Haugesund was separated from Torvastad as a city and municipality of its own in 1855. The rural municipality of Skåre was merged with Haugesund 1 January 1958. Haugesund is a small municipality, only 73 km². The population is 31,738, giving the municipality a population density of 459 people per km².
The city is situated at a strategically important sound through which ships could pass without heavy sea. In the early years the coastal waters of Haugesund were a huge source of herring, and the city grew accordingly. Despite being a young city, king Harald Fairhair lived on Avaldsnes, very close to the modern city. In the last decades, the city, like its neighbours, has been turning towards the petroleum industry, the herring being long gone.
Haugesund is a cultural centre for its region, and is home to several festivals, the largest being the Norwegian International Film Festival and Sildajazz, an international jazz festival with approximately 70 bands and close to 200 concerts.
As of 2007, Haugesund's agglomeration has a population of 41,183, of which 31,140 live in Haugesund and 10,043 live in Karmøy. The Haugesund Region, a statistical metropolitan area, consisting of the municipalities Karmøy, Haugesund, Tysvær, Sveio and Bokn, has a population of 83,309 as of 2004.
Haugesund was founded in 1855 when it was divided from Torvastad, a former neighbouring municipality, consequently celebrating its 150-year anniversary in 2004. At the time of division, Haugesund had a population of 1,066. The city is named after the strait Haugesundet. The first element is the genitive case of the name of the farm Hauge (Norse Haugar), the last element is sund (n) 'strait, sound'. The name of the farm is the plural form of haugr (m) 'hill, mound'.
In the early years, the coastal waters of Haugesund were huge sources of herring, and the city grew accordingly. Despite being a fairly young city, the Haugesund areas were lands of power during the age of Vikings. Harald Fairhair, the first king of Norway, had his home on Avaldsnes, very close to the city. Fairhair was buried on Haug lying by Karmsund, an area that later would name the city and municipal "Haugesund". The national monument "Haraldstøtten" is erected where Harald is believed to be interred.
The protective sounds of Smedasund and Karmsund, gave the city a possibility to grow in both fishing and shipping. Even to this day, Karmsund is one of Norways busiest fairways. The city is still growing geographically even though the population has increased only moderately the last decade. Today the herring is long gone, and the city is turning more and more towards the petroleum industry, like its neighbour Stavanger.
The coat-of-arms is from 1929, and shows three seagulls. It replaced the old coat-of-arms which showed a herring barrel, an anchor, and three seagulls. The current coat-of-arms was drawn by Hallvard Trætteberg.
The population is 31,738, and with an area of only 73 km², this gives a population density of 459 people per km². As of 2007, Haugesund's agglomeration has a population of 41,183, of which 31,140 live in Haugesund and 10,043 live in Karmøy. The Haugesund Region, a statistical metropolitan area, consisting of the municipalities Karmøy, Haugesund, Tysvær, Sveio and Bokn, has a population of 83,309 as of 2004.
Haugesund's city hall was built in 1931, celebrating its 75th anniversary in 2006. The pink city hall, designed by Gudolf Blakstad and Herman Munthe-Kaas, is one of the finest neo-classical buildings in Norway, and has been elected the most beautiful building in Haugesund. It is also included in the new Norwegian edition of monopoly after it was successful in a national vote. The building may not be altered in any way without permission from the national preservation agency. It overlooks the town square and a park which was inaugurated on 28 August 1949.
The city has during the last 20 years established its position as the main trading centre for Haugaland and southern parts of Hordaland. It has several relatively large shopping centres, considering the size of the city. However, this has led to a decline of the trade and shopping activity in the city centre.
Haugesund is connected to Stavanger and Bergen by catamaran and bus services, and to Oslo by bus. Local bus transport is provided by Kolumbus. The city is connected to Utsira, Røvær, Feøy, Randaberg, Hanstholm in Denmark and Newcastle in the United Kingdom by ferry. The road connection to Stavanger is interrupted by one ferry from Arsvågen to Mortavika, while taking the ferry from Sandvikvåg in Fitjar to Halhjem in Os is needed if going to Bergen by road.
Every year in June there is also held a rock festival in Haugesund called "Rockfest", with international as well as national and local bands. The festival was held for the first time in 2004, then as a part of the celebration of the city's 150 year anniversary.
The Norwegian International Film Festival has since 1973 been held in Haugesund each year, showing films for the cinema representing a wide geographical and cultural selection. The Amanda Award, Norway's most honoured film award, has been held in Haugesund since 1985 in concurrence with the film festival.
Haugesunds Avis is a daily newspaper published in Haugesund, but with branches in Bømlo, Kopervik, Odda, Sauda and Stord. Founded in 1895, it is today owned by the investment group Mecom Group, and is as such part of the media group Edda Media. In 2006, Haugesunds Avis had a circulation of 33 448. As of 2007, the executive editor is Tonny Nundal. The newspaper owns the local radio channel Radio 102.
Each of the sister cities have given name to a street in Haugesund. The streets are located in the same area in the city centre.