Party like a Norwegian on Constitution Day
Love a good party? Then you’ll definitely want to be in Norway on 17 May! Norwegian Constitution Day is THE biggest day of the year and an excuse for a massive street party.
This public holiday of 17 May commemorates the signing of the Norwegian Constitution in 1814, when Norway declared its independence from Sweden, and it’s the most important date in the Norwegian calendar.
There are parades, marching bands, crowds of excited Norwegians in traditional costume, flag-waving, and unlimited amounts of ice cream and booze. It’s an experience like no other.
If you’re heading to Norway soon and will be there on 17 May, here’s what to expect:
Celebrations kick off early. Cannons are fired at dawn to salute the day, and the korps (boys and girls brigades) start banging their drums in the streets at 7am. That lie-in you planned? Forget about it.
If the noise doesn’t wake you up, the smells will. On Norway’s national day, it’s traditional for people to enjoy a breakfast of freshly baked bread, scrambled eggs, smoked salmon, and a glass or three of champagne with family. It’s worth joining in.
Another traditional drink for the 17th May festivities is ‘aquavit’, Scandinavia’s spice-infused, signature spirit made from grain or potatoes. Read more about it in our post on weird and wonderful Nordic foods.
A sea of red, white and blue
The Norwegian flag is a big part of the celebrations, so get ready to do some serious waving. You’ll see flags hanging from every building and in every garden. All the towns and cities across the country are a patriotic vision of red, white and blue. It’s a spectacular sight.
You’ll feel like you’re on the set of a historical costume drama as you walk through the street in any Norwegian town on Constitution Day. Locals dress in colourful ‘bunads’, which is Norway’s national dress. The women wear heavily embroidered dirndl-style dresses, while the men look like Georgian gentlemen in top hats and 17th century shoes.
Bunads are a big deal for Norwegians. They’re handmade and the designs vary from region to region. They also cost of anywhere between €5,000–€15,000 so they’re an investment for life.
In the absence of a bunad, your finest suit or dress will do the trick, especially if you go with the Norwegian colour scheme of red, white and blue.
Parades are held across the country, kicking off with the children’s parade. Primary and secondary school children tag along behind the school marching bands, waving their flags excitedly.
The most well-attended children’s parade is the one in Oslo, as it includes a trip past the Royal Palace, where the Norwegian Royal Family wave to participants from the main balcony.
There are also parades for members of the public, and the traditional ‘russ parade’. Every year, Norwegian teens on the cusp of graduating from high school celebrate ‘russefeiring’, a month-long graduation festival. Participants are known as ‘Russ’.
The festival consists of drinking copious amounts of alcohol, playing pranks on former teachers, and driving around in pimped-out party buses playing loud music. Typical teenage stuff.
Russefeiring starts in mid-April and lasts until May 17, where the Russ have a final hurrah on the streets of Norway.
Every good party includes some singing. Constitution Day is no different. No matter where you go, you’ll hear children singing traditional songs.
If you want to join in, familiarise yourself with ‘Norway in Red, White and Blue’ and ‘Seventeenth of May I’m So Glad’. And then there’s the national anthem. Be sure to learn a verse or two of ‘Ja, vi elsker dette landet’, or ‘yes, we love this country’ to really get into the spirit of the day.
Food and drink
Constitution Day is essentially ‘eat whatever you want’ day. It’s customary to eat as many ice creams, waffles and hot dogs as you can. Start the diet tomorrow.
And, of course, there’s also a lot of drinking. But 17 May counts as a Sunday in Norway, which means no shops will sell alcohol.
While we’re on the subject of things being closed, shops and attractions around the country shut on the Norwegian national day so don’t plan your souvenir shopping for that day. There’ll be plenty to keep you entertained on the streets anyway.
Top tip: If you want to eat out on 17 May, book a table well in advance, or be prepared to wait.
Rent a car and go cross-country
Norway’s Constitution Day isn’t just celebrated in Oslo. If you’re in the ‘land of the midnight sun’, make the most of your stay by hiring a car and going on a road trip. Be careful not to plan your travel for the 17 May itself as roads can get quite busy due to everyone heading to the main towns and cities for the festivities.
If you decide to celebrate in Stavanger, be sure to plan a hike up to Preikestolen, aka Pulpit Rock, while in the area. This 25×25 metre mountain shelf is an impressive sight, and one not to be missed! Find out more in our post on the best things to see and do in Stavanger.