This unusual gem of a town was almost destroyed by a fire in 1904. When it came time to rebuild, Art Nouveau was all the rage, hence the distinctive architecture's presence everywhere. Ålesund is actually composed of several coastal islands, and the cruise port is right in the center of town, so getting around is a snap.
What We Love
Art Nouveau Center: Housed in a former pharmacy, the Jugendstilsenteret is a must-see attraction where you can learn about the history of Art Nouveau and Ålesund's architectural heritage. Exhibits include original pieces of furniture and textiles as well as multimedia shows.
View from Mt. Aksla: Hop on a bus or climb the 418 steps up to the summit for panoramic views of Ålesund and the Sunnmøre Alps.
Best Known For
Art Nouveau Architecture: This is Ålesund’s major claim to fame, and no one can walk away unimpressed by the beautiful buildings everywhere you look.
Ålesund Aquarium: The Atlanterhavsparken — which you can get to by bus — is one of northern Europe’s largest saltwater aquariums, and a big hit with families. Learn all about the creatures that inhabit Norway’s waters, and don’t miss the open-air pool for the penguins and the seal bay built into the open sea.
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Who It's Best For
Architecture Buffs: After more than 850 homes were destroyed in the 1904 fire, a fairy-tale town sprung up in its place, with buildings constructed in an exemplary Art Nouveau style, with all sorts of ornamentation and fanciful flourishes.
Photographers: See above. The same elements that excite architecture lovers will also appeal to photographers. Look for whimsical turrets, spires, and ornate decorations.
Don't Say We Didn't Warn You
Guided Shore Excursions Can Be Limiting: There are more sights to see than there is time, which is why you need to choose wisely. If you opt for a ship’s excursion, you'll likely stop by one or two sights at most, and you won't have much time to spend at them. Get the details before you book — you may be able to cover more ground on your own.
Kim Foley MacKinnon is a Boston-based writer for ShermansCruise whose work has also appeared in The Boston Globe.