The little town of Marstrand is located on the West Coast of Sweden, just north of the city of Gothenburg (Göteborg). This village and island is a place that seems to attract the crowds and especially the ones that love sailing. But there is much more to Marstrand then only its harbour and of course the amazing amount of sailing boats. Marstrand seems to be a place that has it all: a cosy quay with colourful wooden houses, a fortress from the 17th century, wonderful rocky cliffs, a clear blue sea and views to die for. No wonder that it is loved and visited by so many people! But Marstrand also has a lesser discovered area, and that is a wonderful nature area on the backside of the island, which is well worth to explore!
The village of Marstrand is divided over two islands. Half of the village is located on the island of Koön, which has a connecting road to the mainland, and the other half (only 150 across the water) is located on the island of Marstrandsön. The most attractive part of the divided town of Marstrand is without a doubt the part that is on the island of Marstrandsön and that is what this page will be mainly about.
The only way to reach Marstrandsön is by boat or ferry, but it only takes a few minutes to cross over from the mainland. So let's hop on board the ferry!
Just close your eyes for a minute and imagine a fresh salty sea breeze blowing through your hair, feel the warmth of the sun shining on your face, hear the sounds of seagulls in the distance and let me take you on a little virtual tour to Marstrand....
The first thing you'll notice at Marstrand are the hundreds and hundreds of boats in the harbour.
The cheerful 'tinging' sound of the boats rocking on the mellow waves that come in from the sea; the sun reflecting from the white boats almost blinding to the eye, and the sun sparkling in the clear blue water, all these will make you wish you came here by sailing boat yourself! It must be perfect to go out to sea at this wonderful part of coast in Sweden. And well, that is what many people seem to do.
Some people consider the waters around Marstrand as one as the best places to sail in Sweden, and many classic sailing matches and regattas are organised here. The events range from small racing yachts to the Swedish Match cup. For current and upcoming activities and events I would suggest contacting the local tourist office at firstname.lastname@example.org
The ferry arrives in the middle of the quay, so your first choice upon arrival would be, do we go left or right? I opted for left and ended up at the end of the quay at "Södra Strandverket". It looks a little like a fortification, and as I like visiting historic places, it triggered my curiosity right away.
Södra Strandverket is indeed a fortification, but not nearly as old as I originally thought. It 'only' dates back to 1852 when it was build out of fear that Sweden would be drawn into the Crimean War. The war was over though before they managed to finish these fortifications.
Södra Strandverket was the last in the series of defence instalments at Marstrand, and at the time no less then 46 cannons and a garrison of 170 men were present in the fortification. Nowadays the building seems relatively empty, but it is still in use, although only for commercial purposes. There are rooms for conferences, but more interesting are the around 20 craftsmen that exhibit and sell their own work here. Outside the fortress there are some benches (photo 1) from where you can overlook the southern harbour entrance and the Albrektsunds Canal.
Although you probably are tempted to follow the trail from the Södra Strandverket fortifications (see previous tip) out off town and along the rocky shoreline of Marstrand, I would suggest you turn back first and follow the quay to the other end. This way you'll be able to look at the little village first, before exploring more of the island.
The quay in Marstrand is not a new addition to the town with the purpose to draw in the crowds. In the contrary, the quay was already build in the 1790's when it was (at that time) Europe's longest single quay of 1200 metres long. It looks quite charming with the old and colourful houses along the waterside. The quay is also Martstrand's busiest spot, which is not so surprising, as this is where you can find most restaurants and shops.
In the photo above you can see one of Marstrand's 'famous' buildings called "Turisten" but often better known after the name "Oscar". The house was build in 1897 and was in use as a hotel and restaurant.
From the quay it is worth while to take one of the little side streets into the village as well. One place not to be missed is a visit to the little white church. You probably already seen it from a distance from the ferry, but it is nice to drop by here as well to take a closer look. The church and adjoining graveyard are very picturesque.
The church of Marstrand is the only remaining medieval building in Marstrand and dates back to the 13th century. The church belonged in those days to a Franciscan convent. The monastery however was destroyed during the 16th century, but the church survived. If you are lucky the church is open and you can have a look inside. Unfortunately we weren't that lucky and missed seeing the Triumph crucifix from the 14th century and a series of paintings, also said to be inside the church, all dating back to the 18th century. These 10 painting are also known as "The history of the heart".
Marstrand is a picturesque little village with lots of colourful wooden houses. The houses are painted in soft tones, ranging from yellow, to light pink and pale green, and especially enjoyed all the wooden balconies. Most of the houses have been added in the 18th, 19th and also in the 20th century. The town itself however is much older, dating back to the middle ages. It is said that a church was build here as early as 1139, but the town itself was established in the 1200's. In those days the island of Marstrand belonged to Norway. Besides having been a Norwegian, it has also been under Danish rule, only to become Swedish after the peace agreement in Roskilde in 1658.
Maybe I should tell you a bit about Marstrands history as it has been quite a roller coaster ride. Having belonged to three different countries indicates a bit of Marstrand interesting past. In 1368 for example it was totally devastated by war, with the medieval fortress and the monastery burned down. But the town bounced back, mostly because of the herring. Herring, you might wonder, could that change history???
Well in the case of Marstrand, herring played a very important role in history. During the 1500's Marstrand became the centre of the European herring industry and remained this for several decades, bringing lots of prosperity to the town and also power. In 1588 however, Marstrand ran out of luck when the herring disappeared from the region. The town slowly faded away and was once again destroyed, but this time bye a great fire in 1643. In 1658 it became Swedish and a fortress was build (more about that later), it however stayed very poor until the 1700's. And yes, it was once again the herring that returned to the area and brought prosperity. And as history has a habit of repeating itself, yes, you can already guess it, the herring disappeared again, now in 1808. This time tourism came to the rescue when Marstrand slowly changed into a seaside bathing resort.
Time to leave history behind us and discover a bit more of the beauty of Marstrand. And to discover the beauty (in my opinion), you have to take the effort and walk a bit. And the walk would be mainly uphill!
On almost the highest point of the island you can visit the historical fortress called "Carlstens fästning". The tour of the fortress is very enjoyable and the views from the top of the tower over the island and surroundings are fantastic. And when you see this view, you will hopefully be inspired to walk a bit more around on the island as well. The western part of the island is the quiet part, as not that many people challenge themselves to discover this part of Marstrandön. You won't be disappointed though! The nature of the island is lovely, the views over the sea are wonderful and there is a nice hiking trail around the island to make for a lovely leisurely walk.
In photo on the left you can see the stairs that you need to climb at the beginning of the hike, which is located directly behind the "Societets huset". The Societetshuset, a social club, is quite an eye-cathing building. It dates back to 1886 when Marstrand was the favourite seaside resort of King Oscar II.
Very close to the beginning of the hiking trail on the north side of the island, you will pass a very narrow passage called "Nålsögat" or translated in English "the eye of the needle". This passage through the cliffs is just as narrow as it looks, and maybe even more narrow. As the rocks are all leaning to one side, you naturally start leaning yourself to the side to adjust to the shape of the rocks and get through the passage without a problem. From the warm sunny trail that is hugging the seaside, you will step into the cool shady and moist passage between the high cliffs. The passage isn't that long, so you will soon be welcomed again by the deep blue sea sparkling in the sun.
You can't really miss passing the "Nålsögat", just keep following the trail along the seaside and resist the temptation to go to the left to one of the trails that lead inland. If you do that you'll arrive at the "Eye of the Needle" after a short walk. On the map of the island (see beginning of the first page) you can get an overview of the many trails that cross the island. The Eye of the Needle is located approximately at the spot where the waterlilly photo is placed.
From the "Nålsögat" / "Eye of the Needle" it is only a short walk to get to the red water lily pond. The only main problem is that the signs along the trails aren't very clear or even totally missing. To get to the pond, you do need to get off the main trail along the seaside, and go land inwards.
On the downside: the lily pond is hard to find, even with the little map in my hand, I had a hard time locating it. But if you look on the bright side I have to say that the "Näckrosdammen", as it is called in Swedish (Water lily pond), is worth some extra effort as the flowers are stunning. Here you can see rare red water lilies in bloom. This part of the island is a bit more forested and nice and shady on a hot summer's day. Keep your ears open for the call of the frogs, which might help you find the water lily pond when you are on the wrong track.