Cruise to the town that the Norwegians themselves consider to be the most beautiful in Norway.
A combination of fjords, mountains and a town center built in so-called art nouveau-style are some of the factors that resulted in Ålesund pinching first place in a survey by the Norwegian daily newspaper Dagbladet. Larger cities like Bergen (second place) and Trondheim (fourth place) – perhaps more famous for their beauty – were not considered to be as scenic as Ålesund when the Norwegians themselves cast their votes.
With some 43,000 inhabitants, Ålesund lacks the pulse that larger cities often have. But then city pulse might not be the prime reason to put Ålesund on the list of destinations to visit. Few destinations can be better suited to offer its visitors a varied experience, though. Ålesund boasts fine restaurants, good museums and an architecturally interesting city center. And, as is often the case in Norway, a stunning landscape.
Ålesund stands to testify that a disaster can eventually lead to something good. In the great fire of 1904, 850 of the town’s houses burned to the ground. Some 10,000 people were left homeless as only 230 houses remained after the fire. Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany was one of those who were quick to send help: He used to go to Ålesund on vacation. By 1907, large parts of the city center had been restored.
Houses built in the art nouveau style – popular at the time – replaced many of the wooden buildings that burned down in the fire. Ålesund is now one of few art nouveau style cities in the world, with a myriad of turrets, spires and medieval ornaments.
The strong art nouveau influences are one of the explanations to Ålesund’s character: Some 400 buildings built in this style remain to this day. The town even has a museum that puts focus on art nouveau (see below under Museums).
Ålesund is also an important fishing harbor. A major export product is dried, salted cod – so-called Klippfisk (literally translated as Rock Fish). As well as being consumed locally, this fish also finds its way to kitchens in countries such as Italy, Portugal and Spain. For a taste of Klippfisk when in Ålesund, try XL Diner.
Cruise passengers disembark a stone’s throw from the city center, at the modern cruise terminal. With 70-80 ship calls per year, Ålesund features five cruise quays.
Ålesund visitors who don’t arrive by cruise ship will most probably have a visit to the Geirangerfjord on their list of things to do in the region. If you disembark from a cruise ship in Ålesund, however, it is likely that you can focus on the town during your visit and forget about the world-renowned fjord (which is included on UNESCO’s World Heritage List). Either you will already have seen it, or your ship will soon take you there. What else to see? Here are a couple of suggestions:
- Atlanterhavsparken is one of the largest salt-water aquariums in Scandinavia. The location, only a couple of minutes by car from central Ålesund, is beautiful, and the aquarium itself is highly commendable.
- The Hjørungavåg National Monument pays tribute to a battle of some importance to the nation of Norway: The fight against invading Danish Vikings in the year 986 played a role in gathering all of Norway into one kingdom. Distance from Ålesund: 23 miles/37 kilometers
- Situated at the westernmost point of mount Aksla, the Fjellstua offers a stunning view of Ålesund from 426 feet/130 meters above sea level. If you decide to use the pathway to get up here, you might be thankful to find a café once your walk is finished.
- Ålesund being a major fishing harbor, why not sample some of the local produce? Two of the best seafood restaurants are the Sjøbua and Maki – both situated in central Ålesund.
- A view of the Geiranger area, including Ålesund. It’s better to be there in person, no doubt, but these online panoramic views are worth having a look at from home.
- The Art Nouveau Centre is a time machine worth traveling on if you’re interested in architecture. This national center for art nouveau style was opened in 2003. It is situated in an old pharmacy building in downtown Ålesund. Street address: Apotekergata 16
- Not far from the Art Nouveau Centre you will find the Art Museum KUBE. The museum has a penchant for local art, but also has national and international art on display. Temporary exhibitions are shown throughout the year. Street address: Apotekergata 16
- Sunnmøre Museum & Borgundkaupangen is an open-air museum consisting of 55 old houses. The museum shows how people used to live in Norway in earlier times. The museum also features a collection of boats – including replicas of Viking ships. Street address: Borgundgavlen (2.5 miles/4 kilometers from central Ålesund)
- The Fisheries Museum puts focus on fishing, a trade that remains very important to Ålesund to this day. If you ever wondered how cod liver oil is produced, this is where you should head. The processes of drying cod and making barrels are also explained. Street address: Molovegen 10
- Aalesunds Museum is the town museum. Through pictures and exhibitions, visitors are given an insight into the history of this Norwegian town. Street address: Rasmus Rønnebergsgt. 16
- The Ivar Aasen Center, a cultural center and museum focusing on Ivar Aasen. Aasen was the mastermind behind Nynorsk – a variation of the Norwegian language that was developed as from the middle of the 19th century. Used by some 10 percent to 15 percent of the population, Nynorsk is significantly smaller than the other variant: Bokmål. Situated between the towns of Ørsta and Volda, the distance to the Ivar Aasen Centre from Ålesund is: 20.5 miles/33 kilometers
A variety of shore excursions in and around Ålesund are available. Examples include:
- Coach tours of the town and the surrounding area. These tours will often take in the Art Nouveau houses in the town itself, and a visit to Mount Aksla (where the Fjellstua is situated: see above under Do Not Miss). Coach tours can also include visits to museums such as the Sunnmøre open-air museum (see above under Museums), or the Atlanterhavsparken aquarium (see above under Do Not Miss).
- A visit to the Hjørundfjord – considered one of Norway’s finest sounds. A tour to this fjord, situated some 22.4 miles (36 kilometers) southeast of Ålesund, can also include a cruise by local boat.
- The Trollveggen, or Troll Wall, is a well-known destination for mountaineers from all over the world. The mountain side has the highest overhang of any cliff in Europe. In order to get here from Ålesund, your coach will drive on the famous Trollstigen (the Troll Path). The road is known for the beautiful scenery – and for the many hairpin bends.
- The Viking chieftain Gange Rolf was born on the island of Giske, situated close to Ålesund. Also known as Rollo (a short form of his name), Gange Rolf conquered Normandy in 911 and was the ancestor of William the Conqueror. Although Giske is an island, you will be able to go by coach all the way – thanks to the underwater tunnels. On the island, visit the marble church dating from 1135. The picturesque fishing village of Alnes (on the neighboring island of Godøy) is also a popular attraction.
Trondheim, Norway’s fourth largest city, is 187 miles (301 kilometers away). Go southwest instead of northeast, and you could end up in Bergen after traveling 269 miles (433 kilometers). The distance to Oslo, Norway’s capital, is 350 miles (563 kilometers).
Contributed by Andreas Lundgren
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