He studied at Sergei Diaghilev"s Ballets Russes in London, after studying at the ballet teacher Enrico Cecchetti. He also attended the Academy of Fine Arts in Paris.
He then embarked on training with the theatre director Max Reinhardt in Vienna before making his stage debut in 1931. He did not appear in film until the late 1930s. He is more renowned though for his work with the Norwegian theatre.
He was employed at the Centralteatret from 1938 to 1940 and the Nationaltheatret from 1940 to 1972.
In the public mind he is probably best remembered as an esteemed raconteur. After his retirement, Per Aabel was a frequent entertainer on television as a storyteller.
He appeared frequently at national events and artist anniversaries. His statue, by Norwegian sculptor Nina Emilie Sundbye, was unveiled outside the stage entrance of the Nationaltheatret in 1999.
He is buried at Oslo Western Civil Cemetery.