7 stunning Norwegian stave churches
Norway is home to so many amazing traditions, artefacts and structures left by the Vikings. While you’re in the land of the midnight sun, be sure to check out one of the incredible stave churches.
Dating back to the middle ages, these unique structures, made entirely from wood, were built by the Vikings to celebrate the birth of Christianity in Norway.
There used to be around 1,000 of them in the country, but only 28 remain today. Here we give you seven of our favourite Norwegian stave churches worth adding to your itinerary.
Tip: You’ll need to drive to reach some of the more remote stave churches. You may even want to include them as stops on a Norwegian road trip.
1. Heddal stave church, Notodden
Heddal is the largest remaining stave church in Norway. Looking like something out of a fairy tale, it has an equally mythical history. Built at the beginning of the 13th century, legend says it was constructed in three days by a mountain troll called Finn Fagerlokk.
If you’re in Notodden, be sure to check out Finn’s handiwork, and the detailed carvings that tell the Viking legend of Sigurd the Dragon-Slayer.
Heddal stave church is one of the most spectacular places in Norway, and well worth a visit.
Fly to Oslo and drive for around 2 hours
2. Urnes stave church, Luster
If you’re on a road trip and only have time to visit one Norwegian stave church, make it Urnes. The UNESCO-listed building – which is the oldest stave church in Norway and dates back to 1130 – is truly amazing.
The dark, mysterious building and its idyllic location on the shores of the glistening Lustrafjorden wouldn’t look out of place in Lord of the Rings.
Look out for the amazing carvings of beasts battling to the death – they represent the eternal fight between good and evil.
Fly to Bergen and drive for around 5 hours
3. Borgund stave church, Borgund
Borgund is one of Norway’s most visited stave churches. People flock here to see the unique architecture and runic inscriptions. Essentially some of the world’s earliest graffiti, one says “Ava Maria,” while another reads, “may God help everyone who helps me on my journey.”
Check out the roof. On the gables, there are four carved dragon heads. Just like the ones on the old Viking longships, they’re meant to ward off evil spirits.
Fly to Bergen and drive for around 3 hours
Fun fact: Borgund inspired a lot of the architecture featured in the film Frozen.
4. Haltdalen stave church, Trondheim
If you’re travelling to Trondheim, add the Trøndelag Folk Museum to your itinerary. There are over eighty buildings of historical importance on display, including Haltdalen stave church.
This single-nave church has been disassembled, assembled, altered, repaired and relocated several times. The stave church that finally sits in the Trøndelag Folk Museum is built to the same dimensions and in the same architectural style as the original from around 1170, and is now the only historical stave church remain standing in Trøndelag county.
It is significant as it served as a model for the Heimaey stave church in Vestmannaeyjar, Iceland. Heimaey was built and presented to the Icelandic nation by Norway to commemorate the thousand-year anniversary of the country’s conversion to Christianity. A pretty impressive gift, huh?
Tip: Get to know Trondheim and check out our ‘discovering Trondheim: 14 top things to do’ post for sightseeing inspiration.
Fly to Trondheim and drive for around 40 minutes
5. Hedalen stave church, Oppland
Built in 1163, Hedalen stave church is possibly the oldest in the region of Valdres.
The church has many rare medieval relics on display, such as a sculpture of Madonna from 1250 and a crucifix from 1270, which are worth a visit alone.
Legend has it that the town of Hedalen was left abandoned after the Black Death and a travelling hunter stumbled upon the church years later. Upon entering, he found a bear sleeping by the alter and shot it. The bear’s skin hangs in the sacristy to this day.
Fly to Oslo and drive for around 2 hours
6. Røldal stave church, Hordaland County
Built in the 13th century, Røldal was a pilgrimage site in Norway during the middle ages. At some point, the pilgrimages stopped, but in 2003, they were revitalised, and since then, a pilgrim’s walk has taken place each year on 6 July, during the old Midsummer.
Beautifully decorated, the church is famous for its healing crucifix. According to legend, it sweats one day a year and the sweat has healing power. Visit on 6 July for some divine intervention!
Fly to Haugesund and drive for around 2 hours
7. Gol stave church, Oslo
Gol stave church was originally based in Gol, Hallingdal. However, it was dismantled and moved to Oslo in the 1880s, as instructed by King Oscar II of Sweden and Norway.
If you’re on a break in Oslo, check out this striking reconstructed church, with its multiple pitched roofs. You can see it, along with a load of other key Norwegian artefacts at the Norsk Folkemuseum, in Bygdøy.
Tip: On a flying visit to Oslo? Check out our ‘Summer in Oslo: Top sights and things to do’ post for inspiration.