Although Stavanger is mostly overlooked by tourists in Norway, rushing between the Norwegian capital Oslo and the fjord's gateway Bergen or hurrying upwards to Trondheim or the North Cape, it is definitely worth a visit. This friendly city is with its 120.000 inhabitants the 4th city in Norway. The town itself contains an old town ("Gamle Stavanger") with beautiful wooden houses, the informative oil museum, Norway's oldest cathedral and is located nicely on the large body of water called Boknafjord, although it is more of a bay then of a real fjord. Around Stavanger are several natural sights, including the famous pulpit rock (Prekestolen) on Lysefjord, the mainly inland Hafrsfjord or the numerous islets and island in Boknafjord.
There are several ways of coming to Stavanger. First of all the Sola Airport, the oldest in Norway, was already constructed in 1937 and was an important airport during the Nazi occupation of Norway. Several daily flights connect Stavanger with Bergen and Oslo, but there are also scheduled flights to airports all over Europe, like Copenhagen, London and Amsterdam. The airport is 12km south of the city and provides car rental, taxis and public buses.
Currently there is only one international car ferry route to Stavanger, directly from Hirtshals (Denmark) on Fjord Line. The ferry continues to Bergen. The international port is near Tananger, around 15 km away to the west. Cruise ships still cast anchor on the terminal just next to the city centre. Nearby is the local car ferry port with connections across the Boknafjord.
The Boknafjord area has been inhabited for at least 5000 years, while permanent settlements came into existence around 1000 B.C. Several rival kingdoms dotted the area in the early Middle Ages, which lead to a great development in warfare equipment like fierce battle axes or superior longboats. The Stavanger land had little to offer in wealth or resources, so in order to finance their armies and increase their weaponry the kingdoms undertook long plundering raids to other areas in Scandinavia but also as far as England, France or even Italy. These fearsome men where locally known as explorers (Vikings in Old Norse) or Normans in the rest of Europe. One of these kings, Harald 'Fairhair' managed to unify the south of Norway into one kingdom under his reign, either by smart alliances or by waging and winning a war on his neighbours. Christianity also set foot in Norway in the 11th century and soon gained popularity. Stavanger's landmark cathedral was constructed during this period.
The German Hanseatic League brought great prosperity to Norway, but mainly to the foreign upper class. Royal marriages meant that the country first came into Swedish hands but from the 14the century under Danish rule. The country went into a long decline, partly due to the decimation of the population by the Black Death, but also due to a growing Danisation of society and the continuing wars between Denmark, Sweden and Russia. Denmark sided with France during the Napoleonic Wars, leading to a semi-independent Norway in a union with Sweden. Full independence was reached in 1905. The economy, mainly the fishing and forestry industry boomed in Stavanger and other places until the Nazi occupation during WWII. After the war the economy picked up especially when oil was discovered in the ocean in front of Stavanger. The oil boom still means Norway is one of the wealthiest nations in the world with one of the best social, educational, etc. systems.
Places to stay
The official Stavanger Region website contains an extensive list of accommodation in the Stavanger region. Being one of the most expensive countries in the world, it will come as no surprise that Stavanger's Mosvangen Camping, nicely situated on Mosvannet lake, attracts large crowds of tourists during summer season. Apart from places for camper or tent (around 100 Kroner or 10 euro) they also rent wooden houses for around 400 Kr. There is another camping in Sola near the airport.
The city's youth hostel has dormitory beds for around 250Kr and different types of rooms. A few small B&Bs are available in or near the city centre. Excellent value is Tone's Bed& Breakfast where the nice French landlady offered us a double room with breakfast for 500Kr. The Thompson's B&B offers similar value. In the mid-price section, the Skansen Hotel is centrally located and has spacious double rooms for around 1200Kr or cheaper but smaller "guesthouse style" rooms. Top-end hotels are mainly the ones of national and international chains like Best Western, Radisson Blu or Rica Hotels, but expect to pay over 1500Kr (more than 150€).