In "The history of Grimstad town" from 1927, Halfdan Gundersen writes: "As you can imagine, the public roads were in a relatively primitive state in the beginning. The town had more or less built itself up and the houses were scattered here and there like in a coastal village. Gradually a settlement emerged along the narrow alleyways that gradually became streets. The town developed on this irregular basis, and since it was not exposed to the devastating but regulating influence of fire like most other wooden towns, you can still discover the crooked and mostly narrow streets between the houses today."
We can say much the same about Grimstad today: the regulations have probably become more extensive, but all in all the road pattern is as it must have been originally, albeit with a slightly more solid surface.
If we go back a few hundred years, Grimstad had at best three arterial roads, namely Vestregate, Storgaten and “Østregate” (now Henrik Ibsens gate). The remaining road network consisted of footpaths, which over time developed into small alleyways (smau) and stairs (stinter). In 1816, Grimstad gained trading town status, which led to more planning and regulation. The town's first planned cross street, Nygaten, was built in 1866.
In addition to the fact that “stinter” and “smau” are often narrow and crooked, these streets only have a small number of official names. In return, many of them have popular names. In the further course of the text, the official names are written in bold and the popular ones are shown “in quotation marks”.
This town walk begins on the quay Terje Vigens brygge (1) and continues through the alley up to Smith Petersens gate. Across the street on the right to the next alley is “Lauras hus” (2), probably the oldest non-church building in the town. We know that the house was there in 1606, but is probably even older.
At the end of this alley, cross the pedestrian zone (Storgaten), into Nedre Tverrstredet and turn right at the sailor house around the corner into “Sailor alleyway” (3), probably Grimstad's narrowest alley. On the left is Reimanngården (4) – Henrik Ibsen's first residence in Grimstad from 1844–47 – and Haldorsen's house and stable (5). Haldorsen worked as a carter until the 1960s.
You get to Øvre Tverrstredet and turn left around the stable and further up to the right into Lillerore (6), which still points to the disreputable origin of this road. Passing one of the most famous stairs in Grimstad, from Lillerore down to Storgaten (7), you get to Nygaten. Turn left and then right onto Vestregate. The road forks. On the right is “Oline Bruns bakke” (8), you follow the Markveien to the left, which takes its name from the time when the road led to the agricultural areas. That is difficult to imagine today. Finally, Bangs murgård appears on the left. This stone building contained various items, including an orphanage and a rectory before it became a technical college and now a culture school.
Opposite Bangs murgård, turn into “Kaptein Michalsens vei” (9), up the stairs and through the alley to Vestregate, which you follow downhill for a while before you turn sharply left up the hill to Knibeheia (10). Straight ahead between the houses, the next staircase (11) leads down to the Storgaten through the back yard of Grimstad's local newspaper.
Across the street is Storgaten 44 (12), the brick building that housed both the penny bank and the library. In this building, Knut Hamsun completed the purchase of Nørholm in 1918 and was convicted of treason in 1948. Follow the Storgaten further down and turn left across the parking lot into another alley, the Juskestredet (13,14), named after Ellen Juske, a former resident from Jutland. From here, there are different routes that all end in the Kirkegaten. Along the market square (15) you come to the smithy at “Kirkebakken” (17). There is a lot of old and well-preserved southern Norwegian architecture (16) in this area.
At the smithy, which is also one of the oldest houses in town, stairs lead up to the Kirkeheia and the large wooden church (19). Kirkeheia (18) is a beautiful park with a fantastic view of the town and the skerries.
On the east side of Kirkeheia you go down and cross first the Arendalsveien and then the Voss gate. Turn left onto Binabbgaten. A little further up, you have two options: you can either take the steep alley to the right down to Bioddgaten or up the alley to the left to Batteriveien.
The latter offers a more beautiful view over Hasseldalen and Vikkilen, where about 20 shipyards lay side by side for many years. Follow the Batteriveien down towards the sea to the old cannon battery (20), where the “Battle of Grimstad harbour” was decided in 1811. If you continue on this street, you will come to the Bioddgaten (21), which will lead you back to the centre.
Where the Bioddgaten ends, cross the Voss gate again. After a few meters, a staircase leads to the right between the houses up to “Bings torv” (22) and Arendalsveien. Go left and take the granite stairs (23) down to Henrik Ibsens gate (formerly “Østregate”) with the Ibsen house (24) on your right hand (today the Ibsen Museum).
Continue walking to the Ibsen Museum and turn left onto Løkkestredet. Follow this alley over Wenzells plass to Skolegaten. Take the next small alley “Apotekersmuget” (25) in order to reach Storgaten and turn left towards Centraltorvet (26), which is also known as “Bietorvet”. Across the square is the last lane on this walk that will bring you to Smith Petersens gate. If you cross this road and walk towards the sea, you will land back at the starting point of Terje Vigens brygge.
It is quite possible to run this tour in less than an hour. However, if you are walking at a relaxed pace, it will usually take you at least two hours.
You can get a brochure with a map at Grimstad Tourist Information.