Norway is all about the beautiful views of the mountains and forests and the rustic charms of small villages right by the fjords. But that doesn’t mean visiting a city like Oslo can’t be just as beautiful or exciting. The capital of Norway may seem a little tame and typical in terms of views to other parts of the country, but if it’s your first time in Scandinavia and one of the largest cities in this part of the world behind Stockholm and Copenhagen you shouldn’t avoid it intentionally.
Some travelers do as it is an expensive city to visit and if you’re on a budget that might make you want to pass it by in favor of others, but I assure you do not. There is plenty to do here to keep all travelers well-occupied and you should spend at least a full day here, possibly 2 if you want.
Things to do in Oslo
Oslo Opera House
Right on the Nordic harbor for everyone to see, the Oslo Opera House is a uniquely shaped building that makes its mark in the city and has become one of the most popular attractions in Norway. It’s supposed to represent an iceberg settling itself oh so serenely in the Oslofjord waters. Probably because you can go up to the roof of the building with no problems and just take in an amazing view of Oslo, which is amazing at sunset. What’s great is they want you there and encourage you to step on this building. The whole structure just defines expectations.
Bike Ride Through Aker Brygge
Thanks to the increased popularity of the Oslo Opera House, the waterfront Aker Brygge has become a hot spot of activity. This seaside area of Oslo is a popular neighborhood along the harbor that you will find bustling day and night. The boardwalk is a great place to stroll around and enjoy the smell of the fjord. You will find it filled with enjoyable patio bars, nice restaurants, and a plethora of boutique shops for clothes and other accessories to go window shopping.
The fastest way through the city is by bicycle. And there are plenty of bike tours like Viking Biking & Hiking that will help you learn your way around. It’s a good way to see the highlights if you’re in a time crunch and who doesn’t love bike riding in a foreign city? The riding is easy as there aren’t any steep inclines and most of the roads and sidewalks are flat. An informed guide will give you a little backstory on each landmark and maybe even some of their personal experiences.
Oslo City Hall
It may seem weird to want to go see a government building when you’re supposed to be on vacation but you can still get a lot of good information about the city. What you can find here aside from that is some great Norwegian art displayed throughout the building. It’s free entry for everyone. You can take a guided tour if you like but a quick walk-through of 30-40 minutes is enough to get a feel for the place. And even better you can go right outside right across the courtyard to our next pick.
Find Inspiration at Nobel Peace Center
If you find inspiration in the people who have made a global impact and moved others to make changes leading to a better world, the Nobel Peace Center here will want you to bring out the best in yourself. Formally a railway station, the location right in the middle of Oslo is filled with exhibitions of past peace prize laureates and their works in everything from the environment to literature.
You can learn about the creator of the award, Alfred Noble, and the selection process to choose the award winner. See the actual award that symbolizes peace in the medal chamber. It is a great and quick museum. Only takes 1-2 hours to view everything and you can get back to exploring more of the city.
As the largest park in the city of Oslo, it’s most famously known as the largest sculpture park in the world by one single artist, Gustav Vigeland. In Vigeland Park, you will find dozens of life-like statues made of granite, bronze, and iron along the walking paths and in the center of the park itself. This is a great place to just really stretch your legs as you stroll around this immense park. Or better yet to rent a bike yourself or part of a tour and pedal around. A towering structure known as the Monolith is what marks the center and highest point of the park.
An open-air attraction, visiting the Norsk Folkemuseum gives you a closer look at Norway’s earlier buildings throughout the impressive grounds. It’s a picturesque area to find yourself in. Its focus is on the wood architecture in Norway with family houses, barnyards, and religious buildings. Some of the buildings are worth seeing, such as the Stave Church from the 13th century. You’ll find reenactors scattered throughout in period attire. They participate in the typical activities of that period which gives you further insight into the life of Norway. Each area focuses on a different region of Norway so it’s a good learning experience where you can see the subtle differences that make each county unique.
As a historical seafaring and exploring culture, it’s no surprise that there is continued interest in research and discovering how some ancient societies may have been able to discover each other. This museum focuses completely on the expedition of a balsa wood raft crossing the Pacific Ocean by famous explorer and adventurer Thor Heyerdahl.
The whole basis of this journey was his belief that the people of South America could reach Polynesia before discovery by Christopher Columbus and European colonization. In the museum you will learn how the process started, the boat being built (along with the actual boat itself in the main hall), maps of the distance and destinations, and the personal experiences of Thor and his crew of volunteers. It shows how far some people are willing to go to prove a point.
Oslo Royal Palace
One of the most visited tourist attractions in Oslo, it’s no wonder once you arrive and take it all in. Located at the western end of Karl Johans gate (Oslo’s most popular street just to walk and enjoy the many cafes, bars, nightclubs, hotels, and boutiques along the avenue. This is fun to do even if you don’t end up at the palace.) What you may find unusual is how welcoming it is for a residence for royalty. It has no railing or barriers circling the palace to keep lookers away as you may find at the Royal Palace in England or others.
Housing the current Norway Royal Family, this structure houses an impressive number of rooms in a luxurious fashion. It’s separate from the Norwegian government with Oslo City Hall located elsewhere in the city center. A city landmark, you’ll find plenty of tour opportunities during the summer to explore such rooms as the council chamber, guest quarters, and banquet hall. Or if you prefer to just explore the grounds you will find a lovely park surrounding the property.
Viking Ship Museum
The Viking Age and culture have always been an exciting and integral part of the country’s history. And this is one of the popular places to learn more about it as you explore Oslo. Part of the Museum of Cultural History, this destination houses the burial ships from the Viking era that were found during archaeological finds from around the Oslo Fjord. You get to immerse yourself in what it meant to be a Viking.
You’ll learn about the culture, religion, armor and weapons, social life, and geography of the rest of the world. The ships are well preserved and even though the museum may be smaller compared to others it’s nonetheless a worthwhile stop in Oslo. Currently, with sad tidings, this museum is closed for reconstruction and won’t be reopened until 2026. They hope to bring an even more impressive display of the Vikings to the citizens and travelers.
Where to eat in Oslo
Oslo Street Food – Probably the only other recommended alternative to Mathallen Food Hall. This former indoor pool in Oslo has become a renovated hot spot in the city. This food hall brings a mix of cuisine, beverages, and cultures. The vendors offer a wide range of Asian, European, and American just to name a few. You’ll be hit with so many flavorful aromas it’s going to be a difficult choice to pick for your meal. Inside, take the stairs to the lower level where you will find a fully stocked bar along the back wall to complement your food.
Every person coming through Oslo should make time to come here at least once for lunch or dinner. It’s a popular meeting spot for locals so you’ll find a lot of foot traffic here. On a nice summer evening, you can sit outside on the benches and just enjoy the atmosphere.
Rorbua – This is a great place to experience authentic Norwegian cuisine. Right along the boardwalk known as Aker Brygge. Its decorum gives it the setting of finding yourself in a Norway coastal fishing home, hence the name (Rorbu, or fisherman’s house). You will find it cozy which can be appreciative depending on the weather. With smooth wooden tables as if from a weathered boat and pictures of the pristine landscapes to add the finishing touches. What gives it a real taste of Norway is that they serve whale meat as well as reindeer and moose. You will be surprised by the flavor and texture of the whale.
If you’re lucky and the weather is good while you are visiting you will have a wonderful time here. As you can see, it is a good starting point to visit Norway. After here you should head on to Bergen, the “Fjord Capital” of Norway, and check out a whole great list of activities you can do over there. Enjoy it all as it will start to get you into the Norwegian state of mind.