On the northern shore of the Oslofjord, Norway’s capital and the third largest city in Scandinavia is a trendy and sophisticated metropolis that has grown rich from shipping and oil.
Key to the high quality of life, nature is everywhere in Oslo, as the fjord is right in the city’s backyard and you’re never more than a bus ride away from untamed forest and walking trails by the water and mountains.
Culture in Oslo means coming face-to-face with The Scream by Edvard Munch and the visceral sculptures by Gustav Vigeland in the Frogner Park.
Exciting modern projects like the Oslo Opera House, the upcoming Munch Museum and the Aker Brygge district have cropped up by the water, while long-established museums recall Viking history and the audacity of polar explorers like Roald Amundsen.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Oslo:
1. Bygdøy Peninsula
On the west side of Oslo, you’ll find yourself coming back to the Bygdøy Peninsula time and again.
As well as the Bygdøy Royal Estate, the peninsula has five national museums: The Viking Ship Museum, the Fram Museum, the Norwegian Folk Museum, the Kon-Tiki Museum and the Norwegian Maritime Museum.
Every one of these deserves your time, and most are on the list below, but when the weather’s good this quiet, residential corner of the city is also somewhere to get out into nature or take a dip in summer.
There are countryside and coastal trails for walkers and cyclists, and the tempting, sheltered beaches at Huk.
Get there in 20-minutes flat from Oslo’s central station and bus terminal on the no. 30, or catch the boat from Pier 3 by the City Hall.
2. Viking Ship Museum
An arm of the University of Oslo’s Cultural History Museum, the Viking Ship Museum has jaw-dropping finds from four different Viking burial sites around the Oslo Fjord.
The museum is on the Bygdøy Peninsula and shines thanks to the Oseberg Ship.
This 9th-century burial ship was excavated in 1904-05 and is like new as it had been encased for all that time in watertight and airtight mud.
No less exciting are similar ships from Tune and Gokstad, together with all the artefacts found buried with them like beds, small boats, a complete cart, tent components, wood carvings, textiles and other treasures brought to light in Viking graves.
As you go, the film Vikings Alive is projected onto the walls and ceiling, adding context on Viking burial rituals.
3. Frogner Park
Free to enter at any time of year, Frogner Park is in Oslo’s namesake borough and is a joy for the installations by 20th-century sculptor Gustav Vigeland.
There are 212 sculptures in total, in bronze and granite from Iddefjord.
Vigeland’s works are Realist and their subjects are bizarre, from a man fighting with babies to a woman being ridden by a baby using her platted hair as reins.
Many of these works like the Angry Boy (Sinnataggen) have become identifiers for Oslo.
The Angry Boy is in a 100-metre-long ensemble known as The Bridge, between the eastern Main Gate and the Fountain.
On that same axis, a few hundred metres further, is the Monolith, an elevated 14.12-metre totem composed of 121 human figures.
This work alone took 14 years to carve from one gigantic piece of granite.
Included in: Oslo Highlights 3-Hour Bike Tour
4. Vigeland Museum
After the sculpture park visit the Vigeland Museum in the Neoclassical building on the southern boundary.
This beautiful structure was built in the 1920s as the atelier and home of Gustav Vigeland after he had agreed to donate his works to the city.
After his death the building became a museum in 1947, preserving his private apartment on the third floor where he lived from 1924 to 1943 and which is fitted for the most part with items he designed.
And being the place where Vigeland worked, the museum gives you a clear sense of the artists’ process, revealing the plaster models for the sculptures in the park, preparatory sketches, casts as well as many of Vigeland’s earlier pieces.
There are also short-term contemporary art exhibitions at the museum.
5. Fram Museum
On the Bygdøy Peninsula, this museum pays tribute to the daring polar explorers of the turn of the 20th century, namely Fridtjof Nansen, Otto Sverdrup and Roald Amundsen.
The centre of attention here is the Fram, a wooden ship that was used by all three explorers in both Arctic and Antarctic expeditions between 1893 and 1912, going further north and south than any other vessel in history.
Both unusually wide and shallow, the Fram had an ingenious design allowing it to float on top of sheets of ice.
Aboard the Fram you’ll see how humans and their dogs battled to survive in some of the most hostile conditions on the planet.
Also at the museum is the Gjøa, which carried Roald Amundsen along the Northwest Passage over three years up to 1906. Look out for the Northern Lights show and interactive exhibits like the polar simulator.
6. Norwegian Folk Museum
In that same bundle of world-class museums on the Bygdøy Peninsula, the Norwegian Folk Museum is an open-air attraction that has welcomed visitors for more than 115 years.
The core of the collection was established by King Oscar II in the early 1880s and its showpiece is the Gol Stave Church, put up in the middle of the 12th century and relocated here in 1884. That wonderful monument is one of 155 historical buildings at the museum, outlining the diversity of wooden architecture around the country.
After making your way around these beautiful monuments you can pore over the indoor exhibits, which have traditional costumes, exhibitions about the history of medicine, toys, handicrafts, details about Sami culture, tools and weapons.
In the warmer months you can feed farm animals, go on horse and carriage rides, watch old crafts in action and find out how to bake lefse flatbread.
7. Norwegian National Gallery
Many people come to this museum for a single reason, to see Edvard Munch’s The Scream.
A proto-Expressionist painting known to all, there’s nothing to say about The Scream that hasn’t already been said.
Except when you see this icon of modern art you may be surprised to see that it is painted on cardboard.
And while The Scream and another Munch masterpiece, the Madonna, are a worthy main event, there’s more for art aficionados to sink their teeth into.
The National Gallery’s collection has Renaissance and Baroque pieces by Lucas Cranach the Elder, El Greco, Orazio Gentileschi, Giovanni Battista Gaulli and Jan van Goyen, as well as 19th and 20th-century art by masters like Monet, Picasso, Renoir and Paul Cézanne.
You can also dip into more Norwegian art by leading lights such as Harriet Backer, Adolph Tidemand and Hans Gude.
8. Oslo Opera House
A spellbinding landmark right on the harbour, the home of the Norwegian National Opera & Ballet is the Oslo Opera House, completed in 2007. Resembling an iceberg, this angular building is clad with white granite and Italian Carrara marble and has a main auditorium that can seat 1,364 spectators.
On a casual visit you can go up to the roof for free for a phenomenal view of the Oslofjord, best done at sunset.
The inside is also a delight, with warm surfaces covered with oak to counter the iciness of the exterior’s glass and stone.
In the lobby there’s a wall panel designed by Olafur Eliasson, and on a platform in the fjord is a glass and stainless steel sculpture by Monica Bonvicini.
You can also book a guided tour to go backstage and see the set workshop and get a table at the cafe/restaurant.
9. Kon-Tiki Museum
All about the adventures of the 20th-century anthropologist Thor Heyerdahl, the Kon-Tiki Museum is named after the balsa wood raft that Heyerdahl sailed from Peru to Polynesia in 1947. His purpose for taking on this perilous journey was to prove that Polynesians had emigrated to the Central and South Pacific from South America.
In another daring expedition Heyerdahl sailed from Morocco to Barbados on the papyrus reed boat Ra II to prove that the Ancient Egyptians could have crossed the Atlantic.
You’ll get to see these two vessels, as well a replica of the Tigris, which he sailed from Iraq to Pakistan.
An Oscar-winning documentary film about the Kon-Tiki expedition is shown at 12:00 every day, and there are artefacts, photos and accounts from all of Heyerdahl’s adventures.
10. Holmenkollen Ski Museum & Tower
A shortcut to Norwegian sporting history but also national identity, the Holmenkollbakken hill has been staging ski jumping competitions since 1892. The ski jumping events of the Winter Olympics were held here in 1952 and Four FIS Nordic World Ski Championships have taken place at this venerated location.
Within the structure of the ski jump is the Ski Museum, which guides you through the 4,000-year history of skiing in Norway.
You can peruse artefacts from Norwegian polar exhibitions and check out state-of-the-art skis and snowboards.
At the highest point of the ski jump is a panoramic observation deck that lets you look over Oslo and its fjord.
11. Aker Brygge
On the Inner Harbour Aker Brygge is a stylish waterside development for shopping and dining.
For almost 150 years up to 1982 this was the Akers Mekaniske Verksted shipyard, and many of these old brick warehouses and factory buildings mingle with new constructions.
The revitalisation continued until 2014 and has equipped Aker Brygge with dynamic public spaces, upmarket homes, restaurants and shops for fashion and design.
Be here on a summer’s day, when there are 2,500 al fresco seats at the waterfront restaurants.
From the steps that lead down to the fjord you can watch the maritime traffic to and from Pier 3 and the marina.
12. Akershus Fortress
Raised by Haakon V of Norway at the end of the 13th century, this fortress on a headland by the fjord has withstood every siege it has faced.
Nearly all of these were conducted by Swedish forces, whether it was Duke Eric of Södermanland at the beginning of the 14th century or King Charles XII in 1716. The surviving design is from the reign of King Christian IV, who moved the whole of Oslo just to the north of the fortress after a fire in 1624. He modernised the defences and built a palace in the Italian Renaissance style at its heart.
In the 18th and 19th centuries the fortress was a prison, and inmates included the infamous criminal and memoir-writer Gjest Baardsen.
Visit in summer, when guided tours are given of the palace and the enclosing bastions and ramparts.
13. Royal Palace
Now the official seat of King Harald V and Queen Sonja this Neoclassical palace was ordered by the French-born King Charles III and would be completed in 1849, five years after he passed away.
Charles was never able to reside in the Royal Palace, and the first tenant was Oscar I with his wife Josephine.
When Haakon VII of Norway ascended the throne after the dissolution of the union between Sweden and Norway, he became the first permanent resident.
This plush stucco-clad palace is couched in the Royal Palace Park and you can book a guided tour of the richly furnished state rooms during the summer.
If you’re just here to see the sights, then try to stop by at 13:30 for the changing of the guard.
14. Oslo City Hall
Commanding the Oslo Fjord, the City Hall is a monumental Functionalist building inaugurated in 1950. Work had begun almost 20 years earlier, but the project was interrupted by the Second World War.
You’ll know the City Hall by its red brick facade and two towers, 63 and 66 metres tall.
Those bricks were fired especially for this building and are larger than modern bricks and more akin to those that were used in Medieval constructions.
Inside and out the City Hall is decorated with depictions of Norwegian historical figures by some leading artists from the middle of the 20th century.
Anne Grimdalen produced the sculpture of Harald Hardrada on horseback, while at the front is St Hallvard, Oslo’s patron saint, sculpted by Nic Schiøll.
The marble-clad Main Hall is also coated with frescoes by Henrik Sørensen and Alf Rolfsen showing the growth of the city and key moments in its history.
15. Munch Museum
The Scream and Madonna at the National Gallery may have kindled your interest in Norway’s most cherished painter.
In which case you have to come to the Munch Museum in Tøyen.
In the museum’s stores are more than 1,200 paintings by Munch constituting over half of his total.
As of 2018 a small selection of these are on display, along with his graphic art and drawings.
They are combined with a revolving exhibition of contemporary Norwegian art by the likes of Per Inge Bjørlo and Lena Cronquist . At the time of writing the museum was open but the exhibition was limited in preparation for the unveiling of the new Munch Museum beside the Oslo Opera House.
This should be ready by 2019 making more of this enormous collection available in one go.
16. Ibsen Museum
At the home where Henrik Ibsen spent his final 11 years, the Ibsen Museum gives you a privileged glimpse into the life of one of Norway’s cultural giants.
After Ibsen passed away in 1906, followed eight years later by his wife Suzannah, the interiors of this elegant tenement house were taken apart, ending up with Ibsen’s family and a host of museums.
After the Ibsen Museum was founded in 1990 there was a meticulous 16-year project to piece this collection back together and return the building to its appearance at the beginning of the 20th century.
The attention to detail is mind-boggling; even textiles like curtains and tablecloths are like-for-like replicas of the originals.
Most exciting of all is Ibsen’s study, the exact place he wrote his two final plays, John Gabriel Borkman (1896) and When We Dead Awaken (1899).
17. Norwegian Museum of Science and Technology
A little way outside of Oslo, to the north, you can still reach this excellent science museum by bus (23), train (L3) or tram (12) in a few minutes.
Some 25 temporary and permanent exhibitions take place here at any one time, while kids can get to grips with over 80 interactive stations.
Something they’re sure to love is the Teknoteket, a digital workshop where they can let their creativity take over, using high-tech tools to build racing cars or invent their own electronic appliances.
In the static exhibitions are groundbreaking pieces of technology, from the Birkeland-Eyde arc furnace on the square in front, to the Tesla BS 242 Electron Microscope dating to 1958. The National Museum of Medicine is also here, with antique instruments and information about how diseases like cholera were treated in the 19th century.
18. Norway’s Resistance Museum
One of three museums at the Akershus Fortress, this attraction chronicles the Norwegian Resistance during the occupation of Norway by Nazi Germany from 1940-1945. The venue is the noteworthy “Double Battery” building, completed in 1692. Drawing on posters, paper clippings, dead drops, makeshift weapons, recordings, documents and photographs, the museum goes into events and topics like the Invasion of Norway in April 1940, Norway’s totalitarian government and the captivity and deportation of 40,000 Norwegians.
You’ll learn about the range of groups involved in civil and military resistance, as well as their activities, from operating clandestine radio transmitters to sabotage missions.
Next to the museum building is a memorial for Norwegian resistance members executed in the war.
19. Tjuvholmen Sculpture Park
Idling along Aker Brygge, the interest doesn’t stop the end of the wharf.
You can cross a couple of bridges, and before long you’ll find yourself at this sculpture park landscaped by Renzo Piano.
On lawns and a man-made gravel beach next on the fjord are seven sculptures by heavyweights of modern and contemporary art, Louise Bourgeois, Antony Gormley, Ugo Rondinone, Anish Kapoor, Ellsworth Kelly, Franz West and Peter Fischli & David Weiss.
The park is a supreme vantage point on the Fjord, with vistas across the Akershus Fortress and back to Aker Brygge.
20. Astrup Fearnley Museum of Modern Art
Next door to the sculpture park is a glossy art museum also designed by Renzo Piano and unveiled in 2012. The museum is in three pavilions under a coiling, silvery glass canopy.
The museum’s collection is a who’s who of modern and contemporary art with names like Francis Bacon, Sigmar Polke, Andy Warhol, Janine Antoni, Jeff Koons, Sherrie Levine, Damien Hirst, Bruce Naumann and Olafur Eliasson.
These works are hung in specially curated exhibitions and share the museum with short-term shows on themes or single artists: When we wrote this post the temporary exhibition was titled “Effects of Good Government in the Pit”, for Norwegian artist and writer Matias Faldbakken.
21. Mathallen Food Hall
A cornerstone of Oslo’s food scene for more than five years, the Mathallen is a big brick industrial building with more than 30 restaurants, bars, street food vendors and speciality food shops inside.
The building went up in 1908 as an iron forge as part of the burgeoning Vulkan industrial district.
The cast iron beams and bare brick walls are an evocative stage for international dining, culinary festivals, movie and quiz nights and food-oriented experiences like cookery classes, competitions and demonstrations.
At lunch the food selection is ultra-international and has Basque pintxos, handmade pizza, contemporary Nordic cuisine and street food from all over the world.
22. University Botanical Garden
Norway’s oldest botanical garden has 7,500 individual species and was planted in 1814 in the central Tøyen neighbourhood.
Originally owned by the Medieval Nonneseter Abbey, this land was later acquired by Frederick VI of Denmark who donated it to the University of Christiania in 1812. Much of the garden is taken up by an arboretum with 1,800 different species that have been organised scientifically.
The garden is strewn with woven sculptures by the artist Tom Hare, and there are two greenhouses, the Palm House built in 1868 and the Victoria House in 1876, named for the marvellous Victoria water lilies kept in the pond.
The Scent Garden meanwhile is open to all, but has been specially drawn up for visually impaired and disabled visitors.
The biggest amusement park in the country is a day out to remember for younger members of the clan.
Tusenfryd, around 20 kilometres south of Oslo, is open April to October and has more than 30 rides and attractions.
Among them are six roller coasters like Loopen, a steel mainstay for 30 years, and the high-speed Super Splash, which makes a splash five metres high when it hits the water.
These are partnered with all sorts of old-fashioned games and amusements, and smaller rides like bumper cars, teacups, merry-go-rounds and the recent Thor’s Hammer motion-based 3D ride.
Since 2000 there has also been a water park, BadeFryd with four slides and a pool, for fun when the sun is out.
24. Oslofjord Trips
Standing on Oslo’s wharfs you’ll be at the northern shore of a body of water that continues far to the south and opens onto the Skagerrak strait between Norway, Sweden and Denmark.
In between there are many kilometres of narrow sounds, little wooded islands with holiday homes, unfrequented coves and tranquil bays.
The simplest way to get out onto the fjord is to board a boat from Pier 3 by the City Hall.
Companies like Båtservice Sightseeing and Fjordtours have a menu of trips, whether you want to see iconic sights from the water by day or night like the Oslo Opera House, the Dyna Lighthouse the Bygdøy Peninsula and the historic ships berthed outside the Maritime Museum.
You can set a course for nature instead, on fjord safaris, fishing trips and day cruises up to seven hours long, or go even further, to the Swedish or Danish coast on a 600-horsepower RIB.
Essentially these sausages are hot dogs made from a blend of beef and pork, but what makes Pølse typically Norwegian is the way they’re cooked (in beef stock). The classic way to get your pølse is wrapped in a lompe, a flatbread made from potato, milk and flour.
You can order a pølse with ketchup and mustard, and an array of other accompaniments like dried onions, remoulade and pickles.
You’ll find them at convenience stores like Narvesen, Deli de Luca and 7-Eleven all over Oslo, and they’re eaten at barbecues and big national events like Norway’s National Day on May 17. Every Norwegian eats an average of three sausages on that single day.
If you need another statistic that sums up the Norwegian love for pølse, 46,000 tons of this sausage is eaten here every year.
That comes to more than 100kg per person.