I have a serious crush on Norway. It’s real. I love the people, the landscapes, the food, and the towns. Give me a chance, and I'll go anywhere within its picturesque boundaries. It’s difficult to pick a favorite region, but the Ålesund and Sunnmøre region is definitely a contender. As the gateway to the world-famous Norwegian fjords, Norway’s Ålesund and Sunnmøre region is overflowing with an abundance of natural treasures. But nature is only part of the story. The town of Ålesund is a cultural treasure as well with a tragic yet beautiful history. Here are some of my favorite experiences in this magical part of the planet.
Strolling the streets of Ålesund
On a winter’s night in 1904, Ålesund was devastated by fire leaving 10,000 people homeless and 850 homes in ashes. In a span of three years, the entire town rose from the ashes. Rebuilt in the Art Nouveau style that was prevalent throughout Europe at the time, the charming yellow, salmon, blue and rose buildings are ornamented with a myriad of turrets, spires, medieval ornaments and dragons earning Ålesund UNESCO World Heritage status. Recently voted the most beautiful town in Norway, Ålesund is a veritable architectural art gallery.
Time travel at the Art Nouveau Center
Located in the former Swan Pharmacy—one of Ålesund’s most characteristic Art Nouveau buildings—the Art Nouveau Centre (Jugendstilsenteret) is a trip back in time. Seriously, I stepped into the center’s time machine that shook and rumbled as it transported me back to 1904 for an up-close look at the great fire of 1904.
The view from above
The rugged coastline, deep fjords and high mountains in the Sunnmøre Alps are a hiker's paradise. The terrain offers leisurely walks, challenging climbs and everything in between. There are even glacier hikes available year-round.
If you’re a hiker, you’ll want to explore some of the trails, but Ålesund is one of only a few places in the world where you can begin your hiking experiences in the center of town. There are 418 steps leading up to Fjellstua at the top of Mount Aksla. Run them, walk them, or crawl up them because you’ll be richly rewarded for your efforts with an unforgettable panoramic view of Ålesund, the coast, and the surrounding mountain and fjord landscape. If hiking up 418 steps isn’t appealing, hitch a ride on the Town Train in the city center and ride up. Get up there whatever way you choose, but don’t miss this view.
Exploring history at the Sunnmøre Museum
Wander through the open-air Sunnmøre Museum to learn more about the cultural history of Norway. Historic wooden buildings with rooftops sprouting grass have been restored to show life as it was in years gone by. There’s even a collection of historic Viking boats just begging for a sail. Every Wednesday during the summer, the museum hosts activity day for young and old alike. Activities include potato cake grilling, boat building, learning to tie knots and more.
Hanging out with birds on a wildlife sea safari
As pretty as the town is, venturing out is a must and one option is a wildlife sea safari. Boarding a high- speed RIB boat for a thrilling albeit bumpy ride into the ocean, we set out for Runde Island, population 150 humans and over 500,000 birds. The bird cliffs of Runde are the southernmost in Norway and have the most extensive variety of seabird species in all of Scandinavia. Every nook of the craggy cliffs is teeming with life as colonies of great skuas, gannets and shags scramble for their nesting zones. About 100,000 pairs of puffins nest on Runde from February to August. Puffins are better swimmers than flyers, and we found a flock of them splashing about in the waters as we drifted past. Runde Island isn’t only known for its massive bird population. In 1725 the Dutch ship “Akerendam” shipwrecked on the island spilling gold coins creating a “Treasure Island.” But honestly, every inch of the Ålesund and Sunnmøre region is a treasure.
Have you explored this region of Norway?
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