Tønsberg: Norway’s oldest city (Complete travel guide)

Tønsberg is officially Norway’s oldest city, founded in 871. Today, the city is growing and is Norway’s 10th largest city.

While southeast Norway is not as spectacular as the west, its coastline attracts thousands of holiday-hungry Norwegians every summer, and Tønsberg is at the top of the list. Located just over 100 km to the southeast of Oslo, it is only 1 hour and 20 minutes away by car or train.

While the city has something to offer for everyone, most visitors come for a relaxing vacation along the coast. Others might be attracted by the numerous events, including stage shows and the popular Slottsfjell festival. If you happen to visit the Oslo area during the summer, why don’t you follow the locals and see what Norway’s oldest city has to offer? 


Tønsberg is considered Norway’s oldest city. Officially, the city was founded in 871, which is supported by its mention in the writings of the great Norse chieftain and historian Snorre Sturlason.

Among other written sources, Tøsnberg is first mentioned in writings by the English historian Orderic Vitalis from 1135.

From its humble beginnings, Tønsberg grew into an important city in the late middle ages. During this time several churches, a monastery, and a fortress had been raised. At one point, Tønsberg was one of Norway’s 3 Hanseatic cities, alongside Oslo and Bergen.

Tønsbergs position was severely weakened after the great plague. This was made even worse after the fortress was plundered and destroyed in 1503 and a devastating city fire in 1536.

After many years of decline, Tønsberg gradually grew in importance through several emerging industries. A new golden age emerged in the mid to late 1800s as magnates Svend Foyn and Morten Wilhelmsen established Tønsberg as a Maritime hub.

Tønsberg today

Today, Tønsberg is Norway’s 10th largest city. In the past 10 years, the population has increased by 16%, which is higher than the national average.

While it has lost much of its maritime industry, It has grown to become one of the administrative centers for Vestfold and Telemark counties. 

Tønsberg has also become one of the most popular summer destinations in Norway. Every year, thousands of Norwegians travel to tønsberg and the surrounding islands during the summer months.

Here they enjoy one of Norway’s most beautiful coastlines as well as the local restaurants and the many concerts and events.

How to get to Tønsberg

Tønsberg is located just over 100 km southwest of Oslo. The city is only a 1 hour and 20-minute drive away, along highway E18. It can also be reached by train from Oslo central station with departures every hour.

The city can also be reached by plane. Nearby Torp Airport receives both domestic and international traffic. Domestic flights are available from several major Norwegian cities, including Bergen and Trondheim.

International routes include routes to and from London, Amsterdam, Vienna, Milano, Krakow, and Warsaw among others.

Top sights (What to do) in Tønsberg

Over the years, tønsberg has developed into a city that has something to offer for everyone of all ages.

Harbour (Brygga)

One of the main attractions in Tønsberg is the Harbour area. The waterfront walkway is aligned with several older wooden boathouses, which now house modern restaurants with a varied menu.

While it is no match for the Bergen harbor (Brygga). The combination of the old wooden houses and cobblestoned alleys in between makes this area a nice setting for the teeming summer crowds.

Tønsberg Fortress

Tønsberg fortress was built in the late middle ages. Several Norwegian kings frequently resided in the castle which eventually grew to become The largest Fortress in Norway.

After the great plague which saw Norway enter the Klamar union, the fortress lost its importance. After a failed Norwegian-Swedish rebellion ended in 1503, the fortress was burned and plundered and was never rebuilt.

The ruins of the fortress remain to this day and can be visited on the castle mountain. From the top, you have an almost panoramic view overlooking the city below.

You can also enter the castle tower which was erected in 1888 in connection with the celebration of the city’s 1000th anniversary.

Saga Oseberg

Norway’s most famous and spectacular ship grave from the Viking Age was discovered just outside Tønsberg.

The ship, “Osebergskipet” along with other relics found at the site is on display at the Viking ship museum, on bygdøy in Oslo.

However, a group of local enthusiasts has made a full-scale replica. The ship is hand-made, using the same methods as the Vikings did back in the day. The ship is usually on display at the end of the harbor.

Haugar art museum

Located on a hill in the middle of the city is the Haugar Art Museum, a regional museum for arts and crafts in Tønsberg.

Located in the building of the old Maritime College, It was opened to the public in 1995 and is considered one of Norway’s greatest art museums.


Kysten is a fully steam-powered ship built in 1909. After many years in service as a transport ship. It eventually ended up in Tønsberg in 1971 after being purchased to mark the celebration of the city’s 1100 anniversary. 

The ship stayed in Tønsberg where it became a common fixture with daily trips along the Tønsberg coast during summer.

After Inspections revealed the need for extensive repairs and maintenance, Kysten was out of service for many years before making a long-awaited comeback in the summer of 2019. 

Best time to visit Tønsberg

As with most other destinations in Norway, the weather is an important factor.

Tønsberg has a mild climate and is considered warm and temperate. The air is typically humid, and as with most of Norway, rain is fairly common, even in the summer months. That being said, it is nowhere close to bergen and western Norway in terms of rainy days.

The average temperature is highest from June through August with temperatures around 20 degrees.

Tønsberg is a popular summer destination, which is the best time to visit. The high season is from early to mid-June to mid-August.

Where to stay in Tønsberg

There are a variety of accommodation options in and around Tønsberg that will fit most travel budgets.


Several Norwegian hotel chains have hotels in Tønsberg. Most prominent are Thon hotel brygga and Quality hotel, both of which are located along the harbor (Brygga).

The historic Klubben hotel is one is also close by. In addition, there are several smaller hotels around the city. Explore the option on booking sites such as hotels.com and booking.


Apart from the tourist hot spots along the west coast, hostels are not as common in Norway. That being said, there is a well-driven hostel in Tønsberg just below the fortress and castle mountains. Read more on their website


Several families in and around Tønsberg have a small basement apartment or similar to rent. Also, you might find whole apartments or houses to rent.

While you are likely to have more options for the summer months, it is worth checking out the Airbnb listings. You can easily find a place to stay for less than the cost of a hotel room.

Camping sites

There are several camping sites outside Tønsberg. These offer parking and sanitary facilities for campers and travelers with caravans and RVs. Most of them also have smaller cabins that you can rent.

These can be the same, or even cheaper than a hotel room, and some are located just next to the water along Tønsberg’s beautiful coastline.

One of the best options is Furustransd camping located just east of tønsberg right next to the popular Ringshaug beach.

Where to eat

If you are looking for a place to eat, the harbor is the place to go. There are several waterfront restaurants with varied offerings from Italian and Asian food to steak dinners.

Keep in mind that eating out can get expensive in Norway, and the harbor restaurants are no exception.

For a cheaper meal, there are several fast-food chains, including burger king, MacDonalds, and Dominos a short walk away.

Shopping, Nightlife, and events in Tønsberg

When you are not exploring the city, surrounding region, or the popular sights you might want to go for some shopping or explore the nightlife. Tønsberg has something to offer here as well.


In addition to several niche stores around the charming city square, you can find many stores in the Farmandstredet mall. Located in the heart of the city with over 80 stores you are likely to find something of interest.


Most of the waterfront restaurants along the harbor gradually transition into bars and nightclubs once dinner service is over. During peak season in July, many of these bars and nightclubs are the highest-grossing in the country.

During this, these places can get very crowded, and it is not uncommon to have to wait in line to get in.


As mentioned, Tønsberg is a popular concert and event destination. Many artists put their summer tour dates to Tønsberg during the popular summer months.

In addition, Tønsberg is home to the renowned Slottsfjell festival which is hosted on castle mountain/hill.

The festival generally targets a younger crowd. Over the years, many famous artists and bands have performed o the festival, including Wiz Khalifa, Ellie Goulding, Alan Walker, Gucci Mane, The prodigy, Mac Miller, and G-Eazy.

Another popular yearly event is the Tønsberg medieval festival held every summer on castle mountain/hill.

How to get around in Tønsberg

The actual city is not very big, and you can easily get by on foot. If you want to visit the surrounding areas, or if you live outside the city and want to go there, you can easily get around with one of the numerous buses.

There are several routes connecting the surrounding area to the city. Most routes have departures every 30 minutes. Payments are hassle-free as you can pay onboard with your credit/debit card.

Closing remarks

Breathtaking nature or not, Tønsberg has a lot to offer. While it can get crowdy, I recommend taking a weekend trip or weekend day trip during July for the best experience.

If the weather gods are on your side, you should definitely try to catch a boat ride with the locals.

Photo of author


Erik is the creator and editor of Planet Norway. Born in Trondheim and currently living in Oslo, Erik knows the ins and outs of Norwegian History, society, and culture. His idea for starting planet Norway came about when helping his foreign fiance to settle in Norway.