Norway is a nation of music-lovers. With a huge selection of quality venues and homegrown talent to match, it’s no surprise that over 20% of the population visit a music festival every year in the capital. Every taste is catered for, from jazz and rock to contemporary and opera music. The summer is a particularly good time to visit, with a range of free festivals on offer to welcome music-lovers from around the world.
Get ready to rock, roll, and everything in between with our top Oslo festival picks – all with free entry.
Best for diversity: Mela
Mela Oslo (Norwegian website) was first held in 2001, and is now one of the biggest festivals of its kind in Europe. “Mela is a family-friendly event with something for every generation of every community,” says Production Manager Ashley Shiri. “It offers 3 days of action, packed with music, dance, food, a fun fair and more.” The free entry is designed to encourage patrons from all walks of life. “The organizers of the festival have insisted [on keeping] the festival free [from the beginning], because a great number of citizens have little access to the art institutions,” says Ashley.
‘Mela’ means ‘meeting place’, highlighting a gathering of arts, people and cultures. “Mela celebrates the culture and creativity of Norway’s immigrant communities,” explains Ashley. Expect Asian, Latin American and African music across various stages, from both international and Norwegian artists of mixed heritage.
The festival takes place in Rådhusplassen (City Hall Square) – just a 15-minute walk from the Radisson Blu Scandinavia Hotel, Oslo.
Mela runs from 17 – 19 August 2018Best for eclectic tastes: Ultima
Established in 1991, Ultima has grown into the biggest contemporary music festival in Scandinavia. “Ultima takes place in Oslo in September every year,” says Director Lars Petter Hagen. “The program contains between 40 and 50 events.” These events include concerts, as well as sound installations, multimedia productions, musical theater, and performance. Oh, and it’s all free! One of the reasons for this will warm your heart: “We believe fundamentally in the necessity of music, and the importance of connecting people and ideas through art,” says Lars.
The festival is powered by artistic freedom and innovation, making it a fascinating place to be year after year. “I think there is an open-mindedness in Oslo that we try to reflect – a healthy disrespect for convention,” says Lars. “I also believe the size and population of a city is vital in promoting an atmosphere of collaboration. It’s the same musicians that are doing experimental improvisation one night and sitting in the opera orchestra the next night.”
Ultima takes place at several spots around the city. Check out the program, and speak to the Radisson Blu concierge team for directions to your chosen venues.
Ultima runs from 13 – 22 September 2018
Best for venue-hopping: Oslo Jazz Festival
Starting back in 1986, Oslo Jazz Festival showcases all kinds of jazz, from traditional to mainstream and modern. As it turns out, jazz is big in Oslo: “The local jazz scene is very good these days, and it has been for quite a while,” says the festival’s Marketing and Communications Manager André Ishak. “There are lots of young musicians doing exciting things, and we’re also happy to see that more and more venues are putting on jazz nights.”
The Oslo Jazz festival lasts 6 days, with around 70 concerts being spread over nearly 20 central venues. You can either buy single tickets for specific concerts, or purchase a 1-day pass. Information on the concert venues can be found in the Jazz festival program – just speak to the Radisson Blu concierge team for directions.
The Oslo Jazz Festival takes place every August.
Best for a family atmosphere: Granittrock
Granittrock started in 2005 with just 70 volunteers, a tiny budget and some adventurous founders: “They managed to get an up and coming rap group from the area, Warlocks, to play with the iconic Norwegian band Backstreet Girls as the headliner,” says Marketing Manager Magnus Rønning. “In addition, local kids from the youth club came to perform. From then on, Granittrock has expanded into the festival we [now] have on the first weekend of every September.”
No alcohol is allowed at this festival, making it the perfect choice for families. “We strive to be an arena where everyone is welcome and feels safe,” says Magnus. “We do not charge any cover fee and do not serve any alcohol. Granittrock is a place where you come with your kids and just experience live music from artists you hear on the radio and TV.” It’s a great platform for local performers new on the scene too, explains Magnus: “We want to include all the local talent and let young musicians experience the joy of being on stage.”
Granittrock is held in Grorudparken, just a 20-minute taxi ride or half-hour bus journey from the Radisson Blu Scandinavia Hotel.
Granittrock runs from 7 – 8 September 2018.
The year-round music scene in Oslo
Festivals aside – Oslo boasts a fantastic year-round music scene, thanks to the constant stream of gigs and concerts. “As long as I can remember, there have been a lot of great concerts in Oslo, both big international artists but also a vibrant underground scene,” explains Magnus.
Ashley agrees: “There are over 25 music venues in Oslo, so it’s pretty natural that [the city would make] such a great destination for music lovers.”
From stages made entirely of ice to 350-year-old fortresses, the venues themselves keep people guessing too, and the inventive nature of promotors keeps things fresh. “Norwegians, and especially people in Oslo, just love live music and I can’t see that that will end any time soon,” says Magnus. “It’s a great place to live if you love music!”
The availability of gigs across a wide range of genres plays a part too, explains Ashley: “The city caters for a wide range of tastes; from rock, metal, hip hop and jazz to electronica, folk and world.”