The local nobility also participated in the city's development by building residences where they spent the winter months.

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There has been human settlement in the Odense area for over 4,000 years, although the name was not mentioned in writing until 988, and by 1070, it had already grown into a thriving city.

Canute IV of Denmark, generally considered to be the last Viking king, was murdered by unruly peasants in Odense's St Alban's Priory on 10 July 1086.

After the Danish Reformation, involving the suppression of the Catholic bishopric in 1536, the city enjoyed a sustained period of prosperity from the 1530s to the mid-17th century, becoming northern Funen's commercial centre.

One of the main sources of income was the sale of cattle, providing substantial funds for the construction of fine half-timbered houses for the local merchants.

In sports, Odense has a number of football clubs including OB, BM, B1909, and B1913, the Odense Bulldogs professional ice hockey team, and the city also hosts the H. The earliest community was centred on the higher ground between the Odense River to the south and Naesbyhoved Lake (now dry) to the north.

Nonnebakken, one of Denmark's former Viking ring fortresses, lay to the south of the river.

In 1482 Bishop Karl Rønnov brought the German printer Johann Snell to Odense to print a short prayer book, Breviarium Ottoniense, considered to be the first work to be printed in Scandinavia.