Hugging the southern point of the Gandsfjord in Rogaland County, Sandnes is a city in the Stavanger/Sandnes conurbation. Stavanger, Norway’s Oil Capital and fourth largest city, is a stone’s throw, but there are plenty of reasons to spend a day or two exploring Sandnes.
The big draw s the unblemished nature, whether it’s the sweeping North Sea Beaches or the mountainous terrain on the east side of the Gandsfjord. Hikers, cyclists and windsurfers are well catered for, but in the warmer months families can pick from many bathing spots on the sea or fjord.
Sandnes also has one of Norway’s top science museums and lies a few minutes from the beloved Kongeparken theme park, a treat for kids up to 12 years old.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Sandnes:
1. Vitenfabrikken (Science Factory)
The main visitor attraction, and maybe the most eye-catching building in Sandnes is an up-to-date science museum that opened in 2008. The Vitenfabrikken isn’t in Sandnes by accident, as Rogaland county was the birthplace of the pioneering 19th-century mathematician Niels Henrik Abel.
He is remembered with the interactive exhibition, Abel’s sketchbook, which blurs the lines between science, technology and art.
Kids can also find out how much their brain weighs, test their ability to relax, find out how many metres of DNA there are in a human body and see the constellations at the planetarium.
There’s also a Foucault pendulum demonstrating the earth’s rotation and a selection of Leonardo da Vinci’s inventions, while the second floor has an exhibition on the history of Sandnes.
The most popular visitor attraction in Rogaland is only 10 minutes south of Sandnes.
Aimed at children between three and twelve, Kongeparken promises more than 60 different rides and family-oriented amusements.
The park has a bear theme and you’ll find these friendly characters walking around the attraction and on many of the rides.
Some of the highlights are the Ormen Lange, the longest bobsleigh ride in Norway, the Spinnvidle, the first ever swing ride in the country, and the Fossen log flume.
Kids can learn a thing or two at educational areas like the fire station, all about fire safety and where they can drive an engine to put out a fire.
Although the main season runs from March to October, Kongeparken also opens on set dates in November and December for its Jul i Kongeparken programme (Christmas in Kongeparken).
At 15 minutes on the train, Stavanger more than merits a day out.
Norway’s fourth largest city is the oil capital of Europe, so you have to pay a visit to the high-tech Norwegian Petroleum Museum, which could be a mistaken for an oil platform on the waterfront.
Before oil was discovered in the Ekofisk field in the 1960s Stavanger made a living from fishing and shipping.
And when you amble around the adorable Old Stavanger and its whitewashed wooden houses you can immerse yourself in the past at the canning and maritime museums.
Stavanger also has Norway’s most complete Medieval cathedral, with 12th-century Romanesque carvings on the capitals in its nave.
Another feather in Stavanger’s cap is that it’s the easiest point of departure for trips to the Lysefjord, which begins just 25 kilometres east of the city.
At 42 kilometres, the fjord is a long finger of water walled by sheer rocks that reach more than 1000 metres in height.
The word “epic” doesn’t do this place justice.
Setting off by ferry from Stavanger you’ll have all sorts of options for adventures into the fjord.
If you want to make a day of it you can go all the way to the immense Kjerag mountain at the far end where the scenery belongs in a movie.
Or you could catch a bus and then climb up to Preikestolen (Pulpit Rock) an iconic ledge more than 600 metres above the fjord.
A active excursion of choice in Sandnes is the hike to this peak over the east shore of the Gandsfjord.
Dalsnuten is 323 metres high and you can drive to the car parks at Gramstad to begin your ascent.
A round trip will take about three hours and even though the going is rocky in places and you’ll need good shoes, it’s a walk that almost everyone can do with ease.
There are plenty of viewpoints to gaze back at the fjord, back at Sandnes and up to Stavanger.
You can also follow trails to Revholstjørn and Dalevatn, pristine lakes for swimming in summer.
6. Rogaland Arboretum
Outside Sviland to the southeast of Sandnes is a 700-hectare park collecting shrubs and trees from all over the world.
It’s the largest arboretum in the country and there are 15 kilometres of paths weaving through its stunning hilly landscapes.
If you have to pick a time to come, make it late-May or early-June when the many rhododendron bushes are in bloom.
Also magnificent around this time of year are the magnolias.
The park has a space solely for Norwegian native trees, made up of 30 different species, as well as a birch plantation with many varieties of birch and beech trees.
If you’re here on a Sunday you can pop into the cafe, open 11:00-16:00.
7. Soma Gård
Just the thing for younger children, Soma Gård has become one of Norway’s biggest open farms and puts on a fun array of rural activities for little ones in spring and summer.
The bonus of coming in spring and summer is that the goats, sheep, pigs, rabbits and cows will all have young offspring and children can pet and feed them.
The farm is in an expansive outdoor space with a large playground, trampolines, tractor rides and miniature tractors that kids can drive themselves.
8. Jæren Beaches
The shoreline of the Jæren district to the west is unlike any other in Norway.
The obvious difference is in the low-lying topography, giving rise to spacious sandy beaches traced by dunes.
There’s a host of similar beaches within touching distance of Sandnes and their consistent breezes make them hotspots for kite-surfing and windsurfing.
The pick for families is Solastranden, 2.3 kilometres long and with low surf protected by offshore islands.
Solastranden Golfklubb is on the southern foreshore and has 18 links style holes.
Solastranden is just one of many, and if you’re in need of a bracing walk or want to relax in the sun on the occasional hot day in June, July or August, Vigdelstranden, Selestranden and the breathtaking Hellestøstranden are all in a ten-kilometre radius around Sandnes.
9. Flyhistorisk Museum Sola
Sandnes is closer to Stavanger Airport than the city of Stavanger itself, and this is also the setting for an excellent little aviation museum at an old aircraft hangar.
This structure was built by the Germans in the Second World War and is open to the public on Sundays in the summer.
The collection gravitates towards the history of the Royal Norwegian Air Force and Luftwaffe in the Second World War.
Some of the exhibits include extremely rare Arado Ar 66, 96 and 196 training planes, a Fieseler Fi 156, a Saab Safir, a Canadair CF-104, a Lockheed T-33A and a Northrop F-5A. But if there’s a must-see it’s the Heinkel HE 115 that was salvaged from the Hafrjsfjord in 2012 after nearly 70 years underwater.
10. Sola Ruinkirke
This Medieval church behind Solastranden has a long and engaging history.
Dating from the 12th century it may have been the place of worship of the influential 10th and 11th century political leader Erling Skjalgsson who fought for Norway to keep its system of small autonomous kingdoms.
There’s an obelisk (Bauta) outside in his memory.
By 1842 the church was abandoned and in 1871 it was converted by the maritime painter Johan Benetter into a studio.
Later the church was dismantled by the Germans as a defensive measure for the airport to the southeast.
Fortunately all of the building material was labelled when it was taken down, which allowed for a full restoration that was finished in 1995. The nearby beach, dunes and greenery make it one of the most popular places to get married in Rogaland.
The award-winning urban park in Sandnes is on the banks of the Storånå River, flowing from the Stokkalandsvatnet to the south and emptying into the Gandsfjord.
Sandvedparken itself is 800 metres long, but is in a chain of seven other parks, so you can trace the whole course of the river from the lake to the fjord through an environment of forest, heathland, gardens and pasture.
Together the seven parks are known as the Gandsparkene, and are an easy way for joggers and cyclists to break out into the countryside from the middle of the city.
Sandvedparken stands out for its “planet walk”, a scale model of the solar system complemented by information panels.
Another hike with awe-inspiring scenery, Vårlivarden is a 386-metre peak a few kilometres to the northeast of Sandnes.
To attempt this climb you could drive to the car parks at Maudland or Øvre Hetland.
The no. 21 bus also takes you direct from the centre of Sandnes to Maudland.
The car park at Øvre Hetland is roughly five kilometres from the Vårlivarden, for a walk that will take around three hours there and back.
And every step through the marshy and rocky terrain is worthwhile for the widescreen vistas of the fjords, mixed forest and Stavanger across the water.
13. Sverd i Fjell
Hafrsfjord, about 10 minutes by road to the north of Sandnes, witnessed a decisive battle at the end of the 9th century that would change the course of Norwegian history.
As the victor at the Battle of Hafrsfjord , Harald Fairhair was able announce himself King of the Norwegians, unifying the country for the first time.
in 1983 a stirring monument by the sculptor Fritz Røed was installed in a rocky outcrop on the northeastern shore of the fjord.
Sverd i Fjell is made up of three bronze swords embedded in the rock.
The tallest symbolises Harald Fairhair as the victor, while the two others represent the defeated pretenders to the throne.
Being irretrievably fastened to the rock the swords also represent lasting peace in Norway.
14. Vaulen Beach
In the south of Stavanger and on the west shore of the Gandsfjord is another beach effortlessly close to Sandnes.
Where this bathing spot differs from the Jæren Beaches on the North Sea is that you’ll have the glorious mountainscapes on the opposite side of the Gandsfjord to marvel at.
The water at Vaulen Beach is shallow, clean and calm, so just right for littler swimmers, while the shore is a nature reserve with forest and meadows.
There are barbecues if you want to stay for the whole day, as well as a wonderful playground for kids, which has its own zip-line.
15. Tryggvi Islandshestgård
There’s no more fitting way to traverse the wild Rogaland countryside than on horseback.
This horse farm five kilometres south of Sandnes has 40 majestic Icelandic horses, as well as dogs, cats, rabbits, hens and an apiary.
During the school year the farm schedules a weekly riding school for youngsters, with guided excursions for up to three hours on weekends and holidays.
The only requirements are than you weigh under 95kg and are in a group of two or more to start your trek.