In the southernmost parts of Norway thousands of islands are waiting for you. Many of them you can have all to yourself – except, maybe, for a few sheep.
Text: Petter Løken
Lapping of the waves, laughter and seagulls yelling. The salty smell of the ocean and seaweed. Feel the pulse drop even a few notches more when you hear the soft, steady beat from the engine of a passing Norwegian “snekke”, the antique wooden boats.
Photo: Adam Read / Visit Sørlandet
The Southern Norwegian “skjærgård” – an archipelago consisting of thousands of small islands and skerries along the coastline - is the Norwegians’ own summer paradise.
Here you can enjoy lazy days and let the hectic everyday life become distant memories.
Summer, bathing, bare rocks in the sea, boat life, cosy white painted wooden houses, and the calm South Norwegian temperament. That’s the real Southern Norway, Elisabeth Høibo, head of sales and marketing in Visit Southern Norway sums up.
“Southern Norway is suitable for everyone, and maybe families with children in particular. The distances are short wherever you want to go, and it’s easy to get around”, she says.
The Southern Norway expert is in no doubt what foreign tourists should see.
“Every Norwegian, including the crown prince couple, travels here to spend their summer holidays in the archipelago”, Høibo says.
The following, separate tips can easily be combined as a varied and rewarding roundtrip.
The southernmost parts of Norway tempts with comfortable climate and numerous sunny days. In the archipelago, you can among other things, enjoy the typically small white painted Southern Norwegian houses.
Whether you have your own boat, or have rented a kayak, you can go ashore on almost every islet or island you find, and most likely have it all to yourself the rest of the day.
Well, not all to yourself. Don’t be surprised if you meet a sheep – or ten. The number of sheep in the archipelago has more than doubled in 20 years, according to The Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation (NRK).
“Many are working to get the sheep back in the archipelago to maintain the cultural landscape”, Høibo says.
In that way, grazing livestock contribute in making the islands more accessible.
As in other parts of the country, the right of access (“allemannsretten”) includes the archipelago in Southern Norway.
This means everyone has the unrestricted right of free access in the outlying fields, regardless of who owns the land.
“The municipalities are actively working against privatisation and development in the coastal zone. Still, in some places you find private properties, and in those cases it should be respected”, Høibo clarifies.
Nevertheless, with thousands of islands, islets, rocks and skerries, you have free access to almost everywhere, the head of sales and marketing says.
With such a chain of exciting islands, it can be helpful with some good advice about where to go.
Here you’ve got Elisabeth Høibos tips of which islands to visit.
Located just outside Kristiansand you can find the beautiful Bragdeøya. In the summer the ’bathing boat’ runs daily.
Here also you’ll find Kristiansand’s finest beach and most shallow water.
If you want, you can rent a boat or go hiking on one of the islands great trails. Tenting is allowed.
Sandøya, close to Tvedestrand town, provides beautiful bays and bare rocks in the sea for bathing, plus cosy white Southern Norwegian Houses.
Other things to do include visiting the local craftsman, enjoy a cinnamon bun at the bakery Brød og Vind, and taste the delicious fish soup at Cafe Bastehaven.
You can get here by ferry.
In Søgne, not far from Kristiansand, you find the old harbour Ny-Hellesund. The Island has one of Southern Norway’s finest examples of a building environment typical of this area.
A liner runs all year round, and you can go ashore at Monsøya, Helgeøya and Kapelløya.
Spend the night in nice and modern apartments at the guesthouse Verftet situated at the waterside, and eat at the restaurant Bølgen og Moi with its breathtaking view.
In Ny-Hellesund you can also walk the coastal path from Verfet to Olavsundet. The trip is suitable for all ages.
Put up your tent at Olavsundet. And don’t forget to visit the exciting coastal fort from the Second World War too.
At Hidra, the Vest-Agder county’s biggest island just outside the town of Flekkefjord, people, including the Vikings, have lived for thousands of years. 600 people live on the idyllic island today.
The ferry to Hidra runs from Kvellandsstrand, a ten-minute drive from the centre of Flekkefjord. It’s also possible to take a bus from Flekkefjord to Hidra.
Spend the night in the cosy guesthouse Skipperhuset, while Fruens Hus in Kirkeham at Hidra offers an exciting gift and interior store.
Here you also can taste some typical Norwegian cakes.
Kongshamn pier restaurant, a restored ice-house and fish-landing facility from 1886, contains a bar, restaurant, and art made by the famous Hidra artist Olav Omland.
Throughout the summer many concerts are also held here.
Merdø is located furthest out on the archipelago nearby the city of Arendal. Also at Merdø you find the typical white painted wooden houses with flowering gardens, long beaches and great ocean views.
It’s easily accessible by ferry departing from Pollen in the centre of Arendal. In the high season the ferry runs every half hour.
Throughout the summer there’s a cafe at Merdøhus Museum – which is worth visiting. Bring your bathing suit, packed lunch and money if you want to buy ice cream or soda. If you would like to stay for the night, you have to bring a tent.
Ryvingen lighthouse is situated outside Mandal city. That makes it the southernmost lighthouse in Norway. And, it’s actually not too expensive to stay over the night either.
Tregde Holiday Resort offers ocean rafting, which is a fun and exhilarating ride. The tourist office in Mandal provides information about boat rentals - with or without a skipper.