The Norwegian Riviera in Pictures

Arendal & Hisøy island in Southern Norway

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 known the region as one of the country's best-kept secrets.

In the summer, the climate is easily the best in the country with long, sunny days and mild to warm temperatures. 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. It's 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!


Boat in harbour at Sandefjord

A former centre of the Norwegian whaling industry, the Sandefjord of today is a modern coastal city. There's plenty of entertainment and cultural options that make it an interesting alternative to Oslo. That's especially true when you consider the transport options. Torp Airport is nearby, and the city is also the boarding point for the Color Line ferry to Strømstad, Sweden.

The Manchester Evening News called it “an intriguing city with hidden depths.” So, what to do once you arrive? Sandefjord’s Whaling Museum recalls its past with a fully-restored vessel. The trail around the Vesterøya peninsular to the south of the city is a popular destination for walkers of all ages.

Also, make time to visit the bronze and marbleworks of Midtasen Sculpture Park. The collection from Norwegian sculptor Knut Steen is set in a beautiful pine forest, overlooking the town and water.


Boats in Risør harbour in southern Norway.
Risør harbour in Norway. Photo: tourist at home (CC 2.0)

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. These were built by merchants along the waterfront, while working class neighbourhoods were built closer to the hills.

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.


Tvedestrand coastline
Tvedestrand. Photo: sokiara (CC 2.0)

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.


Kolbjørnsvik at night
Kolbjørnsvik at night. Photo: Birgit Fostervold

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.

If you are travelling with kids, Vitensenteret Sørlandet (Science Centre South) could be for you. Explore the fun, family-friendly science exhibition filled with interactive installations. Everything can be touched, played and experimented with so it's a truly hands-on experience.


Boats in Grimstad harbour

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.

There are many small islands nearby, so this is another town in which many locals own a boat! On dry land you'll find a pretty harbour, long shopping street, market square and Grimstad Church. Also, check out the small museum dedicated to the early years of famous Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen. Before he left Grimstad, he served as an apprentice to the local pharmacist for three years.

The region is also home to Nøgne Ø, one of Norway's best-loved craft breweries. Not bad for a town of around 12,000 people!


The Lillesand coastline

Lillesand is a charming alternative to the much bigger Kristiansand just 20 minutes away. It's a top destination for domestic holidays and coastal camping. The nearby Blindleia waterway is packed with boat traffic throughout the summer. The islands are well worth a visit.

Back in the town, the 19th-century wooden church is perched high above the town centre and harbour. The Norwegian author Knut Hamsun stayed in the charming Lillesand Hotel regularly in the 1930s. Pop in for a look and it won't take you long to understand why.


The city beach of Kristiansand

The regional capital of southern Norway, Kristiansand offers a terrific combination of a relaxed coastal holiday and all the comforts of a modern city. At the heart of the city is Bystranda, one of only five Blue Flag beaches in Norway. Head to Fiskebrygga wharf to grab some fresh shrimps and enjoy them while you watch the small boats come and go.

Every Norwegian city is great for walking, but Kristiansand especially so. There is a lovely waterfront promenade and the picturesque old town Posebyen, both very flat and easy to walk. Plus, the nearby Odderøya nature reserve and the Baneheia heath and forest atop the hills are great for exploring on foot.

With advance booking, it's easy and cheap to reach Kristiansand on the train from Oslo or Stavanger. Express buses are also available. Flights to Kristiansand are also often cheap from Oslo, Trondheim and other cities in Norway.


Kayaking in Flekkefjord

Marking the transition between southern Norway and the western fjord region, Flekkefjord has a strong relationship with the water. The old white wooden houses of Hollenderbyen are a reminder of the town's trade with the Netherlands in the 16th and 17th-centuries. Learn more about the history 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. The rail bikes are a wonderful activity for two adults or a family.

Where is your favourite spot on the coastline of southern Norway? Let us know!

If you enjoyed this post, please consider sharing it on Pinterest so that others can discover the joys of southern Norway! Here's just the pin for that:

The Norwegian Riviera: The Best of Southern Norway

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About the Author: David Nikel

Originally from the UK, David now lives in Trondheim and was the original founder of Life in Norway back in 2011. He now works as a professional writer on all things Scandinavia.


  1. Loved the photos, from places I never got to visit, when I lived in Norway. Keep them coming. I now live in Australia, but is still a Norwegian by heart.

  2. Hi David thanks for your wonderful reporting about the southern coastline of Norway. But have a look at the sout east part of Oslofjorden from Moss to the Swedish boarder wish is filled with places with rich history and beautiful islands and where you have Fredrikstad with it’s old fortified town which is the best preserved fortified town in northern Europe which just celebrated it’s 450 years anawersery this month.
    Above for your information.
    Thanks best reg L.R.E.

    1. Hi! Thanks, although I don’t count that area as Southern Norway 🙂 I’ve written articles about Fredrikstad and Drøbak before, both of which also feature in Moon Norway. I look forward to getting back there someday!

  3. Thank you for sharing about the southern coastline of Norway, as it expands our vision of this beautiful country that I now call home after many decades in India.

  4. I so love your pictures and stories.
    We plan on coming to Norway in 6-12 months and have decided to re new our wedding vows there as my grandfather and family came from Oslo. We are the Iverson’s. Do you have a link of where I could buy a traditional wedding dress like a bridal boutique? I would so much appreciate it.
    Keep up the wonderful pictures and knowledge you are sharing.
    Thank you very much.

  5. I love Southern Norway. I live in Australia but in 1997 my husband and I went to live in Arendal for two years because of my husband’s work. What a beautiful town it is and we lived in Kolbjornsvik on Hisoy with a beautiful view across to Arendal. I used to catch the ferry from Hisoy across to Arendal.
    Southern Norway is absolutely beautiful.

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