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.
Norway's sunny south
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!
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.
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.
Read more: Risør in Pictures
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. Arendal's 300th anniversary is coming up. To celebrate, the town has announced plans for a stunning new harbour baths.
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.
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 youthful 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!
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 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.
A little west of Kristiansand you'll find yet another charming coastal town, Mandal.
Its perhaps known locally for its fantastic ocean-facing beach, separated from the town centre by a forested area.
As with many southern towns, much of the town consists of white, wooden houses. Some of these line one side of the river in the compact downtown area.
Mandal museum is wroth a visit to learn about the city's shipping and fishing heritage. Work by local artists can also be enjoyed.
Part of Mandal municipality but a 40km drive away from the main town, Lindesnes lighthouse marks the southernmost point in Norway.
Painted white and red, the lighthouse itself is an attractive sight, especially on a sunny summer's day. It's made of cast iron on a foundation of granite, and is one of the only lighthouses in the country still to be manned.
Photos and information about the previous lighthouses and other notable lighthouses around Norway line the walls inside. Meanwhile, a nearby museum built into the rock tells the history in more detail.
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!
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