The first place that really merits a stop on the E18 is ARENDAL, 260km from Oslo and one of the most appealing spots on the coast, with its sheltered harbour curling right into the town centre, itself pushed up tight against the forested hills behind. The town's heyday was in the eighteenth century when its shipyards churned out dozens of the sleek wooden sailing ships that then dominated international trade. There's an attractive reminder of these boom times in the form of the elegant old merchants' buildings along the waterfront in the oldest part of town, known as Tyholmen. After a wander through Tyholmen, stroll north along the boardwalk flanking Pollen, the short rectangular inner harbour bordered by pavement cafés. For the architectural lowdown on Tyholmen, call in at the tourist office and sign up for one of their walking tours (late June to early Aug 3 weekly; 1hr 30min; 50kr).
The tourist office also has details of all sorts of boat trips which leave from Pollen. The most enjoyable excursion is to Merd, a low-lying, lightly wooded islet in the Skagerrak.
Easily the nicest place to stay is the luxurious AClarion HotelTyholmen, Teaterplassen 2 (Tel:37 07 68 00, wwww.choicehotels.no ; Price: Kr1200 and above) which occupies a handsome wooden building in the style of an old warehouse on the Tyholmen quayside. The more modest ThonHotel Arendal, Friergangen 1 (Tel:37 05 21 50, Web: www.thonhotels.no ; Price: Kr800-1000/Price: Kr1200 and above), is a straightforward modern hotel with well-appointed rooms, just off the west side of Pollen. Alternatively, a hundred yards west of the Clarion, there are rooms with shared facilities in the pleasant Hholthus Gjestehus, Radhusgaten 6 (Tel:92 83 63 90, Web: www.kulturkompasset.com ; Price: Kr600-800). The rate includes the use of a kitchen, garden and a library with tiny balcony overlooking the water. For food, there are a couple of inexpensive cafés on Torvet and a string of more tempting places along and around Pollen, including Madam Reiersen, which offers delicious seafood and fresh pasta dishes from its harbourside premises at Nedre Tyholmsvei 3; mains average 140kr. The café-bars lining Pollen become lively drinking haunts till the early hours, especially on a warm summer's night.