Photo: Urnes Stave Church, Per Eide
Fjord Tours Articles / 8 Oct 2019

Stave Churches of Norway

There are many reasons why visitors come from all over the world to make Norway their ultimate vacation destination. From hiking to skiing and much more, Norway truly offers an astonishing assortment of exciting and unique activities. However, for people who consider themselves history buffs or just someone who loves to admire the beauty of old buildings, Norway has a particularly unique thing to offer them: Stave Churches!

As the site of the vast majority of the world´s remaining stave churches, Norway is the destination of choice for a ton of people every year who come specifically to see the majestic architecture of these buildings.

Photo: Borgund Stave Church , Øyvind Heen

What are Stave Churches?

While almost any old church is sure to be a source of astonishing architectural beauty, stave churches are especially impressive due to their very unusual design. These medieval churches are constructed using a series of posts and lintels. These types of ore pine posts are called "staver" in Norwegian, which is the reason behind why they are called stave churches.

Photo: Borgund Stave Church, Finn Loftesnes

Many years ago, stave churches were an extremely common sight as there were somewhere close to 2.000 of them populating various parts of Northwestern Europe Unfortunately, in the last few centuries, these churches have begun to slowly disappear, leaving only a portion of what used to exist.

Today, there are only 28 stave churches left in the world, making them more historically significant than they have ever been before.

Photo: Fantoft Stave Church, Per Nybø

One of the reasons behind the disappearance of these churches was the occurrence of the Reformation and the spread of the Black Death. As architectural preferences changed and unprecedented amounts of people begin to perish from the Black Death, these churches fell into disrepair or were completely destroyed.

Nowadays, people have realized the importance of maintaining these historical structures. The Urnes stave church has even made its way onto the UNESCO World Heritage List. This is because the stave churches are a way to look into the history of Norway and its Viking descendants. In fact, the majority of the stave churches located throughout Norway can be traced back to some point in the 12th or 13th centuries, making them some of the oldest buildings to remain standing in the entire country.

Photo: Urnes Stave Church, Espen Mills

Where to Find Norway’s Best Stave Churches?

For those who wish to book some round trips to Norway in order to see the beauty of the stave churches, they first need to know where to go in order to see them. There are several different areas throughout Norway that offer the chance to experience the unparalleled wonderment of these buildings.

For example, the previously mentioned Urnes stave church is the oldest out of all the surviving ones in the world. It is estimated that it was constructed somewhere around 1130 and at one point was owned by a rich Norwegian family. This is evident by the fact that it is decorated even more exquisitely than most of the other stave churches. This fact, combined with its status on the UNESCO World Heritage List, makes the Urnes stave church one of the most popular ones among visitors. It is located just north of Bergen in the Sogn og Fjordane county.

Photo: Espen Mills

From there, you can easily hop into a vehicle or hike through the beautiful Norwegian fjords in order to reach the Borgund stave church, which is also located in the Sogn og Fjordane county. Although not quite as old as the Urnes stave church, it is still very impressive considering the fact that it was first built in 1180.

The magnificent church no longer hosts regular functions but is instead operated as a public museum. It is worth the journey simply to see the more than 2,000 pieces of wood that went into building the best-preserved stave church in Norway. 

Photo: Heddal Stave Church, Johan Berge

If you are interested in seeing the largest stave church in the country, then you need to head further south to the county of Telemark. It is here that you will find Heddal stave church, which stands at an astonishing 29 meters tall, giving it an impressive appearance even from afar.

Constructed at the beginning of the thirteenth century, the Heddal stave church has since undergone several reconstructions in order to maintain the large 25 meter long and 17 meter wide structure. Unlike many of the other stave churches, this one remains largely functional and regularly hosts a variety of baptisms, weddings, and other services throughout the summer months.

Photo: Urnes Stave Church, Per Eide

Visiting the stave churches can be one of the best opportunities to both get a glimpse into some living history while also being able to go hiking through many of the magnificent fjords in Norway.