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From music festivals where you need protection from polar bears to breathtaking theater performances where a lake becomes part of the stage, Norway is home to many unusual events that deserve your attendance. It’s also home to some quite ordinary events that you’ll find you’ll still have every reason to attend.
The northern part of Norway is not only an exciting traveling destination, it’s also a rather cultural one—and the city of Tromsø is definitely playing an important part in this. For more than 30 years now, Nordlysfestivalen (Northern Lights Festival) is a celebration of music in all its forms, from opera to jazz, and from chamber music and symphonic orchestras to modern tunes. Taking place towards the end of January every year, this festival will give you goosebumps, not just because of the music and dancing, but also because of the locations chosen for the concerts. Try listening to a symphonic orchestra inside a cathedral and not be in awe.
One of Norway’s biggest and most important food festivals is taking place yearly in July, in Stavanger. At Gladmat, you can join 250,000 foodies, families, and chefs from all around the world in discovering quality ingredients and traditional tastes from Norway’s culinary blooming southwest coast. This year marks the festival’s 20th birthday, so you know you’re in for a treat.
Every August, Oslo gives off very strong Coachella vibes. Øya Festival is a four-day music fest that brings together about 60,000 people on the green grass of Tøyen Park, who are excited to listen to tunes from internationally acclaimed stars like the Pixies to up-and-coming local artists. The vibe is young and fun, with a big emphasis on sustainability (this is Norway, after all). In between singing your heart out, you can enjoy raw, organic food from local farmers as well as shop music paraphernalia, like records and t-shirts. This year, the Arctic Monkeys are headlining—so book your tickets fast.
The Sami are indigenous people of Northern Scandinavia with a vibrant culture and their own language (that’s also recognized as one of Norway’s official languages). Riddu Riđđu Festivàla, meaning “little storm on the coast” in Sami, is one of their ways to establish and strengthen that culture: an international indigenous festival that’s been taking place every July for 25 years with a diverse program, including anything from music and films to workshops, literature, and performances. You should probably camp for this.
What’s better than immersing yourself into the brilliant work of Henrik Ibsen? Well, doing so in a magical environment. The Peer Gynt Festival, taking place in the Gudbrandsdalen valley every August, celebrates the iconic play-in-verse by the famous Norwegian play writer, as well as the historical person who inspired the tale—because Per Gynt actually lived in this valley during the 17th century. Apart from the theater play itself, the week-long festival will captivate you with music concerts on mountains, art exhibitions, and guided walks.
The region of Trøndelag knows good food—and its people will happily prove it to you. All you have to do is be in Trondheim in the summer, during the Oi! Trøndersk Mat og Drikke Festival to celebrate local cuisine. Think butter, cheese, sausages, jam and ham, seafood, and vegetables from local producers and farmers—along with small-batch beer in the accompanying micro-brewery festival.
They claim to be “the coolest outdoor experience”—and they’re probably right. The team behind this unique “ice music” concept (pioneer Terje Isungset and the ice ensemble Anders Jormin, Berit Opheim, Peter Paelinck, and Maria Skranes) are relocating to the mountains of Finse this year for more of their frozen magic. Just imagine that most of the stage, as well as all of the instruments, are made of ice!
It goes without saying that the country who invented slalom would have a couple of interesting ski festivals up its sleeve. The one in Rena, though, has a unique backstory: Birken festival, usually taking place in February in Rena, follows the route that a group of skiers took during Norway’s civil war back in 1200, to carry the young prince Haakon Haakonsøn away from the enemies and to safety. Today, all participants are required to wear a back-pack that weighs around 3.5 kilos, as a symbol of carrying the weight of that child.
Another cultural gem of northern Norway and taking place every February since 1998, Polar Jazz is the world’s northernmost music festival. It’s a celebration of light and music over the long and dark polar night; although jazz at its core, in the last few years renowned artists from other genres have performed as well—from blues bands to rock stars like Sivert Høyem. And because this is Svalbard, there are guards standing outside the venues while performances take place, to protect you from actual polar bears.
Another food festival that should be on your list—although this one is smaller and much more specialized. The Norwegian Rakfisk Festival in Fagernes is all about a semi-fermented trout called rakfisk, that has a unique flavor thanks to its long fermenting process. Rakfisk is the staple of the local cuisine, which means you’ll get to try different recipes and ways of serving this delicacy, while washing it down with aquavit.