May 17, or Constitution Day as it’s also called, is a huge deal in Norway. So much, that people greet each other with “happy birthday” (Gratulerer med dagen). No matter where you are in the country, rest assured there will be a champagne breakfast, ice cream and strawberries, a parade, and merry crowds with traditional bunad dresses. But in some places, Norway’s National Day feels even more special. Read on, then join the festivities.
The Norwegian capital is obviously the place where it’s all going down. On May 17, commemorating Norway’s independence from Sweden, the whole city dresses in the red, white and blues of the Norwegian flag. There’s wreathing ceremonies, folk dancing, the children’s parade that passes from Karl Johans gate and goes on to the Royal Palace (greeted by the Royal Family on the balcony) and the City Hall Square, as well as a concert at the Akershus fortress. But apart from the official city celebrations, every cultural venue, restaurant and bar hosts special events for the day, with champagne flowing, traditional eats, and partying until morning. Check out Visit Oslo’s calendar and start planning your day.
Did you know that Tønsberg is Norway’s oldest city? Just one hour away from Oslo lies a veritable history lesson. The city was founded during the Viking Age and is home to Scandinavia’s largest ruin site, the breathtaking Mount Slottsfjell. On Constitution Day, the castle is awash with flag-holding crowds. There is a concert early in the morning and a flag salutation before the merriment continues on to the rest of the city.
Finse may feel like a small dot on the map in the middle of nowhere, but it’s not (it’s actually halfway between Oslo and Bergen). Finse is one of the most nerdgasm-worthy places to visit for Star Wars fans since it was the real-life filming location for planet Hoth in Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back, and every year they host a Visit Hoth festival to commemorate the fact. But it’s also a staggeringly beautiful place, where ice music festivals are held and skiing season doesn’t end until May. If you’re looking for a place to avoid Constitution Day crowds but still celebrate with skiing, traditional food, and a concert, Finse is perfect for you.
There are certainly many reasons to visit Tromsø – and the festivities of May 17 are among them. The city that’s been called “Paris of the North” may be small, but its many architectural gems, natural beauty, and vibrant community more than makeup for its size. On May 17, the whole city comes to life, with various parades and music concerts, complimentary cinema screenings, and collective feasts. Tromsø also has a very active Sami community, so apart from bunads, you’ll get to see people wearing their traditional Sami kolts on the day.
The first capital of Norway, and currently its third largest city, is an exciting place to visit any time of the year – think stave churches, gothic cathedrals, cool micro-breweries, and a contemporary art scene. On May 17, there’s the traditional children’s parade (commemorating the first children’s parade arranged by Nobel laureate Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson in 1870) in the morning, several civic parades, concerts and, because this is Trondheim, a variety of places where you can eat ridiculously good food and celebrate with a pint or 10.
Pretty as a postcard, with a Hanseatic wharf so precious it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the city of Bergen has many ways to steal your heart on any given day. But on National Day, Norway’s second largest city lights up – literally. Apart from the traditional parades, there are also rowing boat races, parachute jumps, climbing sessions, torchlight parades, feasting, music and, of course, fireworks.
If all the happenings in Bergen sound a bit too “extra” for your taste, then perhaps you should consider a quieter (but still exciting) destination. Svalbard will still be cold this time of year, but the “Cultural Capital of the High Arctic” knows how to properly celebrate Norway’s independence. The parade in Longyearbyen includes the whole town and ends up on the World War II monument at Skjæringa – although because of the cold you may spotless bunads and more warm coats. There are games, traditional food, drink, and music. Perhaps most importantly, there are arctic vistas surrounding you, making this May 17 a unique one.
The beauty of Norwegian fjords is legendary and in May, most of the surrounding areas are in full bloom. For instance, Hardangerfjord will not only be a marvel to behold with all its apple trees, the National Park, and the cascading waterfalls. If you’re lucky, you may come across the Trolltunga May 17 celebrations the fjord is known for. Now that will be Instagram gold.