Known as the Norwegian Riviera, the southern Norwegian coast boasts the best climate in Norway, as well as a unique scenery, characterised by small white painted wooden towns and villages and thousands of small islands, islets and skerries just off the coast. A favored summer holiday destination among Norwegians, the region remains to be discovered by the vast majority of foreigners. Here you will find a multitude of things to do in summer, from sailing to hiking, swimming to cycling... or just relaxing on the beach. But Southern Norway has much more to offer: inland the mountains of Telemark await, and are popular with hikers. Come winter there are plenty of lesser known ski resorts, as well as mile upon mile of cross-country tracks. Rjukan in Telemark has become an international centre for ice climbing.
Highlights of the region
- Family-friendly holiday destination
- Norway's Riviera, with the best weather in summer
- Picturesque white wooden towns and villages
- The Skagerrak and its many islands
- Morgedal, the cradle of skiing
Family-friendly holidays: Kristiansand Zoo and Amusement Park is by far the most visited attraction in Southern Norway, but there are plenty more family-friendly activities in the region for those travelling with young children and teenagers.
The Telemark Canal: One of Norway's most popular cruises. Linking Skien and Dalen, the 105-kilometre-long canal, which celebrated its 150 years in 2011, is an impressive feat of engineering connecting a series of lakes with 18 locks.
Driving or cycling on Jæren National Tourist Route for a blend of stunning nature and modern architecture, or along rv. 44 from Flekkefjord to Egersund. Both are part of the North Sea Road or Viking Path.
History: Interested in history? Take a trip on the Setesdalsbanen Railway, a vintage steam train plying a scenic route along the River Otra (closed in 2012). Or visit the Vest-Agder Open Air Museum, Gimle Gård or the Canon Museum, all three in Kristiansand.
Island life: Go island hopping in the Skagerrak and explore picturesque islands such as Lyngør, Blindleia and Merdø, among many others. Travelling by boat is a great way to see the region, whether on a sailing holiday or on a one-day boat trip.
Climbing: Climbing opportunities are many in Southern Norway, for both novices and advanced climbers, in summer and winter: the via ferrata in Gautefall, the climbing forest in Evje and ice climbing in Rjukan are some of the options.
Hiking is another popular activity in Southern Norway. Serious hikers will make a beeline for the mountains of Telemark - Gaustatoppen, at 1,883 metres, is the county's highest, and most popular peak, but other summits around Sirdal, Åmli and Hovden also offer good hiking terrain. For a more leisurely experience there are plenty of marked seaside trails following the coast, ideal for those hiking with young children.
Morgedal, the "cradle of skiing": Morgedal is famous for being "the cradle of modern skiing". It was in Morgedal that Sondre Norheim developed skis that could twist and turn, and invented the heel bindings. His old cabin is open for visitors. The Ski Museum (Norsk Skieventyr) is also located in Morgedal, and recounts the development of skiing through the ages.
Lighthouses: Lindesnes Lighthouse, the southernmost point in Norway, is a popular stop for many visitors to Southern Norway. Lighthouses are a distinctive feature of the region, and many of them are important national landmarks. Some, like Lista and Store Torungen, also offer accommodation.
Deep-sea fishing: With its long coastline dotted with small islands and fjords, the Skagerrak Coast in Southern Norway offers ample opportunities for deep-sea fishing. Cod, coalfish, pollock, herring, mackerel, tusk, ling and haddock are all caught here.
Places to visit
- Lindesnes Lighthouse, Norway's southernmost point
- Kristiansand Zoo and Amusement Park, the largest zoo in Norway
- Picturesque coastal villages and towns (Flekkefjord, Farsund, Lyngdal, Mandal, Lillesand, Grimstad, Arendal, Tvedestrand and Risør)
A selection of festivals and events
Risør Wooden Boat Festival, the largest of its kind in Norway (Risør, Aug)
Hove Festival, popular music festival (Hove, Jun)
Ice climbing Festival (Rjukan, Feb)
Sea Bass Festival in Hove, Tromøya (outside Arendal, Aug)
Rent a summer house by the coast, a cabin in the mountains or even a lighthouse on your own island; camp or glamp it up at the Canvas Hotel in Telemark, where luxury yurts come equipped with real beds and outdoor bathtubs; treat the kids to a stay at Abra Havn pirate town at Kristiansand Zoo, or splash out on a romantic stay in the elegant Dalen Hotel in Telemark.
How to get there
Kristiansand is the main traffic hub in the region, with extensive train, bus, ferry and plane links with the rest of Norway and abroad. By car the quickest option is to take the E18 from Oslo, or E39 from Stavanger. Visitors with more time on their hands can choose to follow the scenic old coastal roads instead. Kristiansand Airport Kjevik has domestic flights from Oslo, Bergen, and Stavanger, as well as international arrivals from Copenhagen, Dublin and Amsterdam among other destinations. Ferries from Hirtshals in Denmark arrive in Kristiansand, and there are buses and trains from Oslo and Stavanger too.
Visit Norway/Southern Norway
Did you know?
Southern Norway is home to around 100 festivals each year, most of which take place during the summer months.
Although the whole of its centre fits within one square kilometre, Kristiansand is Norway's fifth largest city, with a population of about 83,000 inhabitants.
Opened in 2011, the striking Kilden Performing Arts Centre is Kristiansand's new architectural landmark, and, with 1,200 seats, Norway's second largest concert hall.
Norway has a total of nine Blue Flag beaches, two of them alone in Kristiansand: Bystranda and Hamresanden
Gaustatoppen, at 1,883 metres above sea level, is Telemark's (and Southern Norway's) highest peak. Those who don't feel like hiking all the way can hop on the Gaustabanen instead – a cable car that carries passengers inside the mountain up to a viewing platform at the top.