On 17 May, it is the colourful processions of children with their banners, flags and bands - not military parades - that play the main role. The day is celebrated with as much enthusiasm in Norwegian villages (albeit on a smaller scale) as in the capital city of Oslo, where tens of thousands line Karl Johans gate, Oslo’s main thoroughfare, every year to watch the parade. The Royal Palace Square is another popular spot - many gather here to get a glimpse of the Royal Family waving to the passing procession from the palace balcony.
The children's parade in Oslo is the longest in Norway, and includes some 100 schools and marching bands. The route starts at Festningsplassen and Youngstorget, follows Karl Johans gate from Stortorvet to the Royal Palace, passing the Parliament on its way, and ends in front of City Hall (9 am-1 pm).
In Bergen the main procession leaves from Torgallmenningen at 10.30am and ends at Festplassen, at the northern end of Lille Lungegårdsvann, after winding its way around the city centre streets. Various concerts and activities take place throughout the day, including a fun harbour rowing race in Vågen, and the festivities end with a big firework display.
Everywhere celebrations start early, so don’t be surprised if you get woken up at 7 or 8am by the local marching band’s battering drums. Parades, concerts, talks and general merrymaking are the order of the day. This is a truly special time to be in Norway, and you should by all means join in with the locals, but don’t expect to get much else done that day – most shops and offices are closed on 17 May. If you are driving, bear in mind that the centre of most cities and towns will be off limits, and traffic jams likely.
Pupils' wild celebrations
Pupils in the last year of secondary school make a huge contribution to the celebrations. They are called “russ”, are dressed in red or blue costumes, and spend the whole of May celebrating. They have their own parades, with buses and vans with loud sound systems. Ask them for a “russekort” and you will get their personal sixth former card, with personal info and jokes on it.
Another distinctive characteristic that contributes to making this a unique day is all the beautiful bunads or national costumes that more and more Norwegians wear on the day.
There are hundreds of different ones, each more colourful than the other, and in the capital Oslo, it is not unusual to see bunads from all over the country, as residents and visitors alike proudly wear the costume associated with the region their family comes from.
After being part of the Danish autocracy for 400 years, Norway got its own constitution in 1814 and joined into a loose union with Sweden that lasted until 1905.
A limited and hereditary monarchy was introduced, whereby the king would exercise his authority through a government, while Parliament (Storting) would allocate monies and make laws. The Norwegian constitution was the most modern in Europe at the time.
Norway's Constitution, which declared the country to be an independent nation, was signed at Eidsvoll on 17 May 1814, and despite full independence having had to wait until 1905, this date remains Norway's official National Day.