Norway is a beautiful country located in the northern part of Europe. It is known for its stunning landscapes, interesting culture, and friendly people.
While Norway is a relatively small country, it has produced some famous individuals who have made a big impact on the world. That’s why we will take a look at some of the most famous Norwegians in history that we think everyone should know about!
Table of Contents
Most famous Norwegians in history
1. Edvard Munch
Edvard Munch was a Norwegian painter, graphic artist, and sculptor. His work often dealt with emotional and psychological themes and he is most famous for his painting The Scream.
Munch was born in 1863 in a small town called Ådalsbruk in Norway. He was the second of five children, however his mother died of tuberculosis when he was only five years old. His father, subsequently, was a doctor and a strict man, with the family being quite a religious household, and Munch recalled having a difficult childhood and adolescence. Munch cited this as influencing his work, stating: “The angels of fear, sorrow, and death stood by my side since the day I was born.”
In 1879, Munch began studying at the Royal School of Art and Design in Kristiania (now Oslo). He studied there for four years but left without graduating. Munch then traveled to Paris and studied art. He was influenced by the work of French artists such as Claude Monet and Edgar Degas.
Munch returned to Norway in 1889. The Scream was painted between 1893 and 1910, with experts having actually located the place where it’s set to a fjord overlooking Oslo. Other paintings for which he’s known include Madonna, The Sick Child, and Self-Portrait with Skeleton Arm. Munch died in 1944.
Today, Munch’s work is exhibited at the Munch Museum in Oslo and he easily remains one of the most famous people from Norway. This includes that The Scream is one of the most famous paintings in the world and sold for a record price of nearly US$120 million in 2012. It has been described as “an icon of modern art, a Mona Lisa for our time”.
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2. Roald Amundsen
Roald Amundsen was a Norwegian explorer who was the first person to reach the South Pole. He is also famous for being the first person to sail through the Northwest Passage.
Amundsen was born in 1872 in Borge, Norway. His parents were shipowners and captains which seems to have influenced the fact that, from a young age, Amundsen dreamed of becoming an explorer. However, his mother was not in favor of this, preferring him to become a doctor instead, and so Amundsen followed this and studied medicine until his mother’s death at age 21. At that point, he dropped out of university to follow his true passion for exploration.
In 1903, Amundsen was in charge of the first expedition to successfully sail through the Northwest Passage in Canada between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.
After learning that the British explorer Robert Falcon Scott was planning to sail to the South Pole, Amundsen decided to beat Scott to it. He set out for the South Pole in 1910, arriving in Antarctica six months later. On December 14, 1911, he reached the pole, one month before Scott’s team.
Amundsen returned to Norway a hero. He continued to explore and made several more voyages to the Arctic. He died in 1928 while flying over the Arctic Ocean but is remembered as one of the greatest explorers of all time. His achievements helped to advance the field of polar exploration.
3. Henrik Ibsen
Henrik Ibsen was a famous Norwegian playwright. He is best known for his plays A Doll’s House and Hedda Gabler.
Ibsen was born in 1828 in Skien, Norway. His father was a prosperous merchant and Ibsen grew up in a comfortable, if not unhappy, home. By his telling of it, his father was a stern man and his mother was often ill.
He left home at the age of 15 and moved to Grimstad, Norway where he worked as a pharmacist’s assistant. In 1850, Ibsen began studying at the University of Oslo. He did not finish his studies but he began writing plays during this time.
Ibsen’s first play, Catilina, was published in 1851, although it was not a success. Ibsen continued to write but most of his early plays were not well-received. All that changed in 1879, when Ibsen’s play A Doll’s House was staged in Copenhagen, Denmark. It was a huge success and made Ibsen famous.
Ibsen continued to write plays throughout his life until his death in 1906 at the age of 78. Nevertheless, Ibsen is considered one of the most important playwrights of all time, with his plays still performed today.
You may also be interested in: 18 Best Norwegian Brands You Need to Know About
4. Ole Gunnar Solskjær
Ole Gunnar Solskjær is a famous Norwegian footballer/soccer player. He is best known for his time with Manchester United, where he was affectionately known as “Baby-faced Assassin.”
Solskjær was born in 1973 in Kristiansund, Norway. He began playing football at a young age and joined the local team, Clausenengen FK, when he was just eight years old. He played for Clausenengen for several years before joining the Norwegian club Molde FK in 1994.
Solskjær joined Manchester United in 1996. He quickly became a fan favorite due to his hard work and goalscoring ability. Solskjær helped Manchester United win many trophies, including the Champions League in 1999.
Solskjær retired from soccer in 2007 but, at least in the football world, easily remains one of the most famous people from Norway. He returned to Molde FK where he became the manager in 2011. Solskjær is still the manager of Molde and he has also managed the Norwegian national team.
5. Anni-Frid Lyngstad
Anni-Frid Lyngstad, or “Frida,” is a famous Norwegian-Swedish singer who you may have heard of as one of the four members of a little known group called ABBA.
Lyngstad was born in 1945 in Ballangen, Norway, with her father being a German soldier and her mother a Norwegian woman. Fearing reprisals against people who dealt with the Germans during the occupation of Norway in World War II, the family fled to Sweden in 1947 and Lyngstad became a Swedish citizen.
Lyngstad began her singing career in the 1960s, releasing her first album in 1967. In 1969, she met Benny Andersson, who became her future second husband and fellow ABBA member. Following the group’s Eurovision win in 1974 with “Waterloo”, the rest is history.
ABBA remains one of the most popular musical groups of all time, having topped the charts throughout the 1970s, 1980s and again in 2021.
6. Edvard Grieg
Edvard Grieg was a famous Norwegian composer. He is best known for his work in the Romantic era.
Grieg was born in 1843 in Bergen, Norway. His father was the British Vice-Consul and his mother was a music teacher. Grieg began playing the piano at a young age and he showed great talent. He was sent to study at the Leipzig Conservatory when he was 15 years old.
He returned to Norway after completing his studies where he ended up composing many famous works, including the Peer Gynt Suite and Piano Concerto in A Minor. Grieg’s music is still popular today and it is often performed by orchestras around the world.
7. Erik the Red
Erik the Red was a famous Norwegian Viking. He is best known for his discovery of Greenland and for founding the first Norse settlement in Greenland.
Born in 950 in Norway, his father, Thorvald Asvaldsson, was exiled from Norway for murder when Erik was 10 years old. Erik and his family thus sailed to Iceland.
Erik also ended up being exiled from Iceland for committing a crime some time around the year 982. He sailed west and he discovered a large island that he named Greenland – a name which was given as a marketing strategy, as Erik knew he needed a better sounding name than “Iceland” to encourage people to come and settle there with him.
He returned to Greenland with a number of settlers in 985 and he founded the first Norse settlement on the island. He remained there until his death in around 1003 but is remembered as a famous explorer and one of the most famous Vikings in history. His discovery of Greenland led to centuries of Norse settlement on the island.
8. Leif Eriksson
Leif Eriksson was a famous Norwegian explorer. He is best known for being the first European to set foot on North American soil.
Eriksson was born in Iceland around 970, with his father being Erik the Red – yes, the one just mentioned above. Eriksson is thought to have accompanied his father on many of his voyages.
In 1000 AD, Eriksson set out on his own expedition to North America. He is believed to have landed in Newfoundland, Canada. Eriksson and his crew explored the area for several years before returning to Greenland.
Eriksson’s voyage was forgotten for centuries, but it was rediscovered in the 20th century. He is now recognized as one of the most famous explorers in history.
9. Jens Stoltenberg
Jens Stoltenberg is a famous Norwegian politician. He was previously the Prime Minister of Norway and, since 2014, has served as the Secretary-General of NATO.
Stoltenberg was born in 1959 in Oslo, Norway. He comes from a political family, with his father having been defence minister and foreign minister of Norway. Stoltenberg himself began his political career in the 1990s.
He served as the Minister of Finance from 1996 to 2000 and he was elected as the Prime Minister of Norway in 2000, a position he held until October 2001. After being re-elected in 2005, Stoltenberg served an additional two terms as Prime Minister before being defeated in 2013.
In 2014, Stoltenberg became the Secretary-General of NATO.
10. Marit Bjørgen
Marit Bjørgen is easily one of the most famous Norwegian women out there, as a well known Norwegian cross-country skier. She is the most decorated Winter Olympian in history, with 15 Olympic medals.
Bjørgen was born in 1980 in Trondheim, Norway. She began competing in cross-country skiing when she was 18 years old, with her first Olympic success being at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, where she won silver.
Since then, Bjørgen has won a total of 15 Olympic medals, including eight gold medals, thus taking over her fellow countryman Bjørndalen’s position at the top of the ladder of Winter Olympic medalists. She remains one of the greatest cross-country skiers in history – which is truly impressive in her country alone when you consider that one of the most well known Norwegian stereotypes is that Norwegians are born with skis on their feet!
11. Ole Einar Bjørndalen
Ole Einar Bjørndalen is a famous Norwegian biathlete and, after Marit Bjørgen above, is the second most decorated Winter Olympian in history, with 13 Olympic medals.
Bjørndalen was born in 1974 in Drammen, Norway. He began competing in biathlon when he was 18 years old but had his breakout performance at the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, where he won gold in the 20km individual event.
Since then, Bjørndalen won a total of 13 Olympic medals, including eight gold medals. He also won over 95 World Cup races.
12. King Harald V of Norway
No list of the most famous Norwegians in history would be complete without the current monarch, so here we are with King Harald V of Norway, the current king of Norway who was crowned in 1991.
Harald was born in 1937 in Oslo, Norway. He is the son of Crown Prince Olav and Princess Märtha of Sweden and became crown prince when his father ascended to the throne in 1957.
He studied at the Norwegian Military Academy and he also attended the University of Oxford, following which he also served in the Norwegian Navy for several years.
In 1991, Harald’s father died and he became king with his son, Haakon, becoming the new Crown Prince of Norway.
13. Haakon, Crown Prince of Norway
And speaking of which…Haakon, Crown Prince of Norway, is the heir apparent to the Norwegian throne. He has been crown prince since 1991.
Haakon was born in 1973 in Oslo, Norway as the only son and second child of King Harald V and Queen Sonja. Haakon became crown prince when his father ascended to the throne in 1991 as, under Norwegian law at the time, Haakon was ahead in the line of succession of his older sister, Princess Märtha Louise.
The 6 foot 4 inches tall Crown Prince (yes, Norwegians are tall!) studied political science at the University of California, Berkeley. He also attended the Norwegian Military Academy and he served in the Norwegian Navy for several years.
In 2001, Haakon married Mette-Marit Tjessem Høiby. The couple has two children, one girl and one boy. His eldest child, Princess Ingrid Alexandra, is second in line to the Norwegian throne. Following the rule of the 15th-century Queen Margaret, she is expected to become Norway’s second female monarch.
14. Fridtjof Nansen
Fridtjof Nansen was a famous Norwegian explorer, scientist, and humanitarian. He is best known for his expedition to the Arctic and for his work with refugees during World War I.
Nansen was born in 1861 in Norway. He studied zoology at university and, in 1888, he led an expedition to the Arctic. The expedition was successful and Nansen became famous for his exploration of the region.
During World War I, Nansen worked with the League of Nations to help refugees displaced by the war. He helped to develop what became known as the Nansen passport, which allowed stateless people to travel internationally.
After the war, Nansen continued his work with the League of Nations. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1922 for his humanitarian work.
15. Morten Harket
Morten Harket is a famous Norwegian singer and, indeed, probably one of the most popular Norwegian celebrities throughout the rest of the world. He is best known as the lead singer of the pop-rock band A-ha.
Harket was born in 1959 in Kongsberg, Norway. He began his musical career in 1977 when he joined A-ha alongside fellow Norwegians, guitarist Paul Waaktaar-Savoy and keyboardist Magne Furuholmen. The band achieved international success with their debut album Hunting High and Low in 1985 after the huge success of their first single, Take On Me.
A-ha went on to release nine more albums before breaking up in 2010, although do still tour together from time to time. Harket has also released three solo albums.
16. Rollo of Normandy
Rollo was a famous Norwegian Viking. He is best known for his conquest of Normandy and for his role in the founding of the Duchy of Normandy.
Rollo was born in the late 800s in Norway. Not much is known about his early life until 911, when Rollo led a group of Viking raiders in an attack on the French city of Chartres. This was the beginning of his conquest of Normandy.
In 911, Rollo and his men agreed to a treaty with the French king Charles the Simple. This treaty granted Rollo control of Normandy in exchange for Rollo’s conversion to Christianity and his pledge to defend France from other Viking raiders.
Rollo kept his word and he successfully defended Normandy from other Viking attacks. He also married the daughter of the French king, converted to Christianity and became the first Duke of Normandy. He ruled Normandy until his death in 953.
Today, Rollo is remembered as the founder of Normandy and one of the most famous Vikings in history.
17. Lene Nystrøm
Lene Nystrøm is a famous Norwegian singer and is best known for her work with the band Aqua.
Nystrøm was born in 1973 in Tønsberg, Norway. She began singing as a teenager and ended up working as a singer on a Norwegian cruise ship. There, Nystrøm met René Dif and they formed the band that would eventually be known as Aqua.
Aqua was an instant success with their debut album, Aquarium. The album sold over eight million copies and it spawned the hit singles “Barbie Girl” and “Doctor Jones”. Aqua released two more albums before going on hiatus in 2001.
Nystrøm has released three solo albums. In 2008, she reunited with Aqua and they have released two more albums. The band is still active today and they continue to tour around the world.
18. Kristofer Hivju
Kristofer Hivju is a famous Norwegian actor having been born in 1978 in Oslo, Norway. He is best known for his role as Tormund Giantsbane on the HBO series Game of Thrones.
He has appeared in many Norwegian films and television shows and made his international debut in the film Clash of the Titans in 2010. Hivju had a small role, although his breakout role came in 2014 with Game of Thrones. He appeared in all eight seasons of the show and he has become one of the most popular characters.
Hivju has also appeared in several other English-speaking films since then, with Game of Thrones having shone a light on his talent for international audiences.
19. Vidkun Quisling
Vidkun Quisling was a famous Norwegian politician. He is best known for leading the Nazi puppet government in Norway during World War II.
Quisling was born in 1887 in Fyresdal, Norway. He studied engineering at the Norwegian Military Academy and he later worked as a diplomat.
In 1940, Germany invaded Norway and Quisling was appointed Minister President of Norway by the Nazis. He led a puppet government that carried out Nazi policies in Norway.
Quisling was arrested and tried for treason after the war. He was found guilty and he was executed by firing squad in 1945.
Today, Quisling’s name is synonymous with treason in a number of languages, including English, and he is considered one of the most reviled people in Norwegian history.
20. Magnus Carlsen
Magnus Carlsen is a famous Norwegian chess player. He is the current World Chess Champion and the highest rated player of all time.
Carlsen was born in 1990 in Tønsberg, Norway. He began playing chess when he was five years old and he quickly showed great talent. Carlsen became a grandmaster when he was 13 years old, making him the youngest grandmaster in history at that time.
In 2013, Carlsen defeated Viswanathan Anand to become the World Chess Champion. He has defended his title several times and he is currently the highest-rated chess player in the world.
Carlsen has also written two books about chess. In 2018, he was named one of Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People.
21. Niels Henrik Abel
Niels Henrik Abel was a famous Norwegian mathematician. He is best known for his work in abstract algebra and for his proof of the impossibility of solving the general quintic equation.
Abel was born in 1802 in Nedstrand, Norway. He showed great mathematical talent at a young age although, unfortunately, died of tuberculosis in 1829 when he was only 26 years old. However, he had already made great contributions to mathematics and his work has inspired other mathematicians for years to come.
In 2002, the Abel Prize was named in his honor and is considered one of the most prestigious awards in mathematics.
22. Alexander Rybak
Alexander Rybak is a famous Norwegian singer. He is best known for winning the Eurovision Song Contest in 2009.
Rybak was born in 1986 in Minsk, Belarus. His family moved to Norway when he was three years old and Rybak grew up in Oslo. He began playing the violin at a young age and he studied at the Barratt Due Institute of Music.
In 2009, Rybak represented Norway in the Eurovision Song Contest with the song “Fairytale.” He won the contest with a record-breaking 387 points.
Rybak has released three studio albums and he has also composed music for film and television. In 2016, he competed in the Norwegian version of Dancing with the Stars.
23. Knut Hamsun
Knut Hamsun was a famous Norwegian author. He is best known for his novels Hunger and Mysteries.
Hamsun was born in 1859 in Lom, Norway. He grew up in poverty and he had little formal education.
Despite this, Hamsun became one of the most famous authors in Norway. His novels were praised for their psychological insight and their innovative style.
Hamsun was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1920. He died in 1952 at the age of 92.
Ylvis is a famous Norwegian comedy duo and consists of brothers Vegard and Bård Ylvisåker. They are best known for their viral video “The Fox (What Does the Fox Say?).”
The brothers began their careers as hosts of a Norwegian talk show. In 2013, they released “The Fox,” a song and video about the sound that foxes make.
“The Fox” became an instant viral sensation, with over 800 million views on YouTube. Ylvis has since released several more comedy videos, including “Stonehenge” and “Trucker’s Hitch.”
Ylvis is one of the most famous Norwegian duos in the world. They continue to release new videos and they tour internationally.
25. Roald Dahl
While Roald Dahl was a famous British author, having been born in Wales, his parents were actually Norwegian immigrants. As such, we think he’s earned a place on this list.
Dahl had a colorful early life (as anyone who read his book, Going Solo, would know), having worked for an oil company in Africa and later joining the Royal Air Force during World War II.
After the war, Dahl wrote his first book for children, The Gremlins. It was published in 1943. Dahl’s most famous book, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, was published in 1964. His works continued with such famous books as Matilda and The BFG, with several film adaptations having come out of each of them since..
Dahl is remembered as one of the greatest children’s authors of all time. His books have been translated into more than 60 languages and have sold millions of copies.