Akershus Slott & Festning

sights / Military

Akershus Slott & Festning information

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Lonely Planet review

Strategically located on the eastern side of the harbour, dominating the Oslo harbour front, are the medieval castle and fortress, arguably Oslo's architectural highlights.

When Oslo was named capital of Norway in 1299, King Håkon V ordered the construction of Akershus to protect the city from external threats, but it has been extended and modified and had its defences beefed up a number of times since.

When Oslo was rebuilt after a devastating fire in 1624, the city, renamed Christiania, was shifted to the less vulnerable and more defensible site behind the protective fortress walls. By 1818 the need for defence had been superseded by the need for space and most of the outer rampart was destroyed to accommodate population growth. From 1899 to 1963 it underwent major renovations, and nowadays the parklike grounds serve as a venue for concerts, dances and theatrical productions – a far cry from its warlike origins and a welcome departure from its grim history. Note, however, that this complex remains a military installation and may be closed to the public whenever there's a state function.

In the 17th century, Christian IV renovated Akershus Castle into a Renaissance palace, although the front remains decidedly medieval. In its dungeons you'll find dark cubbyholes where outcast nobles were kept under lock and key, while the upper floors contained sharply contrasting lavish banquet halls and staterooms.

The castle chapel is still used for army events, and the crypts of King Håkon VII and Olav V lie beneath it. The guided tours are led by university students in period dress, and while not compulsory they do offer an entertaining anecdotal history of the place that you won't get by wandering around on your own.

Entry to the expansive fortress is through a gate at the end of Akersgata or over a drawbridge spanning Kongens gate at the southern end of Kirkegata. After 6pm in winter, use the Kirkegata entrance.

The Akershus Fortress Information Centre , inside the main gate, has an exhibit recounting the history of the Akershus complex. Staff also offer guided tours of the castle grounds on request. At 1.30pm you can watch the changing of the guard at the fortress.

Also within the fortress complex, adjacent to a memorial for resistance fighters executed on the spot during WWII, is the Norwegian Resistance Museum . The small but worthwhile museum covers the dark years of German occupation, as well as the jubilant day of 9 May 1945 when peace was declared. Artefacts include underground newspapers, numerous maps and photographs and, most intriguingly, a set of dentures that belonged to a Norwegian prisoner of war in Poland, and were wired to receive radio broadcasts.