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Destination: southern charm; what to do in Kristiansand if it was up to me

Norway you've heard of. Because that's why you're here. But Kristiansand might not ring a bell for you. I'll admit, it didn't exactly occupy a prime spot in my mental map either, despite being the largest city in the historical Sørlandet region (Southern Norway). With around 70,000 inhabitants, it's not exactly a bustling metropolis. But everything changes in the summer. It turns into a lively town buzzing with activity. I spent a good three years living and working there, and I'd be thrilled to elaborate on what I'd do if I had just one day to revel in Kristiansand.

A sailing boat in front of a Norwegian town

First things first; breakfast. To get your fill, you've got to make your way to a tucked-away corner of the historic center known as Posebyen. This charming grid-shaped neighbourhood is dotted with delightful old wooden houses that have miraculously withstood the ravages of the countless city fires over the centuries. The Odd Bakery is the crème de la crème of bakeries in Kristiansand. Their sourdough bread is a thing of legend, and their cinnamon buns and pastries are pure perfection. The Odd Bakery is nestled within Posebyhaven, a shared courtyard boasting a terrace and a stage where concerts regularly grace the airwaves, especially in the summertime. And don't miss out on the adjacent retro-style cocktail bar for a refreshing tipple. Surprisingly, despite all the modern gadgets at our disposal, this hidden gem still manages to elude many tourists.

In my humble opinion, the most enjoyable shop in town is Design Kollektivet. Brace yourself for a kaleidoscope of treasures, including second-hand clothing, local artwork, and an eclectic mix of curios from various eras that are guaranteed to bring a smile to your face. Located on the bustling main shopping street, this hidden gem resides in a capacious basement that you might easily overlook. Buying a souvenir from here is way more fun than snagging one of those mass-produced trolls from some far-flung, (with all due respect) low-wage country.

The KunstSilo, is most certainly one of the new cultural landmarks of the entire southcoast of Norway. It was opened in May 2024. This ambitious project, spearheaded by the municipality of Kristiansand, was about refurbishing an old grain silo by the harbor into a sensational museum. The Southern Art Museum has been closed for a while now, which has left art enthusiasts feeling a bit forlorn. It's well worth a visit, especially because of the jaw-dropping music building next door that has already put Kristiansand on the architectural map.

When it's time to dine, I would like to hand you two very different recommendations. If you're in the mood to indulge or have something special to celebrate, book a table at Smak&Behag. The menu is out of this world, the staff are simply fabulous, and the building itself (a former gymhall), not to mention the decor, will take your breath away. Oh, and be prepared to get a little greedy when you set eyes on their magnificent wine cellar tucked away in the basement. On the other hand, if you're after a more laid-back and affordable experience, head on over to Bønder i Byen (Farmers in the City). Their chicken salad is a known classic, and the rest of the menu is equally fantastic. They serve up honest, delicious dishes crafted from the finest local ingredients, and their enthusiastic staff will make sure you have an absolutely delightful evening.

For a pint in the sun, there's no place I'd rather be than Vaktbua. The last time I visited, the founder herself still ran the joint. That energetic lady had an uncanny knack for booking the most phenomenal international artists to grace the stage of this tiny and cozy little bar. Trust me, it's the most chilled-out spot in all of Kristiansand. Some folks might label it as "alternative," but what does that even mean, really?

Kristiansand is teeming with bars and cafes, but the best-kept secret, and also the most delightful, is Vinbaren på Mølla. Tucked away from the hustle and bustle of the city center, this wine bar resides in an old building that's been proudly designated as industrial heritage. Not only do they serve up fantastic wines, but they also host a range of regular events, from crab feasts to live performances by local artists. Oh, and if the terrace gets a bit chilly and you're not quite ready to retreat indoors, fear not—you can borrow a cozy woolen sweater. That's southern charm, the very best version of it.

After your final glass of wine, it's time to hit the hay. Having lived there myself, I only had to book a hotel once, and it wasn't exactly a roaring success. During the summer season, the room rates skyrocket and don't quite match the value you receive in return. Steer clear of overcrowded family-oriented hotels like Bystranda. My solid advice? Book your accommodation at least 3-4 months in advance. And if I may be so bold, I highly recommend the Radisson Blu hotel Kristiansand. It might not be the most cutting-edge establishment in town, but it offers the best value for your pennies, having undergone a complete renovation just a few years back. The view from the hotel is breathtaking, and their rooftop bar is an absolute must-visit for a couple of well-deserved drinks in a beautifully decorated mid-century style bar.

The optimal time to visit Kristiansand, in my opinion, is between May and September. During this period, the city is vibrant, and numerous delightful events take place. However, it's essential to note that hotel prices, particularly in the high season, can be exorbitant due to Kristiansand being a popular holiday destination for Norwegians, coupled with a relatively limited number of hotels. So, you have two options: either book your accommodation at least three months in advance or plan your visit to Kristiansand in June or late August. Simple, isn't it?

Kristiansand Norway; five minutes ago, a mere dot on the map, and now, all of a sudden, you have an itinerary that will pleasantly surprise you in almost every conceivable way. Wishing you loads of enjoyment, and do let me know on Instagram where your travels have taken you.


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