Bear north and further north to reach the inky excess of Norway’s coast – more specifically, the elegant and oft overlooked city of Aalesund (Ålesund). Among the most beautiful of rural regions, it replaces bright lights with brighter stars, busy hubs with rich architecture. While the city was ravaged by fire in 1904 and almost completely demolished, the Art Nouveau structures that arose in the rebuilding is a legacy slated for the books.
There’s no shortage of heritage as the hook-shaped peninsula Aalesund has settled on is in fact the headquarters for Norway’s largest cod-fishing fleet. You never run out of things to do in Aalesund and its proximity islands, especially when it comes to outdoor fun. Sign up for fjord cruises to admire the snowy peaks and hidden Viking villages, or detour to the puffin-infested Runde Island.
With your Scandinavian adventure in mind, we’ve put together a list of best things to do in Aalesund.
Three hours definitely isn’t enough for you to get acquainted with charming Aalesund but the best thing to do is in fact: walking around. For those who only have a short few hours to spare in town, sign up for a customized tour to check off all the major sights. Perhaps you’re aiming for an Art Nouveau architecture theme, where the colorful pops of residences and unique buildings stand in stark contrast to the mountain ranges behind. Maybe you’ll explore “Little Venice” and learn about the city’s transformation from rags to riches; hear all about the devastating fire that ate up Aalesund and how it regrew from the ashes. Whatever you end up picking, make sure to climb up Mount Aksla for stunning panoramas of this Norwegian icon city.
- Take a sightseeing tour via ‘Train’
Alternatively, if the thought of walking exhausts you, consider signing up for the Aalesund Sightseeing City Train. Board at the Dronning Sonjas Plass with the city hall on your left; you’ll be driving past the market square, prison and up Aalesund’s longest street: Borgundveien. Volsdalen Church and Color Line Stadium are some of the earliest sights, but the best has yet to come!
The train climbs up to Fjellstua viewing point after a slow meandering trail that covets both inland mountain views and that of the sea. Taking snapshots is a must-do in Aalesund so you’ll enjoy 15 minutes of chill photographing until it’s back on the train and onward to Storledbakken – Vallehuset, also known as the ‘miracle house’, is the attraction. Continue on to a 1858 lighthouse, connecting Hellebroa, Jugendstilsenteret and more characterful spaces before you end at the cruise terminal.
- Boat watch at Aalesund Harbor
One of the top things to do in Aalesund is dropping by its historically significant harbor. What makes it the perfect home for some of Europe’s largest fishing fleets isn’t just due to convenient sea access, but the way it lies between Nørvøy and Aspøy islands to be sheltered by the Skansen peninsula. Defensive and edged with beautiful sceneries, the harbor marks a natural destination for cruise ships and a pit stop for coastal services. Spend some time admiring the older buildings that once housed fisheries and fishing-affiliated work but also sit down for a while. Watching boats come and leave this busy port is surprisingly meditative and is a welcome slice of the slow life.
- Explore marine life at the Atlantic Sea-Park
Just a short bus ride from town center is the Atlantic Sea-Park. Hands-down one of the best things to do in Aalesund, it is among the largest saltwater aquariums in northern Europe. Cleverly designed to sit right along the coastline, it was established in 1951 and fashioned with a multitude of walking trails for an all-angle viewing. Perfect for families and the casual visitor, the facility features 11 aquariums alongside touch pools and activity pools. You might even catch the daily fish feeding, barrels emptied out into the million-gallon Great Atlantic tank. Their seal tank, Selbukta, is the largest in the world at 4 million gallons. Do purchase something at the gift shop to commemorate your trip!
- Fill your camera roll at Aalesund Town Park
It is exactly 418 steps to the top of Mount Aksla – worthy energy expenditure for the unforgettable views over the city below. Whether you climb in the early morning, mid-day, at dusk or evening, Aalesund looks like a model miniature that could win prizes. Colorful houses line the wharfs, the slated roofs uniform but not drab; you’ll see dashes of greens that mark parks and promenades, the way the peninsula bleeds into the harbor front.
Interesting facts denote this top thing to do in Aalesund to do as well! A local gardener is who you have to thank for the stairs and manicured grounds; they drew inspiration from surrounding landscapes and created this tranquil space in 1885. You’ll also find two significant statues: one of Kaiser Wilhelm II to commemorate Germany’s help after the fire of 1904, and the other of local Viking hero Gange-Rolf.
- Seek out puffins on Runde
Get that wind in your hair as you hop on a rib boat tour towards the elusive (but adorable) puffins on Runde Island. One of the best things to do in Aalesund is broaching the coast because the natural beauty in the surrounding region is boundless. Take in the rugged west coast and open expanse; the views are absolutely stunning. As you approach this puffin habitat, remember to glance both onshore and off – these birds aren’t great fliers but they make up for that with sleek swimming skills. Mostly, you’ll spot thousands of them roosting on the steep cliff faces, while flocks bask on large rocks by the water.
Tip: dress warmly! Regular open water chill aside, the boat goes fast.
Who hasn’t heard of hardy seafaring clans who had mastered the Norwegian seas? This tour begins with Aalesund’s old city quarters and Art Nouveau architecture only to then traverse back in time via sub-sea tunnels. If that isn’t cool enough, your following destination is the Viking island of Giske – of the best things to do in Aalesund region, visiting the birthplace of Viking Rollon ranks high.
Once you’ve heard the fascinating life story of this British Royalty ancestor, the historical Godoy presents a glimpse of the past. Better yet is the fishing port of Alnes, home to a legendary lighthouse built in the Viking era. There’s much to be learnt about the way of Viking life and how they came to settle in this archipelago, questions answered by a knowledgeable guide as you explore your final Viking Island, the stunning Vigra.
- Have a peek around Aalesund Church
Smackdab in the center of Aalesund is the first church ever constructed in town, built in 1855 but destroyed by the 1904 fire. Following in the Art Nouveau footsteps of the rest of the city, the new structure was founded on stone and marble, with the interior plied with wooden ceilings and heavy furnishings. While not lavish, it offers an accurate depiction of life for locals. For just 3 kroners, you can take a glimpse of the beautiful stained glass windows, which lead us straight to our next attraction on the ‘best things to do in Aalesund’ list.
- Witness the delicate glass-shaping process
Visiting a glassblowing factory might not be an expected top thing to do in Aalesund, but it is very much worth your time. Link up your harbor and fishing museum visit with the quirky menagerie of Ingrids Glassverksted. Workshop and gallery combined into one lofted space, you’ll see shelves full of materials, crafting tools and heavy irons, the actual fire ‘hole’ where the glass is shaped. Watch the process in action before browsing some of the wares – designs range from technicolored jugs to fragile-looking bowls and miniature houses. If you like what you see, peruse their shopfront in downtown Aalesund.
- Drop by Aalesund’s first monument: Jugendstil Senteret
Most of the best things to do in Aalesund have to do with creative repurposing of spaces to form historical exhibits and Jugendstil Senteret came first in that race. Once a pharmacy, this aged structure is fascinating in its own merit; imagine a sinuous staircase and original wood furnishings. The dining room is perhaps most eye-catching, a pastiche of ceramics, textiles, furniture, posters… everything that plays off nostalgia. To complement these artefacts is a ‘Time Machine’ capsule! In an interesting 14-minute multimedia presentation, you’ll learn about how Aalesund picked itself up after the great fire.
There’s also a museum shop showcasing original furniture and fixtures so check that out. Tickets cover a visit to KUBE next door.
- KUBE: all about contemporary art
Scandinavian design has also skewed towards clean lines, minimalist but cozy designs. Aalesund’s primary art space, KUBE, reflects this propensity. Featuring mainly Norwegian artists and contemporary highlights, it stands in stark contrast to the adjacent pharmacy turned museum. For those who like art but prefer more architecture and design-based galleries, know that KUBE hosts the occasional show. Do check out their website for more details before visiting.
Tip: the upstairs gallery treats you to an alternate view of the harbor. The sights fit right in with the gallery art.
- Immerse in nature via hiking
Be spoilt by the richness of Aalesund and the Sunnmøre Alps because hiking isn’t simply one of the best things to do in Aalesund but in the entirety of the region. Crisp autumn air will brush off the ennui that winter brings; winter presents a snowy dreamland and challenging terrain. Spring blooms in sprigs of color while long summer days gift us with both pleasant coastal walks and steep mount Slogen. Versatile grounds make hiking in Aalesund delightful for hikers of all skillset, allowing you to explore expansive heathland, craggy peaks, pebbly beaches and everything in between.
If you decide to challenge the Sunnmøre Alps, be prepared with ropes and ice axes. Maybe you’ll combine a cruise trip and hiking amid the fjords. Whether you plan for hiking the Valldal Naturopplevingar AS, to Mount Saksa or stay close to the coastal borders of Aalesund, you’re guaranteed incomparable sights.
- Eat at the innovative Maki
TripAdvisor and locals-approved, high-class dining at Maki might not be something you thought to do in Aalesund but absolutely worth your money. Located within the charming Hotel Brosundet, it sits within a storehouse building for extra ambiance. The star of the show? A four to six course meal depending on the seasonal menu, or you could opt for the catch of the day instead. You can expect dishes like grilled monkfish or ginger-garnished steamed halibut, fresh cod and lobster. Fresh produce is the norm in Aalesund but Maki has commandeered the corner on innovative seafood, often crafting Asian cuisine-inspired dishes and pairing them with drinks.
Deep sea cuts into the sloping lush greens that denote Norway’s boundless mountain ranges, carving generous water ways that bind famous landscapes and isolated towns together. Dedicate a day to visiting some of Norway’s most picturesque locations such as Aalesund, Stranda, Geirangerfjord, Hellesylt and Eidsdal via what is dubbed the “Eagle Road”.
Your journey starts with a pickup in Aalesund after which you’ll experience a brief stint in the industrial town of Stranda. The Sykkylven Mountains frame the rest of your trip towards Hellesylt. Get ready for your day on water as you board a ferry to Geiranger; onboard audio outlines the famous Norwegian fjords and introduces waterfalls you’ll get to witness around the village of Geiranger. Of course, no day out from Aalesund is complete without travelling along the Eagle Road to Eidsal and Linge. Bring your camera along to capture the astounding fjord sights, from snowcapped peaks to verdant carpets and wild rushing gorges.
- Take a Fjord Cruise in Hjørundfjord
If you were to choose one fjord to explore from Aalesund, beautiful Hjørundfjord will make the cut. Surrounded with sheer walls and peaks that reach 1,706 meters high, ‘dramatic’ can barely capture the magnitude of this fjord. Heavily wooded and sparsely populated, water travel is by far the most convenient and accessible way around the impressive landscape; you’ll have plenty of opportunities to get of the boat and visit attractions like the famous Hjørundfjord swing. Other cruises might bring you to the village of Øye, complete with a one-night stay at the restored 1891 Hotel Union Øye. Borgundgavlen offers up Sunnmøre Museum, a collective of historic homes and buildings. You may even want to pair this cruise with another top thing to do around Aalesund: hiking, hiking and more hiking.
- Swing around to Sunnmøre Museum
An undisputed top thing to do in Aalesund, Sunnmøre Museum is something you want to pencil into your schedule first thing. Whether you’re driving there or making part of your Hjørundfjord cruise, this key site reveals a lot on Norwegian history. The old Borgundkaupangen trading center ran from 11th to 16th century; now, it houses over 50 traditional buildings which have been relocated. More interestingly is the collection of historic boats, which feature replicas of Viking vessels and a commercial trading ship from AD 1000.
The adjacent Medieval Age Museum will fascinate history lovers too! Although its opening hours are restricted, those who happen upon it when open should scour around. Plenty of artefacts are on display, alongside reproductions of medieval illustrations. It’s a story book come to life, depicting life of costal folk back in the day of.
- Spend half a day at Hakallegarden
A lesser-known top attraction in Aalesund is none other than Hakallegarden, an open visitor farm paired with an art gallery and café serving homemade bites. The series of converted barn spaces, including a farm shop that caters to alpaca wool garments, offers great family activities and general tourist look-sees. No doubt your favorite part will be the courtyard where horses, donkeys and more famously, alpacas, wander freely. Enjoy a horse ride or cuddle with the animals you see, whether they are pigs, rabbits or cats! You can even drive around the gråtass tractor or participate in craft workshops. It’s a great side trip from Aalesund if you have some extra time.
- Visit the Fisheries Museum
Aalesund’s Fisheries Museum is more than just displays of baits and hooks. Located in one of the rare buildings that survived the fire, the exhibits transformed the 1861 Holmbua warehouse into a timeline of how the fishing industry had developed. Enter through a recreated grocery shop set to get to the main gallery. As you move past the centuries-long coverage, you’ll come across a special section on salted cod production. Cod-liver oil, touted for its high omega-3 contents, is a super food known for its Norwegian roots. The amount of work put into its production is astounding.
Because the admission includes entry to the Aalesunds Museum, be sure to visit that too.
- Learn about Aalesund’s history
Hop right on over to Aalesunds Museum after the Fisheries Museum to complete your list of things to do in Aalesund. Although landscape appreciation is one important aspect of travel, cultural and historical takeaways is what gives your trip meaning and color. This town museum is a condensed gallery that takes you through the city’s growth, beginning with a detailed feature on Sunnmøre region’s sealing, fishing, shipping and industrial development. The 1904 fire and consequent rebirth segue into the German occupation during WWII before rounding off with its recent direction.
Those interested in boats and ships will love the collection here, which showcases the Uræd lifeboat that crossed the Atlantic in 1904. Just a little something to convince you to visit!
- Kayaking in Aalesund
Take to the clear waters of Norway because where better than Aalesund to kayak around stunning islands? Just imagine sitting and staring from water level up at the massive mountains that back the city. An experienced guide will lead you (at whatever skill level) through a short introduction to kayaking and then towards the small archipelago near Ellingsoya Island. Lunch will be taken on one of them! To return to Aalesund, paddle through the narrow Nørvasundet sound while admiring the lush scenery. Do ask them questions about the city and surrounding region; you might pick up facts you never knew.
- Dine out at XL Diner
If you’re stuck on your latest dining spot, XL Diner is a classic choice in Aalesund. Combining great food and unforgettable views is a local favorite thing to do – where better than to enjoy boy on the historical quay of Skateflukaia? Take in the Aalesundet canal and Molja lighthouse as you wait for your meal to be served. While XL Diner offers a range of cuisine, its main sell will always be the Norwegian bacalao. If you’re lucky, the head chef may even come out and share some of bacalao’s fascinating culinary history.
- Dart over to Trollstigen
You don’t have to be a car racer to appreciate the sheer audacity of Trollstigen: the Troll Path. Not too far out from Aalesund, it’s the perfect thing to do for a day trip. But what is it? Trollstigen is a driving route with plenty of hairspin turns, carved into the steep curvature of a deep valley. Craggy cliffs and rocky surfaces make its surroundings, the daring road looking as if it is pasted on in random scrawls. Visitors can get off at a valley-facing viewing point; there’s a boardwalk that takes you out to the center. This trip out will yield truly amazing view and photos, with plenty of scenic stops along the way.
If you dare, rent a car and challenge the path yourself! Do note that it may be closed during winter months or unstable weather conditions, so check if the route is open before attempting to access it.
Don’t forget to check out what else beautiful Norway has to offer!