The geographical distance between Fredrikstad and the Swedish border is short: by car, it’s a matter of some 20 miles/35 kilometers. Throughout history, that proximity has left its marks in this Norwegian destination.
The foundation of Fredrikstad in 1567, in fact, is seen as the replacement of nearby Sarpsborg after Swedish troops had burnt that town to the ground during the Nordic Seven Years’ War, fought between Norway-Denmark on one side and Sweden on the other in the years between 1563-1570. It’s not difficult to understand why the locals insisted on the new town being easy to defend.
And it is here that we find the rationale behind the construction of the Gamlebyen, now considered the best-preserved fortified town in Northern Europe (and the oldest of its kind in Scandinavia). With its narrow streets and impressive buildings, Gamlebyen is a candidate for UNESCO’s World Heritage Site list. The detached Kongsten Fortress, built in the late 1600s, also forms a part of the town’s defense line.
A more recently constructed fortress is situated on the island of Kjøkøy, close to Fredrikstad. Built by German troops during the Second World War, the purpose of the Kjøkøy fortress was to defend the approach to the town. The approach from the sea has always been important. Not least because of Fredrikstad’s favorable position in relation to the continent – vital from a trade perspective.
With close to 75,000 inhabitants, the municipality of Fredrikstad is the sixth most populous in Norway. The city itself spans the Glomma River, at the point where Norway’s largest river meets the sea.
The area has been populated for a long time, as shown by the many local findings dating from the Bronze Age and Iron Age. Burial mounds, stone circles, forts and rock carvings bear witness of the people who once lived here.
There are three different quays in Fredrikstad: at Tollboden Port (0.6 miles/one kilometer from the city center); at Gamlebyen Port (two minutes with ferry from the city center); and at Øra Port (1.2 miles/two kilometers from the city center). Tourist information is available on the pier, in the city center, and in Gamlebyen (the Fortified Town).
- Gamlebyen, or the Fortified Town, is what attracts a large number of visitors to Fredrikstad each year. The background to the fortifications, as previously mentioned, is to be found in the fact that the town was established as a replacement of nearby Sarpsborg after that town had been burnt to the ground by Swedish troops. The new town was named after King Frederik II. More than 440 years after its foundation, the fortified part of the town serves as an example of living history: Gamlebyen is not a tourist attraction per se, but a place where people actually live and work.
- When visiting Gamlebyen, you will find a number of shops and museums. One of them is Glasshytta i Gamle Fredrikstad, where you will find glassblowers at work in this glass factory with roots in the 1950s. Over the years, some of Norway’s most well-known glass designers have been at work here.
- While walking the narrow, cobbled streets in Gamlebyen, you might want to make another stop at Kongelig Norsk Humormuseum (the Royal Norwegian Museum of Humour). Perhaps primarily of Norwegian national concern, the museum could nonetheless give an insight into the soul of the Norwegians.
- Also with a strong local connection, Bastion5 is an arts- and crafts centre located in Gamlebyen. Ten different artists are at work here, all with their own specialties.
- Fredrikstad Museum is a museum with exhibitions featuring local art and cultural history. The museum has exhibitions at four different locations, one of them situated in Gamlebyen. The Football Museum constitutes a separate part of Fredrikstad Museum.
- At Gamlebyen Modelljernbanesenter, experience the largest model train center in Northern Europe. Inaugurated only in the fall of 2010, the center features 2.3 miles/3,700 meters of railway tracks, 110 locomotives, 600 railway carriages, 3,000 buildings and 10,000 trees.
- Roald Amundsen is a true Norwegian national hero. A world-famous explorer, Amundsen’s primary achievement was perhaps when he reached the South Pole as the first man ever in late 1911. Originally from Fredrikstad, Amundsen’s childhood home is open for visitors.
A variety of shore excursions in and around Fredrikstad can be on offer. Examples include:
- Tours by coach or car can take in many of the sights mentioned above, under Do Not Miss. These might also include a visit to the birthplace of the explorer Roald Amundsen.
- Northwest of Fredrikstad, the Solberg rock carvings are a real attraction.
- East of Fredrikstad, the Outer Hvaler National Park is situated in the midst of the Hvaler-Fredrikstad archipelago. It is a region with a rich diversity of flora and fauna, ideal for outdoor activities. To get here, travel on the so-called adventure path from Fredrikstad to Hvaler – a road that extends from island to island and ends up at the small Skjærhalden harbour, where a National Park Center with information about the area is located.
Travel north along the Oslofjord for some 58 miles/93 kilometers and you will end up in Norway’s capital, Oslo. Travel double the distance (132 miles/213 kilometers) in the opposite direction, and you will find yourself in Sweden’s second-largest city, Göteborg (Gothenburg).