The west coast of Sweden is dotted with islands, making them perfect for summer vacations or day trips from Gothenburg. Having already visited the Southern Archipelago from Gothenburg, I wanted to head north as well. After looking at a few options, Marstrand looked like the perfect place to spend a day.
As I began to make plans to visit Marstrand on the Saturday before I headed to Stockholm the next day, I learned there was going to be a major event going on there that day: Match Cup Sweden 2016. While I had never heard of it before, it’s a major event in Sweden and one of the biggest sailing races in the world. At first I was concerned that I might not be able to make it to Marstrand due to the crowds, but there are extra buses scheduled thanks to the sailing.
The bus station in Gothenburg is one of the nicest bus stations I’ve ever been in. In most places, bus stations feature humanity at its worst, but Gothenburg’s is a nice, bright building. I bought a ticket for the next marsEx bus to Marstrand (65 SEK each way), and waited about 15 minutes before it pulled up to the stand.
As we departed Gothenburg, the bus was about two-thirds full, and despite being advertised as an “express” bus, we made several stops as more and more people crammed on. The drive from Gothenburg to Marstrand took about an hour thanks to the stops and the winding coastal road. We arrived in Marstrand, where we were dropped off in a parking lot that was jam packed thanks to the sailing. Even on regular days, this parking lot is still busy, as much of Marstrand is car free.
While you can reach Marstrand by car from mainland Sweden, the historic part of the town is located on a separate island. Access is via a frequent short ferry ride. How short is this ferry ride? Just 200 meters, making it one of the shortest ferry rides in the world. Tickets are 41 SEK, which includes the return ferry. The approach by boat does give great views of the city, including the Carlstens Fastning fortress that overlooks the islands.
It was crowded in Marstrand thanks to the sailing, but thanks to the event being the main focus, other venues were actually fairly quiet. Since the races hadn’t quite started yet and were going to last for a couple of hours, I first visited the Strandverket Konsthall Art Museum.
The Strandverket Konsthall Art Museum is a cool little modern art museum housed in an 18th century fort that overlooks the south entrance to Marstrand Harbor. Since the sailing was going on, they offered discounted tickets for just 35 SEK to entice some of the visitors. Despite this, there were still only a few people inside, though there were more people waiting and drinking in the sailing VIP lounge that had been set up in their sculpture garden.
Inside the museum, there were a couple of galleries set up. One featured sculptures from Eva Hild, the other showed photography of office life from Lars Tunbjork. The later was interesting, since despite the mundane settings, the subjects were in odd positions & juxtapositions. As someone who spends his days in a cubicle, dreaming of escape, it all hit home.
I was tempted to stay inside the art museum to watch Match Cup Sweden, which was just starting warmups on the water outside, but the couple of windows were small and dirty, so I would not have been able to see much. Instead, I left after seeing all of the museum and headed up the street into the crowds that had gathered to watch the sailing.
Despite being such a huge event, there was still a bit of a path through the crowds, so I walked along in search of a place to stand where I could also take photos. Out of the corner of my eye, I spotted something floating past me. I reached out and grabbed what turned out to be a child’s balloon that was about to float off into the sea. “Fantastic!”, I thought, “I’m going to be some kid’s hero!” Instead, there were no kids to be found that were missing balloons. My cat-like speed and reflexes did impress some of the Swedes who saw my catch, but that was only a small consolation for the fact that I was now holding a balloon that I couldn’t get rid of, one that had been in a child’s mouth at some point and was covered with child slime. I ended up having to hold it between my feet until I could find a way to dispose of it since I didn’t want to release it into the sea and stomping it would have scared the children & dogs that were nearby.
I eventually found a nice place to watch the sailing from up a side street. While I couldn’t see the whole race course, I was able to be above the crowds just enough to be able to take some great photos of the boats.
The final of Match Cup Sweden 2016 featured Team Volvo, skippered by Phil Robertson from New Zealand, against Team Turkish Airlines (US One), helmed by Taylor Canfield. The Volvo boat won the first race, but during the second race, there was a major collision. The Volvo boat went straight through the Turkish Airlines boat, causing severe damage. The crash resulted in a penalty for Phil Robertson’s team, so after two races, Canfield was up 1-0. Their boat was so badly damaged that the races were halted for a time so they could get a replacement boat. The Turkish Airlines boat would be replaced by the Pelle boat for the remainder of the final.
The third race was won by Volvo, tying the final series at one point apiece. With the final of Match Cup Sweden being first to two points, barring any penalties, it would all come down to one final race. On the line, a prize of $1 million, which was the biggest cash prize in sailing history.
The race started off close, but following another small crash, Phil Robertson’s Volvo team pulled away to take the victory.
If you want to see the full highlights of Match Cup Sweden 2016, which also showcases just how beautiful Marstrand is, check out the video below:
While most of the crowd headed for the trophy ceremony or to the seaside bars and restaurants. I had another destination in mind.
If you’ve been paying attention to some of the other photos and the video above, you’ll notice that there’s one structure that dominates Marstrand. That building is Carlstens Fastning fortress, which was built in the 1600s in a dominant position overlooking the islands.
Reaching the fortress took a short 10-15 minute walk through the neighborhoods of Marstrand, passing painted houses with white picket fences.
Despite how busy the island was that day, the grounds of Carlstens Fastning were much quieter. There were some people at the cafe outside the grounds, where I stopped for a kanelbullar, but once I was inside there were barely any people. Entry is 85 SEK, and gets you full access to the grounds, though access to the tallest tower appears to be only via tours.
That said, you can still climb to the top of the Battery Tower, which is a smaller tower, but it gives you access to the upper level of the inner part of the fortress. From here, the views are stunning.
On a clear day, you can see for miles around, looking all the way to Gothenburg and across the surrounding islands. This would have been an interesting place to watch the sailing from, though it would have been far from the action. Despite it being a reasonably warm summer day, there was a cutting wind at the top of Carlstens Fastning that was quite chilly for the time of year.
After heading back down, there were still plenty of places to explore in the fortress. Beyond the main buildings, there was also a system of secret tunnels below.
There’s lots to explore at Carlstens Fastning. You could easily spend hours exploring the grounds if you wanted to see every bit of the place.
I explored Marstrand’s fortress for a couple of hours, then headed back down to the town. It was much quieter, so I was able to walk near the docks that housed the boats that had raced in Match Cup Sweden.
With the evening approaching and not knowing how hard it would be to get back to Gothenburg, I took the ferry back across the water. I reached the bus stop, where a sign said the next bus would not be for 25 minutes. There were lots of people waiting already, nearly a bus full. There was no order or queue, so whenever the bus arrived, it would be a free-for-all. I positioned myself in a spot where I figured the back door of the bus would pull up, and I was completely right. What I didn’t expect was that the bus driver would open the front door, despite everyone having already bought tickets. I made my way to the front door like everyone else, only to have them begin boarding through the back door halfway through. Of course. I still had one trick up my sleeve, which was the knowledge that all over the world, people somehow fail to notice open seats in the very back of buses. I snagged the very last seat in the back corner of the bus. It was warm, but at least I wouldn’t be crammed standing on the bus like everyone who arrived after me was. The ride back to Gothenburg from Marstrand was similar to the ride there, with crowds and several stops, but after an hour, I was back in Gothenburg.
If you’re looking for a nice day trip from Gothenburg, Marstrand is a great place to visit. With historic sights such as Carlstens Fastning, plus museums, cafes, and bars, it’s a pleasant place to spend a day. If you can time your trip to go during Match Cup Sweden, that’s all the better. Sweden comes to life during the summer, and there’s no better way to spend it than on the islands.
AKA Jonathan Sacks. Traveler. Writer. Photographer. 40+ countries & major territories so far, slowly working my way through the rest. Related interests: craft beer, street food, sporting events, frugal travel, credit card bonuses, hiking, visiting non-touristy places. Join me for the journey!