Ålesund is one of the most beautiful cities we’ve ever visited, and a true hidden gem in some ways– as it infrequently makes the country’s “must-visit” lists despite being known as “Norway’s most beautiful city” by Norwegians.
The first thing to know about Ålesund is that a huge fire destroyed most of the city in 1904. In a great example of something really remarkable resulting from tragedy, it was rebuilt shortly thereafter, almost entirely in the Art Nouveau style popular at the time– one of the few places in the world (if not the only one) whose primary architectural style is uniformly Art Nouveau.
Given that Art Nouveau’s popularity was somewhat short-lived (paused by the advent of World War I and supplanted shortly thereafter by Art Deco in the 1920s), this makes Ålesund both charming and a bit unusual.
Forgive us for gushing, but… the architecture is a total dream– like walking through a fairytale. There are turrets, stained glass, and pastel colors everywhere you look. It’s impossible not to get caught up in the romance of it all, and you’ll feel like you’re walking around inside a music box.
Read on for our winter weekend guide to Ålesund, the most beautiful city in Norway.
Ålesund Top 5
- Watch the sunset from the top of Mt. Aksla at Fjellstua, a bit of a climb (418 steps, to be exact!) but absolutely worth it for its stunning views.
- Walk around town, checking out the Ålesund Harbor, Kongens Gate and Notensgata Street for some of the cutest examples of the city’s iconic Art Nouveau architecture.
- Learn all about said architecture at the Jugendstilsenteret Museum.
- Rent a car and go for a day trip to nearby Geirangerfjord, which surely must be one of the most beautiful places on Earth.
- Visit the open-air Sunnmøre Museum for a history lesson, brought to life in 55 buildings spread across 50 acres, dating from the Stone Age through the 20th century. If Viking history interests you, they have several excellent replicas.
We ventured to Ålesund after a fantastic few days in Bergen, Norway’s 2nd-largest city and one of the highlights of our trip. We found that the easiest/fastest way to get between the two cities was actually by boat!
A cruise and ferry company called Hurtigruten regularly runs a red-eye boat journey from Bergen to Ålesund, which takes about 12 hours, most of which you’ll be sleeping. You can book sleeping cabins, similar to a cruise ship, and the ticket includes breakfast.
Our boat was called the MS Kong Harald, and it was enormous! It was fun to explore around, and the crew was really helpful and safety-conscious. We’d never been on an overnight boat before, so it was comforting to hear about the boat’s construction and safety measures. The “Arctic-theme” decor was very cute (like fancy IKEA), and we had fun playing board games, seeing the stars from the outside areas, and relaxing in rocking chairs.
However, what we were absolutely not prepared for was the intense motion sickness. You would think on a boat as big as this one it would be smooth sailing, so to speak… but the ocean was very choppy that night and it bobbed the enormous boat around like it was a dinghy. Tegan tends to get motion sick even in cars, so she had taken Dramamine, but even Alex got seasick, which isn’t normally something that affects him. If you’re thinking about going between the 2 cities this way, prepare yourself for the possibility that you may not feel very well– we were too nauseous to eat breakfast (which is definitely not usually a problem for us… y’all know we love to eat!) and be sure to stock up on Dramamine and start taking it before getting on board.
Needless to say, we enjoyed the experience of sleeping on a boat, since it was a new one for us, but wish we had been a little more prepared for the intense motion sickness.
Other transit options:
If the boat option is not something you’re feeling up to, you can also take a direct flight from Bergen to Ålesund, which takes about 40 minutes, or you can drive, which takes about 8 hours.
We found the boat option to be the smartest for us for a few reasons. It was much, much cheaper than flying in the off-season, and since it was overnight, we wouldn’t have to pay for an Airbnb that night. Since we were already crunched for time on our Norway trip in general, we didn’t want to spend an entire day driving. However, the not-so-fun experience on the boat makes us think twice about recommending it, though hopefully we just had bad luck with the choppiness of the sea that night.
When we departed and headed back to Oslo, however, we were able to find a very inexpensive flight on SAS (Scandinavian Airlines) that worked out perfectly for us.
Your Winter Weekend Guide to Ålesund
(Plus Bonus Content... Geirangerfjord!)
Like we said before, Ålesund is one of the most beautiful cities we’ve ever been to. It’s so lovely and quaint, and we loved getting to relax and unwind for a few days here. Ålesund is the perfect winter weekend trip, whether with your family or on a romantic getaway.
There’s not a whole lot to do in town– the best things to do are walking around admiring the architecture, learning about it in the Jugendstilsenteret Museum, and seeing it from above at Mt. Aksla.
However, if you have the time to spare– Ålesund is not far at all from Geirangerfjord, one of Norway’s most out-of-this-world places, which definitely merits a day trip.
If you took the Hurtigruten boat into town, it will drop you off at around 9AM in the Ålesund city center. You can drop your bags off wherever you’re staying, and then check out some of the city’s lovely cafés for a quick pick-me-up. Some good options are: Racoon Coffee (yes, spelled with 1 “c”) and Lyspunktet Café.
Next, just explore around town! Every street that you turn down is filled with adorable Art Nouveau architecture in all sorts of colors, intermingled with a handful of older or different-style buildings. Ålesund definitely leaned into the “cute” vibe, and leaned in hard!
It’s absolutely worth it to visit the Jugendstilsenteret Museum, located in an old pharmacy, to learn about the history of the Art Nouveau movement and architecture, as well as to see one of the few buildings that has preserved its Art Nouveau architecture inside as well. You can also check out the KUBE Museum (attached) that specializes in local Norwegian artists.
In the afternoon/evening, check what time the sun will be going down, to ensure you have enough time to get up Mt. Aksla to watch the sunset from the Fjellstua viewpoint. There is a café up there as well. You can access the viewpoint by climbing 418 steps from the Ålesund Town Park– keep in mind these were super slippery in the winter!
The sunset from Mt. Aksla definitely goes down as one of the best sunsets we’ve ever seen. It was dreamy and pastel-colored, just like the town, and it was so beautiful to look out on the water as it changed hues.
Photos will never do it justice, but here’s one anyway!
For dinner, consider hitting up a local grocery store and sampling some Norwegian goodies! We bought an enormous salmon fillet (so enormous that we had plenty to share with some friends we’d made that on the trip, and for several days afterward!) that ended up being one of the most mouthwatering we’ve ever tasted. You really can’t beat that Scandinavian seafood! Unrelatedly, you should also consider trying some Freia chocolate, our favorite Norwegian brand (we tried several, in order to recommend the very best to you– a real hardship, as I’m sure you can imagine!)
If you are able to, we really recommend renting a car and venturing out to Geirangerfjord on your 2nd day in Ålesund. It’s not expensive to rent a car for the day, especially in the off-season. Our Airbnb host helped us book ours over the phone the night before, and it cost about 35 euros for the day.
One big tip– if you can’t drive stick shift, like us, be sure to request automatic! The standard transmission option in most of Europe seems to be manual, so if you don’t specifically ask for an automatic, they’ll just give you a stick shift, which (embarrassingly enough) we don’t know how to drive. We were very lucky that they had an automatic available, so be sure to ask in advance! On that note… anyone want to teach us to drive stick shift? We hardly ever drive in the U.S., but feel so inadequate whenever we’re in Europe!
The Geirangerfjord is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and one of the most mesmerizingly beautiful places on Earth. If you visit in winter, you won’t be able to do much in the way of hiking, but you’ll be in awe just the same– of the vistas of the mountains, the waterfalls, and the penetratingly blue color of the water below. You’ll also get to drive on the Trollstigen, a road literally carved out of the mountain with hand tools in the 1930s, filled with exciting hairpin turns and sweeping vistas as you wind your way down the mountain to the bottom.
Like we said, much of the area is closed for hiking in the winter due to the risk of avalanches, and there aren’t a ton of organized activities going on. However, we firmly believe that you should still go! Drive around, stop for photos, explore the Visitors’ Center… while you may not be able to do the same amount of trekking around, you’ll have the place entirely to yourself– which is so peaceful. The only other creature we saw while we were there was an adorable, fluffy cat (picture above!) that followed us around for a while. There’s a great walking path that you can follow around at the ground level, as well.
Geiranger is only about 2 hours from Ålesund by car, and it’s a really easy drive. You will have to drive onto a ferry in Eisdal, which takes about 1/2 an hour, but it runs frequently and is pretty self-explanatory in terms of what to do to drive your car onto it. After you drive back off the ferry, it’s only 1/2 an hour or so further to Geiranger. There are also some options for fjord cruises from the port in Ålesund through the Geirangerfjord, but we really wanted the vistas from above (and had already done a fjord boat trip when we did our “DIY Norway in a Nutshell” day tour earlier in our trip.)
Visiting Geirangerfjord was one of the highlights of our trip, and we would love to go back in the summertime to do some serious hiking there. From there, we had arranged to drop the car off at the Ålesund airport, and we headed to our final destination– a few days in Oslo. It was really easy to rent the car in town and return it that evening to the airport, and we arrived with plenty of time before our flight. Super easy!
Ålesund is such a treasure, like a life-size music box! We had lovely weather while we were there, with spectacular sunsets and not-too-cold temperatures. Its closeness to the Geirangerfjord is an added bonus, for that amazing day trip!
We loved it here, and if you have time to venture up, you definitely won’t regret it. We hope you enjoyed our winter weekend guide to Ålesund! As always, we’d love it if you’d let us know what you think in the comments.
Definitely be sure to check out our winter weekend guide to Bergen, as well as our step-by-step guide to Norway in a Nutshell if you haven’t, and pin this guide to Ålesund for later here, or click on the photos below: