At the end of the Swedish archipelago, you find the island of Marstrand and the town sharing its name. This is where the impressive Carlsten Fortress guards the around 380 inhabitants of the island.
The island is one of the main tourist spots along the western coast of Sweden. Even though there is no bridge connecting Marstrand with the mainland, it is easy to access. There is a small passenger ferry connecting the island with the locality of Arvidsvik, directly on the other side of a narrow strait.
A Short History of Marstrand
Norwegian king Harald Gille established a monastery was established on the island of Marstrand already in the 12th century. It was here in Marstrand that the Danish king Christian I was elected king of Norway in 1449. Even though Christian I of Denmark later also become king of Sweden, it took until the peace treaty of Roskilde in 1658 until Marstrand and the province of Bohuslän became a part of Sweden. It wasn’t long after the signing of the peace treaty that Sweden started the construction of the fortress Carlsten upon Marstrand. In the 19th century, it was considered one of the strongest fortifications in Europe.
Carlsten served several purposes over the centuries, it was for a long time used as a prison and the most famous inmate was “Lasse-Maja”, or Lars Larsson Molin. He was incarnated here in the 19th century. “Lasse-Maja” was a thief who became famous for disguising himself as a woman. The final extension to the fortress was made in the mid-19th century, just years before it was considered outdated. It took, however, until 1993 before the Swedish Armed Forces decommissioned the fortress for any use in the defense of the country.
The Town of Marstrand
In addition to the fortress, the town of Marstrand eventually started to develop in the 18th century. Marstrand became a freeport in 1775, with several freedoms not seen anywhere else in the country. The freedoms included those of religion and immigration, which resulted in many ships arriving from America during the British blockades and also a high number of Jews settling on the island. The number of Jews eventually reached its peak at around 100 people, before they were forced away to other parts of the country in 1795. The freeport privileges made Marstrand one of the country’s most prosperous towns and the population reached 1500. The local rulers did, however, not like the many criminals and foreigners that had arrived in the town and requested the privileges to be withdrawn. That is what happened in 1794 and Marstrand returned to being a small town.
It was in the 19th century that the shipping and fishing industries on Marstrand would be joined by tourism. Marstrand developed into a resort town with annual visits by King Oscar II.
Things to Do and See
Once you have stepped off the passenger ferry from Arvidsvik and take your first steps on Marstrand, you are walking on historical ground. There are plenty of historic buildings to discover and plenty of water to gaze on.
Carlsten fortress guards all of the island as well as most of the surrounding sea. It is the most prominent building on the island, where it is located on the hill 39 meters above the sea. In addition, the fortress itself reaches a height of 98 meters above the sea. The fortress dates back to the 17th century and was in the 19th century considered one of the strongest fortifications in Europe. Walking along its walls and seeing the view from its tower is one of the main attractions for anyone visiting Marstrand.
Marstrand Town Hall
The Town Hall in Marstrand is considered one of its main historical buildings. It was completed in the mid-17th century and has earlier been used as a town hall and hotel. It is currently housing the local library as well as smaller exhibitions.
Societetshuset, or the Society House, was completed in 1886. It is another one of Marstrand’s main historical buildings. It replaced another society house from the 1840s and the building also includes a cold bathhouse.
Södra Strandverket is a redoubt, a kind of fortification, from 1857 that was used as a battery unit with canons. This was the southern beach redoubt. It was in use until 1882 and is today housing an art gallery.
Fredrikborg, Norra Standverket
Fredrikborg or Norra Strandberket was the northern beach redoubt and was built in the 1730s. The fortification’s guardhouse was temporarily turned into a synagogue in 1782, the first one in Scandinavia.
The church in Marstrand is probably the only surviving building from the Middle Ages and is estimated to have been built in the 13th century. It was originally a part of the Franciscan Monastery on the island.
Hiking: The Marstrand Path, 5 kilometers
For anyone wanting to enjoy nature, the view of the sea, and a pleasant walk, then a hike around the island of Marstrand is a good option. There is a path around the island that is about 5 kilometers long and would take about an hour. The path will take you along some of the main sights, including the lighthouse Skallen, where it is possible to see where the two seas of Skagerak and Kattegat meet.
How to get to Marstrand
Flights: there are domestic and international routes to and from Göteborg Landvetter Airport (GOT), which is located 69 kilometers away.
Car: Marstrand itself is not reachable by car. Arvidsvik is at the end of road 168, west of Kungälv and north of Gothenburg. From Arvidsvik there is a passenger ferry to the island of Marstrand.
Bus: Local and regional buses connect Arvidsvik with the surrounding region.
The driving distance from 5 major Swedish cities, according to Google Maps:
Stockholm – 510 kilometers (5h 21min) Gothenburg – 47 kilometers (40min) Malmö – 316 kilometers (3h 23min) Linköping – 318 kilometers (3h 19min) Kiruna – 1602 kilometers (18h 12min)
Find out more about other destinations in Sweden by visiting our page Exploring Sweden