Similar to how many love stories begin, I came to fall in love with Ålesund as a result of a chance encounter.
When I added a stop in Ålesund to my Norwegian itinerary, I wasn’t sure what to expect. At the time, it wasn’t on my travel radar, and I was simply adding it out of convenience. I needed to somehow get from Bergen to Geirangerfjord without wasting an entire day for travel. A quick and inexpensive flight to Ålesund was the solution.
Discovering that Ålesund was the fishing capital of Norway, I wasn’t sure what to expect of my full day there. Would it be a small quaint fishing village? Would the town be tourist-friendly? Will there be enough to do and see to fill up my day? What I actually found was a fairytale town that was picture-perfect and full of friendly residents, interesting shops, charming cafes, and cosmopolitan bars. In just one day, I fell in love with Ålesund.
Love the Views
When visiting Ålesund, you have the opportunity to get a bird’s eye view of this gem of a town from the Aksla Viewpoint that is perched right above it. There are several different ways to get to the top if you don’t have a rental car. If you are active and physically able, you can climb up 400 steps to get to the top. Otherwise, you can hitch a ride to the top on the tourist train or the hop-on, hop-off bus (available when cruise ships are in port) or hail a taxi. When you finally reach the top, you’ll see the ever-so-popular view of Ålesund that has been photographed so many times before, with its colorful buildings, surrounding islands, and distant mountains.
Love the Architecture
You’ll notice that most of the buildings in the city center of Ålesund are built in the Art Nouveau style of architecture. Colorful buildings adorned with turrets, painted flowers and unique stone carvings reflect into the romantic canal and line the charming cobblestone streets. It feels as if you are walking around a town plucked out of a fairy tale.
A great place to start your exploration of Ålesund is with a stop at the Art Nouveau Centre. Here, you’ll learn the history of Ålesund, from the great fire of 1904, which destroyed most of the city that was built largely of wood, to the rebuilding of it with stone, brick and mortar in the architectural style of the time…art nouveau.
To really get a sense of how beautiful the town is, you need to look at the details of the architecture around you (and look up!). So, put on your walking shoes and get ready to stroll along the popular and scenic streets of Ålesund, which include: Kongensgate, the pedestrian street lined with shops and cafes; Skansegata, the street that takes you along the harbor; Apotekergata, a street with some more great examples of the art nouveau architecture with a few bars, cafes, and shops; and Molovegen, the street where you’ll find some of the old original wooden houses that survived the great fire.
Also, don’t forget to take in the view of the inner harbor from the bridge and the memorial to fishermen, both located right outside of the Art Nouveau Centre.
Love the Food
While in Ålesund, I think I ate more sweet treats in one day than I did in a whole week in Norway (not that I’m complaining). Perhaps I fell in love with Ålesund so quickly because I was on a sugar high all day. However, when offered treats that are considered typical of a place, I HAVE to try them lest I never get the chance again.
So while visiting Ålesund, be sure to try svele (crescent shaped butter cake that looks like a pancake folded in half with sugar butter in the center) from the café at Aksla Viewpoint. Also, stop in at the Martin Walderhaug Bakery located across the street from the tourist office. It’s been in business since 1893 and is still a family owned and operated bakery using old family recipes for their sweet treats. Here, be sure to try the grovkake (a small round dense spice cake with vanilla icing and colored sprinkles) and skilpadde (sponge cake with whipped vanilla cream filling).
Finally, don’t leave Ålesund without trying two more treats from the Apotekeren Café located in the Art Nouveau Centre. The chocolate cake is rumored to be “out of this world” and a favorite of many. It was not quite ready during my visit, but the whole place smelled heavenly as the chocolate cakes were just pulled out of the oven when I was visiting.
They also make delicious Norwegian style waffles at the Apotekeren Café. They are addictive. Be sure to try the jams with them, too. Granted, you can get these waffles throughout Norway (and I tried them everywhere I went), but the best ones I had were at this café in Ålesund.
I know sweet treats alone cannot sustain you, so for dinner, be sure to try one more local food, the Klippfisk. As I mentioned earlier, Ålesund is a big fishing town with its major export being Klippfisk – dry, salted cod. You can try it in the popular dish, bacalao. There is no better place in Ålesund to order bacalao than the XL Diner.
Here, you can order different main dishes of bacalao or a trio sampler served in Italian, Spanish, and Portuguese style. I ordered the trio, and all were delicious (my favorite was the Spanish bacalao) and very filling, As an added bonus, you’ll be treated to some beautiful views while you dine at this upscale waterfront restaurant.
Love the Locals
From Captain Mike at Dirty Nelly’s to Espen and his loveable dog, Alba, on the dock, everyone I met in Ålesund was as friendly as could be. Ålesund exudes the charm of a small town, and its residents are just as charming.
Many of the shops are family-owned where you’ll meet mother and son or father and daughter working side by side like at the Martin Walderhaug Bakery. Folks happily strike up a conversation with you to talk about the town’s history, a shop’s story, or simply the weather. Mariana, co-owner of the Martin Walderhaug Bakery, even went as far as to show me the bakery’s recipe book that has been in her family for over 100 years.
Even in a pub, you’ll find friendly locals. At Dirty Nelly’s (a nice bar located next to the Art Nouveau Centre), locals invited me to join them at their table for a beer to talk about their culture and traditions so I could “get to know the Norwegian people.” Whomever you speak to in Ålesund, they’ll greet you with a sincere smile and engage you in a friendly conversation.
As you can see, it’s easy for Ålesund to make an imprint on your heart. It’s truly a special place in Norway, and …
I simply Ålesund.
Where I stayed
I stayed at the First Hotel Atlantica, which offers rooms at a reasonable price for a clean, comfortable stay. It’s in a perfect location just a block from the Art Nouveau Centre and within walking distance of the Inner Harbor, the wooden houses, and the town center including the town park where you can get the steps to the viewpoint. It’s also close to the cruise port, restaurants and bars. Directly across the street from the hotel, you will also find a shopping center with a large supermarket in the basement. Finally, if you are planning to rent a car, you can easily walk to the Avis Car Rental Center from this hotel.
Have you been to Ålesund? What do you love most about this charming town?
I’d like to extend a thank you to VisitNorwayUSA and its affiliates for hosting me during my visit, and to Bente Saxon from Alesund’s tourism office for showing me around her town. As always, opinions and recommendations are 100% my own.
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