An industrial centre on the Glomma River, Sarpsborg has the most powerful waterfall in Europe moments from its city centre. Sarp Falls is very much part of an industrial landscape and its force is captured by three power stations.
Despite the paper mills and factories, Sarpsborg has a rich cultural heritage. There are Bronze Age inscriptions clustered around the municipality, the most vivid of which is the Bjørnstadskipet, a set of three ships from 3,000 years ago.
You’ll have every chance to be active in local rivers and fjords, going salmon fishing and playing golf in summer, and hitting the slopes at the largest ski resort in Østfold County in winter. Sarpsborg’s past is closely tied to the neighbouring city of Fredrikstad, which has a photogenic Renaissance centre guarded by ramparts.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Sarpsborg:
1. Sarpefossen (Sarp Falls)
On the Glomma River and a quick stroll from Sarpsborg’s city centre is one of the most powerful waterfalls in Europe.
Dettifoss in Iceland and the Rhine Falls in Switzerland are both larger.
But Sarp Falls outstrips them for cubic metres per second, with 577 compared to 200 and 500 respectively.
A road and railway cross the waterfall from above, and there are viewpoints all down the east side of the falls.
Sarp Falls is as much an industrial wonder as a natural one, as the water feeds no fewer than three power stations, two on the east side and one on the west.
2. Hafslund Hovedgård (Hafslund Manor)
Almost without equal in Norway, Hafslund is a majestic estate that became its own self-sufficient community in the 17th century.
The manor’s heyday came in the 18th and 19th century when it was owned first by Maren Juel, the richest woman in Norway, and then by the timber merchant and industrialist Benjamin Wegner.
Later the estate began to harness the electrical energy from the neighbouring Sarp Falls.
The estate continues to be owned by the Hafslund ASA power company, but you can visit for a tour of the resplendent interiors and learn about the many distinguished families who live here on Sunday afternoons from June to August.
The estate’s English park meanwhile is open at all times and deserves a walk.
Follow the course of the Glomma South, and within minutes you’ll be in Sarpsborg’s sister city, Fredrikstad.
If you see only one thing here, make it the Old Town, which is protected by a star fort dating to the 17th century.
Fredrikstad became Norway’s first Renaissance city when it was founded by King Frederick II in 1567 during the Northern Seven Years’ War against Sweden.
The Old Town is on a perfect grid of cobblestone streets, mixing Baroque and creaking wooden houses.
That central fort is bolstered by yet more, on the green island of Isegran and on land to the southeast at Kongsten Fort.
Amateur historians will have a field day, climbing over the earth ramparts and examining ravelins and bastions.
How many urban parks in the world could claim to have an ancient graveyard? Well, Kulåsparken has 40 large and small burial mounds from the years 200-300 AD. And as part of a public keep-fit programme, Kulåsparken has 3.7 kilometres of marked hiking trails on which every kilometre and half-kilometre is signposted.
There are also some pleasing old building to look out for on your walk, like the 19th-century Borregaard Hovedgård manor house.
This building was seen around the world in 1993 when it hosted secret discussions between Palestine and Israel that led to the Oslo Agreement.
5. Borgarsyssel Museum
Established in 1921, this museum for the Østfold County takes its name from Borgarsysla, the Old Norse name for the area.
The site chosen for the museum was the space around the mysterious ruins of St.
Nikolas’ Church, which date to the beginning of the 12th century.
These ruins are part of an outdoor museum comprising more than 20 historic buildings moved here from different locations in Østfold County.
One of the exhibition halls is the Olav Chapel, built to commemorate the 900th anniversary of the death of Olaf II, Sarpsborg’s founder and the sainted “Perpetual King of Norway”. On display here is the mesmerising Borgkrusifikset, an enamel crucifix crafted in the city of Limoges in France in the early 13th century.
Sarpsborg has more ancient rock carvings than any other municipality in Norway, with more than 600 recorded.
The best of these is about three kilometres from the city centre, off the main road at Haugeveien.
The Bjørnstadskipet is made up of three ships, one large and two small, caved into a huge granite rock face in the Bronze Age approximately 3,000 years ago.
The largest image measures 4 x 1.5 metres and is believed to be the biggest of its kind in Europe.
The Bjørnstadskipet is the finest local example of rock carving, but if it has whetted your appetite for more, you could lose whole days travelling across Østfold finding more at Borge and Skjeberg.
7. INSPIRIA Science Centre
At Sarpsborg’s Grålum district is an interactive science museum, housed in a building that looks like it has been sent back from the future.
The attraction is aimed at children and teenagers, but parents will want to join in, probing topics like health, the environment, energy and space.
All of the activities and stations are included in admission, and there are over 70 to get through.
Children can control robots, see themselves through an infrared camera, experience zero gravity on a gyroscope, give a weather forecast, and a whole lot more.
Also on the agenda are wacky experiments at the Inspiria lab, an outdoor play area and one of the most advanced planetariums in Norway.
8. Sandvika Badeplass, Høysand
About 15 minutes south of Sarpsborg, but still in the same municipality, Sandvika Badeplass is a treasured bathing spot on the Skjebergkilen fjord.
In the summer the nearby village of Høysand’s population explodes when holidaymakers flock to the cabins and campsites on the shore of the fjord.
The Sandvika Badeplass has an alluring sandy beach lapped by the fjord’s gentle waters.
Trimming the beach are granite boulders and an expansive grassy area shaded by birch and conifers.
Close to the water at high season are kiosks for refreshments and a 54-hole mini-golf course.
9. Kjerringåsen Alpinsenter
Sarpsborg has Østfold’s largest ski resort on a hill with five slopes, three lifts and a height difference of 146 metres.
Kjerringåsen Alpinsenter isn’t enormous, but will give avid downhill skiers and snowboarders a rush.
The longest piste is 650 metres long and all five are replenished with snow cannons and snow-making facilities.
There’s a ski school geared towards all ages, and one of the five slopes (Children’s Bowl) has been drawn up especially for children and has its own lift.
The cafeteria has a perfect view of the entire centre and is famous for its delicious waffles.
A section of this 5.6-kilometre tributary of the Glomma is protected as a natural reserve.
With rocky, coniferous banks and fast-flowing waters, the Ågårdselva is a unadulterated slice of Norwegian wilderness.
But from June 1 to August 31 it’s also salmon fishing heaven.
You just need to make sure you have a licence, which are inexpensive and can be bought online.
At Ågårdselva’s western end is what used to be one of Northern Europe’s largest sawmills.
Soli Brug hit its apex in the 1860s and 70s, but today is an art space, staging two high-profile exhibitions a year in January and June.
At the beginning of 2018 some of the stars of Norwegian art world on show at Soli Brug included Tiina Kivinen, Vibeke Jerkaas and Håkon Gullvåg.
11. Greåker Fort
On Sarpsborg’s west side, at a fork in the Glomma River is a fort posted above the borough of Greåker.
Built into the rock, it was constructed at the very start of the 20th century, and its most pivotal moment came on April 13 1940. On this day ninety poorly equipped Norwegian Army soldiers fought to prevent the German advance across the Rolvøysund bridge, killing almost 30 German soldiers in the battle.
In peaceful times it’s a picnic spot, with a commanding view of the river and countryside.
The fort is open and you can peek inside the casemate where the fighting took place.
With a few locations around Norway, Eventyrfabrikken is a godsend for parents with younger children.
It’s a smartly-designed, supervised indoor play centre where youngsters can wear themselves out and have the time of their lives doing it.
The branch in Sarpsborg is 2,000 square metres of craziness, with ball-pits, bouncy castles, soft obstacles, trampolines and pedal karts.
Babies and toddlers also have their own soft play area.
And for grown-ups the time will pass quickly as each centre has a big-screen TV, complementary magazines and newspapers, and free Wi-Fi.
This children’s activity centre belongs to the Quality Hotel & Resort Sarpsborg, but opens up for non-guests.
There’s much for little ones to get up to, both on land and in the water.
All the facilities are inside, so Superland is a year-round attraction.
There’s a mini-golf course, a soft play area, a climbing wall and a ball-pit.
In the Badeland waterpark are two slides for bigger kids, along with a “Space Bowl”, a kind of watery vortex that eventually drops you from a bowl into a pool below.
Parents can unwind in the steam room and the relaxation pool, which is heated to 34°C.
Sarpsborg is a real sweet spot for golfers, with three courses in close range.
There’s also a useful choice between the casual “pay and play” at the Øya Golfpark and the slicker Skjeberg Golfklubb and Borregaard Golfklubb.
Eighteen holes at Øya will cost a reasonable 250kr.
A round is a little bit pricier at the highly-rated Skjeberg, on the west shore of Isesjøen, which costs 350kr on weekdays and 450kr on weekends and holidays.
Borregaard is 350kr at all times, and is set in gorgeous scenery at the end of a peninsula at Opsund.
If you need to shake off some rust from your swing there’s the Østfold Golfsenter, the largest indoor golf facility in Scandinavia.
This mall is big enough to be a regional shopping destination for the whole of Østfold County.
Since it opened in 1999 it has helped to resuscitate the centre of Sarpsborg, and 19 years later its brick and glass facade still looks fresh.
There are 75 stores in all, anchored by Norwegian and Scandinavian chains like H&M, Meny, Clas Ohlson, Vinmonopolet and Home & Cottage.
Storbyen has a play area for children and a handful of cafes and restaurants that have created outdoor terraces on the square in front.