I Travel for the Stars

Borgund Stave Church: a Beautiful Medieval Marvel

Last updated on June 1, 2024

I didn’t want to visit Norway without seeing a stave church, and Borgund Stave Church is accessible from Bergen and also the best preserved. I’m so glad I got to see it because it is so beautiful and a remarkable emblem of Norway’s history.

Borgund Stave Church


What is a “stave church”?

To understand Borgund Stave Church, it helps to know what a stave church actually is. In short, it’s the architectural style of church used in post-Viking Scandinavia.

At the end of the Viking age, in 12th-13th century Scandinavia, Christian churches were built from wood all around the area. I’m really bad at describing architecture but I’ll try. The stave churches were built with load-bearing posts (“staves”) and vertical wall planks, known as “stave walls.” They’re also set off the ground by stone foundations – a simple solution now that maybe wasn’t so simple at the time. The stone foundations set them apart from other types of churches.

Notably, they weren’t put together with metal objects like nails. Everything came together by perfectly engineering the wood to fit into place, and wood dowels were used. Imagine how everything had to have been perfectly constructed. (You’ll see metal nails today at Borgund, but I believe that’s from later additions.)

People don’t typically see the elements of construction, though. What makes stave churches visually different is their small but tall structures with carved wood decorations that are reminiscent of the Viking age. Stave churches came after the Viking era but the artwork and styles were still used by the people of Scandinavia after their conversion from paganism.

In the medieval era, there’s said to be almost 2,000 stave churches that appeared across Europe. Many of them were torn or burned down, and today only 29 (or 28, depending who you ask) remain. You can visit a very handy website on stave churches here to see some of the ones that are currently standing.

Borgund Stave Church is said to have been built around 1180 and it’s one of the few dozen original stave churches that are still standing.

Borgund Stave Church Today

Borgund Stave Church Borgund Stave Church

Of all the 30 stave churches still standing, Borgund is the best preserved. Many of the churches were significantly altered during the years, or were badly damaged and had to be reconstructed. However, Borgund Stave Church is about 85% original. Think of it – 85% of this building dates all the way back to when it was built in the mid 12th century.

Borgund Stave Church Borgund Stave Church

Borgund Stave Church

Borgund Stave Church Borgund Stave Church

The church is dedicated to the Apostle Andrew. It’s known for its “black” color from tar coating, even though you can see in the photos it’s clearly brown. It just looks black in certain lighting. Its most distinguishable feature is probably the dragon heads protruding from the gables. As I mentioned, this was a Christian church but the local people were still holding onto iconography from their pagan days. There’s some more dragon iconography around the church.

Borgund Stave Church Borgund Stave Church

Borgund Stave Church

Borgund Stave Church Borgund Stave Church

You’ll notice that inside, it’s very dark. Stave churches notable had very few, if any, windows. (I noticed at the Gudvangen viking village they didn’t really have many windows there, either, nor did farm buildings from later centuries in the open-air museums I visited. I wonder if it had to do with Norway’s cold, snowy climate?) Anyway, give a minute for your eyes to adjust to the dark.

Inside you’ll see St. Andrew’s crosses along the very tall walls. The church inside is actually quite small. You can imagine a small congregation of an everybody-knows-everybody community coming here each week (probably multiple times) for worship. The altarpiece at the front of the church dates to the 17th century. It stands on original flooring.

There are generally people inside to help answer any questions you may have.

Borgund Stave Church Borgund Stave Church

Outside, you’ll notice almost immediately that the graves surrounding the church are very new. Many people there lived even during my lifetime. I thought it was an interesting choice to start a graveyard so late after the church was started, and around the time it had been purchased to protect it from damage.

Borgund Stave Church Borgund Stave Church

A separate bell tower outside completes the structure. You can have a peek inside. Next to the church is the Borgund New Church, painted a lovely red color. I don’t believe it’s accessible to the public but is the church that people use now.



Borgund Stave Church is a bit remote in the beautiful fjords of western Norway, which set a very picturesque scene. Behind the church is Vindhella, which is a hike I wish I’d had time for but unfortunately I didn’t. The area is very beautiful.

Important note: If you want to visit Borgund Stave Church – or any stave church – most are open seasonal hours and close during the winter. Many may not open until May or June. You can check stavechurch.com for dates and hours.

To enter the church, you’ll need a ticket that you can buy in the visitor’s center across the street. In the center, they also have an exhibition that explains just what stave churches are and their history. It’s worth having a look in.

I allotted an hour to see Borgund Stave Church and that was just enough to see the church and browse through the exhibition. It’s a long way from Bergen so if you go by public transport, I recommend you try to incorporate some other place like Gudvangen, Voss or Flam into the day. Or give yourself a few extra hours so you can do a hike. If you have a car, the options are endless! Another remarkable stave church, Urnes, is only 2 hours away by car.

Borgund Stave Church Borgund Stave Church

I can’t recommend a visit to Borgund Stave Church enough! It is a small church and doesn’t take long to see, but the history and the rareness that surrounds stave churches, nevertheless Borgund, just makes a visit so worth it. The church is so beautiful. The real highlight of my whole trip to Norway was seeing places like Borgund Stave Church and the beautiful fjords. I don’t recommend a trip to Norway without seeing what magic the countryside has to offer.

Have you ever been to Borgund Stave Church or any other stave churches? What did you think?

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About the Author
My name's Lilly and I'm a Baltimore-based travel blogger with a focus on art and history. I work full time and manage to get in several trips a year. Learn more about me.

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