This destination trip report will cover all the sights and sounds and a couple of restaurants and cafes in the city of Stavanger in Norway.
Starting my city tour
Due to my early morning train arrival in Stavanger I took it easy for the first hours of the day, spending a bit of time in the hotel sauna and swimming pool. When I felt rested enough in the late morning, it was time to finally set off to explore Stavanger.
The prime reason for heading to Stavanger in the first place, which you might recall from the introduction of this trip report, was to take the first of many business class flights on my amazing Air France ticket deal which would bring me all the way to places such as Siberia and Azerbaijan.
Even though this was the initial reason for coming all the way up to Norway in the first place, it seemed like Stavanger did look like quite a nice place to explore for a day so I happily arranged a longer stay in the city to give me enough time to explore around.
The city centre of Stavanger is basically centred around a U-shaped harbour. One side features Stavanger’s old town centre known for its trademark wooden houses, while at the other side you will find the commercial centre of the city with most of the restaurants, shops and pubs.
At the base of the U-shaped port you can find some modern office buildings, a huge park and most of the city’s hotels. Standing at the base of the harbour, I decided to first explore the old town.
Even though the weather was a bit gloomy when I left the Radisson hotel, with dark clouds in the sky and a cold wind from the sea blowing into my face, it did not take long before the sun started to come out.
Norway can really be unpredictable when it comes to the weather and you can literally encounter all four seasons in a single day – no matter the time of the year you are visiting.
The old town of Stavanger (Gamle Stavanger) features 173 wooden buildings from the turn of the 18th century. The great majority of these houses are cute, whitewashed little cottages in cobblestone streets where time seems to have stood still. Besides a few boutique shops, cafes and small museums there aren’t any stellar sights as such, as it is rather the area as a whole which is the big attraction.
Gamle Stavanger is just an excellent area to stroll around, especially when you wander a bit away from the main pedestrian street on top of the hill and venture into the side streets. Some of these streets have some stunning views down towards the harbour and sea.
You can easily spend an hour or two exploring every nook and cranny of the old town. Especially on a sunny day like this, it is the perfect area to wander around aimlessly.
Coffee and cake
Even though the sun was slowly starting to shine with increased force on this chilly February morning, I was getting cold from all the walking as temperatures were hovering around 0 degrees Celsius, with a freezing cold wind coming from the sea. Luckily, I just happened to walk by a cozy little cafe (Brostein Kafe) which was just about to open for the day and looked like the perfect spot for a hot drink.
At around 12 EUR for a coffee and a piece of cake, it was not exactly cheap. But then again, nothing in Norway is cheap unless you go to a 7-eleven style take-away shop for a bite and drink. It is just a bitter pill you have to swallow if you like your coffee and social life in cafes, pubs and restaurants.
Luckily, Brostein Kafe did deliver on that, as I absolutely loved the cute little cafe. The chocolate cake tasted great too!
Stavanger city park
After finishing my elevenses, I headed back down the main pedestrian street of the old town towards the base of the harbour. When standing at the waterfront square, you cannot miss the medieval Stavanger cathedral (Stavanger domkirke) when looking back away from the sea.
It is built in a Gothic-Romanesque style and said to be Norway’s oldest cathedral.
The cathedral is located at the entrance of a large park which separates the commercial city centre with all the shops and restaurants from a small central business district with some high-rise office blocks and the city’s main chain hotels. The park next to cathedral, which is called Byparken – Norwegian for ‘city park’, is a pleasant spot for a walk.
There are some fine views across a large pond in the park towards both the CBD and the commercial city centre. The park also features some quirky statues of ducks and crocodiles, so do look out for all those artworks when walking around!
Stavanger’s commercial centre
Next it was time to head into the commercial centre, which on this weekend day was alive with hundreds of people who were out window shopping or heading to one of the many bars or restaurants. At around 130,000 inhabitants Stavanger is by no means a big city in international proportions.
However, thanks to its thriving offshore oil industry and regional hub function, the city centre does definitely feel very much alive and happening for a city this size. There are plenty of shopping opportunities and places to stop for a drink or a meal.
Books and booze
One city centre street in particular looked very inviting as it had some colourful buildings and was full of cosy pubs. I stopped at a drinking den called ‘Bøker og Børst‘ (which means “Books and Booze” in Norwegian) as it somehow exactly sounded like it would be a great place for me.
Like many other pubs in Norway, it had a great selection of craft beers – both Norwegian and great international ones. At 15 EUR for a beer, is just a shame it would cost me yet another kidney or an evening of washing the dishes to pay the bill if you decide to sample more than two or three pints. Norway is really not a friendly country for those who like a tipple in the pub.
Back to the hotel
After a beer or two, I took another walk along the restaurant-lined harbour waterfront back to the Radisson Blu Royal hotel for another swimming-and-sauna session.
Finding a place for dinner
When afterwards I asked some Norwegian friends on the internet for restaurant recommendations, they all gave me the advice to forget about modern continental cuisine and anything Norwegian, as such restaurants often tend to be the more pricey options in their country.
They said that ethnic restaurants are much cheaper – and this is where apparently many young Norwegians often go for a meal out. I found some Thai and Indian options after a quick online search, but suddenly I realised that I might be able to find something even more exotic.
As an airline geek, I know for a fact that Ethiopian Airlines actually flies from Oslo to Addis Ababa and that there are quite some Ethiopian and Eritrean migrants in Norway. I do like Ethiopian cuisine a lot and as the last time I ate it has been years ago, I checked if there might be an Ethiopian eatery in the area.
A quick Google search did indeed came up with an Ethiopian restaurant in the centre of Stavanger with good ratings called Gadja Etiopisk Restaurant. The place turned out to be quite small and only had a few tables, but lucky enough I managed to grab the last unreserved table when I arrived.
For those who never had Ethiopian food before: it is served on a sort of pancake-like flatbread (injera) that has an unique spongy texture. You don’t use utensils as you use the injera to pick up the toppings and bring it to your mouth.
The dish I ordered had a mixture of different meat and vegetable stews on top, which were all nice and spicy. It certainly was a good meal and also the overall service in the restaurant was friendly and fast. The meal plus the pint of beer set me back around 35 EUR.
After the enjoyable meal, I had a small walk back through the centre to help digestion and to make some pictures of Stavanger at night, only to quickly settle into my comfortable bed for an early night in.
Stavanger turned out to be a very pleasant surprise. The entire city just had a nice vibe to it. The fresh sea air, the beautiful wooden buildings, the vistas, lots of nice cafes and pubs to stop for a drink – it certainly did not disappoint.
I initially only chose to go to Stavanger because the airport was the best starting point for my amazing flight ticket deal to Siberia and beyond. I did not think the city would be the most interesting destination I would see during this entire trip.
Yet it turned out that I was absolutely wrong on this as I really had a great day in Stavanger. The city of Stavanger is also the perfect jump-off point for a visit to the famous Preikestolen rock overlooking one of the most beautiful fjords in the country – so it can make the perfect weekend break away for those looking for a nice city break destination to go to on a weekend trip. I for sure would certainly not mind coming back one day!
Koen works as a freelance journalist covering south-eastern Europe and is the founding father and editor-in-chief of Paliparan. As a contributor to some major Fleet Street newspapers and some lesser known publications in the Balkans, he travels thousands of miles each year for work as well as on his personal holidays. Whether it is horse riding in Kyrgyzstan’s Tian Shan mountains, exploring the backstreets of Bogotá, or sipping a glass of moschofilero in a Greek beachside taverna, Koen loves to immerse himself into the local culture, explore new places and eat and drink himself around the world.
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