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To get ahead of the crowds which will be converging on Norway's fourth-largest city next year, when Stavanger shares the title of European Capital of Culture with Liverpool. With a population of just ,, it is compact, easy to explore and holds great charm — all of which sounds unlikely given that this is also the oil capital of Norway. There's a great mix of the new and the old here: you'll see plenty of huge ships and tankers in the harbour, yet this tiny city also contains the greatest number of wooden houses in northern Europe.
And there's a wealth of things to do: Stavanger boasts 26 museums and galleries and is the gateway to especially fine fjord country. The ferry terminal 1 is at Strandkaien, an easy walk to the city centre. Airport buses 00 47 51 59 90 60; www. Ryanair ; www. Kystbussen buses 00 47 ; www. Given the high duties in Norway, and the fact that the country is outside the EU, many travellers consider it worthwhile to invest in alcohol; you are allowed 1l of spirits, 2l of wine and 2l of beer.
The one drawback of Stavanger is expense: all that oil money means that this is not a cheap city to visit. If you pay a little more you can expect high standards. The Thon Hotel Maritim 4 at Kongsgaten 32 00 47 51 85 ; www. For views and atmosphere, book a room at the Skagen Brygge Hotell 6 at Skagenkaien 28 00 47 51 85 00 00; www. You may find these hotels available online at lower rates bundled together with flights at websites such as www.
The picturesque old town is set on a hill just to the west of Vagen. To its south-east is the newly developed central plaza 2 , with Stavanger's Gothic cathedral 5 behind it. The church overlooks the small City Park, with its pretty pond. Immediately to the north is the main shopping area, which straggles between the two harbours.
The tourist office 7 is just above the cathedral at Domkirkeplassen 3 00 47 51 85 92 00; www. It opens daily 9am-4pm Saturdays to 2pm except Sundays, with longer hours and Sunday opening between January and August For a walk that presents a perspective on both harbour areas as well as the old town, start at the tourist office 7 , where you can pick up free maps of the city and the outlying region.