds -- were rebuilt where they originally stood. Farm workers, dressed in period garb, reenact daily life, with opportunities for visitors to get some hands-on learning. It's accessible by public bus or ship's tour. If you purchase a ticket to the Museum of Archaeology, it is also valid for the Iron Age Farm. (Ullandhaugveien 165; open mid-June to mid-August daily 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., and late May to mid-June and mid-August to late September on Sunday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.)
Stavanger Cathedral St. Svithun's Cathedral, the best-preserved medieval cathedral in the country, was founded in 1125. It's a mix of Anglo-Norman and Gothic architectural styles. Don't miss the pulpit and epitaphs created by a Scottish carver; designs on the pulpit tell the story of the Bible from Adam and Eve to Christ in heaven. (Open June to August daily 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., September to May on Monday to Saturday 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.)
More Museums: If you're looking for more local history and culture, Stavanger features plenty of museums, many within walking distance of the port. Try the Stavanger Museum of Natural and Cultural History, Maritime Museum, Stavanger Art Museum and Museum of Archaeology..
Many of the museums have ticketing agreements; a ticket to the Petroleum Museum gets you a 50 percent discount at the Museum of Archaeology and Stavanger Museum, while your Canning Museum ticket gains you free entry to the Stavanger Maritime Museum and The Norwegian Printing Museum.
Norwegian fare centers on fish and local meat, as well as berries from the area such as cloudberries, strawberries, raspberries and lingonberries. Fish is often served cold -- think gravlax (salt-cured salmon) or lutefisk (fish steeped in lye) -- or as fish soup; meats might be reindeer, elk or even whale. A yummy, and affordable, treat is a Norwegian waffle served with jam and sour cream, or even the caramel-flavored brown goat's cheese.
In Stavanger, restaurants line the harbor; many are housed in old warehouses and are an easy walk from the cruise ship. You will also find a few scattered among the shops of the pedestrian area between the Petroleum Museum and the tourist office. Prices will be higher than you're used to at home.
Restaurant Renaa: One of Norway's top chefs, Christopher Davidsen, operates three restaurants in one Stavanger location -- and two are open for lunch. For affordable (by Norwegian standards) sandwiches in a cute cafe setting or to go, head to Renaa Express. Or for a sit-down bistro experience, dine at Matbaren. (Breitorget 6, but enter from Bakkegata; open Monday to Saturday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., Sunday 1 p.m. to 10 p.m.)
Fisketorget (Fish Market): For seafood and nothing else, Fisketorget is located at the top of the harbor, next to the actual fish market. The family-operated restaurant and shop offers a selection of fish and shellfish. (Strandkaien 31; open Monday to Wednesday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., Thursday to Saturday 11 a.m. to midnight)
NB Sorensens Dampskibsexpedition: A harborfront location with a mouthful of a name, this purveyor of traditional food offers two dining experiences. Choose the ground floor for a pub atmosphere and outdoor seating and the upper level for a nice, sit-down meal featuring local ingredients. (Skagen 26; +47 51 84 38 20; email@example.com; open Monday to Wednesday 11 a.m. to midnight, Thursday to Saturday 11 a.m. to 2 a.m., Sunday 1 p.m. to 11 p.m.)
Sjohuset Skagen: Try whale or reindeer for lunch with a view of the harbor at Sjohuset Skagen, located in an old warehouse building right on the waterfront. (Skagenkaien 13; open Monday to Saturday 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m., Sunday 1 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.)
Staying in Touch
The tourist office offers free Wi-Fi if you have your own device. The Stavanger Public Library offers use of its computers and Wi-Fi; just register with the librarian. The library is located in the Stavanger Culture House on Solvberggata, in the pedestrian shopping area. It is closed Sundays. (It has free toilets as well.)
Best for First-Timers: The three-hour Lysefjord and Pulpit Rock Cruise takes you into a scenic fjord too small for your cruise ship to navigate. View countryside, high cliffs and gorgeous waterfalls as you head to the towering Pulpit Rock. On the way back, you'll stop for coffee, tea and waffles at the Lysefjord Center.
Best for History Buffs: Learn about Stavanger's past and present with a 3.5-hour Iron Age Farm and Petroleum Museum tour. Each cruise line does it a bit differently, but most include a visit to the Sword in the Rock Monument, which marks the location of Viking King Harald's 9th-century victory, which united many small kingdoms into the one Kingdom of Norway. Then, it's off to the farm to observe how agricultural communities lived and worked in the 4th and 5th centuries. Finally, you'll visit the Petroleum Museum, which details Norway's oil industry.
Best for Repeat Visitors: For something a bit different, choose the three-hour Utstein Monastery and Music Recital tour. Travel by coach through an underwater tunnel to the 13th-century Utstein Monastery, located on an island. After a tour of this well-preserved medieval monastery and its cloisters, you can enjoy a music recital and refreshments before heading back to Stavanger.
For More Information
On the Web: Norwegian National Tourist Board and Stavanger Region Official Tourist Web Site
Cruise Critic Message Boards: Northern Europe and Baltics
IndependentTraveler.com: Europe Travel Guide
--by Erica Silverstein, Features Editor