The Capital of Norway Explained

There are multiple large cities in a county like Norway, and cities like Bergen, Tromsø, Oslo and Trondheim are all very popular among tourists. But which city is the capital city of Norway?

The capital of Norway is Oslo, and has been that since 1814 when the Karlmar Union ended. But cities like Bergen, Trondheim and even Copenhagen (Denmark) and London (UK) has previously been the capital cities of Norway.

Oslo is the capital of Norway.
A view of Oslo, Norway’s capital. Photo published with permission.

There’s no doubt that Oslo is the capital of Norway these days, but there has historically been a lot of changes to the seat of political power in the country.

We’re going to be taking a closer look at both the current capital Oslo, as well as explore the other historical capital cities in Norway in this article.

What Norway’s capital Oslo is like today

Oslo is Norway’s capital city, and by far the biggest city in Norway. There are currently just over 1 million people living in Oslo, which is roughly 4 times as big as the second biggest city in Norway (which is Bergen with 267 000 people)!

Not only is Oslo Norway’s capital and the biggest city, but it’s also the city with the biggest increase in population. People keep moving to Oslo, and the city saw a growth of over 35 % during the 2002 to 2022 time period.

Today, Oslo is a bustling and lively city that is always crowded with both locals and tourists. It is by far the Norwegian city with most things to do, so if you’re looking for a lively city with plenty of entertainment options, Oslo is the best choice.

There are dozens of different museums and unique sights, and the most visited ones are the Oslo Opera House, the Nobel Peace Prize Museum, the Vigeland Sculpture Park and the Viking Ship Museum (which is currently closed for renovations).

Woman outside the Opera in Oslo
Woman outside the Opera in Oslo. Photo published with permission.

Oslo used to have a bit of a bad reputation just 20 or 30 years ago, where it consisted of uninspired brick buildings and had a lack of cultural entertainment options. However, this is all in the past, and Oslo is now considered a modern and interesting big city.

The city is generally clean, safe and has a lot of things to do, so it’s a great stop that can rival some of Europe’s other capital cities. The city is in constant expansion, and modern buildings like the new MUNCH Museum as well as the new financial district is built in fjord.

Deichman Bjørvika
Deichman Bjørvika is the public library in Oslo. The Opera House is seen in the background. Photo by Helge Høifødt / CC BY-SA 4.0.

Historic capitals of Norway

While Oslo has been Norway’s capital for a long time now, this wasn’t always the case. So let’s take a quick look at the different historic capital cities of Norway!

The first, multiple capital cities of Norway

During the first few decades after the unification of Norway, there was no formalized capital city in the country. The king traveled a lot between different regions of Norway, and as such, as multiple different “King farms” as they often were referred to.

Different kings tended to have their own favorite king farm, and these were seen as the capital of Norway during the reign of that particular king.

Some of these include Avaldsnes on Karmøy, Alrekstad in Bergen and Alvheim in Sarpsborg.

Olavskirken on Avaldsnes. This was likely Norway's first capital city.
Olavskirken on Avaldsnes. This was likely Norway’s first capital city. Photo by Henry Leirvoll / CC BY-SA 3.0.

Trondheim is Norway’s first official capital

Modern day Trondheim, at the time called Nidaros, became the capital of Norway in 1030 when Olav Tryggvason proclaimed it to be. The city has a strategic advantage of the river dividing the city in two, making it very difficult for attackers.

Nidaros remained the capital until 1217, when Bergen took over.

Nidarosdomen in Trondheim.
Nidarosdomen in Trondheim.

Bergen as Norway’s capital

Bergen became the capital of Norway during the beginning of the 13th century. This was not a swift proclamation to change it from Nidaros to Bergen, but it just sort of happened as more and more of the political elite settled down and did their business from Bergen over the years.

Eventually Bergen was considered a much more important city than Nidaros / Trondheim, and people considered it to be the capital.

Aerial view of Bergen from Fløyen
Aerial view of Bergen from Fløyen. Photo published with permission.

Oslo’s first run at being Norway’s capital

Bergen didn’t hold the honor of being Norway’s capital for long, because Oslo quickly began to rise in political power. By 1314, King Haakon V proclaimed Oslo to be the capital city of Norway.

By the time Haakon V came to power, he further solidified Oslo’s claim as capital city by officially moving to the city. He began the construction of the famous Akershus Fortress, making it very clear that the king was to live in Oslo.

Bergen was still politically and economically important due to it’s strategic location, but Oslo kept growing in political power as time passed.

Akershus Fortress seen from Aker Brygge.
Akershus Fortress seen from Aker Brygge.

Copenhagen, Denmark as Norway’s capital city

Norway and Denmark had a union from 1380 to 1537, where the kings moved to Copenhagen to rule Norway from Denmark. Oslo still held the capital city status, but only on paper, and the de facto capital was Copenhagen.

Things became even more formalized in 1537 when Norway officially became part of Denmark, as it’s own nation within Denmark. This also meant that Copenhagen became the official capital of Norway, and was that way until 1814.

This period is known as the Kalmar Union.

Oslo once again became Norway’s capital

Once the “union” with Denmark ended in 1814, Norway once again got it’s own government, which meant a new capital city. Oslo was chosen, and for the first time formalized as Norway’s capital by the government.

Oslo was technically called Christiania at the time, but regained its official name in 1925.

H&M at Karl Johan in Oslo
Karl Johan in Oslo. Photo by Jorge Láscar / CC BY 2.0.

London as Norway’s capital city

The capital of Norway was breifly moved to London during World War II, where both the Norwegian government and the Norwegian royal family managed to flee from the German occupation of Norway.

They sought shelter in London, and controlled what they could of Norway from London. This meant that London became the official temporary capital of Norway between 1940 and 1945, but it was once again moved back to Oslo once the was ended.

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