The island of Karmøy on the southwestern part of Norway has been around for a very long time – if the findings from the Stone, Bronze and Iron Ages are anything to go by. According to Old Norse sacred edicts, Thor was wading the area’s waters every day on his way to the tree of life. So it’s no wonder Karmøy is home to Norway’s best-preserved sailing ship town: Skudeneshavn. The White Lady of the Empire has been unchanged since the 19th century, and a visit there will feel as epic as those texts about Thor.
The coastal town of Skudeneshavn at the southernmost tip of Karmøy flourished during what is now known as the “Age of Sail” (mid-16th century to mid-19th century). The town particularly really thrived during the peak of the herring harvests in the early 1800s. Many of the houses and businesses were built then, and have been preserved in great condition until today. Skudeneshavn’s “Old Town” is comprised of 130 original timber homes, businesses and seafront wharves, most of them in the traditional white color of southern Norway. There is a sense of pride in maintaining them, and a strong sense of community as well.
Skudeneshavn being home to a considerable shipping fleet meant that it became open to cultural influences from different corners of the world. You can see European styles in the architecture and townscape, especially the (then very popular) Empire style, giving the town its nickname. That being said, this town wasn’t made by architects and town planners. Rather, it was constructed by master builders from Rogaland and Agder – while some houses were simply relocated here. It’s this combination of old-world charm and local craftsmanship that gives Skudeneshavn its unique character. Stroll through Søragadå, the town’s main street, and marvel at the picturesque houses. Have fresh waffles in one of the historic cafes, visit the old fog horn factory, or head to the museum in Mælandsgården for your share of local history.
In the summer, it’s time for Skudefestivalen. Taking place every year in July, this is the largest boat gathering in Western Norway (think anything from old wooden boats to tall ships and modern sailing boats) and a perfect example of coastal culture at its best. During the festival, this historical town really comes alive – with local craftsmen and national artists coming together to showcase their work at market stalls in the town square and at art exhibitions on the main street. Never let it be said that this White Lady does not know how to show you a good time.