Norway’s Alesund: Frozen in time, but the fires continue

Each colorful, identically shaped building was reflected in the glassy water below, making the view look like a model of miniatures constructed with cardboard and mirrors:


Aalesund, Norway

The toy town of Alesund, Norway


How could it possibly be real? Maybe I should hang out at the Mount Aksla lookout a while longer, rather than approaching the city only to have it lose its definition, like a pointillist painting at close range.


I suppose there really wasn’t a choice, given that our hotel was already booked and this was the very city in Norway I had most wanted to visit. But for a split second, I did hesitate…


About Alesund


Alesund – also written Aalesund (or the correct version, Ålesund) and pronounced something between AH-lay-sund and OH-lay-sund – is special because it was built in such a short period of time, using a very distinct architectural style which now defines the city.


A ravaging fire demolished the city at the turn of the century, and it was completely rebuilt within just a few years, from 1904 to 1907, right as Jungendstil was popular. Never heard of Jungendstil? A similar little movement was happening in France, called Art Nouveau. In Barcelona, Gaudi was taking Catalan Modernism to new heights.


As I mentioned in our introductory post of this series on what to see and visit in Norway, the result of the building spree is a city that looks like time stood still.


This city definitely ranks among the best of what to do in Norway. It’s much less touristy than Bergen, despite almost bursting through the cute-o-meter and drawing loads of cruise ships each year. Even while day-tourists stroll the streets, cameras flashing (I fit right in), the town retains an unaffected, almost sleepy vibe, and the tourist stores offer higher-end merchandise often produced by local artisans. Even more importantly, these tourist stores are interspersed between “real” stores – you know, kitchen stores, copy shops, hardware outlets – the kinds of places that tell you you’re in a city where locals live and do business (here, it’s the cruise and fishing industries). Refreshing, isn’t it?


What to do in Alesund


Climb 418 steps or drive up Mount Aksla to the Fjellstua lookout for an extraordinary view, the same one that would have been shared by the inhabitants of the WWII bunker located there. After that, exploring the town is easy:


Bunker on Mount Aksla, Alesund, Norway

Definitely makes the list of Top 10 bunker views! (@ Mt. Aksla)


The Brosundet Canal is the center and main focal point, best viewed from the Notenesgata (street).  Skansegata (street) is filled with Art Nouveau – excuse me, Jungendstil – buildings, and 0n the other side of the canal, Apotekergata turns into Molovegen and winds lazily past wooden edifices clinging to the wharf that hint at Maine or Nova Scotia.  The antique shops here are overstuffed with vintage curios, and the bold brews of the coffee shops will keep you buzzing well into the evening. Take a moment to visit the Art Nouveau Centre, a museum housed at the base of the Brosundet Canal.


Brosundet Canal in Alesund, Norway

Picturesque Brosundet Canal


For a half- or day-trip, the sky is the limit: kayaking in the canals, hiking along the aquarium‘s shores, visiting the nearby fjords (including UNESCO-listed Geiranger), or skiing in the winter. A nearby island, Godøy, accessible by ferry, is known for nice cycling greenways and a lighthouse housing a fantastic cake shop. Nothing like some exercise to work up the justification for homemade cake! There’s an outdoor museum dedicated to the Sunnmøre Alps, and endless possibilities for eating bacalao – salted cod – the city’s specialty.


Houses along the wharf in Alesund, Norway

Maine or Norway? Norway or Maine?


The down-low on drinks in Norway


The topic of cocktails and other alcoholic beverages is unique enough in Norway to deserve its own section here. First and foremost, prices are prohibitively expensive. It’s worth it to bring your own poison of choice from home! In fact, as soon as you arrive you’ll see locals and tourists alike crowding into the duty free stores for one last buying spree….


Crazily enough, even if you’re willing to empty your pockets of kroner for the privilege of a cocktail, you won’t receive more than four centiliters of alcohol per drink. That’s right: it’s illegal to pour anything more! If you’re in the mood for a martini or cosmo, you’ll have to make do with a diluted version or a half-filled glass.


We learned about this tasty tidbit – along with an entire course in Norwegian microbrews – from up-and-coming mixologist Icaan at Brosundet Bar in the Hotel Brosundet. His specialty is a berry-infused gin cocktail, set aflame with the aid of orange oil (fire does seem to be a recurring theme in this city). If you’ve been in doubt that Norway is a foodie (and libation-ie? What is the word for that?) heaven, I hope you’ll be convinced as this series continues over the coming weeks.


For the meantime, a tip: stop by to see Icaan and ask for a sip of the Grand Reserva Spruce Liquor with vanilla. To paraphrase a line from a movie, I wish I could get as excited about anything as Icaan does about gin and spruce liquor. It will warm you from the inside out, no flames necessary.


Flaming cocktail at Hotel Brosundet bar

Icaan prepares to light his creation

**Special thanks to Hotel Brosundet, which helped make our stay in Alesund possible.

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  1. How refreshing to learn about Norway from your perspective. Food, drink, shopping, and great sights, you had me at the initial view of the city. I had no idea Norway was so rich in character. Many thanks!

  2. I’m glad Alesund was our first stop – really the perfect intro before heading inland.

  3. I had never really thought about visiting Norway, but after reading your posts, I feel I cannot miss seeing and experiencing it for myself, so I’ll definitely put it on my bucket list! 🙂

  4. Yes, do! It was the country that surprised me the most (in a positive way) since moving to Europe. The interior was especially dramatic – can’t wait to share those pics.

  5. I’ve wanted to visit Norway ever since I saw a picture of someone standing on an impossibly dangerous looking boulder wedged at the top of a cliff. Looks like my kind of country 😀

  6. I think I know exactly the place you mean: Kjerag Boulder near Stavanger – totally gasp worthy. Yes, Norway’s interior has plenty of vertigo-inducing spots. Crazy to see what glacial thaws can do over time.

  7. Fantastic 🙂 This is my hometown and Im currently live in Stavanger down south. Anyways, If anyone should need any assistance or help I can arrange a full trip from Stavanger to Ålesund with me as a guide, as a free service – and at your own cost wishes.( if you want hotel or tent – you decide and you pay 🙂 I really enjoy taking this trip my self, so feel free if you want to join. I can adapt to your schedule. Done this with great success so many times now, and i know most of the backdoors. Usually we rent a car and drive and the trip will take 2-3 days depending on choice of routes. Well, if you need – Im there to help 🙂 If you need references from US – tell me and Ill give contact information. 🙂 Email pgroenn at online dot no

  8. I visited Alesund for the first time a couple of weeks ago. I am in love and cannot wait to return. its such a beautiful place.

  9. I hope you were able to try the spruce liquor 🙂 Glad you also thought the city was special. I’ll look forward to reading you post if you blog about it.

  10. That’s wild. With high prices, you figure they would be able to pour more. I can’t believe there is a limit. Four centiliters is close to a shot, so I guess it provides a decent drink.

  11. @Mark – I guess I’d be okay with it if the served drinks in little tiny glasses. That way, at least I’d know what I was getting! But the watered down versions? That’s just a shame 🙂

  12. Kyrre Haugen Bakke says


    I am a literary translator trying to finish my translation of Eleanor Catton’s ever so voluminous _The Luminaries_ into Norwegian. Could you please explain to me what spruce liquor is? Since the Norwegian term for this beverage is what I’m after, it would be very helpful, I believe, if you could provide me with a brand name or two.

  13. Hi Kyrre,

    Spruce liquor is liquor that has been flavored with the needles, buds or essence of the spruce tree. I didn’t see which brand he used or what the bottle looked like, though. Good luck!

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