One of the most foreboding or brooding-looking church designs in Europe is the stave churches of Norway. These are medieval wooden Christian churches that were once common around northwestern Europe. Today most of the surviving stave churches are located in Norway with only a few newer stave churches found outside the country.

Norway is a stunning country that's famous for its Viking history, its mind-bending stunning fjords (that everyone needs to see), and for having the northernmost part of Europe deep in the Arctic Circle called Nordkapp. There is so much to see and do in this northern European country and its ancient unique stave churches are just another attraction to add to the bucket list.


What To Know About The Brooding Stave Churches

Stave Churches are a particular type of wooden church that was once common in Norway and the surrounding region 800 years ago. These churches are testaments to the Viking tradition of wood carving.

The Vikings long had a keen interest in boat construction and home building and after they converted to Christianity they transferred their skills into building these unique churches.

There are several types of stave churches, but what they all have in common are corner posts (“staves”) and a framework of timber with wall planks standing on sills.

Similar constructions are known of other buildings from the Viking Age. In Norway alone, it is thought that the country once had around 1,000 with more modern research estimating as high as 2,000 stave churches. Today, only 28 medieval stave churches remain in Norway.

  • Name: From "Strafr" In Old Norse (Stav In Modern Norwegian) Referring To A Load Bearing ore-pine Post Used In the Building

Today most of the surviving state churches were built between 1150 and 1350 with older churches from the 1100s mostly known from written sources or archaeological evidence. At this time, masonry churches were also built in Norway (271 are known to have been built) and around 160 masonry churches still exist today.

Masonry churches were more popular in Norway's Scandinavian neighbors with there being 900 masonry churches in Sweden and 1800 in Denmark.

While the vast majority of surviving stave churches are to be found in Norway, there are isolated examples in Iceland, Sweden, Denmark, and Germany.

Related: The Troll's Tongue Is One Of The Most Famous Landmarks In Norway

Borgund Stave Church - The Best Preserved Stave Church

The best-preserved stave church in Norway is the Borgund Stave Church in the Lærdal Municipality in Vestland county, Norway. Since 1868 it has been a museum and no longer functions as a church (it was even at risk of demolition in 1877).

  • Built: Around 1180
  • Address:Vindhella 606,6888BORGUND

It was built around 1180 and was dedicated to the Apostle Andrew. It is both exceptionally well preserved and is the most distinctive stave church in Norway. It is known for its lavishly carved portals and the crosses and carvings of dragon’s heads on the roofs.

Today the Borgund Stave Church also has a Visitor Center that features an exhibition on the history of stave churches in Norway, as well as a restaurant and souvenir shop. Guided tours are also offered.

But it's not just the Borgund Stave Church, the surrounding area itself is in historic cultural heritage. It is a great area for hiking with one historic path there considered “Norway’s most beautiful road“ by the Norwegian Public Roads Administration in 2014.

  • Open: Daily
  • Hours: 10.00 am to 5.00 pm (may vary seasonally)
  • Fee: 100 Norwegian Krone ($11) Per Adult
  • Guided tours: Offered

Related: Your Most Pressing FAQS About Visiting Norway

Gol Stave Church - Rebuilt Stave Church In Olso

If one is looking for an impressive stave church to visit while in the Norwegian capital of Oslo, consider the Gol Stave Church. The Gol Stave Church was originally built in Gol (a different part of Norway) and was moved and rebuilt in Olso.

It was originally built around 1200 but was due for replacement around 1880. It was purchased and presented to the Norwegian King Oscar II. The king then paid for its re-erection in 1884 and was rebuilt to look like it was thought to have looked like in the 1200s. Where there were missing parts of the building, inspiration was drawn from Borgund Stave Church.

  • Built: Circa 1200

When it was first built, Norway was catholic, but later became Lutheran Protestant during the Reformation. During the catholic times, the church was most likely decorated with colorfully painted saints. After the Reformation, many of the fixtures were removed and replaced.

There are numerous runic inscriptions and carvings dated to the early Middle Ages in the church. Most of the carvings are in the chancel and show animal figures, humans, and geometric symbols. There are also a few examples of preserved Luthern church art in the form of wall paintings from 1652.

Today it is one of the main attractions at the Norwegian Museum of Cultural History (Norsk Folkemuseum) in Oslo.

  • Open: Daily
  • Fee: 160 Norwegian Krone ($18) Per Adult
  • Opening Hours: 11.00 am to 4.00 pm (May vary seasonally)
  • Guided tours: Offered

Next: How Far North Should You Go To See Polar Night & Twilight?