When I studied my itinerary of my fjord cruise (check this post for full itinerary) and checked the places where the ship will dock to plan my activities I was surprised that I couldn’t find much information about Alesund. The town is a frequent stop for many Norwegian cruises and with thousands of visitors brought by each vessel I was expecting to find many different ideas which I could use to tailored-made my own day in the city.
Personally, I find that having a good plan for the destination when on a cruise is vital. The ship docks at the specific hour and remains in the harbor for specific amount of time and you need to be strict with your explorations to be back on the deck before the hour of departure. This naturally imposes limitations, you can’t stay longer to visit interesting museum which you were not aware of before, linger on a fascinating site hidden in some off beaten track corner or slowly walk around choosing perfect restaurant for your lunch or dinner. The ship departures at the specific time and won’t wait for people who are late unless you booked your experience in a form of excursion sold on the ship.
I have my own reflections regarding booking official excursions with the ship’s companies. They do offer you certain comfort, you don’t have to do much of research ahead of the cruise, it is guaranteed that the ship waits in case of delays of the official trips which is especially convenient if you want to go to more remote places or do some sport activities in the nature like hikes, canoeing, snorkelling, etc. The delays can happen quite naturally and I think that for such types of experiences it’s best to do them with an official excursion. There is of course price to pay for such conveniences, the trips organized by ships are from my experience more than twice more expensive than with local operator or done on your own. That’s why I find that it’s a good idea to plan your day yourself. The cities or natural sites which are located close to the harbour can be perfectly visited on your own. Well-arranged itinerary corresponds to your preferences and allows you to discover the place in the most interesting way for you. The organized tours are of course not tailored-made and offer more generic experience, you also do it in a group which means queues, rush and worse possibilities to take pictures (if this is important for you).
It’s best to study the cruise’s itinerary before the departure and decide about the organized excursions and solo trips ahead. Quick research will allow you to estimate which places are doable on your own and which are too tricky. From my experience during a cruise you arrive to both types of places and it’s best to mix – some destinations do with a tour, some yourself. Note that when you decide on the way you want to explore certain place you can book the excursion in advance which is cheaper than regular price, I also suggest checking out the destinations which you will explore on your own, the internet on the ship is often slow and planning your visit one day ahead may occur very inefficient and sometimes even impossible.
Alesund is a coastal city with a port next to the historical which makes it a perfect destination to visit on your own. Alesund is situated at the entrance of Geirangerfjord and it’s very famous for the art nouveau architecture. The city is reputed to be one of the Europe’s most beautiful harbour towns. You can admire the panoramic views at Alesund old town and the surrounding archipelago after climbing 418 steps up to Aksla mountain.
Given the rather small size of the city it’s completely possible to see major sites of the town in few hours, however good strategy and short research should be done ahead.
In this post I will give you some practical tips, share my itinerary and give some comments which will allow you to plan your day smartly and strategically.
The major activities you can enjoy in Alesund is climbing Aksla mountain and exploring the historical town which is known for its unique art nouveau architecture. This rather unusual for Norwegian towns style was chosen for buildings in 1904 when the wooden houses were burned during enormous fire.
When starting your day I suggest checking the weather prediction. The weather in Norway is whimsical but it’s better to have some indications to plan your sightseeing.
I strongly recommend climbing Aksla mountain when the weather is best, first of all for your own comfort when going up, secondly, for amazing views at the town and surrounding area. The panorama you have at the peak is spectacular but in rain and fog you barely see the outline of Alesund.
If you get off from the ship and have a good weather I suggest starting with Aksla mountain, the trek up to the peak will take you around 30 minutes, count 15 minutes for pictures and walking around (there are beautiful walking paths which locals use for jog or stroll with dogs) to observe the local nature, you will need approximately 15 minutes to go down.
After your sporty morning, I recommend heading to the old town. The streets with particularly beautiful art nouveau buildings are Kongens Gate and Lihauggata. Continue to the waterfront where the tourist office is located. You can enter to get some maps of the area (useful if once you would like to come here on your own), some materials (especially about Alesund’s architecture) are paid, you can also get here some leaflets with information about day trips from Alesund by public transport. If you’re here for longer you can get from Alesund to many interesting places by bus, some trips are so short that you can even go during your one day stay when on a cruise (but only if you’re experienced otherwise, I find it quite risky).
When walking around you can search for some charming cafes for small refreshment, also since the city is small, don’t rush and try to observe the daily errands of locals in an average size Norwegian town.
Apart from visitors from the cruise, I find that Alesund is not that touristy and you can overlook the way the residents live here. To learn more about Alesund you can visit the City Museum (Alesund Museum) located nearby St. Olavs plass.
You can continue your walk and reach Alesund Bridge to get to the other island on which the town is located. When crossing on the other side, stop for a while and notice the pastel- colored buildings along the banks. In good weather they’re beautifully reflect in the water.
The Apotekergata street has an impressive number of original art nouveau architecture, a short walk along will lead you to Alesund harbour with lighthouse and Fisheries Museum, if you continue along Molovegen the houses become more rural style.
I recommend strolling ahead until reaching Trankokeriet Antikk- an interesting antique store where you can buy some nice traditional second hand souvenirs, the shop is also a café so it’s a really good stop.
After a small break in the antique store you can visit Alesund Church and the surrounding area with even more art nouveau buildings.
I particularly recommend Ovregata street, if you want to learn even more about art nouveau architecture you can visit Art Nouveau Center, short walk away from the church.
When you’re done with the city sightseeing I recommend spending the remaining time for souvenir shopping, I find Alesund the best place for purchasing Norwegian products among all destinations visited during the cruise. The amount of the shops and the variety of items is satisfactory, if you want to buy traditional and authentic Norwegian souvenirs to bring back home or hand them as gift, check out this post for ideas.
If you search for a particular item, always enter few shops, the products are often similar, but prices can differ with some promos and special offers which are particular to every store. Whereas in most of the boutiques you will find special Norwegian clothing, reindeer skins, wool accessories and wooden items, for unique and artisanal objects I suggest checking the antique store on Molovegen.
If you travel on your own (not part of the cruise), Alesund can be a good base for day trips to fjords and small islands with local wildlife. Below I will write you few destinations where it’s easy to get with public transport:
- Trip to Runde which is a perfect place to all nature and especially birth enthusiasts. Runde is southern Norway’s biggest nesting site, with over 500 000 nesting pairs of seabirds. Cormorants and kittiwakes cling to the vertical rock face, whilst the puffin burrows well into rocks and tunnels. Birdlife on Runde peaks during the nesting period from end of May to July/August and May and June are the best month to observe birds, note that puffin like to retire to its tunnels in the evening.
- Round trip to Trollstigen and Valladal. During this journey you go first to Andalsnes before embarking on Trollstigen. This is a hairpin road which leads up to the summit 850 metres above the sea level, make sure you spend some time on Trollstigen plateau to enjoy the majestic views at take photos. The journey back leads through the valley of Valladal with amazing views at the surrounding mountains. Go for strawberry tasting if visiting in the season.
- Round trip to Molde and the Atlantic Road. If you want to observe how live the locals, you can visit Molde which is a small coastal town with 26 000 inhabitants. As many towns in Norway also this one transformed into urban area from fishing and trading village. From Molde continue your journey through the Atlantic Road which is equally scenic both in sunshine and calm weather as well as storms, wind and rain. The road connects Averoy with mainland via a series of small islands and islets and is in fact a national tourist route. Highly recommended!