24 Hours in Balestrand, Norway
In the late 1800s, inspired by artist communities in France and Spain, a group of painters settled in Balestrand and created their own artist colony, captivated by Balestrand's light and natural beauty. Thanks to its unique positioning on the fjord, this charming town allows for the sun to set for what seems like three hours each summer night. The artists, natural aesthetics that they were, built gorgeous homes with Norsk inspired details, adding to Balestrand's draw. Even Kaiser Wilhem I liked to holiday here up until World War I.
This fjord town is only three and half hours from Bergen and an easy detour from the popular Norway in a Nutshell tour. With a world class museum and plenty of plein air activities to enjoy, Balestrand is a worthy stop for history, art, and nature lovers.
What to Do
Visit the Norwegian Museum of Travel and Tourism aka Norsk Reiselivsmuseum | The building of the museum was 30 years in the making and just opened in 2016. A mix of modern architecture and raw mountainside, the architects built the structure into and out of the existing bedrock and the result is a perfectly laid out, gorgeous mix of nature and design. The exhibits inside are of the same caliber - well curated chronicles of the history of travel and tourism in Norway. You could easily spend a whole day in here. Bonus: their gift shop was hands down the classiest of all the ones we visited in the fjords.
Stop by St Olaf Church | An Anglican church built in the late 1800s in the style of traditional Norwegian stave churches.
Walk the grounds of the Kviknes Hotel | Built in 1877, "in Swiss style", the Kviknes is a gorgeous white building set right on the fjord. The original portions of the hotel have been lovingly preserved and are a pleasure to explore. We recommend walking the grounds at sunset to experience the beautiful light that has drawn tourists here for centuries or enjoying a game of giant chess on the Kviknes Hotel roof - complete with stunning views of the Sognefjord.
Row a boat or paddle a canoe in the fjord at Sognefjord Akvarium | A one hour boat rental is included in your visit, plus the history of Balestrand through 50 wood carvings, information on the Sognefjord, and 24 aquariums.
Take a dip in a natural swimming pool | If you're brave and the weather is cooperating, take a dip in the cold ocean at one of the natural swimming pools in Balestrand. If you stay at the Kviknes Hotel, you can recreate photographs from the Museum of Travel and Tourism by descending the for-hotel-guests-only ladder built into the rocks on the Kviknes property. For the general public, however, head south on Villavegen road (the main road in Balestrand), and you'll come across a man-made swimming harbor popular with children, who don't seem to be bothered by the cool temperature of the water.
Where to Stay
The Kviknes Hotel has historical rooms, but was more than we wanted to spend. The budget options are friendly to the pocketbook, but don't have much to offer besides a clean room and nice view. Not bad, but nothing to highly recommend here. Alternatively, we recommend staying at this Airbnb:
Airbnb | A centrally located and charming 3 bedroom holiday home would be the perfect place to spend a couple of nights in Balestrand. For $117/night and a balcony with views of the Sognefjord, it's the obvious winner in the area. But, book early. This is a small town with a decent amount of visitors, places book up fast. Use this link to book your trip and get $35 off.
Where to Eat
Ciderhuset | Ciderhuset serves organic Mediterranean/Norwegian cuisine from its perch within its apple orchard, overlooking the fjord. The food here is served in small plates and was some of the best of our trip, particularly the pickled herring. We recommend the flight of cider and ordering a mix of small dishes from both the Mediterranean and the Norwegian portions of the menu - they pair surprisingly well together! All food is served on hand thrown ceramics made by local Norwegian artist, Magni Jensen, an added touch that we appreciated.