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How Bergen puts its own spin on Norway's May 17th traditions

Robin-Ivan Capar
Robin-Ivan Capar - [email protected]
How Bergen puts its own spin on Norway's May 17th traditions
There are plenty of traditions that are unique to Bergen on May 17th. Pictured is a view of Bergen's Bryggen harbour. Photo by Xiaoyang Ou on Unsplash

Throughout Norway, May 17th is a highlight of the year, with millions celebrating Constitution Day. However, Bergen likes to do things a bit differently.

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Bergen in western Norway, the country's second-largest city, takes on an especially festive atmosphere for the May 17th celebrations.

Streets and houses are dotted with Norwegian flags as far as the eye can see, and the city, known for its rich cultural scene, transforms into a bustling hub of national pride and joyous celebrations. 

READ MORE: Why does Norway celebrate May 17th?

This sort of approach to celebrating Norway's big day isn't unique to Bergen – most cities in the country have a special program in place to mark the occasion.

However, Bergen puts its own unique spin on this special occasion, featuring an air show, fireworks, parades with organisations unique to Bergen, and much more.

How the festivities start

Bergen celebrates Norway's Constitution Day with several distinct local traditions.

The festivities kick off bright and early, with an opening ceremony, followed by a festive salute fired from Skansen, a historic site in the Bergenhus district.

Simultaneously, the morning procession, featuring the Sandviken's Youth Corps and Lungegaarden's Music Corps, starts from Dreggen and concludes at Festplassen Square in the city centre.

A highlight of this procession is the inclusion of the buekorps - traditional neighbourhood youth organisations that march through the streets, a feature unique to Bergen.

READ MORE: How Norway's biggest cities will celebrate May 17th this year

As the city awakens, main procession attendees gather around 10am at Koengen, an open-air concert venue in the city centre.

The main procession begins between 10 and 11am. It is central to the day's celebrations, and the fact that Bergen natives call this parade a prosesjon instead of tog (a word used in the rest of Norway), just goes to show how important having a distinct tradition is to Bergen. 

At the same time, a flag parade departs from Festplassen. While the main procession makes its way through the streets, the flag parade heads in the opposite direction. Having two parades heading in opposite directions is something that sets Bergen apart from other parts of the country, like Oslo. 

Furthermore, a boat parade also embarks from Hilleren at a similar time.

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Norway flag 1

Flags are a central feature of Norway’s May 17th celebrations, symbolizing national unity - you’ll see them everywhere you turn. Photo by Peter Hansen on Unsplash

Midday: Continued processions, speeches, music performances – and the Viking Ship stage

Midday brings a flurry of activities, including a race rowing procession from Kaigaten close to noon, followed by speeches and musical performances on the Viking Ship stage at Festplassen - a special stage used for this occasion - featuring the Krohnengen Brass Band and the Bergen Opera Choir.

There, you'll likely be able to hear Nystemten (Udsigter fra Ulrikken), Bergen's own city anthem, alongside Norway's national anthem - a tradition that isn't that common outside of Bergen, where people tend to stick to the national anthem.

Around 1pm, dancing livens up Torgallmenningen and Ole Bull squares, complemented by concerts at nearby landmarks like Den blau steinen and Musikpaviljongen.

Later in the afternoon, a spectacular air show takes place over Vågen/Byfjorden, which always attracts a crowd.

The air show is also a special experience that doesn't take place in all cities.

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Evening: Gospel, torch parade, and fireworks

As evening sets in, a gospel night organised by local congregations offers a musical pause in St. John's Church.

The celebrations conclude with a torch parade from Bergenhus leading to Festplassen between 10 and 11pm, capped off by a grand fireworks display.

READ MORE: Key things you absolutely shouldn't do on May 17th in Norway

Locals and visitors alike converge on Festplassen and other key viewing spots around the city to see the fireworks.

Families, friends, and neighbours come together, many having spent the day enjoying the various parades and performances (as well as a glass or two of alcohol) to watch the sky light up in a dazzling array of colours.

And there you have it! If you're planning to spend May 17th in Bergen, you now know what to expect and the must-see activities to catch throughout the day that are exclusive to the city.

To learn more about how Norway celebrates the signing of its constitution in 1814, which declared the country's independence, be sure to check out The Local's in-depth guide to May 17th.

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