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Even more fun than exploring Ålesund is escaping from it and checking out the other wonders of the islands and peninsulas. The mountain guardian of the area is Aksla, at 182m (597 ft.), a scenic sanctuary with a terrace restaurant, offering a view of fjord landscape, ancient Viking islands, and the Sunnmøre mountains. From the center you can take 418 steps up to Aksla to the lookout point, Kniven (the Knife). To reach the ascent point, go along Lihauggata, reached from the pedestrian shopping street Kongens Gate -- one of the best streets for viewing Art Nouveau-style architecture. Motorists can also reach Aksla by road by taking Røysegata east of the core and following the signposts for Fjellstua.

In the harbor nestles the flat island of Giske, believed to have been the birthplace of Rollo, 10th-century founder of the Duchy of Normandy and father of William the Conqueror. Giske is the site of a 12th-century marble church, many stretches of white-sand beaches, and the Makkevika bird sanctuary.

Once the only access to many of the surrounding areas was by ferryboat, whose services were sometimes cut off during stormy weather. In 1987, a 15km (9 1/4-mile) network of tunnels was built connecting Ålesund to four nearby islands, including Giske, the island of Vigra (site of the city's airport), and the inhabited islands of Ellingsøy and Valderøy.

If you have time for only one island, we suggest you make it Giske, which was the historic seat of the Arnungane, a famous Viking family whose feudal control lasted from 990 to 1582.

At Giske you can visit the 12th-century Giske Kirke, a marble Romanesque church (tel. 70-18-80-00) that was restored in 1756. Admission is NOK20 ($4/£2), and hours are June 1 to August 20 Monday to Saturday 10am to 5pm and Sunday 1 to 7pm. Bus no. 64 runs from the center of Ålesund, taking half an hour and costing NOK55 ($11/£5.50) one-way.

Several tours that begin in Ålesund are designed for bird-watchers. The most popular and best of these head to the island of Runde, 67km (42 miles) southwest of town. This is Norway's southernmost bird rock, where on jagged cliffs half a million seabirds, representing nearly 250 species, breed each year. They are protected from humans by strict government regulations and from natural enemies by the forbidding terrain.

You can see colonies of these birds beginning in May. They stick around until late in July before flying out. The migrating puffins are worth the trek alone, but you'll also see the razor-billed auk, guillemots, auks, storm petrels, kittiwakes, gannets, and other seabirds.

The best tour is a 2 1/2-hour boat ride leaving May to August daily from Runde Quay at 11am, and 1 and 4pm. The cost is NOK170 ($34/£17) adults, NOK120 ($24/£12) children; call tel. 70-08-59-16 to make a reservation.

For more information, contact the summer-only Runde Reiselivslag (tel. 70-01-37-90), which keeps irregular hours.

You can take a bus and catamaran tour from the Ålesund's Skateflukaien Quay, taking 2 1/2 hours and costing NOK200 ($40/£20) one-way. Departures are from mid-June to mid-September. You'll leave Ålesund on a catamaran, going to the neighboring island of Hareid, where you'll then board a bus for Fosnavåg, which will take you into Runde for the boat tours . You can go back to Ålesund by bus; the last one leaves at 5pm.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.