Thursday, August 10, sees the start of the ninth Tønsberg Viking Festival, with thousands of participants from near and far flocking to the small city in Eastern Norway for an authentic celebration of all things Viking.

There could be no more perfect setting for a Viking festival. Thought to have been founded by Harald Fairhair in the ninth century, Tønsberg is the oldest city in Norway and the original home of the Saga Oseberg, probably the most famous Viking ship in the world.

To learn more about the upcoming event, The Viking Herald's Jonathan Bennett speaks with Ole Harald Flåten, the festival's project manager and Tønsberg local.

A city rediscovering its Viking heritage

Though the original Oseberg ship is now housed at the Viking Ship Museum in Oslo, currently under reconstruction, a replica of the original vessel was completed in Tønsberg in June 2012. The project renewed local interest in the city's Viking past, with the first festival following just three years later. 

Ole Harald picks up the story: "Henrik Ulrichsen, a journalist for Tønsbergs Blad, the local newspaper, was the first person to suggest hosting a Viking festival here. The Oseberg Viking Heritage Foundation embraced the idea, and we launched the first event in 2015."

It proved to be a huge success and has been held every year since. Almost uniquely among Viking festivals, there wasn't even a break during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

"We first started counting visitors during the COVID years, with 3,800 and then 4,600 people in 2020 and 2021," Ole Harald recalls. 

The event is entirely free of charge, which means the marketing budget is limited. "It isn't easy to create a big festival without any income, but numbers are slowly growing – last year, we had around 7,000 people."

Visitors and volunteers from near and far gather in Tønsberg to immerse themselves in Viking history and partake in various engaging activities. Photo: Tønsberg Viking Festival

An immersive atmosphere

The Tønsberg Viking Festival is situated at the heart of the city, including the scenic waterfront, where you are sure to find an array of recreational Viking boats and ships during festival season. 

"The Saga Oseberg and the other ships are a big part of the festival," Ole Harald adds. They are joined by Gaia, a replica of the Gokstad Ship that usually resides in the city of Sandefjord.

Naturally, the festival also plays host to a wide range of other activities. 

"You will find games and sports for all ages, with Viking music, theater, handcrafts, and shipbuilding. There is also a big opening show, some films, and lots of lectures." Ole Harald tells us.

"Plenty is offered for children as well, including slitting lodges and axing planks for shipbuilding, archery practice, Viking games, and glima, a form of Nordic folk wrestling."

A local festival with an international flavor

Ole Harald informs us that the event relies on an ever-expanding army of volunteers: "People come from all over the Viking communities of Vestfold and Telemark, as well as from NGOs and anyone else with a passion for the Vikings."

In addition to locals and other Norwegian visitors, Ole Harald says there have also been more and more people traveling to enjoy the festival from all over the world.

"This year, we even have a group of Argentinians planning to spend a whole week living as Vikings in Tønsberg and sailing with Gaia and Saga Oseberg. We also have a lot of international volunteers, including refugees from Ukraine."

A charming coastal city

In addition to the Viking festival and the Saga Oseberg organization, which offers visitors the chance to ride and row authentic Viking boats throughout the summer, the city also has a popular medieval festival. 

The Slottfjell Museum, which hosts exhibitions about the Vikings, the city's rich medieval history, and its whaling traditions, can be visited all year round, while the nearby Færder National Park is well worth a visit.

If you fancy making your own pilgrimage to the ancient city of Tønsberg, the Viking festival takes place between August 10-13. 

For more information, you can visit their Facebook page or website. To learn more about the Saga Oseberg and sailing the fjords of Eastern Norway, you can explore the Saga Oseberg website.

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