The southern coastline of Norway is blessed with picturesque towns and fishing villages around every corner.
Southern Norway is almost unknown by international visitors, bar the odd cruise ship that docks at Kristiansand on its way to the fjords. But Norwegians know southern Norway as one of the country's best-kept secrets. In the summer, the climate is the best in the country and locals love nothing more than tootling around the idyllic islands and rocky coastlines in their small boats.
Much of Norway's epic coastline is dotted with picturesque towns and villages, but the stretch I'm talking about today is from the beginning of the Oslofjord at Sandefjord, all the down to the coast to Kristiansand and up towards Flekkefjord.
You'll often hear this region referred to as the Skagerrak coastline, named after the strait that runs between the southeast coast of Norway, the southwest coast of Sweden, and the Jutland peninsula of Denmark. Come my friends, for a journey around the Norwegian riviera!
A former centre of the Norwegian whaling industry, the Sandefjord of today is a modern coastal city with interesting entertainment and cultural options. The trail around the Vesterøya peninsular to the south of the city is a popular destination for walkers of all ages. The city is also the boarding point for the Color Line ferry to Strømstad, Sweden.
Despite its small size, Risør has a proud history of sailing ships and lumber export. Today's visitors wander around the white wooden houses that the village is known for. The seafaring culture remains strong, with hundreds of wooden boats moored in the harbour. If you get the chance, visit the town's annual wooden boat festival, Trebåtfestivalen.
While also home to many gorgeous white wooden houses like Risør, Tvedestrand is best-known for its range of new and antique bookstores. Once you've finished admiring the dusty tomes, don't miss Strykejernet, said to be Norway's narrowest house! Meanwhile, the city centre is also home to a family-friendly outdoor waterpark, perfect on a warm summer day.
Once you've finished wandering around Tyholmen, the old 17th-century part of Arendal, head to the harbour to experience the fish market, and your choice of several pubs and restaurants. The picture above shows Kolbjørnsvik on Hisøy island, across the water from Arendal.
The town of Grimstad has a claim to fame that should see the tourists flooding in: It gets more sun than any other town in Norway! Make the most of the good weather by taking a stroll through the pedestrian-friendly town, which has a young vibe thanks to the University of Agder campus. The region is also home to Nøgne Ø, one of Norway's best-loved craft breweries.
A charming alternative to the much bigger Kristiansand just 20 minutes away, Lillesand is a top location for domestic holidays and camping along the coastline. The Norwegian author Knut Hamsun stayed in the charming Lillesand Hotel regularly in the 1930s, and won't take you long to understand why. A sightseeing trip around the Blindleia islands is highly recommended.
The regional capital of southern Norway, Kristiansand offers a terrific combination of a relaxed coastal holiday and all the comforts of a modern city. It's also easy and cheap (if you book in advance) to reach Kristiansand on the train from Oslo or Stavanger. Express buses are also available.
Head to the fiskebrygge wharf (pictured above) to grab some fresh shrimps and enjoy them while you watch the small boats come and go. At the heart of the city is bystranda, one of only five Blue Flag beaches in all of Norway.
Marking the transition between southern Norway and the western fjord region, Flekkefjord has a strong relationship with the water. The old houses of Hollenderbyen are a reminder of the town's important relationship with the Netherlands in the 16th and 17th-centuries, which you can learn more about at the Vest Agder Museum. For a fun alternative to the usual tourist activities, take a summer rail bike tour along the former railway line.