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Norwegian history began in Fjord Norway. Early migrants followed retreating glaciers north after the last Ice Age ended, founding prehistoric sites — like Landa Park, near Stavanger — that you can still visit today.

Intriguing petroglyphs were carved into stone across Fjord Norway millennia ago, in places like Bogge, Austre Åmøy, Solbakk and Vingen — Europe’s largest collection of prehistoric rock carvings — and can still be seen today. But things really got interesting when the Viking Age dawned just before the 9th century. Norwegians set out from the fjords in iconic wooden longships to trade, raid and settle across a wide swath of Europe … and even America. Back home, they were no less industrious.

The Vikings

See a Viking vessel for yourself at Sagastad centre, home to the reconstructed, 30-meter-long Myklebust ship. The largest such longship ever found in Norway, its burned remains were unearthed at a large burial mound in Nordfjordeid back in 1874. Experts started to built a seaworthy replica in 2016 and it took three years to finish it.

For a taste of Viking life on land, head to Avaldsnes. This is the oldest royal seat in Norway, once home to the estate of the country’s reputed first king, Harald Fairhair. Today, the main attraction is the Viking Farm — devoted to more humble pursuits — and the Nordvegen History Centre. The farmyard boasts a recreated longhouse with guided tours, banquets and an annual Viking festival, alongside a roundhouse and a boathouse.

Your taste for medieval history whetted, your next stop is the village of Eivindvik and the Gulating, Fjord Norway’s parliament and court for 400 years. The local thing, or Norse assembly, met in the village and nearby Flolid. Wonder at both thousand-old stone crosses and the 21st century Gulating Millennium Site commemorating the importance of the thing to Norwegian history.

More spiritual?

Less political and more spiritual? The verdant island Selja beckons to all interested in Norway’s religious roots — and just plain stunning scenery. Embark on a light walk across the island to a millennium-old monastery, possibly the nation’s oldest and its first place of pilgrimage. Dedicated to St. Sunniva, patron of Bergen, the abbey was founded by 12th-century Benedictine monks. The monastery tower is still intact, but otherwise you will find well-preserved ruins today.

Stave churches

Fjord Norway is also home to many of the country’s 28 surviving stave churches. These intricate wooden houses of worship, built between the 12th and 14th centuries, are elaborate mixes of Christian and pagan symbolism. It’s thought Viking skill at boatbuilding and woodcarving found its ultimate expression in these medieval sanctuaries.

Travel across the stunning Atlantic Road from Kristiansund to the beautiful church at Kvernes. One of Norway’s “newest” stave churches, at just 700 years old or so, Kvernes boasts a baroque pulpit and an altarpiece from 1475, not to mention simply magnificent fjord views.

The famed 12th century Hopperstad stave church at Vik was abandoned and nearly lost before being saved and restored starting in 1880. Thanks to meticulous reconstruction, the triple-nave church remains a favourite of locals and visitors alike. In Urnes, meanwhile, you’ll find what UNESCO calls “an outstanding representative of stave churches.” Perched on a promontory over the Sognefjord, the 12th-century sanctuary’s intricately carved walls, columns and gables spectacularly link pagan Nordic heritage with medieval Christianity in what might be the best example of the medium.

A Renaissance-era church, on the other hand, is one of the main attractions at Jelsa, considered the best-preserved fjord side village in Ryfylke between Stavanger and Haugesund. The whitewashed houses, carved wooden church and picturesque wharf conspire to form a charming village scene that’s a sightseer’s delight.

Architectural and cultural history

Interested in more historic abodes? The open-air Sunnmøre Museum in Ålesund is home to 55 old and unique houses. The eminently explorable collection includes farmhouses, city homes and storage sheds typical of Nthe 14th to 19th centuries. Get a feel for the architectural and cultural history of the Sunnmøre region. This being Fjord Norway, there is also, of course, a vast boat exhibition. Included is a working replica of the 10th century Viking ship Borgundknarren — which you can take a sail in, come summertime. 

Industrial Revolution

Sailing, farming and church-raising aren’t the whole story in Fjord Norway. The Industrial Revolution occurred here, too. Zinc mines operated from 1881 to 1899 in the Allmannajuvet ravine in Sauda, near Stavanger, providing a lifeline for local villagers and setting the stage for later development of hydroelectric facilities.

The former mines, redesigned and built over a 15-year period by Swiss architect Peter Zumthor as part of the much-lauded Norwegian Scenic Route system, are now a historical art exhibition that’s one of the country’s most popular roadside attractions. A gallery displays the history of the mines in a striking new way, while the former mine entrance is reached via a spectacular new road hugging a wild river. Toiling in the mines might have once been a dangerous proposition but today you’re welcome to join in on a safe guided tour along the miners’ path and down into the mine entrance for a taste of a different time.

Exploring Fjord Norway's heritage

Fjord secrets

The secret’s out, Fjord Norway is more than you expected. Yes, we’re home to mind-blowing fjord landscapes. But we’re so much more! You are welcome to explore farther and further. Delve deeper across Fjord Norway to unearth countless hidden gems — attractions and experiences that amaze and delight in sight and sound, taste and touch.

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