Are there castles and fortresses in Norway?
Norway is not really famous for the number of its dreamy castles. Unlike its Nordic neighbors or European countries such as France and Great Britain, Norway had very few lordships and principalities in the Middle Ages. This being said, you can still find a decent number of castles and fortress and in this post, I share with you the best one to visit during your next trip to Norway!
Is visiting Norway castles, fortresses and royal palaces worth it?
Absolutely! Norway has an extremely rich and interesting history, but you have to manage your expectations. If you expect to visit the kind of castles that inspired our modern fairy tales, you might be disappointed. If, on the other hand, you love culture & history, the country is full of gems that I am pleased to share with you in this blog post. This is not an exhaustive list, but unless you are a true connoisseur, some of the historic Scandinavian landmarks are only worth a visit if you are staying nearby, as many do not offer guided tours or access to their interiors and are sometimes poorly maintained.
The top 6 Norwegian castles and fortresses
The Akershus Fortress is located in the center of Oslo, it’s also a medieval castle that played a particularly important role in the history of Oslo and Norway.
Allow 2 to 3 hours for the visit
- Akershus Fortress was built in the late 1290s by King Håkon V.
- The castle is now used for various royal family events.
- The fortress has been used as a prison.
- No foreign enemy managed to besiege Akershus until 1940, when Nazi forces took control of the fortress.
Best time to visit
Akershus Castle and Fortress are open all year round, more information available here.
How to get there
The fortress is located in the center of Oslo, only a 15 minute walk from the central station.
There is also an efficient public transports network around the area: you can take the tramway 11 or 12 right outside the central station called Jernbanetorget, to Majorstuen and stop at Øvre Slottsgat. You can also hop on the L1 train to Stabekk, stop at Nationaltheatret, exit on the “central hall” side (indicated on the platform) and walk a few minutes towards Aker Brygge.
- The fortress: you can access it for free, walk on its large green areas overlooking the fjord. Strolling around in summer is super nice. Don’t hesitate to stop at the visitors’ center to pick up a self-guided tour which allows you to visit key places in the fortress and discover its history at your own pace.
- Museums: the fortress houses two museums: the Museum of Defense which exhibits Norwegian military history from the Vikings to the present day and the Resistance Museum, which shows the history and reality of Resistance during Nazi occupation in Norway. Entrance to both museums is free with the Oslo pass, otherwise you can find all the information you need about prices here.
- The castle: a guided tour of Akershus Slott is offered on site, where you will have the opportunity to walk through the majestic reconstructed halls and old dungeons.
- Guided tours: Guided tours are organized by the castle, information and prices available here. You can also opt for private operators who offer excellent guided tours of the castle or Oslo and its main attractions including Akershus.
Around the castle
- Festningen restaurant: It’s an excellent restaurant located at the heart of the fortress: a mix between a fine brasserie and a Norwegian gourmet restaurant using local products. Don’t forget to book your table in advance, especially in summer if you want to enjoy the outdoor terrace with incredible views on the fjord.
- Aker Brygge: the castle is located on top of a hill, facing the bay of Aker Brygge, a lively area in the center of Oslo, known for its pier and trendy restaurants.
Oscarshall Royal Palace
Oscarshall is one of the royal family’s summer residences in Bygdøy, Oslo’s peninsula.
Allow 1.30 to 2 hours for the visit.
- It’s one of Norway’s most beautiful neo-gothic architectural monument.
- The palace was built between 1847 and 1852 at the request of King Oscar I and Queen Josephine, who were both very involved in the project.
Best time to visit – How to get there
The interior of the palace is only open to the public during the summer months, but the gardens are accessible all year round. In the city center, take the bus 30 to Bygdøy, stop at Folkemuseet. The palace is just a 6 minute walk away.
Main attractions – Around the castle
- The interior of the palace
- The palace café
- The palace garden and its parks: ideal for a picnic in summer
Guided tours: guided tours of the palace are organized during summer but are currently offered in Norwegian only with documentation provided in English (more info here). Other guided tours in Bygdøy are available here.
Bygdoy, Oslo’s peninsula, houses many of the city’s iconic museums such as the Norwegian Folk Museum, the Viking Ship Museum and the FRAM Museum. I highly recommend combining your visit to the palace with a tour of the museums and the peninsula’s lovely beaches such as Huk or Paradisbukta.
Oscarsborg is a Norwegian coastal fortress located in the Oslo Fjord.
Allow 2.5 to 3 hours for the visit.
- Oscarsborg Fortress was built in 1645.
- The fortress was originally created to resist maritime military assaults.
- Best time to visit: the fortress is open all year round.
How to get there
- Take the ferry 601 or 602 from Aker Brygge in downtown Oslo to Drøbak (1.5 hours) which is only available during the summer season or the bus 500 (40-50 min) to Drobak.
- You will then have to take a ferry from Drøbak to Oscarsborg (5-10 min). The ferry runs quite regularly to the fortress. Timetables and fares are available here.
- The fortress has museums and various vestiges to visit.
- The fortress has a hotel which can be convenient if you want to spend the weekend on the island or combine your visit with a tour of the charming town of Drobak.
- Cafes and restaurants are available on site
- Information on guided tours organized by the fortress can be found here but you can also choose this guided tour of the fortress starting from Oslo that is also interesting and less expensive.
- You can opt for a complete guided tour which includes a full city tour of Oslo, a tour of the city of Drobak and a guided tour of Oscarborg Fortress.
The fotress of Bergenhus, located in Bergen, is one of the oldest castles in Norway.
Allow 1.5-2 hours for the visit.
- The construction of Bergenhus Fortress was completed in 1261.
- This historic building is one of the oldest and best preserved stone fortresses in Norway.
- Bergenhus is home to cultural events such as festivals and concerts
Best time to visit
The fortress and its museums are open all year round, with closing times and dates varying according to the season (information available here). How to get there: The fortress is located in the city-center and can be reached easily by walking 5 min from Bryggen or 10 min from the tourist office.
The main attractions – Around the castle
The fortress houses two museums: Rosenkrantz Tower and Håkon’s Hall (opening times and prices for visits are available here), the price is individual per museum but access is free with the Bergen card. There are several guided tours offered by the city of Bergen but also by private organizations with which you can discover city attractions like Bergenhus and many others. As the fortress is located in the city center, you can walk around the center of Bergen, take the funicular to Mount Fløyen, visit the fish market or the colorful Bryggen near the harbor.
Gamlehaugen is the official residence of the royal family when staying in Bergen.
Allow about 1.5-2 hours for the visit.
- Gamlehaugen was designed in 1899 by the architect Jens Zetlitz Monrad.
- The castle is the official residence of the King in Bergen.
How to get there – Best time to visit
The easiest and quickest way to get there is by car from the center of Bergen (15 to 20 min). Taxis are also a convenient option but keep in mind that fares are very high in Norway. The interior of the castle can only be visited in summer (Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Sunday) while the park is accessible all year round.
Guided tours – Around the castle
Tours are organized by the castle in English and Norwegian, please contact the castle directly for more information (contact details available here) or ask at the tourist office. Other interesting guided tours in Bergen can be found here.
- Fantoft stave church: traditional Norwegian wooden church.
- The castle park: the perfect place for picnics and walks.
- Nordas Lake: just a few meters from the castle, perfect for a walk or a swim in summer.
Slottsjellet tower also called the “Castle rock tower ” is one of Tonsberg main attractions.
Allow 1.5 to 2 hours for the visit.
- The tower is the last remnants of what was the country’s largest fortress in the 13th century,located in Norway’s oldest town, Tonsberg.
- The tower is 17 meters high.
- The tower was rebuilt in 1888 after a fire.
- The site offers a panoramic view of the city of Tonsberg.
How to get there – Best time to visit
This historical monument is located within a walking distance from the city center. It’s possible to take some stairs or several other hiking trails to reach the hill where the tower is located (count 20-40 min walk depending on the path chosen).
You can access and visit the tower from early May to mid August, 12pm to 5pm but the outdoor area is accessible all year round.
What the other historical monuments are worth a visit?
If you don’t have the opportunity to visit the castles and fortresses listed above, no matter which Norwegian city you are in, you are likely to find historical remains and monuments nearby. Do not hesitate to contact the tourist offices to find out more!
- If you are visiting the great city of Trondheim, Steinvikolm Castle is a perfect day-trip or afternoon getaway. The castle is located on a small island in the Åsenfjord, 33 km from Trondheim.
- Traditional wooden churches, “Stavkirke”, are also unique relics of Norwegian architecture & culture you can found throughout the country in varying sizes. Among the most emblematic are the churches of Gol and Fantoft near Bergen.
In between hikes, Northern Lights chasing and other unique experiences that Norway has to offer, I strongly encourage you to explore the country’s historical remains outside of museums for an authentic outdoorsy cultural experience.
Other castles, manors, palaces and fortresses in Norway not listed in the article:
- Ledaal Royal Residence & Manor, Stavanger
- Baroniet Manor, Rosendal
- Sverresborg Castle ruins, Trondheim
- Kristiansten Fortress, Trondheim
- Fredriksten Fortress, Halden
- Stiftsgården, Trondheim
- Fritzøehus Mansion, Larvik
- Vardøhus Fortress, Vardø