Sometimes places I visit feel like home.
I can’t explain why, but some destinations give me a visceral feeling of belonging, and maybe even a twinge of nostalgia (no matter that I’ve never been there before). But it’s not just some travel version of deja vu– mixed in with that sense of familiarity is also a heady sense of anticipation for those unknown discoveries just waiting to be made.
Deep in the Western fjords of Norway, the otherworldly village of Alesund now makes the short list of places that feel like home to me. This spit of a peninsula, filled with brightly colored homes, art nouveau design, artists and great food, was the biggest surprise of my trip to Norway.
Alesund also surprised me with the quality, diversity and sheer amount of interesting shops, especially considering its small size. Here is my recommended shopping tour of the village.
Start at the Aksla Lookout Point
First, you’ll want to get an overview of Alesund by heading to the Aksla lookout point. While there is nothing to bring home from here, I recommend taste-testing the delicious Norwegian pancakes along with a strong cup of coffee.
Head to Alesund’s Last Standing Wooden Homes
Alesund’s glamorous art nouveau architecture wasn’t original to the peninsula, which was populated long before the design gained popularity. A fire swept through Alesund in 1904, burning the town to the ground, save a few wooden building which still stand today. Head to Molovegen street to see and even shop in these original homes.
Handblown Glass at Glassversted
Vintage Bric-a-Brac at Antikk Galleri
Walk and Shop the Art Nouveau Streets of Downtown Alesund
Next up, head downtown (cobblestoned Kongensgate is the main drag) to take in the architecture and shop at the unique shops that line the streets.
Everything a Fisherman Might Need
The Knitwear Shop that Gives Back: Sydvesten
You would never know there was something special about this knitwear shop, which offers handmade woolen goods in candy colors. All of the items here are made by and benefit locals with disabilities. I loved the colorful wool trivets– easy to slip into your suitcase.
Traditional Norwegian Goods at Der Hufisliden
While Der Hufisliden is a mini chain, it is a high quality one, specializing in the best of handcrafted Norwegian goods. The location in Oslo is bigger, but this branch had a nice selection of traditional Norwegian souvenirs to choose from.
Well-Curated Norwegian Antiques at Galleri Artifex
By the Alesund Waterfront
You are never too far from the water in Alesund. Don’t miss the fishing boats along the harbor (say hello to the adorable fisherman Espen and his dog Alba if they happen to be in port). While the waterfront area has less shops, it’s a great area to have dinner and drinks. We can also recommend the regional sweets from the local bakery– an ideal souvenir.
Martin Walderhaug Bakery
Don’t miss this incredible bakery which has been family run for over 100 years. Some of the specialties are only available in Alesund, like the grovkake (expat devotees have batches of these sweets shipped to them worldwide). Grovkake stay fresh for 1-2 weeks, so these make great souvenirs to bring home.
For Dinner– XL Diner
Dried salt cod (known as bacalao) is a specialty of Alesund. While you can easily buy some to bring home with you, I recommend first sampling some at a local restaurant. You can’t do much better than the spectacular waterfront XL Diner, which serves salt cod in both traditional and moden ways– I highly recommend the sampler platter to taste test them all. The fish soup was also a standout.
Thanks to Innovation Norway and the charming Bente Saxon of Visit Alesund for making this visit memorable!
[box]What to Buy: Antiques, bric a brac, handblown glass, grovkake
Where to Get it: Alesund is relatively compact, so you can easily hit both the downtown and the wooden home area in the same day
What to Know: For accomodations, I recommend the excellent, centrally located but reasonably priced First Hotel Atlantica (waterfront views are amazing!)[/box]