Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, Art Nouveau-designed Ålesund, Norway, reinvented and rebuilt its wooden-structured self after a devastating fire swept through the town in 1904.

Romantic-looking pastel-painted buildings topped with turrets and towers line the harbor and are sprinkled throughout the city center. Stone and brick structures with decorative tile roofs call out to be noticed and admired. There’s even a museum called Jugendstilsenteret – The Art Nouveau Center – dedicated to the town’s passion for the architectural style that gave Ålesund a new life.

Ålesund – pronounced Oh’-le-sen – was the first stop on our Norwegian cruise and my first glimpse of Norway. It’s a picturesque setting along the west coast, spread out over seven outer islands in the county of Møre og Romsdal. As we sailed into port, mountains capped with lingering snow and the rippling reflective waters of the Norwegian Sea painted a welcoming scene.

First view of the Norwegian coastline.
Sailing into Ålesund.

Fjellstua Viewpoint

Herb and I picked up a map at the Tourist Information office and headed to our first destination, Fjellstua Viewpoint, for the 418-step climb to the top of Mount Aksala. On the way we walked through a lovely, leafy city park at the base of the viewpoint – one of those great surprises that you often find on your way to somewhere else.

The staircase to Fjellstua Viewpoint begins in Ålesund’s city park.
Rollo the Viking  – the first Duke of Normandy – is believed to be from the island of Giske near Ålesund. This statue in Ålesund’s city park was a gift from Rouen, France, in 1911. Two other Rollo statues can be found in Rouen and Fargo, North Dakota. 
The Fjellstua Viewpoint and trail.

The paved trail to the top is well-maintained, with old stone steps mixing with modern pathways, and handrails and benches for taking a break along the route. Every so often, a numbered step appears, letting visitors know how far they’ve climbed – and how many steps they have ahead of them. At various points, the coveted view peeks through the trees, offering motivation to reach the top.

Benches built into the rock blend in with the natural setting.
Almost there…looking back at step #367.

At the top, we spent some time taking in the views from every direction. With billowy clouds floating overhead, Ålesund looked especially dreamy, almost ethereal. The terrace restaurant was not yet open, and although we had shared the trail with quite a few other visitors, we didn’t have to jostle for photo spots. Tour buses – there is a road to the top if you don’t want to hike – were beginning to drop off passengers as we were leaving, and I had the feeling that the viewpoint gets quite crowded as morning turns into afternoon.

We made it!
Looking out from the top…We hadn’t spotted this obelisk monument in Ålesund’s city park, but I later learned that it is dedicated to Germany’s Kaiser Wilhelm II, who helped the city rebuild after the 1904 fire.
Lovely serene views…
…in every direction.

Dråpe Kaffehus & Ålesund Architecture

Back from our hike, we headed to a café that I’d read about when researching Ålesund. Known for its cozy ambiance as well as tasty food, Dråpe Kaffehus turned out to be a great choice. The seating area has the look of a modern library, with books lining the walls and sofas and armchairs mixed in with wooden dining tables. We placed our order at the counter, and our beautifully presented sandwiches were delivered to our table.

Dråpe Kaffehus interior.
My fancy and delicious chicken sandwich!

After lunch we wandered through town, taking in the charming streets and architecture on our way to the Art Nouveau center. We stopped at a terrace overlooking the Brosundet Canal, where two sculptures dedicated to Ålesund’s fishing industry stand near the water’s edge.

Walking through Ålesund.
I loved this building’s floral insets and striking shade of blue.
Art Nouveau roof and turret detail.
The oh-so pretty Brosundet Canal.
The Fisher Boy…
…and the Herring Woman.


Across the street from the canal is Jugendstilsenteret, Ålesund’s Art Nouveau Center. Housed in the former Swan Pharmacy building, the center features a museum dedicated to the Art Nouveau style as well as original interiors from its days as an apothecary shop and pharmacist’s residence. Swan Pharmacy was built between 1905 and 1907 and was the first Art Nouveau building in Ålesund to be granted protected status.

The Jugendstilsenteret’s office and gift shop are centered around the original pharmacy, an inviting space with carved wooden cabinetry, turn-of-the-century lighting and a stunning silver cash register. Intrigued by the beautifully preserved décor, Herb and I purchased tickets for the self-guided tour and headed upstairs.

The Jugendstilsenteret exterior…
…with a golden nod to its former life as Swan Pharmacy.
The office and gift shop with its original pharmacy décor.
A stained glass window tucked under the staircase provides light in the hallway. According to signage on the tour, light was a key element in Art Nouveau design. The home’s stained glass windows were inspired by nearby coastal landscapes.
The original light oak dining room remains untouched from its early days.
Color-filled tapestries by Norwegian artists from the Art Nouveau period.

About Those Trolls

Nordic folklore and Norse mythology abound with stories of trolls – mountain- or cave-dwelling creatures whose behavior toward humans can range from the dangerous to the mischievous. Tales of their escapades are deeply woven in Norway’s cultural fabric, dating as far back as the Middle Ages. Over the years, they have become symbolic with the country’s tourism, and their likenesses can be found in gift shops, on postcards and along street corners.

“Trolls are more of a fantasy figure than anything else, but many held the notion that nature was inhabited by different types of creatures and that humans lived side by side with these creatures, which were more or less visible and more or less dangerous. Some are more imaginative and part of the fantasy, while others were more real and people maybe took some precautions against them.”

~Ane Ohvik, professor of history and museology, University of Oslo,

On this visit to Ålesund, I saw my first troll outside a souvenir store as we were heading to Fjellstua Viewpoint. Later in the day, I spotted another in a different part of town. I thought it might be fun to see how many trolls I happen upon during our travels in Norway. One per town would be a respectable goal. Let the trollspotting begin!


  • What a great essay about Alesund. We didn’t climb the steps, so I am especially interested to see what that was like. Alesund is indeed a charming city and your photos are magnificent! We also visited the museum and enjoyed stopping along the sound at a sidewalk cafe. We are considering a return to Norway next year (on Sojourn) and taking in Iceland and other locations on the same cruise. We HAVE to escape the Texas heat next summer so we are considering 28 days. Still mulling it over.

    • Thanks so much, Susan! I appreciate the kind words and your thoughts on Ålesund. The Fjellstua walk was fun and not as daunting as the 418 steps might imply, but it’s the view that really counts, no matter how you get to the top! I’ll be interested to hear if you decide on a return trip and which Norwegian cities you’ll add to the list from this voyage. Please keep me posted!😊

  • One of my favorite cities in Norway. Glad you had a blue-sky day to enjoy the city and all that it has to offer. We climbed those stairs the first time we were there … oh so worth it for the scenery. Our favorite restaurant is near the Brosundet Canal. Next time we find ourselves in Ålesund, we’ll check out the Art Nouveau Center … looks interesting.

    • Erin, I completely understand why Ålesund is one of your Norwegian favorites! I was grateful for the beautiful weather as well, especially after experiencing that view. The Art Nouveau Center is worth checking out – it’s as charming as the rest of the town!

  • Mary, thank you for revealing to us what we’ve missed in Alesund! I believe it’s been on at least two of our scheduled itineraries in Norway, but for some reason or other, we’ve not made it there. I now very much want to see and experience it for myself, though doubt I have the stamina to climb all those steps! (I appreciate your reply to Susan above on that score!!)
    I’m looking forward to your “trolling” in Norway – it’s a beautiful country, I agree.

    • That’s so disappointing to miss Ålesund twice, Gill. Maybe there will be a “third time’s the charm”? I’m glad to have offered a little look into the town’s highlights. You would love the tapestries at the Art Nouveau Center😊 And yes, it wouldn’t be Norway without a few trolls to find!

  • Mary- I cannot wait to see Alesund next week! Your ability to capture the history, charm, and beauty that I imagine it to be is a gift, my friend Didn’t we have a joke of passing a troll in the Theta house?? Thank you for sharing! Gretchen

    • Gretchen, I’m delighted to hear that Ålesund is on your itinerary! You’re sure to have a wonderful time there. Thanks for the lovely comment and for stopping by. I don’t recall any jokes about trolls, but I can promise you will see your share of them in Norway! 🙂

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