The southern part of Norway (Sørlandet in Norwegian) has been the number one summer holiday destination for Norwegians as well as for international visitors for decades. Still, it is a hidden gem for many visitors. Read more about the Norwegian Riviera.
Southern Norway is the southernmost region of Norway, with 25 municipalities and 305 244 inhabitants (2019). Driving, hiking or sailing along the coastline, you’ll find beautiful islands, fishing villages and picturesque towns with white wooden houses around every corner.
From coastal summer paradise to popular skiing resorts
Sørlandet stretches from the coastal areas with its many rocky islands and skerries via an inland belt with forests, lakes and rivers. There are excellent salmon rivers and in the mountain areas around Setesdal are many popular skiing resorts. In Setesdal and Sirdal the altitude ensures long and stable winters, perfect for winter activities.
In the summer, locals love tootling around the idyllic islands in their small boats. The coast of Sørlandet has a typical coastal climate, with relatively mild climate year-round. Sørlandet is the region in Norway with most summer days during the year. Happy summer-guests from all over the world visit the towns and villages.
The summer holiday can be spent in a picturesque white cabin along the coast or maybe in a boat along the Norwegian Riviera ready to jump in the sea in the morning and then sail along the coast line to visit historic locations like Merdø or Lyngør.
The car-free island just outside Arendal is a favorite among the locals during the summer season. There are old wooden houses and narrow paths that brings you from a museum to the sandy beaches to the boulder and rock beach on the southern side of the island.
Related: Beaches and Picturesque Seaside Towns in Southern Norway
Lyngør village consists of four islands, only available by boat or ferry, and the houses there are built in the style of the days of sail. In 1991, Lyngør was awarded Europe’s best-preserved village. Many people left the islands when the steam engine’s arrival put an end to Lyngør’s prosperity. The stone quays and the narrow paths of concrete and stones where left as they were.
Today, this mixture of paths and wooden houses invite walking across the islands, a break on a bench, or on one of the islands’ restaurants.
Related: The Smiling Landscape of Southern Norway
Despite its small size, Risør has a proud history of sailing ships and lumber export. The village is known for its white wooden houses built by merchants along the waterfront. There’s an annual wooden boat festival.
Children’s holiday paradise
Southern Norway is also called the children’s holiday paradise, not least because of its long sandy beaches, Kristiansand Zoo and Sørlandsbadet in Lyngdal. The long list of activities and attractions also include the Mineral Pak in Evje, the Science Center in Arendal and the Aquarama in Kristiansand. In the Setesdal Valley the cultural heritage includes folklore, folk music and silverware.
Arendal is celebrating its 300th anniversary in 2023 and the Norwegian architects Snøhetta has unveiled plans to revive a traditional harbor bath with a layered structure that looks like a topographical map of the area.
Tvedestrand is best-known for its range of new and antique bookstores. However, once you’ve finished admiring the dusty tomes, don’t miss Strykejernet, said to be Norway’s narrowest house!
The towns of Risør, Tvedestrand, Arendal, Grimstad, Lillesand, Lyngdal, Kristiansand, Mandal and Flekefjord are spread like a string of pearls along the coastline. Along this coast you can find traces of the coastal culture; the many lighthouses, coastal forts, fishing villages and boat wharfs. There are also abundance of flowers and various shops, cafes and fine restaurants.
Sørlandet is also home to around 100 festivals each year, most of which take place during the summer months.
The Norwegian Riviera is quitter the rest of the year, but with merely a few hours between the sea and the high mountains, many visitors choose to come at this time and enjoy the activities that are offered. Hiking along the coast or up to the mountain summits, fishing and biking are all popular activities.
In the wintertime, the skiing possibilities are many with places like Hovden, Evje, Bortelid and Åseral.
Most of the coastal towns in Southern Norway had a prosperous period during the sailing ship era in the 1800’s. The islands furthest out at sea and along the ship route were popular outposts where the fishermen, the sailors and the harbor pilots lived. The outposts provided safe havens for the ships that sailed to and from Norway with goods. Timber and salmon were the main export articles of the region. Today these outposts are mainly populated with holiday guests during the summer months, and are idyllic reminders of life in the old days.
Ever since the great glaciers retreated about 10,000 years ago and left behind a small strip of land, people have lived in southern Norway. There are traces of Stone Age settlements from Kristiansand to Lista, with one of the most famous places being the Penne area at Lista. Here you find rock carvings, as well as ancient ruins and burial mounds from the Iron Age.
Today Sørlandet is Norway’s leading exporter of processed goods, with future-oriented businesses based on supplying the oil and gas sector, the solar cell industry, wind turbine industry, car industry, and high-tech processing of metals.
Welcome to Southern Norway!
The Norwegian Riviera, written by Tor Kjolberg
Feature image (on top): Photo © Adam Reed/Visitsorlandet