Skien is a Norwegian city with around 55,000 inhabitants, and it’s the biggest city in the Telemark region. This region is known for it’s beautiful forested nature, but Skien is located closer to the sea, so it’s a bit of the beautiful Telemark while also being somewhat flat.
There are lots of amazing things to do in Skien even though I would not consider Skien a typical tourism destination. However, there are some tourists who stop by, especially to board one of the cruise ferries that goes up the Telemark Canal watershed.
We will be looking closer at the 16 best things to do in Skien, including some of the top attractions, in this article. There’s something for everyone in this city, so let’s just get to it.
1) Go for a walk in the beautiful Brekkeparken
Brekkeparken is a big outdoor park located close to the city center of Skien, and it’s a great place to stop by during the summer. The park itself is filled with plenty of different traditional Norwegian buildings from different eras, so you get to look at what regular farm houses used to be like in the past.
The amazing flower beds in Brekkeparken is also worth a sight in themselves, and it’s also a great place to just chill out in the relaxed atmosphere or go for a walk. There are some play areas for the children, and a great view down towards the city, so it’s for sure one of the best places to stop by when you are spending some time in Skien.
You can get to Brekkeparken on foot from Skien city center, but it’s a bit of a steep walk to get to it.
2) Ride a river cruise on the Telemark Canal
The Telemark Canal is a watershed that connects the city of Skien with the inland Telemark, and it has a long tradition of being used for both trade and supplies. These days the Telemark Canal is a popular tourist attraction where you can ride one of the incredible ferries between Dalen and Skien.
The ferries are a type of scenic cruise that showcases some of the beautiful nature of Telemark, and it’s without a doubt one of the best way to experience this region. The ferries MS Vistoria and MS Henrik Ibsen depart from Skien and drives all the way to Dalen, but you can book a return trip to Skien again for the full experience.
The price of admission is a bit steep though, so be prepared to shell out over 1,000 NOK per adult if you are travelling the entire distance from Skien to Dalen. However, it’s a unique experience that cannot be matched on warm, sunny days, so it’s money well spent if you feel like seeing some of the most amazing nature in Telemark from the ferry.
3) See the incredible Skien Kirke
The church called Skien Kirke was built back in 1894, and its huge 68 meter high spires can be seen from most of the city. It’s an iconic part of the city, and anyone who is interested in architecture should stop by for a visit. If you’re into religious architecture, make sure to also get a look on the inside to see some of the incredible details.
There are occasionally guided tours to get up in the spires, but these are not on a set schedule, so keep an eye out on the church’s website if you are interested in this. The view from the top is simply amazing, so it’s well worth to join in on this if you have the chance.
Skien Kirke is also a fully functional church, so you can stop by for a regular sermon on Sundays if that’s your thing. These are obviously only in Norwegian.
4) Let the children have fun at Eventyrfabrikken
Eventyrfabrikken is a children’s theme park that is filled to the brim with jungle gyms and different play areas. It’s not really unique to Skien, but the huge park on Klosterøya has become very popular in the last few years. Children simply love it, and it’s a great place for the parents to enjoy a cup of coffee while the children are able to play and have fun.
The entire jungle gym is also completely inside, so many people visit Eventyrfabrikken to let the children have some fun on rainy days. It’s perfect if the kids are a bit tired from sightseeing all day, and just want a fun place to enjoy themselves for a couple of hours.
5) See where Henrik Ibsen grew up at Venstøp (which also houses the Ibsen Museum)
The Ibsen Museum at Venstøp is where the famous play writer Henrik Ibsen grew up. The interior of his house is still preserved, and the museum give a lot of insight into how it was growing up in his social circle at his time. The museum focuses on the life of Ibsen himself, but they also have some information about his plays there.
Venstøp is a short ride away from Skien city, so you need to ride the bus or drive a car for around 10 minutes to get there. The area is really beautiful, and it’s a great place to stop by if you visit during the summer.
6) See ancient rock carving from the bronze age
In the area called Gjerpen, just a short walk from the main city center, is a big collection is rock carvings from the early bronze age. These carvings show ships, animals, rituals and other interesting scenes, and have been important in understand what life in the region was like several thousand years ago.
It is free of charge to see the ancient rock carvings, so it’s a great place to stop by if you feel like going for a walk and experiencing something unique. These rock carvings are not as popular as you might expect, so you can often have the entire area to yourself, so you can enjoy the rock carvings in a relaxed atmosphere with the surrounding nature.
7) Go on a floating sauna
Floating saunas are becoming very popular, and there are a few of them in Skien. You can rent the sauna by the hour, then invite your family and friends to join the fun. Expect to pay around 600 NOK per hour. This might seem a bit expensive, but keep in mind that you can bring up to 10 people into the sauna, so it’s really cheap if you divide up the cost.
The thing with the floating saunas is that you can sit out and chill in the sauna, then just straight into the water outside to cool down quickly. It’s a cool experience both in the winter as well as in the summer, but it it’s obviously very cold to swim in the winter.
Many people find this experience really cool, and you also get a great view of the Skien river from inside the sauna. This is for sure one of the best ways of kicking back and relaxing while in Skien!
8) Test your skills at an escape room
Telemark Museum houses an escape room in the beautiful park Brekkeparken (which we’ve already covered in this article). Escape rooms are always a cool experience for friends who want to have some quality time together, trying to figure out how to get out.
There are two different escape room experiences at the museum, one of which is Henrik Ibsen themed. You will probably want to bring at least one person who can understand Norwegian for this experience, since most of the clues will be in Norwegian.
9) Spend the day at the huge indoor water park in Skien Fritidspark
Skien Fritidspark is a huge sporting area with plenty of fun for the entire family. Their biggest attraction is the huge indoor swimming pool with water slides and many different pool areas. It’s a huge swimming pool, and it’s guaranteed to be a great experience for both younger children and adults.
There are also plenty of different recreational areas just outside of the main hall where you can go on hiking trails with the family, light a campfire at designated spots, or go ice skating in the winter. The entire premise has plenty of different sporing opportunities, so check it out if you feel like being active.
The indoor pool is open all year round, and even has an outside area to tan during the summer months.
10) See the canals at Løveid locks
The Løveid locks are part of the Telemark Canal, so if you don’t want to go on a cruise along the watershed, seeing the locks from land is the next best option. The locks are located just outside a small area called Skotfoss about 10 minutes from Skien city center, and can be reached by bus or car.
Make sure to time your visit with when the ferry cruises are passing trough so that you get to see the locks in action. You typically won’t have to wait long to see the locks in action anyway, since these are pretty popular in the summer months for regular boats as well.
The area also has some nice hiking trails that are suitable for families, as well as some old industrial buildings and trails that cover the history of the logging and electricity industry in Skien and Telemark.
11) See a show, concert or another type of entertainment at Ibsenhuset
Ibsenhuset is a concert arena where you can see plays, concerts, shows, stand up comedy and other types of entertainment. The arena attracts many of the biggest Norwegian entertainers, so there’s a good chance of being able to find an interesting show to see at Ibsenhuset if you are spending a few days in Skien.
Check out their website to see what’s coming to the arena, and book tickets if you find anything that might be interesting to you. As you can expect from the name, the arena often hosts plays by Henrik Ibsen.
12) Try outdoor ice skating in the winter
If you are visiting Skien during the winter, make sure to stop by at Skien Fritidspark to go ice skating. You don’t need any equipment since it can all be rented, so just bring yourself and some warm clothes. The entire outdoor area is covered with ice during the winter, so it’s a huge outdoor ice skating area where several hundred people can skate at the same time.
The arena is lit up after it’s dark, so you don’t need to rush down to make it in time for the daylight. Admission is also fairly cheap.
13) See the Rat-Wife sculpture on Bakkestranda
The Rat-Wife is part of Henrik Ibsen’s “Lille Eyolf” play (one of his lesser known works), and the incredible 7 meter tall statue can be seen on a beach called Bakkestranda. It has a slide inside it, making it a sculpture that is also used by children. Children also helped create the statue by making all the eyes that are attached to the statue, and I have actually made one of these myself when I was in primary school.
The surrounding area has a pretty nice playground and a beach that can be enjoyed in the summertime. Bakkestranda used to have a bit of a bad reputation in the past, but it has since evolved into becoming a nice beach that is very popular with families.
Bakkestranda with the Rat-Wife sculpture is located just a few minutes away from the main city center of Skien, and you can easily walk to it.
14) Explore Mikael’s cave
Mikael’s cave is a natural cave that used to be a religious cave used by Catholics. Catholic pilgrims from all over Norway and our neighbor countries visited Mikael’s cave, and it was used for several hundred years. During the anti-catholic age of Norway where catholic monks would get the death punishment, the cave acted as a sort of hiding place where they would get away from the law that pursued them.
Today Mikael’s cave is a popular attraction for hikers who want to experience something unique. You can either access it by boat, or by driving to Omdalsvegen just outside the area called Skotfoss (not far from Løveid locks). Park your car at Omdalsvegen and follow the signs to “Mikaelshulen” as its called in Norwegian.
The hike is a bit difficult, and considered to be semi-dangerous, so don’t bring young children or inexperienced hikers. Skien municipality intends to upgrade the hike by installing some new fences and other safety mechanisms in the future.
15) See an exhibition at Telemark Kunstsenter
Telemark Kunstsenter is an art gallery in the middle of Skien City, in the building that was traditionally used by Norges Bank (The Norwegian bank). The center has several different art exhibitions, and these changes every few months, so there’s always something new to see.
There is free entry, so feel free to stop by. It’s located just beside the Skien Kirke and Lietorvet shopping center, so it’s a nice little place to stop by for 30 minutes if you feel like exploring some unique art.
16) Watch the bird life at Børsesjø nature reserve
Børsesjø nature reserve is a big lake around 10 minutes away from Skien city center. This is a hotspot for anyone that is interested in watching birds, because this lake has a unique composition that attracts a lot of different and unique bird species. One of the big features of the lake is that it’s super shallow and packed to the brim with nutrients, meaning that it’s filled up with insects and other invertebrates. This makes it a paradise for breeding birds!
There’s a bird watching tower there that anyone can enter for free. So just bring a pair of binoculars and go enjoy seeing some of the breeding waterbirds at the lake. There have been recorded 230 different bird species there, so you’re not likely to be able to see them all in a single visit.
What to expect when visiting Skien
Skien is not really a very common tourist destination, but it does cater a lot for people who are interested in learning about Henrik Ibsen’s childhood city.
It’s also important to be aware that Skien is connected with it’s neighbor city Porsgrunn, and that these two cities kind of act as a single city. So make sure to check out the article about the top attractions in Porsgrunn as well, since most of these will only be 10 – 15 minutes away from the ones in Skien.
The Skien and Porsgrunn area is usually referred to as Grenland, and also includes some smaller places just outside of the two main city points like Siljan and Brevik.
How to get to Skien
Skien is a few hours south of Oslo, and it’s super easy to get there by both car, train or bus. The city is of such a size that most buses that travels between the major cities in Norway stop in Skien, and there are direct bus and train lines from Oslo. Skien is the final stop at the Vestfoldbanen that connects Telemark with the Oslo region.
You can easily drive to Skien, and it’s just a short trip away from E18, making it easily accessible from both Oslo and the southern part of Norway.
Torp airport is fairly close to Skien, and you can easily get from Torp to Skien by getting on the train or a bus that is headed south.