Norway; the land where the midnight sun hits the vast mountains rising directly from the seashore as the Northern Lights dance and the reindeer sleep, surely dreaming of games and going down in history. The Norwegian people welcome visitors and are generous with their time, hospitality, and food. Most are fluent in English and eager to tell you about the small northern country they call home. Norway contains all the beauty and poetry that any would-be traveler could think of.
However, while many travelers dream of Norway, it’s a long journey, especially if you’re hoping to visit resident polar bears, frolic with reindeer, or catch some rays in the middle of the night. The winters can be cold and the snow calls a large part of this country its permanent home. Oslo, the country’s capital, is also frequently mentioned when lists of the world’s most expensive cities come out — though, it’s hardly the first thing you’ll read in a Travel Norway brochure or on a Tour Norway website.
Fortunately, there’s a way to enjoy a little Norwegian culture in small town U.S.A. cutting your costs and travel time while still satisfying that lutefisk craving you’ve been having. Poulsbo, Washington, located on Liberty Bay, 21 miles northwest of Seattle, offers a taste of Norwegian heritage and some Viking warrior culture. The town of Poulsbo was settled by a number of Norwegian immigrants in the 1880’s because they found the area similar to the small fjords, shorelines, and waterways found in their native land. Today, the people of Poulsbo continue to embrace the town’s Scandinavian history and offer visitors a unique travel experience in America’s Pacific Northwest.
Poulsbo, Washington’s Small Town Charm
Poulsbo boasts a population just over 10,000 people (according to the City of Poulsbo website). The population is continuing to grow. With its natural beauty, small town charm, and increasing development it’s not difficult to see why. Poulsbo offers a history, community feel, and identity that many a place would envy.
Nowhere is the charm of Poulsbo more notable than in the city’s downtown Front Street. The ‘European feel’ is palpable with the brightly-colored and freshly painted storefronts, the slow paced car traffic exuding “excuse me” to the many pedestrians, and large wall murals of Viking Ships and “Velkommen til Poulsbo.” Bakeries, coffee shops, and unique gift shops line the street as they should. What kind of town could claim to have Scandinavian roots and not be mired in coffee and freshly baked bread? Poulsbo does it right leaving you feeling like you’ve had that little taste of Norway that you traveled oh so not far for.
The side streets and paths also hold on dearly to their Norwegian history with traditional Scandinavian names. King Harald Vei, Iverson Street, and Jensen Way lead you to the many pubs and restaurants that Poulsbo, Washington offers. Sit by the ocean and enjoy a seafood feast fit for a Viking. It may not be as easy to get your lutefisk fix as you might think, but there are frequent lutefisk dinners put on by the church and the local Sons of Norway branch. If that’s not enough to satisfy your desire for that Scandinavian delicacy of salted gelatinous whitefish, Poulsbo hosts a lutefisk eating contest every May. Where are you at Joey Chestnut?
A few steps from downtown takes you to the Muriel Iverson Williams Waterfront Park on the edge of scenic Liberty Bay. Watch the boat traffic make its way in and out of the Poulsbo Marina or catch a glimpse of the many seabirds which frequent the area. Follow the walkway north past the Sons of Norway Hall and enjoy the oceanside boardwalk. The Poulsbo waterfront may not be the Arctic Circle complete with Northern Lights and the midnight sun but you’ll still find Norwegian tranquility, beauty, and peace.
Brewery Hopping and Meeting Locals
Poulsbo also clings to the Scandinavian tradition of making and drinking beer. Local breweries include Slippery Pig Brewing, Rainy Daze Brewing, Sound Brewing, and the Viking inspired and well-named Valholl Brewing. Grab a pint of craft beer and chat with locals about the surrounding areas, their possible Scandinavian roots, or the Poulsbo craft beer scene. Buy a beer for a fellow tourist and ask them where they’re from. You’re sure to find a few Norwegians trying out this little version of home. Norway’s King Harald and Queen Sonja even visited Poulsbo in 1995. If it’s good enough for royalty….
Little Norway in Poulsbo, Washington
Nicknamed ‘Little Norway’, Poulsbo offers small town American charm with a unique Norwegian feel. While it may not match the authenticity or the experience of actually visiting Norway itself, it will give you a taste of the country with less of a long journey while keeping expenses down. Poulsbo is a town you can’t afjord to miss.
Things to Do in Poulsbo, Washington
The Liberty Bay area has many possibilities for outdoor adventure. Hiking, biking, and kayaking are some of the favorite local activities. Fishing and boating are also quite popular. Poulsbo welcomes visitors to check out the Marine Science Center, The Maritime Museum, and the Poulsbo Historical Museum.
When to Visit Poulsbo, Washington
While the summertime has its obvious benefits, to experience the most authentic Norwegian experience, it is best to go in May during VikingFest. Celebrated around the time of Norway’s national holiday (May 17th), VikingFest celebrates the history of Poulsbo and its Scandinavian roots. Food, drink, and an annual parade are combined with exciting events and competitions including a strongman competition and the lutefisk eating contest. Uff da!
How to Get to Poulsbo, Washington
From Seattle: Go to The Seattle Ferry Terminal and take the Seattle to Bainbridge Island Ferry. Once arriving on Bainbridge Island, a short drive will take you to downtown Poulsbo.
From the north (Alaska, Canada, or northern Washington): Head to The Edmonds Ferry Terminal. Take the Edmonds-Kingston Ferry. Once arriving in Kingston, take Highway 104 to beautiful downtown Poulsbo.
Author’s Favorite Travel Gear
The Original Travel Foam Roller TR 4.3: Whether traveling by train, plane or hopping in the car, tight muscles happen. This foam roller is compact and easy to pack so a self-massage is always available. The hollow, but solid plastic, inside allows me to conveniently pack socks, t-shirts, or underwear. But I usually skip that unnecessary stuff, as this foam roller also perfectly fits a bottle of wine.
Xboom Ceramic Mini Portable Capsule Speaker: I like to have music everywhere I go. The Xboom speaker is small, simple, and compact allowing me to attach it to my phone or MP3 player anywhere I’m traveling. Great sound in a small package.
Persol Mens Polarized Sunglasses: As a former owner of dollar store sunglasses, I can attest to the difference. I was in the dark. If you’re finding your way to sunny destinations, a good pair of shades is a must. My Persol sunglasses have me never going back to the cheapies I once coveted. The future is so bright…