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Karlsborg Fortress - a mighty 19th century building by Lake Vättern.

Karlsborg Fortress was supposed to be built in 10 years, but it took 90 years to complete. When the fortress was finally completed in 1909, it was already outdated. Today, the fortress is used for military training - and you can also visit the fortress as a tourist.

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Karlsborg Fortress

Karlsborg Fortress can in one way be said to be extremely grand, with large outer walls and ramparts. On the other hand, when you enter the walls, it feels like you are in a city or a residential area. And that was also the original idea. Karlsborg was to serve as Sweden's reserve capital.

Karlsborgs fästning
Karlsborg Fortress © Karlsborg Fortress / Three Piece Media

Karlsborg Fortress is located on the Vanäs headland in Lake Vättern, in the county of Västergötland.

Why a fortress in the centre of the country?

When Sweden lost Finland to Russia in the 1808-1809 war, it realised it needed to strengthen its defences. The idea of 'central defence' involves building fortresses in the middle of the country. They would allow the enemy to advance into the country, then tire them out, cut off their ability to obtain supplies and finally defeat them. If war broke out, the royal family, the government and the gold reserve would be moved to Karlsborg Fortress, Sweden's reserve capital.

The plan for the new central defence was pushed forward by Baltzar von Platen, the developer of the Göta Canal, and in 1819 Carl XIV Johan decided to build a fortress on the Vanäs headland on the western shore of Lake Vättern.

Karlsborgs fästning

The idea of central defence was (perhaps) a good one, but as weapons and military strategies evolved, the original ideas became less and less effective. For example, as weapons became more powerful, it was realised that the walls would no longer withstand an attack. To compensate, higher ramparts were built.

Despite all attempts to improve it, the fortress was already obsolete when it was completed. In 1925, just 16 years after its completion, it was decided to decommission it as a defence facility. Since then, it has been used for military training.

Karlsborgs fästning

Own tour of the site

Entering the grounds of Karlsborg Fortress is completely free, but what you are allowed to see is limited. After passing through the mighty gate, you will see the impressive Slutvärnet (Sweden's longest building at 678 metres) and the Garrison Church.

Port till Karlsborgs fästning

You can also walk up the embankment, from where you have some views. We didn't think we saw much from here anyway, so we mostly immersed ourselves in the flowers on the embankment. We don't know much about flowers, but maybe there is someone who can help? Do you know the names of the plants in the pictures?

The area is large because it is like a whole 'city'. There are buildings that would serve as homes, workshops and hospitals. When you walk around without a guide, it is mostly a walk among houses, but it is also possible to download the app "Karlsborg Fortress" or book a guided "city walk". You can also take the opportunity to have a coffee or an ice cream at one of the cafés in the area.

Karlsborgs fästning

Garrison Church

The Garrison Church is located on the second floor of Slutvärnet, and features something as unusual as a Swedish flag at the top. The church was once intended to also serve as a plenary hall. It has room for 700 people, as the national leadership could meet here.

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Karlsborg Fortress Museum

In the same building as the church, but on the first floor, you will find the Karlsborg Fortress Museum, which can be visited for a fee. The museum is large and contains a lot of information about life in the army, wars in different times, the hometown and everything else. Perhaps it was a bit for a lot of information, because it can be difficult to sift through all the text and images. But if you take your time, there are a few things of interest.

Guided tour of Karlsborg Fortress

We booked a guided tour, and that was the main benefit of the visit. We took the tour called "Historical Adventure Tour", and it was really good. The tour starts with a short film, which makes you follow the history. You can then follow the guide to areas of the fortress that are otherwise locked to the public, while hearing interesting historical stories.

It is not allowed to take photos during the tour (the fortress is still used by the military), and we therefore show press photos that we have been authorised to use by Karlsborg Fortress.

Guidad tur i Karlsborgs fästning
Guided tour of Karlsborg Fortress © Karlsborg Fortress / Stefan Svensson

The tour takes you down into the underground passages, where smoke, sounds and moving puppets bring the whole thing to life. You also pass the "Bulta-Maja's pub", where in the past you could get a beer and a soup. Really interesting!

Guidad tur i Karlsborgs fästning
Guided tour of the Karlsborg Fortress © Karlsborg Fortress / Three Piece Media

Vanäs lighthouse

To end the day, we went out to Vanäs lighthouse, which, like Karlsborg Fortress, is located on Vanäs cape. Really a nice environment out here!

Fyr vid Karlsborg

More to see in the neighbourhood

When you are at Karlsborg Fortress, you are not far away from Forsvik, where you can see Göta Canal's oldest lock and Forsvik's mill. it is also not too far to Tiveden National Park, or to Töreboda and Hajstorp, cosy little destinations along the Göta Canal. If you are travelling by motorhome, you can continue to the nice campsite Wassbacken.

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We found it really interesting to go on a guided tour at Karlsborg Fortress, but more difficult to experience the fortress on our own. Have you been to Karlsborg Fortress? What did you think?

Facts about Karlsborg Fortress

  • Municipality: Karlsborg municipality
  • County: Västra Götaland County
  • Location: Vanäs headland in Vättern
  • Built: 1819-1909
  • Material: Limestone and gravel
  • In use: As a fortress 1831-1925, as a training garrison 1925 until further notice.
  • Managed by: State Property Agency
  • Read more: You can find more information about the fortress at West Sweden website.

Opening hours and prices

  • Enter the area: Free of charge
  • Historical adventure tour (1 h 15 min): Adults (from 13 years) 140 SEK and children 7-12 years 115 SEK (2020).
  • City walk (1 hour): Adults (from 13 years) 100 SEK and children 7-12 years 50 SEK (2020).
  • Little gold hunt (for children): 85 kroner (2020)
  • Fortress Museum: Adult (from 13 years) 70 SEK, children 7-13 years 30 SEK, family (2 adults + 2 children) 170 SEK (2020).
  • Fortress Museum opening hours: See Fortress Museum website for current opening hours.
  • Combined ticket: Check the ticket office for combination prices for guided tour + museum.

Find Karlsborg Fortress

  • Car: You can get to Karlsborg Fortress via road 49, north from Askersund or south-west from Skövde.
  • Collective: Train or bus to Skövde and then bus 400 or 401 towards Karlsborg, stop Karlsborg bus station.

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