Kongsberg Kirke, Kirketorget (tel. 32-73-19-02), an elaborate baroque and rococo church, evokes something you might find in Bavaria, hardly in a more minimalist Norway. But this church is one of the sightseeing wonders of the south, and we recommend a stopover here even if you don't have time to check out the rest of town. The largest baroque church in Norway lies in the old city on the western bank of the Lågen River. Seating a 2,400-member congregation, this 1761 church bears witness to the silver-mining prosperity of Kongsberg. The beautiful interior is made all the more stunning because of three huge, glittering glass chandeliers created at the Nøstetangen Glassworks.
As a curiosity, note that the rococo altar joins the large pulpit, altarpiece, and organ pipes on a single wall. Constructed in the shape of a cross, the church has a tower surmounting one of its transepts. You can still see the royal box, reserved for visits from the king, and the smaller boxes, meant for the top mining officials. Naturally, the church owns many valuable pieces of silver. In olden days, it took six strong men to ring the church's mammoth bell, which was cast in Denmark. Admission to the church costs NOK30 ($6/£3) for adults and NOK10 ($2/£1) for persons under 16. There's usually an informed English-speaking guide on the premises dispensing information, in oral or printed form, about the church. From mid-May to late August, it's open Monday to Friday 10am to 4pm, Saturday 10am to 1pm, and Sunday 2 to 4pm. The rest of the year, it's open Tuesday to Thursday 10am to noon. If your arrival in Kongsberg doesn't correspond to any of these opening hours, the tourist office might be able to open the church for you if you phone them in advance.
You'll find four museums housed in a single converted building that once belonged to the Silver Mining Company at the Norsk Bergverksmuseum, Hyttegata 3 (tel. 32-72-32-00).
The Norwegian Mining Museum traces 3 centuries of silver mining. You might think only specialists would be interested in visiting here, but hundreds of visitors like to wander about, learning about mining. One 18th-century working model illustrates the entire process of mining and smelting the precious silver ore. The machinery used in the smelting process can still be seen in the basement. Some of the specimens on exhibit are made of pure silver.
Also on-site is Den Kongelige Mynts Museum, devoted to the Royal Mint, which was relocated here in 1685. The museum contains a rare collection of coins minted in town. A third museum, the Kongsberg Arms Factory Museum, traces the city's industrial history from 1814 onward.
Finally, a fourth museum, Kongsberg Skimuseum, honors many local skiers such as Birger Ruud and Petter Hugsted, who went on to Olympic glory and world championships. A historic collection of skis and equipment is on view. The most recent exhibition details the daring exploits of Børge Ousland and Erling Kagge on their ski expeditions to the North and South Poles, where they attracted world attention.
Admission to all four museums costs NOK70 ($14/£7) for adults and NOK20 ($4/£2) for children under 16. From mid-May until the end of August, hours are 10am to 5pm daily; off-season hours are noon to 4pm daily.
You might also want to explore Lågdalsmuseet (Lågdal Folk Museum), Tillischbakken 8-10 (tel. 32-73-34-68), a 12-minute stroll southeast from the rail depot. Nearly three dozen antique farmhouses and miners' cottages were moved to this site. This is the most history-rich exhibit of how life used to be lived in the scenic Numedal Valley, which was mainly home to the families of miners and farmers. The 19th-century workshops you'd expect (most open-air museums in Norway have these), but the optics museum and the World War II Resistance Museum come as a surprise to us. Admission is NOK40 ($8/£4) for adults and NOK10 ($2/£1) for children. From June 23 to August 15, the museum is open daily from 11am to 5pm. From mid-May to June 22 and August 16 to August 31, it is open Saturday and Sunday 11am to 5pm. In the off season, hours are Monday to Friday 11am to 3:30pm.
Other than the church, the town's raison d'être is still Kongsberg Sølvgruver (tel. 32-72-32-00), the old silver mines that put Kongsberg on the map in the first place. To reach these mines, you can take an Expressen Bus from Kongsberg to the hamlet of Saggrenda, a distance of 8km (5 miles) taking 10 minutes and costing NOK55 ($11/£5.50). Departures are hourly from Kongsberg. Once at Saggrenda, it is a 10- to 15-minute walk to the entrance to the mines, where you can take a guided tour lasting 90 minutes. You can also drive from Kongsberg to Saggrenda, a distance of 8km (5 miles) to the southwest following Rte. 11.
The tour of the mines begins with a ride on a little train going 2.3km (1 1/2 miles) inside the mountain containing the King's Mine, a journey back in time. The train stops at a depth of 342m (1,122 ft.) below ground. This is the entrance to the King's Mine, which reaches a total depth of 1,070m (3,510 ft.) below the earth. You can still see the Fahrkunst, invented by German miners. Dating from 1880, it was the first "elevator" to carry miners up and down. You'll also see the old mining equipment on display.
Regardless of the time of year, wear warm clothing before descending into the mines. You visit the mines by conducted tour, but the hours are a bit irregular: May 18 to June 30 daily 11am and 1 and 3pm; July 1 to August 14 daily 11am, noon, and 1, 2, 3, and 4pm; August 15 to 31 daily 11am and 1 and 3pm; September Saturday and Sunday noon and 2pm; October Sunday only noon and 2pm. The rest of the year, the mines are completely closed. Tours, including the ride aboard the underground train, cost NOK140 ($28/£14) for adults and NOK80 ($16/£8) for persons under 16.
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.