Setesdal was once fairly isolated since almost impassable sections of the valley complicated contact with the coast. Traffic on foot and by horse ran up on the moors and valley rims on paths trodden by people and animals through the centuries. The main road from Kristiansand to valley was finished in 1846. The Setesdal railroad, opened in 1896, was of great importance for communication. Roads were improved with time, bridges were built, and a steamship launched on the Bygland fjord.
Setesdal has preserved countless old traditions and customs in dress, poetry and music. Medieval forms have lived on in its building traditions and folk art until the present. Farming, animal husbandry and forestry have been the most important sources of income.