An authentic Norwegian day: Seeking Norwegian serenity in historic Halden
Where Norway meets Sweden, historic Halden offers both tourist opportunities and a chance to enjoy the relaxed pace of Nordic life
Norwegian American Weekly
When planning my first trip to Norway, I had two things on my agenda: visit as many must-see tourist attractions as possible and experience a bit of that slower-paced life that makes Norway one of the happiest countries on the planet. Of course, those goals have a tendency to be mutually exclusive.
As a tourist, it’s only natural to spend each day checking off locations on your to-see list, but it’s not always that easy to experience the local culture as natives do. It wasn’t until I met up with my family that I truly felt immersed in Norwegian culture.
I’m lucky enough to have family just an hour outside of Oslo—it makes these two goals much easier to achieve. Each day, my friend and I could choose whether we wanted to be tourists in Oslo or faux-Norwegians relaxing with the family. Although I wouldn’t want to miss out on the cultural wonders in the capital, my favorite days were probably those spent outside the city—and especially those in Halden.
Located right on the Norwegian-Swedish border, Halden is a historical town about an hour and a half southeast of Oslo with that Norwegian charm and slower pace I had been seeking.
I first experienced Halden from the serenity of my family’s boat. We packed up a lunch for the day, dressed the dog in her life jacket, and took off on the hunt for the perfect picnic spot. Hanne, my mother’s cousin’s wife and Halden-native, skillfully navigated around the countless tiny islands of the fjord while the rest of us enjoyed the breathtaking scenery.
Eventually she spotted the ideal location for our picnic, and we docked at the sunny island. We spent the next hour enjoying the calm atmosphere and eating our lunch. Even the Dalmatian was lucky enough to get some!
When it started getting breezy, we returned to the boat and set off for home. My friend and I sat with the guys in the stern, drinking warm coffee and reading Aftenposten and VG, while the women drove the boat. Looking out at the fjord with a cup of black coffee in my hand and a Norwegian newspaper in my lap, I realized I was living my first authentic Norwegian day.
We needed a dose of tourism the next day, so my mom’s cousin Jon took us to the old Svinesund Bridge, which connects Norway and Sweden. The bridge opened in June 1946 with a ceremony attended by the Norwegian king and the Swedish crown prince, and became the highest bridge in Northern Europe. The second Svinesund Bridge opened in June 2005 with an arch that stands 92 meters above the fjord. Besides gawking over the magnificent view, we had quite a lot of fun standing in Norway and Sweden at the same time. Now I can add one more country to my list!
We then drove to the Halden Marina and met up with the rest of the family as they were docking the boat. Our big group splurged on lunch at a restaurant right on the water. I ordered shrimp and was quite surprised when they were served with the head intact. I guess that’s what I get when I ask for an authentic Norwegian experience!
After lunch and a delicious dessert of Softis, we explored Halden’s treasure, the Fredriksten Fortress. Once Norway’s most important border fortress, Fredriksten is now a historical monument and tourist attraction for those traveling outside of the main cities.
The Fredriksten Fortress was built in 1661 after Norway lost their Bohus Fortress to Sweden three years earlier. King Fredrik III of Denmark and Norway decided that a new fortress was a necessity after Sweden’s three attacks on Halden from 1658 to 1660. The impressive fortress was thus named after Fredrik III; it offered views far into the enemy territory of Sweden.
Visiting the fortress means exploring the 40 buildings and arches, 20,000 square meters of fortress walls and the freestanding forts of Gyldenløve, Overberget, and Stortårnet. The views are incredible, and you’ll want to block out a generous portion of your day just for wandering around. My family was more than happy to fill us in on the historical background, but there are guides available if you don’t have your own personal walking history book.
Considering the importance of the fortress, you’ll likely be surprised at the lack of tourists. For travelers with an interest in military history (and maybe a distaste for crowded monuments) Fredriksten Fortress is a must-see.
At the end of the trip, I was pleased to admit that I had achieved my goals; I had managed to see the tourist attractions and spend time relaxing outside of Oslo. I know that when I plan my next trip, I’m sure to leave even more time for these authentic Norwegian moments.
This article originally appeared in the Oct. 31, 2014, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (800) 305-0271.