• Alex Gerlach

A Pedacito of the Historic Town of Gamlebyen in Fredrikstad, Norway

Updated: Jun 19

Travel has this amazing ability to transport us, not only through space but also time. Throughout my travels, I've walked through dozens of old Viking fortresses, churches, preserved castles, and even World War II bunkers.


Today, these places are often frozen in time, no longer brimming with activity and life as they did many years before. But I had a very different experience when visiting the charming town of Fredrikstad Gamlebyen.

A charming cobblestone street in Fredrikstad, Gamlebyen, Norway
A charming cobblestone street in Fredrikstad, Gamlebyen, Norway

Fredrikstad Gamlebyen, or Old Town Fredrikstad, is a preserved fortress town nestled along the eastern bank of the Glomma River, the longest and most voluminous river in all of Norway. Founded in 1567 by King Frederik II, it acted as a trade outlet connecting southern Norway with the European mainland. But today, it is home to cozy cafes, restaurants, art galleries, and many other small stores housed inside the 17th-century architecture.

Statue of Danish king King Frederik II. Gamlebyen, Fredrikstad, Norway
Statue of Danish king King Frederik II. Gamlebyen, Fredrikstad, Norway
An old storehouse, possibly used for timber, stone, or military provisions. Gamlebyen, Fredrikstad, Norway
An old storehouse, possibly used for timber, stone, or military provisions. Gamlebyen, Fredrikstad, Norway
An archway from 1775 highlights Gamlebyen, Fredrikstad, Norway's military history
An archway from 1775 highlights Gamlebyen, Fredrikstad, Norway's military history

My family and I visited historic Gamlebyen on an overcast day in late July when I visited Norway in 2016. The cobblestone streets were glistening from the previous rain, the lush grass around the moat mushy and wet, and the humid air released the smell of age from the buildings. We spent our time exploring the various little stores but focused our attention on the town's architecture and military history.


Gamlebyen is a popular attraction for a number of reasons – its military history being one of them. In the 1640s, Gamlebyen became an important military base for the Norwegian army. Because of this, star-shaped defense walls were built along the exterior to protect the town. The defense walls, characterized by low earth embankments and a wide moat, were so effective Gamlebyen was never invaded.

Cannons overlooking the Glomma River in Gamblebyen; perched on the Grunnmurede Provianthus which housed military provisions
Cannons overlooking the Glomma River in Gamblebyen; perched on the Grunnmurede Provianthus which housed military provisions
The Grunnmurede provianthus was built in 1674 and is now used for banquets and conferences
The Grunnmurede provianthus was built in 1674 and is now used for banquets and conferences
A sailboat coasting through the Glomma River, Fredrikstad, Norway
A sailboat coasting through the Glomma River, Fredrikstad, Norway

Because of Gamlebyen's unique history, many consider it highly qualified for a spot on the UNESCO World Heritage list. However, the town is dedicated to keeping the centuries-old fortress town integrated with Fredrikstad's present-day city life. This helps create the transportive atmosphere of Old Town Fredrikstad, making you feel like you've lived its history yourself.


Isegran, Fredrikstad, Norway


After completing our tour of Old Town Fredrikstad, we walked along the perimeter of historic Isegran. It's actually an island in the Glomma River with a history that dates back to the late 1200s. For centuries it played a huge role in Norway's military history; however, today it's known for its beautifully restored traditional sailboats, the Isegran Fort, and Isegranhuset.

Restored sailboats docked near Isegran, Fredrikstad, Norway
Restored sailboats docked near Isegran, Fredrikstad, Norway
A small walking path overlooking the Glomma River on Isegran in Fredrikstad, Norway
A small walking path overlooking the Glomma River on Isegran in Fredrikstad, Norway

By afternoon, the sky opened and the sun shone through the clouds in rays. We walked along the outer edge of the island and made our way to the remains of Isegran Fort, which can actually be seen from Old Town Fredrikstad. I remember making my way inside and feeling the stone walls tower over me, almost as if they were leaning over my head.

Isegran Fort can be seen from Old Town Fredrikstad
Isegran Fort can be seen from Old Town Fredrikstad

The inside was a large, round, open space filled with tall grass and overgrown foliage and a single structure against the far wall. Other than a cleared path to the stone bones of what was once used for storage, not much else was left behind. Yet, standing in the middle of the wild greenery felt magical.

Inside Isegran Fort, Fredrikstad, Norway
Inside Isegran Fort, Fredrikstad, Norway
Remains of a stone structure in Isegran Fort, Fredrikstad, Norway
Remains of a stone structure in Isegran Fort, Fredrikstad, Norway
Inside the old structure in Isegran Fort, Fredrikstad, Norway
Inside the old structure in Isegran Fort, Fredrikstad, Norway

We left Isegran Fort and made our way over to Isegranhuset, also known as "The Yellow House." It is considered to be the oldest standing wooden buildings in the entire region and was originally built in 1730. Surrounding it are other small houses and a beautifully restored Renaissance Garden. If you peek inside the windows, you can see old wooden bed frames and piles of straw on the floor.

An old, red building next to Isengranhuset, Fredrikstad, Norway
An old, red building next to Isengranhuset, Fredrikstad, Norway
[Many of these buildings surrounding Isengranhuset, in Fredrikstad,were used as guard houses
Many of these buildings surrounding Isengranhuset, in Fredrikstad, were used as guard houses
An old, preserved naval mine along the Isegran docks of Fredrikstad
An old, preserved naval mine along the Isegran docks of Fredrikstad

Like Old Town Fredrikstad, Isegran is also alive with the bustle of everyday life in the present day. The old buildings are now used for a number of things such as accommodation, food, and live entertainment. There is also a maritime center for rehabilitating wooden boats, which also happens to be the only boat-building school in Norway.


If you're looking for a truly immersive cultural experience, without the monotony of a museum, Fredrikstad Gamlbyen and Isegran Island are a must-see.

Storyteller Alex on a swing while exploring the island of Isegran in Fredrikstad, Norway
Storyteller Alex on a swing while exploring the island of Isegran in Fredrikstad, Norway
 

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