Stavanger has always prospered from the riches of the sea. During the 19th century, huge harvests of brisling (also called sprat) and herring helped put it on the map as the sardine capital of the world. Some people claim the locals are called Siddis, from S(tavanger) plus iddis, which means "sardine label," although some linguists argue it's actually a mispronunciation of the English word "citizen." During the past three decades a different product from the sea has been Stavanger's lifeblood—oil. Since its discovery in the late 1960s, North Sea oil hasn't just transformed the economy; Stavanger has emerged as cosmopolitan and vibrant, more bustling than other cities with a population of only 110,000. Norway's most international city, it has attracted residents from more than 90 nations. Roam its cobblestone streets or wander the harbor front and you're likely to see many cafés, fine restaurants, and lively pubs, as well as many museums, galleries, and other venues that are part of its rich, dynamic art scene.
Stavanger has established a reputation for great food—and the city has the most bars and restaurants per capita in Norway. Many restaurant menus burst with impressive and elaborate international dishes. The city is home to the Culinary Institute of Norway and hosts many food and wine festivals every year, including the Gladmat Festival, Garlic Week, Stavanger Wine Festival, and Potato Festival.
N. B. Sørensens Dampskibsexpedition
Norwegian emigrants waited here before boarding steamships crossing the Atlantic to North America 150 years ago. The historic wharf house is now a popular waterfront restaurant and bar. Emigrants' tickets, weathered wood, nautical ropes, old maps, photographs, and gaslights set the scene. At street level is an informal brasserie where you can get barbecued spareribs. Upstairs is an elegant and more expensive dining room with prix-fixe menus that change weekly, and may include such entrées as grilled steak with garlic, or bouillabaisse with crayfish, halibut, and mussels.
One of Norway's only Tex-Mex restaurants, Harry Pepper combines this cuisine (uncommon in Europe) with Norwegian tastes. Earth tones, cacti, and tacky souvenirs make for a lighthearted and fun interior. Try the Harry Pepper menu with tequila pairing recommendations. Or have a shot or two at the lively bar.
This esteemed quayside fish restaurant doesn't mince words: it calls itself "world famous throughout Norway." The nostalgic interior filled with memorabilia and the white-clothed tables make the restaurant comforting and homey. If you're traveling with a group, reserve the bookshelf-lined library dining room. The daily five-course menu, which includes a cheese course, is a good value and might include such delectables as smoked scallops with a roe emulsion, or baked salmon with apple and hollandaise.
Timbuktu Bar & Restaurant
This is one of Stavanger's trendiest restaurants. Within its airy interior of blond wood and yellow and black accessories, enthusiastic chefs serve Asian-inspired cuisine with African ingredients, such as tuna fish from Madagascar. Many of its multicourse menus have dishes meant to be shared, so that you can taste a greater variety of dishes and ingredients than you would otherwise. Also known for its sushi and tapas-style dishes, the restaurant often has visiting celebrity chefs and hosts special events such as salsa parties.
A sort of museum, this former boathouse from 1770 is filled with wooden beams, ship models, lobster traps, and other sea relics. The Norwegian and international menu may offer such fare as baked lime- and chili–marinated halibut, salt cod, and veal and baked fennel, or, in fall and winter, turkey served with cabbage, prunes, Waldorf salad, and boiled potatoes.
XO Bar Mat & Vin
This pub-style restaurant's interior is in keeping with the traditional Norwegian dishes that emerge from the kitchen. Enjoy local favorites such as lutefisk and pinnekjøtt (lamb cooked on birch twigs during the months leading up to Christmas, or reindeer, salmon, monkfish, and komler (dumplings) with salted meats. Less unusual options, such as burgers, are also available.
A restaurant, nightclub, art gallery, and performance venue, Café Sting is also an institution.
Dance the night away to pulsating sounds at Taket.
Appropriately named Nåløyet (Needle's Eye), Stavanger's answer to a London pub is close and cozy.
Media junkies head to this "news café" for CNN on the TV and for newspapers and periodicals from around the world.
This alternative rock pub also hosts concerts.
Sun-kissed Hansen Hjørnet is a large outdoor bar and restaurant that always attracts a crowd.
College kids hang out at Folken, an independent student club that frequently holds rock concerts.
The area north of Stavanger's cathedral has several pedestrian-only streets with the usual chains and a few independent shops. For something different, head for Øvre Holmegate, Stavanger's most colorful street. It's full of small boutiques. Syvende Himmel, for instance, specializes in retro and alternative clothes and accessories in bright colors and funky designs.
Sølvsmeden på Sølvberget
If jewelry's your passion, head to the city's best shop.
Norway's fourth biggest shopping center has 160 shops, restaurants, a bank, a pharmacy, a post office, a state wine store, a big playground, and a tourist office.
Handmade chocolates from all over the world are sold here; there's a café, too.
Bøker & Børst
At this independent bookstore, café, and pub, there's funky artwork on the walls and a cozy garden in back.
Stavanger's most central shopping center has 60 shops, most of them selling clothes.
This art museum, part of the Museum Stavanger (MUST), is by the lovely Lake Mosvannet, about 3 km from the city center. Its holdings, which cover the early 19th century to the present, include an extensive collection of works by Lars Hertervig (1830–1902), a great romantic painter of Norwegian landscapes. The Halvdan Haftsten Collection has paintings and drawings created between the world wars.
The charm of the city's past is on view in Old Stavanger, northern Europe's largest and best-preserved wooden house settlement. The 150 houses here were built in the late 1700s and early 1800s. Wind down the narrow cobblestone streets past small white houses and craft shops with many-paned windows and terra-cotta roof tiles.
Sverd i fjell
The site where Norway was founded has been memorialized by the Sverd i fjell. The three huge bronze swords were unveiled by King Olav in 1983 and done by artist Fritz Røed. The memorial is dedicated to King Harald Hårfagre (Harald the Fairhaired), who through an 872 battle at Hafrsfjord managed to unite Norway into one kingdom. The Viking swords' sheaths were modeled on ones found throughout the country; the crowns atop the swords represent the different Norwegian districts that took part in the battle.
Founded in the late 1200s, Utstein is the best preserved medieval monastery in Norway. Public transport to the abbey isn't that good, so it's best to hire a car. By bus or car it's about a half-hour trip, north of Stavanger on a coastal highway. If you rent a car to get to Utstein, you can also take in the medieval ruins and stone age rock carvings on nearby Åmøy Island as well as Fjøløy Fyr, a lighthouse.
Resembling a shiny offshore oil platform, the dynamic Norsk Oljemuseum is an absolute must-see. In 1969 oil was discovered off the coast of Norway. The museum explains how oil forms, how it's found and produced, its many uses, and its impact on Norway. Interactive multimedia exhibits accompany original artifacts, models, and films. A reconstructed offshore platform includes oil workers' living quarters—as well as the sound of drilling and the smell of oil. The highly recommended museum café, by restaurateurs Bølgen & Moi, serves dinners as well as lighter fare.
Stavanger Maritime Museum
Along Strandkaien, warehouses face the wharf. Housed in the only two shipping merchants' houses that remain completely intact is Stavanger maritime museum. Built between 1770 and 1840, the restored buildings trace the past 200 years of trade, sea traffic, and shipbuilding. Visit a turn-of-the-20th-century general store and merchant's apartment, and a sailmaker's loft. A reconstruction of a shipowner's office and a memorial are also here, as are two 19th-century ships, the sloop Anna af Sand, and the Colin Archer yacht Wyvern, moored at the pier.
A huge cube with a vertical drop of 2,000 feet, the Pulpit Rock is not a good destination if you suffer from vertigo—it has a heart-stopping view. The clifflike rock sits on the banks of the finger-shape Lysefjord. You can join a boat tour from Stavanger to see the rock from below, or you can hike two hours to the top on a marked trail. The track goes from Preikestolhytta, where there is a big parking lot.