Aalesund is not an ordinary coastal town. You cannot help walking along its streets with your head up: you simply can't afford to miss any of its beautiful architecture. The multitude of ornaments, the turrets and spires, the interesting roofscape all make for a charming diverse lively city.
The beginnings of this fascinating architectural creation were far from jubilant. On the night of January 23rd 1904 within just 16 hours a devastating fire turned a large part of the town into ashes. 850 houses were burnt down and 10000 people deprived of a roof over their head. Just three years later you wouldn't have recognised the place - the town had not only been rebuilt but also given a completely new look. Designed in the then popular style of Art Nouveau by young Norwegian architects and thanks to all the contributors from home and abroad, it came to life again - a real pearl of Art Nouveau architecture.
To learn more about the great fire and the town's history, visit Aalesund's Museum in the centre of the town.
Admission: Adults - NOK 30,
Children - NOK 10
Opening hours: 11 - 15 on most days,
14 June - 22 August - 11 - 16 (Sun. 12 - 15)
If you look at the steep mountain you are going to climb in your car from below , the road certainly looks like a ladder. Driving up or down Trollstigen can be a hair-raising experience for the faint-hearted, particularly when you pass a coach coming from the opposite direction, but the drivers are very careful. The road crosses the Stigefossen waterfall, which you can see in the middle of the picture. Unfortunately, the coaches had blocked all the parking space so we couldn't stop there. And when you finally stand at the top with the whole mountain valley at your feet you can't help thinking it was really worth it.
Just a word of warning: the road is sometimes closed for various reasons, and of course in winter and early spring. When we came there for the second time on our way from Lofoten in 2003, a boulder had just fallen and blocked the road, so we had to go to Geiranger via Eidsdal. Luckily, it didn't fall on us! Yet, you'd better phone the Tourist Information Office in Alesund to make sure you don't make the journey in vain.
For more pictures of Trollstigen see my page on Andalsnes.
Imagine a hall the size of a small theatre with a few rows of benches and an enormous greenish wall of glass from the floor to the ceiling instead of the stage. The audience sits or stands in front of the glass, the actors are fish, some of them really enormous. The fish move freely to the soft sounds of music, the music of the ocean. The lights in the auditorium are dim to let the audience focus on the stage. This fantastic show can be watched in the Alesund aquarium all day long.
At 1 pm. every day an extra attraction is added to this magnificent performance. A diver appears in the aquarium to hand-feed the fish. We arrived too late for this, but perhaps we would have missed the great tranquillity of the place and seen and heard crowds of noisy children instead if we had come in time.
The Atlantic Sea Park , one of the biggest aquariums in Europe, is situated on the coast at Tueneset, 3 km west of Aalesund.
I wanted to take a photo of the actual building, which looks as if it were part of a hill, very picturesque. I didn't only because the light was not right. As you go in, you are taken straight into the dim lights of the sea, the enormous tanks showing you a wide variety of fish and other forms of sea life inhabiting the Atlantic and the fjords. I could spend hours there, watching and trying to befriend the various sea creatures. Taking the pictures is difficult because of the reflections from the glass walls. On the left from the entrance there are big open pools, where the public can feed (and touch) the fish at 12 and 14. The children can fish for crabs in the activity pool (June - August daily 11 - 12.30, 14 - 15.30, and also, with the exception of Saturday, 16.30 - 18)
Admission: Adults NOK 90, children NOK 55,
senior citizens/students NOK 75
If you haven't visited Geiranger yet and are not thinking of going that way, take a round trip to Geiranger from Alesund. First, the bus will take you to Hellesylt, with beautiful scenery all around (see my Hellesylt page), then admire the magnificent fjord and its waterfalls aboard a ferry (see my Geiranger page for a tour of the fjord). When you get to Geiranger, you will have an hour to do some sightseeing before continuing your journey on the bus up the hairpin bends of 'the Eagle Road' with gorgeous views of the fjord and the mountains. Another ferry crossing from Eidsdal to Linge and soon you are back in Alesund.
The round trip costs NOK 410 (adults), NOK 205 (children)
If you are an independent traveller with a car at your disposal, you should allow a whole day for this trip as there will be many places where you will want to get out of the car to admire the great views.
When you leave the aquarium, don't walk straight back to the car park. The area around the building abounds in numerous attractions: coastal paths, excellent spots for swimming and fishing and even areas for scuba diving. The least you can do is walk past the building and admire the wonderful view of the coast and the islands.
If you visit Alesund in early summer, you can take a round trip to the famous bird cliff on the island of Runde, where over 500 000 birds nest every year. More than 220 species have been observed here but the most famous of these are puffins. The birds can be watched from a boat going round the island or from marked paths across the cliffs.
If you visit the island in your car and want to really enjoy the trip, without worrying about the ferry and boat timetables, allow two days for that. Look up my page on Runde for a suggestion of accommodation and some pictures of this fascinating island.
Our tour took us through spectacular scenery, past delightful fjords , waterfalls, magnificent snow clad mountains, and over Trollstigen with its narrow steep zig zag roads from Stigrora to Isterdalen. I am not sure where we started but it was downhill and we did not go back up!
The three main peaks of Trollstigen are named The King, The Queen and The Bishop.
You can see a troll likeness in one of the rock faces but I am not sure where that was.
A nice feature was that there were no advertising billboards to detract from the sheer wonder of the place.
We were told the Norwegians love to hike and that there are 21,000k of hiking trails in the region.
There were many camper vans and people in private vehicles on the roads. Bit of a problem at times coming down Trollstigen.
There are heaps of eating places, shops to buy that special something, and toilets.
The part of the city that you can see from the view point at Aksla Mountain is the part that has given the city of Ålesund its name. "Ål" means "Eel" and "Sund" is Norwegian for "strait". Looking at this little stretch of land in the water, it is not a bad name at all for this place.
Another interesting museum in Aalesund is the Art Nouveau Centre situated on the Brosundet Canal in one of the most beautiful Art Nouveau buildings, the former Svaneapoteket pharmacy. The exhibition presents the history of the great fire and shows you some authentic Art Noveau interiors. The museum and exhibition centre was opened by HM Queen Sonja in 2003.
Cafe and souvenir shop.
Admission: Adults NOK 50, children NOK 25
This is another picture taken from the city mountain Aksla. You not only have a nice view over the city, but also over the surrounding islands.
To go up to Aksla you can either take the 418 steps that go up from the Town Park or you can drive all the way up the mountain by taking the Borgundfjordveien / Fjelltunveien.
When you travel to Ålesund a thing not to miss is the view from the city mountain Aksla. The view from here is wonderful. On top of the mountain is a Fjellstua with a restaurant and a viewing platform. You don't need to go to the restaurant though to enjoy this view. Close the restaurant there is a rock area where you can climb on to, where you have this beautiful view over the city.
In the picture on the left hand side you can see a bit of the restaurant hidden behind the big tree.
Near the downtown of Alesund you can visit the Sunnmore Museum. It is located on the site of the old Borgundkaupangen market. The museum has got a large collection of old houses in open air, a wonderful boat collecttion (very good is the Viking Ship) and very close to the museum, there is the beautiful Borgund Stave Church built in the 12th century.
Ålesund is known for its Art Nouveau architecture. In the city centre you can see lots of building full of turrets, spires and all sorts of creative ornaments. This makes that parts of the city look quite picturesque to see, it is great to look up and see all those architectural details. It is also the part of Ålesund I liked the best.
But I have to admit that all in all Ålesund couldn't excite me that much. Maybe after all the bad luck I had here so far all I wanted to do was escape and travel south where some beautiful islands of Norway were waiting for me to be discovered.
The Volsdalen church itself is rather basic and modestly decorated nothing really spectacular about it. But the one thing that catches the eye right away is the huge glass stained windows. They are 15 metres high and so colourful. The artist that created the windows and the three paintings below it is Frans Widerberg.
It was special to sit here in front of the church, staring up at those huge stained glass windows and see how the light filtered through every colourful piece. Seeing these pictures again, brings back that quiet special moment, that moment of thoughts. I am glad I went here.