One of the best things I found to do as a tourist while visiting Oslo was to take some time to visit the Norsk Folkemuseum. Otherwise known as the Norwegian Museum of Cultural History, this open-air and indoor museum was an amazing insight into the Nordic lifestyle and culture from the 16th century up until the 20th century. It’s not just about the viking era here in Scandinavia.
Even the King of Sweden and Norway had a partial collection of historic buildings that were eventually added to the museum property. It’s the largest you can find in the country for cultural history. Each part of the museum focuses on a different region of the country and is a great way to expand your knowledge.
Where Is the Norsk Folkemuseum?
King Oscar II established the first open-air museum in the world in the late 1800s. It started only with several buildings he had purchased and relocated to place on the land that was his summer residence. Originally from the Sweden monarchy, he wanted to show the Norwegian people his love of their culture when he ascended the throne and invited the general public to view them at their pleasure.
The Norsk Folkemuseum was established in 1894 in the area of Kristiana, before relocating permanently to the Bygdøy peninsula just outside the city of Oslo. This stretch of the peninsula is where all the major museums can be found. Those buildings that had been on the King’s property were moved onto this new site and expanded when other buildings and exhibits were brought in.
When Is the Best Time to Visit the Norsk Folkemuseum?
As this is an open-air museum you will want to be able to experience the outdoor parts without dealing with cold weather conditions. For that reason, the best time to go should be during June through August, which is the summer season in Norway. It’s not too cold and just warm enough to enjoy the outside more.
In Winter though you have the benefit of viewing all of this in freshly powdered snow. Something about just seeing those buildings in all the white layers just gives it a little extra something.
But also realize this is the peak traveling time for the country. So you may have to expect bigger crowds. I recommend going sometime between March through May, which is considered the spring season in Norway. It’s less crowded and the weather is pretty fair in Oslo, especially in May.
How to Get There
There are many ways to get here and it depends on your preference and time constraints. If you are in central Oslo, you can easily take the public transport that will drop you off right in front of the museum. Coming in by ferry, you can exit off of Bygdøy and walk the rest of the way. There is a perfect walking and bike lane that goes out from Oslo to Bygdøy as well and the one I recommend if you aren’t in a rush. You get to pass by the Oslo Marina and enjoy the fresh cool air and breeze.
Norsk Folkemuseum Exhibits and Collections
The main attraction is the 160+ buildings that have been brought over from all the different regions to show living in Norway. It encompasses the rural countryside areas to small-town city life. Each building with its different type of architecture has been preserved or reconstructed by the local expert craftsmen just as it was originally built. If you don’t have any sort of plan you can just wander around for the day checking each part at your own pace. The signs are listed in both English and the Norwegian language and you can grab a guidebook at the entrance.
The regions included in the museum are:
- Sunnfjord and Nordfjord
Each regional part of the museum contains several different types of buildings. You have the traditional farmstead homes, horse stables, storehouses, barns for goats and livestock, and guest houses. Most of the countryside buildings have been constructed out of wood and moss.
Inside some of these buildings, you will find reenactors wearing clothing of that period and will talk about the building and their daily lives. Live animals such as sheep, goats, pigs, cows, and horses can be found wandering in the farming areas. They are penned so don’t expect to see them just wandering around aimlessly.
Old Town is a little more modern and more condensed to represent city life. These were constructed from a mix of timber, cement, and stone. Here you have townhomes for the larger families and outwards is what was considered the suburbs during that period of time from two timber towns.
The large apartment building has different rooms on each floor that showcase different periods in their interior. So you can see the changes in style, furniture, art, and decor. It also highlights the differences in social classes along with advancements in technology such as electricity and television.
You can also see the everyday conveniences such as the grocery store, and wine shop, along with the locally-owned gas station and tobacco shop. They even have a newspaper kiosk. With smaller towns and less ability to communicate, these were the places where the locals congregated the most to exchange news, gossip, recipes, and information.
These visual displays put you in the mindset of what life was like during these times. The information cases displayed for each region give greater detail on Norwegian life. It describes their surrounding nature and economic status within Norway. Which places focused more on agriculture and fishing compared to others nearby whose focus was on trade. How the landscape shaped the way these buildings were constructed to provide the most security and use of resources.
Activities at the Norsk Folkemuseum
You can participate in multiple activities at the Norsk Folkemuseum while you are exploring. These are not just for kids but adults as well. The re-enactors will show you their skills and assist you in baking, carpentry, and blacksmithing using the tools of the area. Listen to traditional music and watch the folk dancing. Kids can use the obstacle course and playground equipment, and practice their lasso throwing at the Sami part of the outdoor museum, and work on arts and crafts. It’s a lot of family fun here too but completely optional to participate if you don’t feel up for it.
Gol Stave Church
The most popular and spoken-about attraction at the Norsk Folkemuseum is the restored Gol Stave Church, originally built during the medieval period of Norway. Relocated from Gol, it is a must-see attraction for this trip. It stands on a singular hill which also gives you some nice panoramic views of the outside of the museum and beyond the entrance.
The church carvings are exquisite, with representations of dragons, runic symbols and inscriptions, and other people and animals from the church. Once inside you will find the wall paintings that flow with the constructed log beams. It’s a truly restored masterpiece.
Inside the Norsk Folkemuseum
Once you are done walking around the outside exhibits of the museum, it’s time to head inside. This part of the Norsk Folkemuseum is where you get to dive into the cultural artifacts, societal structures, period artwork, and historical figures.
A highlight is the displays that focus on the Sami culture. Unless you are planning to go farther north to the tip of the country, this may be the one chance to really get some good learning points about them. You can see the differences in the style of garments they have from the different Sami concentrated areas. Their is also exhibits of their daily community life as it is far different from the current Norwegian emphasis on 19th and 20th centuries.
Particular focus is made on the Protestant church’s role in Norwegian culture. They heavily influenced society in their roles and you can see that in a lot of the church art that is displayed in the wide selection of this part of the museum. They have written literature, pulpits, statues and carvings from the altars, and paintings.
Are You Solo or Part of a Group?
For your trip, you can easily buy a ticket for yourself online or when you arrive at the museum entrance. This costs NOK 140-180 for adults depending on weekday, weekend, season, and holidays. Children under 17 get in for free always. Seniors, those with disabilities, and university students entrance cost NOK 120-140 with the same rules as adults.
If you are part of a larger group or a tour operator, you may want to look into booking a guided tour. It’s only an hour and a half where one of the period-dressed experts will show you around the grounds and explain in deeper detail some of the historical and cultural significance of the museum. This may be better than going by yourself trying to figure everything out as you may miss something.
Some of the Oslo city tours include admission to this and other museums as part of their package deal, such as an Oslo pass. So you have plenty of different choices to fit your needs. Don’t feel like you need to rush, you will still be able to go out and enjoy the nightlife in the city and continue sightseeing.
Visiting the Norsk Folkemuseum
Being here in this learning environment is a great way to spend part of your trip to Oslo. You will learn a lot and gain a better understanding during your travels in Scandinavia.
This article originally appeared on The World Overload. Featured Photo Credit: Nicholas Rosen