I’m sure many people reading this might be considering a weekend in Norway focusing predominantly on either Oslo or Bergen. We’ve got you covered on the Bergen front, but let this article serve as a warning: don’t go to Norway and miss out on the wider Fjord region and the beautiful town of Ålesund. It’s here that you’ll discover the essence of what makes Norway so special; the untouched nature, magical mountains perched above mystical fjords and waterfalls that seem to fall from increasingly spectacular points in this constantly surprising landscape.

So now you’ve decided to extend your trip for a few days, where’s best to eat, sleep and see? Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered.

48-Hours in Alesund: Getting There

Yes, part of the experience of this region is just the drive to get there. For anyone that’s seen the recent Bond Film, you’ll have seen the ‘Atlantic Road’ featured. That’s further north than Alesund but gives you a pretty good idea. Long winding roads that snake through forests, tunnel under mountains and dip round fjords make this one of the most dramatic drives you’ll ever do.

We rented a RAV4 hybrid from Hertz. It was a beautiful brand new car and we’d recommend going for something a little larger like this. You may not be taking it off-road, but you’ll want to be comfortable as being in the car is part of the overall experience here. The drive from Bergen to Alesund is about seven hours in total. That’s probably a little long for one day, but about five hours away is the perfect place for an overnight stay.

The area of Stryn is not your average roadside pitstop, far from it. This is the closest thing you can find to an outdoor theme park in Norway and with so much to do it’s well worth an overnight stay to break up your drive to Alesund.

48-Hours in Ålesund: Where to Stay in Stryn

There are two hotels in the area. Hotel Alexandra is our pick to stay in. The hotel has been welcoming guests for over 125 years. When it first opened in 1884 it could house 20, since then the hotel has been renovated and built out several times but is still run by the same family.

The hotel also hosts a brilliant pool and spa facility. The pools are heated all year round and you have indoor and outdoor to choose from. There are also jacuzzis, massage jets and a slide to take you down the stairs (can all stairs have this?). For those not staying here, you can pay to use the facilities.

Meanwhile, the hotel also hosts the best restaurant in the area. If you are a buffet person, you’re in luck. The ‘Restaurant Charlotte’ hosts a nightly buffet that goes above and beyond your normal hotel selection. This is the best of what Norway has to offer all for one fixed price. We were stunned by the selection which ranged from steaks cooked while you wait, fresh seafood including giant prawns and crab claws, an amazing array of salads and even a selection of mains to rival most a la carte menus. If you stop in Stryn for food alone – this is where you want to eat.

For those who want to stay in a more affordable option nearby, Hotel Loenfjord is across the road. The hotel has beautiful views of the rushing river alongside clean, practical rooms. The hotel is a few hundred metres from Alexandra so you can head across for dinner or to use the spa (a good option for those arriving later in the evening and who don’t want to use the room extensively).

That said, we’d definitely recommend getting to Stryn in good time as there’s plenty to do and a lot of it revolves around the Loen Skylift. A one-minute drive from both of these hotels, the Loen Skylift opened in May 2017 and is one of the most spectacular new sites that Norway has to offer. The cable car, which is one of the steepest in the world, takes you from the fjord to the top of Mount Hoven (1011 m) in just five rather nerve-racking minutes (if you don’t like heights!).

48-Hours in Ålesund: What to Do in Stryn

At the top, there’s a host of things to keep you fed, hydrated and entertained. The Hoven Restaurant gives you a 210-degree panoramic view overlooking Mt. Skåla and Lake Lovatnet in the east, Jostedalsbreen Glacier and Olden in the south, and the Nordfjord that winds its way towards Stryn in the west. The restaurant has everything from hot and cold snacks, to cocktails and grill mains. It’s a super comfortable setting and somewhere you can easily relax for a few hours.

For those not looking to relax there’s plenty on offer at this spectacular mountain top. The flagship is Via Ferrata Loen, a climbing path (built in 2011) right behind the Hotel Alexandra that runs to Mount Hoven. As well as hiking up, there are plenty of hikes from the top, a zipline and kayaking all at your fingertips. It’s well worth having a look at their website before you head out and taking your pick of how much, or how little, you’d like to do. In any case, Stryn is so much more than a pit stop, it’s a mountain climbing, buffet eating, spa relaxing must-do.

After your overnight in Stryn, it’s back to the road for possibly the most spectacular driving of the trip. This is truly an experience in itself and should be taken as such, this ain’t no foot-down on the A12 experience. We’d recommend a slight detour on the way to take in the best of the driving. Head in the direction of Hellesylt for around an hour – just before arriving you’ll reach a spectacular valley and Lygnstoylvatnet lake. The lake is the home of the ‘Atlantis of Norway’ a sunken remains of a town; you won’t be able to see much without goggles and a swimsuit but it’s worth it for the road alone.

From there continue to Oye and the Leknes where a ferry takes you 15mins across the Hjorundfjord. These ferries (there’s a few on this route) are an amazing way to take in the surroundings. Be sure to get out of the car and head up to the deck for some of the best fjord views of Norway. The cream-filled pancakes are also a tradition you can try while on board. After reaching Solavag you’re about 25 minutes from Alesund – it’s a longer route but we can’t stress how worth it is and it makes your arrival in Alesund all the more special.

48-Hours in Ålesund: Where to Stay

When staying in Ålesund there’s really one place we’d recommend. Hotel Brosundet is the unmissable stately mint and yellow building at the heart of Ålesund’s quaint centre. The hotel is perched above the waterway, with the outer walls directly touching the Brosundet waters at the heart of the town.

The interiors of this hotel are as beautiful as anything you’d find in Paris or Milan. A large central reception reaches all the way up through the hotel with an open fire slowly crackling at its centre. Every room has been individually created with the interior of the hotel designed by renowned firm Snøhetta (who also did Ground Zero Pavilion in New York). The building was originally a warehouse and is one of ten listed Art Nouveau buildings in Ålesund. What’s so clever is that the new hotel lives within the building it occupies rather than dominating it. You still feel the history of what this building once was, helped by the fishing vessels that sail outside its windows each morning.

The rooms themselves are spacious, airy and equipped with everything you could want. There are 129 in total with the most famous being the renowned Molja Lighthouse. When hoteliers Line and Knut Flakk were looking for some extra space they landed on a hundred-year long lease to the main lighthouse of the city of Ålesund. The Molja Lighthouse stands at the end of the city jetty that faces the outer islands and the sea, a mere five-minute walk from the hotel. They say that no other European hotel room has been featured in more travel magazines – and it’s clear to see why.

The whole hotel is family-run and feels that way; we couldn’t have been better looked after by their friendly, knowledgeable staff. The breakfast was fresh and well thought through with a focus on local ingredients. Meanwhile, one experience you’ll definitely want to book is the baths (there are two outdoor baths complete with a private sauna situated on the edge of the water). Relax in a cloud of bubbles, sipping local wine and watching the boats go by in what feels like the ultimate Norwegian moment.

48-Hours in Ålesund: What to Do

Brosundet is brilliantly located in the centre of this picture-perfect town. After the fire of 1904 reduced 850 buildings to ashes, leaving ten thousand homeless, the city had to be rebuilt, a process that took just three years. The architecture is much more stripped back and it’s well worth strolling through the cobbled streets to see the Viking-inspired design.

To see the whole thing, you’re best to head up the 418 stairs to the Town Mountain and viewpoint of Aksla. At the top (you can also, I’m told, now get there by car). Fjellstua has an outdoor restaurant, café, and a platform to enjoy the view. It’s well worth doing on the first day as the views are stunning and there are plenty of points for photos (slash resting) on the way up.

Of course, this being Norway, all the best activities take place outside. There’s no shortage of amazing hikes and waterfalls in and around Ålesund. You’re best placed to ask the hotel which knows all the different options and can probably find you exactly what you’re after. We went over to Godoya for a walk up to Storhornet – the weather was perfectly crisp and cool – and the walk took about three hours in total. We decided to extend up walking around the magnificent Lake Molladalen at the top but there are plenty of shorter options if you’re worn out by the climb up. Closer to home you can walk round to the lighthouse and swim off the jetty there. The fjord is cold but there’s nothing quite like taking a dip in the cleansing sea water. Depending on the time of year, you can really get your Norwegian on and join the local fisherman on a trip out, plus there’s bird watching and an aquarium for animal lovers.

48-Hours in Ålesund: Where to Eat

The meal we had at Apotekergata No. 5 was probably the best we had on our whole trip. The restaurant itself is housed within a beautiful former warehouse right next to hotel. During the day there’s a lovely cafe and shop with the perfect spot to sip coffee and overlook the harbour.

At night, this downstairs space feels like you’re at the bottom of a boat rather than in the centre of a town, except this boat is serving the very best of Sunnmøre’s cuisine. The old warehouse which houses Apotekergata No. 5 is intimate and romantic with low-lit tables and a moody atmosphere that promises something a little different.

The menu certainly has plenty to choose from and they invite you to wreak havoc across a selection of snacks, classics, small plates and desserts. For those who easily get food fomo we’d recommend going for the five-course tasting which gives you one of each of the small courses.

The menu, as you would expect, is constantly changing, so what we ordered may not be available to you but with the cooking of this quality, you can be certain that all the food here will be worth the trip.

The highlight of the starters for us was a seared scallop served in the shell. The scallop was perfectly cooked and accompanied by a sauce that highlighted the fresh flavour of the fish without drowning out its delicacy. Meanwhile, for the mains, the breadth of their cooking prowess was on display across both land and sea. My hake was crispy, salty and delicious with pea shoots and carrots providing crunch and balance to the dish. My partner meanwhile was trying out the meat with a generous portion of beef topped with a deep rich gravy and served with a creamy decadent mash.

If you go to one restaurant in Alesund make it this one – yes it ain’t cheap, few restaurants in Norway are but you definitely won’t be disappointed!

Quality Hotel Alesund

For another, simpler option the Quality Hotel in Ålesund has a restaurant that’s worth a drink for the views alone. This centrally located hotel has an à la carte menu, which offers the best of the local produce. What really makes this place special though is that in the summer you can sit on their large terrace, which looks out onto the sea, and enjoy your meal in the sun, the vast expanse of water makes for a pretty unmatched backdrop.

48-Hours in Ålesund: The Verdict

You’d be mad to miss the almost painfully perfect Ålesund as part of any trip to Norway. As well as being an amazing gateway to the wider Fjord region this unique area is bustling and full of restaurants, hotels and activities to keep you entertained.

You’ll never do a drive quite like it and for the adventurous Ålesund is the perfect launchpad to an array of walks, waterfalls and watersports that Norway is so known for. Don’t book that Bergen return just yet, stay a few more days, we promise, you won’t regret it.

Photos courtesy of Visit Norway. Plan your trip here.