The ugliest town in Norway

The lonely planet guide has this to say about Odda:

Frequently cited as Norway’s ugliest town (it does battle with some pretty dire places in Finmark), Odda is the Hardanger region’s industrial, iron-smelting capital.

The Rough Guide to Scandinavia states the following:

Be sure your itinerary does not involve an overnight stay at the eminently missable zinc-producing and iron-smelting town of Odda, at the head of the Sorfjord.


It was enough to pique our interest. Where was this town? What was it about it that could warrant such a harsh description from two different travel guides?

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Looking on a map, Odda is situated right at the end of a 200km fjord, sandwiched between towering mountains, a glacier, and a lake.  That doesn’t sound so bad.  The locals must have really hated this town, if in spite of its spectacular geographical positioning; they still managed to uglify it. 

Although, technically that didn’t stop Aucklanders.  

Situated between two islandic harbours, peppered with volcanoes and bordered by some lovely forest, in a sub-tropical climate it should be the prettiest city in the southern hemisphere.  However, disagreeing local body politics, penny pinching, and miscommunications has forever ensured its competitive standing in the ugly awards.*  

We decided to pay Odda a visit.

About the size of Stratford, it’s the only town in the Hardanger, and is the place to stay if you’re into tramping, glacier trekking, a bit of adventure, or interested in checking out the infamous Trolltunga Rock.

We boarded the Bergen bus, and embarked on the 3.5 hour journey through terrifyingly windy roads along Hardangerfjord. 

Buses here are a type of adventure tourism. 

Many fjord roads are engineering achievements in their own right, having been carved into near vertical cliff faces. They’re windy, narrow, only wide enough for one car, and often scarred with pieces of bus.  

If there is an oncoming car, both vehicles stop and one reverses to the nearest passing point.  The vehicle which reverses is according to complex Norwegian protocol taking into account the distance to the nearest passing point, the size of a vehicle, how many vehicles behind you, and whether you’re a campervan.  So in a bus, if you meet an oncoming car, the car reverses, unless there is two more cars behind it, then the bus reverses, provided no cars are behind the bus, and the passing point is less than two corners away.  It gets complicated fast.  Unless you’re a campervan, then you have right of way. 

Fortunately, Norway seems intent on replacing all these roads with spacious tunnels, leaving them behind as gorgeous cycling and walking tracks.

Three and a half hours later, on an increasingly speeding bus, and a few fjordy cliff dents later we arrived at Odda, almost on time.

Fjordy bus dent

There were tree lined streets, a looming glacier in the background, hanging flower baskets, a market, few tourists, and some rustic industrial decay serving as a reminder of earlier times. 

Lunch on Odda waterfront

We bought locally grown raspberries, brown cheese, and freshly baked bread from the shore-side shop, and lunched at the waterfront.

From there we wandered the streets which adorned with colourful hanging baskets, and studied some of the fascinating and now long-abandoned industrial architecture. 

We stayed at the local campsite at the lake edge, and watched the sunset.

I loved Odda.   Clearly tourists heeded the lonely planet’s advice and were avoiding it en masse.  However, it’s a lovely charming town, and comes complete with a power station for Brian.

It’s the sort of place I see us visiting again. Perhaps frequently.

Still, we left with a feeling of unease as my questions remained unanswered.  Was there another side of this town we hadn’t seen? Did the mayor offend two separate travel companies? Were the travel writers not tough enough to survive the bus journey? Or is it really the ugliest town in Norway? 

*Although according to Dave’s last post, that might now be changing.

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