In the Summer of 2021, together with my girlfriend Gabrielle, we sailed from Oslo and down the Norwegian “Sørlandskysten” Southern coast to Kristiansand. Along the way we discovered some really nice coastal towns. I’m going to cover four of them here on the blog: Nevlunghavn, Risør, Grimstad and in this article I’ll write about Kragerø.
The charming town of Kragerø is surrounded by no less than 495 islands out in the archipelago. It’s a town with small narrow streets, little shops on every corner and with its inviting atmosphere just waiting to be explored.
How to get to Kragerø
You can get here from Oslo in a car in just under 3 hours, and there are also frequent bus departures from the Oslo bus terminal. It can be done as a day trip, but I would recommend spending the night so you can enjoy the evening having a meal at the harbor, and get up for a dip in the sea the next day.
The Norwegian painter Edvard Munch, named Kragerø “perlen blant kystbyene”, the gem of the coastal towns. Munch was inspired by the special light in Kragerø, and during his “Kragerø period” he painted many of his most recognized works there. The two most famous being Solen (the Sun) & Historien (the History). Both hanging in the aula of the University of Oslo.
The History of Kragerø
Kragerø emerged as a city back in the 1600s. Timber was an important industry in this area, and later on Kragerø became an important harbor for ships bringing goods back and forth from especially England and the Netherlands. At one point Kragerø was one of the biggest port towns in Norway.
The town the way we know it today was rebuilt after a big city fire back in 1711. The city center consists of the “mainland” and Øya (the island). Big parts of the land on the “mainland” is claimed land, consisting of ballast and rocks that came with ships from abroad. Kragerø is part of the region of Telemark, and workers would come from all over this area to find work. Many would have their houses with them. Meaning they would deconstruct their timber house out in the countryside, and then put the house up again somewhere in the town or nearby. Kragerø was built in a time when people wanted to live in the city center, and since space eventually became a problem, a lot of the houses were built close together to make room for everyone. This is the reason why there are so many narrow streets today, and the town has kept much of its charm from the old days.
Kragerø also played a role during the Napoleonic wars. Since Norway was part of Denmark at that time, it meant we had sided with Napoleon. The English frigate “Tartar” anchors up outside of Kragerø in 1808, and sends four smaller vessels to attack the city. These vessels are stopped by canon fire coming from the Gundersholmen fortress, which is still standing today. A great place to hike up to for a nice view, and watch the young locals jumping into the sea.
Things to do in Kragerø
One of my favorite things to do in Kragerø is to stroll around. It feels like behind every corner there is a surprise waiting for you. The town has many small shops including a couple of nice bakeries and a local butcher. Pick up some Kragerø-skinke (ham) and buy some fresh bread from the baker and you are all set for a nice picnic by the sea.
Parts of the town is fairly flat and easy to stroll around. But you can climb up the winding streets behind and you’ll be rewarded with a nice view over the archipelago. From the “mainland” you can cross a bridge over to Øya (the island). This was one of the first areas to become inhabited in Kragerø, and you’ll find some beautiful houses and idyllic gardens that you can peep into. Out at the end of øya is a public sjøbad (swimming area), so make sure to bring your swimming gear and jump in together with the locals.
When we visited Kragerø this time we came with our sailboat. There is a fairly big marina here, and it’s fun to walk by and see how Norwegians are enjoying some holiday time on the water. Just on the other side of the marina is also a small beach for kids to play and swim, and from there you can climb up to the top of the Gundersholmen fortress.
Food in Kragerø
Kragerø has a ton of restaurants down by the waterfront, and it’s a great place to enjoy a drink or a meal. Despite of all the restaurants you can actually walk along most of the docks at the harborfront, and it’s a good way to feel the lively atmosphere and also scout the different menus. There is also a pretty good local fish store where you can pick up everything from fresh lobster, crab, fish & mussels. We picked up some smoked cod fish, and ate it with local potatoes and a salat. For desert we found a little café selling Norwegian waffles.
Seeing the surroundings of Kragerø
Kragerø has some beautiful surroundings, and if you have some extra time I would recommend doing a tour out in the archipelago. There are sightseeing ferries taking you out there, and it’s a real paradise. Other companies also offer kayaks and fishing trips. Out in the archipelago you find hundreds of small islands with idyllic summer houses on them, and many many boats moored up against the rocks. This is a favorite way for many Norwegians (like me) to enjoy summer. A mooring place like this we call for an uthavn (natural harbor), and except for private docks you can tie your boat up to any rock. Often the locals take their boats and head out to an island in the afternoon. Enjoying a BBQ and watching the sunset together with friends and family (see photo below).
The archipelago of Kragerø
I hope you enjoyed this little presentation of Kragerø, and that it might inspire you to travel there next time you come to Norway. Remember: the gem of the coastal towns is less than a three hour drive from Oslo.
Thanks for reading!