This guide features the top things to do in Ålesund, Norway (also occasionally spelled Aalesund) and the surrounding area so you can make the most of your visit to this charming town. In addition to its famous architecture, it’s a popular destination because of its proximity to some of Norway’s most famous fjords and deep port for easy cruise ship docking. Whether you’re spending a few nights there or just visiting for the day, you’re sure to love this charming city’s architecture and natural scenery. For those of you visiting as part of a cruise, many of these activities can be booked as a shore excursion from your ship, though offerings will vary by operator and the timing of your visit.
- 1 Top five things to do in Alesund
- 2 Other things to do in Ålesund, Norway
- 3 Things to do outside Ålesund
Top five things to do in Alesund
Admire Ålesund’s art nouveau architecture
In 1904, a major fire destroyed a significant portion of Ålesund’s city center. The buildings were rebuilt in the trendy art nouveau architecture style that was popular at the time. The art nouveau style is a little bit fairy tale-esque, characterized by turrets and medieval ornamentation. The cohesiveness of the architecture makes wandering the city center an attraction in and of itself as you can admire the unique shapes and pastel colors prevalent in the buildings. Just taking a walk through the historic streets is one of the best things to do in Alesund. Top spots for observing the architecture include the pedestrian-friendly Kongens Gate and along the Notensgata, where you can see some of the buildings reflected in the water. And best of all – because you’re exploring on your own, this also tops the list of free things to do in Ålesund. You can, of course, hire a guide or join a walking tour, but if you just want to admire the facades, you can easily explore on your own.
Visit the Aksla viewpoint
The Aksla overlook sits high above the city center of Ålesund and offers fantastic views of the city and its islands. You’ll also find a café at the top if you work up an appetite. The viewpoint can be accessed by climbing the 418 stairs from the Town Park, taking the city train (more on that below), or driving.
Visit the Atlantic Sea Park
This small, but well-done aquarium, called Atlanterhavsparken in Norwegian, is home to various fish and mammals native to the Atlantic Ocean. Built into the coastline of Tueneset, one of Ålesund’s islands, fresh sea water is used to fill the tanks and pools. Visitors can watch the fish being fed in tanks, visit the outdoor penguin park, or view harbor seals in their large pool. An abandoned otter pup was joined by two others and they now inhabit their own little island near the seal pool too. Kids will also enjoy a small play area and octopus sculpture. If visiting from the city center/cruise port, there is a public bus that runs to the aquarium, or the hop on/hop off tourist option.
Explore the Sunnmøre Museum
This open air museum features houses and other exhibitions about Norwegian culture in the area. With 55 historic buildings, you can learn about life in the region from the Stone Age through the 20th century. You can also see numerous boats in the museum’s collection, including replicas of Viking ships. The Sunnmøre museum covers 50 acres, so bring your walking shoes and plan on spending a few hours there. It’s located just a few minutes by bus or car from the city center of Ålesund.
Visit the Art Nouveau Center
For a more formal look at Ålesund’s art nouveau architecture, stop into the Jugendstilsenteret museum housed in the old Swan Pharmacy. The historic interior of the pharmacy has been preserved, and it’s one of the few spots in Ålesund that retains its original décor inside. You can also visit the connected KUBE art museum that focuses on Norwegian artists in combination.
Other things to do in Ålesund, Norway
If you’re looking for more active things to do in Ålesund, try renting a kayak and exploring the area. There are tour companies offering rentals right in the harbor area, or you can join a day trip excursion that takes you further away. Paddling near the beautiful buildings of Ålesund’s city center would be a great way to get a different view of the city and get your blood flowing.
RIB Boat Tour
You’ll find RIB boats in many of the towns along the Norwegian coast and these lightweight watercraft offer passengers a great way to feel the salt spray and see some scenery. You might even get to seem some wildlife along the way. During the summer, the seabird-inhabited island Runde is a top destination for the RIB boat tours in Alesund.
This small (but also affordable) museum details Ålesund’s history, including important events like the great fire and German occupation during WWII. Including photographs, artifacts, and a model of the city in 1898 (so you can get an idea of what it looked like before the fire), you can spend an hour or two here learning about Ålesund’s development and history.
This museum is housed in an old warehouse that is one of the few buildings in Ålesund that pre-dates the great fire. It only has regular hours seasonally from May-September, but can be visited by appointment during other times of the year. You can also purchase a combo ticket with the previously mentioned Ålesunds Museum. Here, you’ll learn about the city’s history as a center for fish processing and how the dried cod industry impacted its development. You can also see exhibits about the art of barrel making and learn about sea fishing.
Ålesund’s tourist train
The tourist train is definitely catered to cruise passengers, but anyone can purchase a ticket for it. The ride begins near the cruise terminal and lasts around 70 minutes round trip. The highlight of the tour is the climb to the Aksla viewpoint (great if you don’t feel like doing the stairs yourself) where you get a short break to take photos and enjoy the scenery. You’ll also get to see the historic streets and art nouveau architecture and pass the “miracle house” that survived the great fire.
Hop on hop off bus
This option also caters to the cruise ship passengers, but like the train, it’s available to anyone who wants to buy a ticket. It operates just like other hop on hop off bus tours in major cities so you can ride to wherever you want to get off and spend some time there before catching another bus. There are 8 stops in Ålesund, including the cruise terminal. The other stops are the Sunnmøre Museum, Aksla viewpoint, Parkgata (near shopping and historic art nouveau buildings), the city center (also in a dense area of art nouveau architecture), the Art Nouveau Center, Ålesund Church, and the Atlantic Sea Park.
Things to do outside Ålesund
This section of the list features activities that take you out into the fjords near Ålesund. I’d highly recommend planning on visiting at least one of the nearby fjords because they are absolutely spectacular.
Geiranger fjord cruise
The Geiranger Fjord is recognized as one of the most beautiful in all of Norway, and is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site. Round trip scenic boat rides can be booked from Ålesund’s harbor so you can experience the fjord’s legendary beauty. The panorama viewing windows and outdoor decks will allow you to really soak in the beauty of its waterfalls, towering cliffsides, and lush vegetation. You can check out booking options here.
Slightly closer to Alesund is the Hjorundfjord. This fjord can also be visited on day tours from Ålesund lasting a few hours. Like the slightly more famous Geiranger fjord, you’ll be treated to jaw dropping scenery full of cliffs, waterfalls, and brightly colored farm houses. Our boat ride included yummy waffles with jam as a snack.
Drive the Path of the Trolls
Rent a car or join a bus tour to the Trollstigen – called the Path of the Trolls in English – a spectacular roadway blasted out of the mountainsides. The engineering involved is every bit as impressive as the scenery you’ll enjoy along the way. You can self drive it in a rental car or book a trip as a day trip from Ålesund. Plan on 4 hours round trip minimum if you really hurry, but you’ll likely want to take closer to 6 by the time you stop for photos and possibly lunch at the Trollstiegn Kafe.
Hiking in the Sunnmøre Alps
With spectacular views, the Sunnmøre Alps are a dream come true for hiking. Trails range from easy to difficult and many can be done on a day trip from Ålesund. Stick to the coastal areas for easier routes and views of the ocean and mountains or head inland for more challenging trips.
Fish like a local
Seafood is a major part of the Norwegian diet and taking a fishing excursion is a great way to get a taste of the freshest of the fresh fish. There are a variety of fishing charter options from Ålesund depending on the season and the type of fish you want to target. Borgundfjord has some options right outside of the city center, or you can venture further away with different companies. You’ll also find some restaurants in town that will prepare your fresh catch for you should you manage to reel one in. Check out this list from the local tourism board for options.
Go skiing in winter
In winter time, you’ll find plenty of opportunities for skiing in the mountains surrounding Ålesund. Both cross country and downhill skiing are available in the vicinity, so if you’re visiting Ålesund in the winter, pack some warm gear and find somewhere to hit the snow. Stranda is located not far from the city and combines skiing opportunities with some fantastic views of the Geiranger fjord area.
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