The idea here is to include in this post everything that’s worth mentioning about Molde as I saw it.
Molde is probably the smallest destination in Norway I’ve ever travelled to. (I have, yes, visited smaller towns and villages, but I’d always be ‘transiting’ there on my way (back) to some other place.)
It is true that there isn’t that much to say about Molde without also talking about the area where the town is located. So that’s why I’ll be talking about both: Molde itself (which does have its fair share of highlights), and the area where it is located.
I have only one further introductory remark to make, and it’s related to the photos included in this and the next Molde posts.
There is a noticeable contrast between two sets of photos here. Some snapshots depict clear blue skies, and snow-coated mountain slopes glistening in the brightest winter morning sun. Other photos are taken in the heaviest of snowfalls, under a thick, grey blanket of clouds.
The photos were taken on two consecutive days. The weather changed so dramatically overnight that I could hardly believe my eyes.
On day 1 (Saturday) it was sunny and bright, cold but not freezing, and the fact that the blue sky lasted almost nonstop the whole day felt too good to be true. Except, it was!
On day 2 (Sunday), well, when I woke up I genuinely thought I’d been teleported to the Upside Down. The sky was overcast, the fjord covered in mist, and the mountain view seemed to have disappeared overnight. It started snowing around 8 o’clock, and the thick snow just kept coming nonstop in huge flakes till around 17.
So weather wise I can say that I experienced the two sides of winter in their purest forms.
Molde: Basic info and essential fun facts
Molde is the administrative centre of the Møre og Romsdal county. It is located in Western Norway, a little north-east of Ålesund and a little south-west of Trondheim. The town, which has around 26,000 inhabitants, sits on the Romsdal Peninsula, where it is surrounded by the Moldefjord and the Fannefjord.
Before I go on to talk about Molde city centre and fjord, though, I find it essential to mention just a few things that are especially characteristic of the city.
1. Molde Football Club is an integral part of the very identity of the city. If you Google ‘Molde’, you will see that four out of the first five results in the search list are connected with Molde Fotballklubb. One result is the Wikipedia page of the city of Molde, but it comes only second in the list, just after the Fotballklubb Wikipedia page!
2. Molde is known as The Town of Roses. The nickname caught on in the second half of the 19th century, when Molde became a popular destination and the fjord town on the west coast of Norway. In those days, as the dedicated panel of the Romsdalsmuseet explains, ‘the blooming was striking, and gardens were known for their flowers, with elements as roses as a particularly fine and distinguished feature’.
In the first half of the 20th century the situation changed dramatically. In 1916 Molde city centre was destroyed by a fire almost in its entirety, while in 1940 the Germans bombed the city, leaving very few buildings standing.
Molde is still known as ‘The Town of Roses’, though. As you walk down the main street (Storgata) or up any of the side streets in town, you will notice that the rose is a recurrent symbol on shop windows, gates, and even an electricity panel on the trail to Varden. The beautiful rose graffiti on the wall of a building near the bus terminal, though, would be my favourite.
3. As you walk down Storgata or around Torget (the shopping centre on the main street), you will also notice that there are quite a few shops specialised in traditional clothes and accessories, namely two beautiful bunad shops. (For those who don’t know, bunad is the traditional Norwegian costume. There would be a lot to say on the subject, but for the purpose of this post this basic piece of information will do.)
The tight connection between Molde and the textile industry is rooted in the history of the city. As reads the Romsdalsmuseet panel on the subject, ‘At the beginning of the 1900s Romsdal became the leading district for the clothing industry in Norway and was known as “Norway’s wardrobe”. Traditional tailor and shoemaker crafts were the basis for the clothing industry.’ And, fun fact within the fun fact, the production mostly took place in private houses, not in factories.
4. Last but not least, Molde’s coat of arms is one of the prettiest I’ve ever seen. It depicts a whale chasing a herring barrel, and it’s a clear reference to herring fisheries, i.e. a founding industry in the city.
Needless to say, I’ve got carried away with fun facts. Okay, time to take a walk around town!
Molde: A Walking Tour of the City
If you read about Molde before you visit the town, you’re likely to expect the city centre to be quite small, and not especially demanding in terms of sightseeing. Chances are, though, that it will turn out to be even a little smaller than your not-too-high expectations.
Aside from the spectacular nature and mountains that surround it, what struck me most about Molde is just this: how the relatively small size of the town is inversely proportional to the extraordinarily key role it played in the history of the country.
Storgata really is the one and only high street in Molde. Most cafés, bars and restaurants are lined up there, alongside Thon and Scandic hotels, the already mentioned Torget shopping centre and, last but not least, the Rådhus (Town Hall).
Next to the Rådhus you also find the steps that lead up to the Cathedral, built in the 20th century and completed in 1957. Myrabakken is probably the most notable side street off Storgata. It is especially known for the architecture of its buildings. It has been left virtually unchanged over the past few decades, so they still largely display their post-war appearance.
Molde is located by the fjord, so of course it has a Promenade. It’s called Hamnegata, and it starts from the passenger port (which is also where the Hurtigruten docks). When I was there, the Promenade was partly inaccessible because it was under renovation, so I couldn’t experience much of it. I can only imagine how crowded it must be in the summer months! The Promenade also offers a great view of the Molde Panorama, a spectacular sequence of the 222 peaks that surround the city.
A privileged viewing spot for the Panorama is also the roof of Plassen Cultural Centre, Molde’s cultural hub. The centre is located just off Storgata, next to a broad staircase not far from Moldetorget. Its modern structure is quite unique, and it also has an amphitheatre for outdoor productions on the roof. Plassen is also a major venue of Moldejazz, which is Norway’s most important jazz festival and the second oldest jazz festival in Europe.
Romsdalsmuseet (Romsdal Museum) is Molde’s main museum, and it really is great. It’s no coincidence that it’s one of the largest folk museums in Norway. I visited it on the Sunday when, after the Varden hike, I was desperate for a dry, warm shelter to take a break from the heavy snow.
The museum complex is huge. The museum building itself (which has an unmistakable architecture) is home to the permanent collection, temporary exhibitions, a library, photo and print archives, plus a shop and a super cosy café. That’s not all. The museum also includes a fairly extended open-air area with traditional Norwegian houses, footpaths, and ponds.
I enjoyed the visit a lot. I love folk museums because they’re authentic, and they give you such an insight into the place you’re visiting. Romsdalsmuseet was no exception.
First I visited the permanent collection, where objects, artifacts and installations tell a lot about the history, culture and traditions of the region. Then I went for a tour of the outdoor area, though I obviously couldn’t make the most of it. The ponds I could only see on the museum map: they were frozen and covered in fresh snow, so I could barely tell where exactly they were!
On my way back from Kristiansund I was supposed to get off the bus at the bus station. As we drove past a small harbour, though, I noticed that the sky was on fire, so I decided to get off straight away, and take some photos before the sun went down. The same harbour had already caught my attention in the morning, as the bus drove out of Molde toward the Atlanterhavsvegen, so I had to go for it.
Molde Båthavn is indeed a small harbour where mostly pleasure boats are moored. It’s a lovely spot, from where you can enjoy a great view of both the fjord and the city in the distance. Next to the harbour there’s Retiro beach, which, alongside Kringstadbukta (situated a bit further down the fjord), is Molde’s most popular beach. (On a side note, from the harbour you can go back to the centre on foot: it’s quite a walk, but it’s doable.)
If you walk down Storgata from the bus terminal toward Thon and Scandic hotels, next to Molde Fjordstuer Hotel you will find Aker Stadion, home to Molde Fotballklubb. Right next to the stadium there’s also a second, super tiny harbour, which also happens to offer a great view of the city and the fjord. Or you can walk down the promenade-like footpath that runs past the stadium along the fjord. A bit further on, you will see the unmistakable outline of sail-shaped Scandic Seilet.
There’s one last place of interest I want to mention here, and it’s Varden. Varden is a 400-metre-high mountain a few kilometres from the city centre. The hike to Varden is a Molde classic (it’s not quite a proper hike, in fact), and it offers The Best View over the city, the fjord and the Panorama. Not that I know from experience, but that’s another story (see the Varden post for details).
Around the Molde area and beyond
As I found out reading about it before and during the trip, the Molde area has a lot to offer. Places and sites that are worth visiting include, amongst the others:
– Hjertoya Island Nature Trail, situated just off the Molde coast
– the fishing village of Bud
– Ona island, which in fact includes two islands, the larger Husøy, and super small Ona, especially known for its red 19th-century lighthouse
– Trollkirka (Troll Church), a marble and limestone cave with waterfalls and rivers partly flowing underground. (This is an uber top entry on my Molde list for the next time I visit the area!)
A number of the entries above require:
1. That you have a few extra days on your hands. Places like Bud and Ona are not in Molde, so it takes some time to get there, and/or
2. That you are not travelling in the low season, when some of the destinations in the list are not served by public transport. Such is the case of Hjertoya: the ferry that runs between Molde and the island is operational only during the summer months.
There’s also something else that makes Molde super special in terms of location, and it’s its proximity to the Atlanterhavsvegen (Atlantic Road). The road is one of the six roads that hold the National Tourist Road status in Norway. It is around 8.4 km long, and it connects the island of Averøy with the mainland, its most scenic stretch being the one between Bud and the city of Kristiansund, north of Molde.
Of the options I could choose from for my first full day in Molde, I went for the Atlanterhavsvegen and Kristiansund. That was partly because they were a safe and feasible choice in the winter season, and partly because I really wanted to see the Atlantic Road.
I can’t wait to tell you all about them in the next post!