When the sun shines, Norwegian families flock to the country’s southern coastline. The family-friendly attractions of Kristiansand make the city a top choice for a summer vacation.
Norway’s fifth largest city is less known among international tourists even though plenty of people pass through on cruise ships, the ferry from Denmark and since April 2022, the Holland Norway Lines route from the Netherlands.
Many families that do visit Kristiansand head straight for Dyreparken, a vast zoo and amusement park about seven miles east of the city. While it’s rightly one of Norway’s most visited tourist attractions, Dyreparken is not a cheap day out.
If you’re on a budget or are just passing through Kristiansand, there are plenty of things to do that won’t cost a thing.
Relax on the city beach
Beaches are not as uncommon as you might think in Scandinavia, but there’s very few city beaches as good as Bystranda.
Kristiansand’s blue flag city beach is just steps from the promenade. The spacious, fine sands and shallow water attract families in great numbers when the sun is shining, yet it rarely feels crowded.
A few steps away, beach-goers will find the Aquarama swimming center and Scandic Hotel Bystranda, the largest hotel in southern Norway.
Stroll the waterfront
Stretching from the city beach to the entrance to Fiskebrygga and Odderøya island, Kristiansand’s promenade is a series of mostly car-free paths through parks and harbors.
Originally built on a small island in 1672 to help defend the city, Christiansholm fortress is today connected to the promenade. It was only used once for defensive purposes, during the Napoleonic Wars in 1807.
Today the municipality-owned site is used for cultural events, while the grounds are park of the wider waterfront parklands. During daytime hours, the walls of the fortress are open and give a fantastic view of the city’s waterfront and out to sea.
Farther along the waterfront, three large water features provide a focal point for visitors stopping for lunch or simply taking a break. The nearby ice-cream kiosk does a roaring trade when the sun shines.
People watch at Fiskebrygga
At the southwestern end of the promenade lies a former fishing industry wharf now redeveloped as a public waterfront neighborhood with restaurants, bars and wooden piers.
Choose to eat on one of the outdoor terraces, enjoy fresh seafood from the indoor fish market or simply relax on the wooden piers.
During the summer, small pleasure craft come and go through Fiskebrygga’s canal that links the nearby harbours with the open ocean.
Fiskebrygga is also a great place to appreciate the modern architecture of the Kilden performing arts center, just across the water on Odderøya island.
Hike the nature trails of Odderøya
Cross one of several bridges from central Kristiansand to reach Odderøya, an outdoors playground for the city.
Formerly owned by the Norwegian government and used as a naval base and training ground, Odderøya’s naval facilities are now home to artists, galleries and filmmakers. But the island is best known as a recreational area. Hikers are rewarded with wartime historical sites, wildlife and wonderful views.
While relatively small, the island is hilly and so even short hikes are rewarded with elevated views back to the mainland.
While the bears that once inhabited Odderøya are long gone, there is still wildlife to spot including a population of roe deer. During the summer, the island plays hosts to concerts and music festivals featuring major international artists.
If you are arriving by train or you are staying on the northern side of the city center, you could also consider Baneheia for hiking. The hilly recreational area is packed with forest, lakes, trails popular with joggers and diverse birdlife.
Admire the wooden houses of Posebyen
A short walk northeast of the downtown area, Posebyen is a charming residential area of large, white wooden houses.
This part of Kristiansand escaped the devastating city fire in 1892 and so the streets give an impression of what used to be. Many homeowners are fiercely proud of their buildings and the upkeep on most of them is impressive.
Notable buildings include the former post office building on Kronprinsensgate that dates back to 1695 and an elegant former nursing home on Elvegata.
Posebyen is popular with cyclists and a busy cycle route runs through the district along Rådhusgata to the main city square and the neo-gothic Kristiansand Cathedral.