Oslo, the beautiful, nonchalant and surprisingly overlooked capital of Norway is emerging as a serious threat to dethrone Copenhagen and Stockholm for the coveted title of ‘Capital of Scandinavia’. It is a city in an unparalleled location, with an intriguing past, exceptional museums, a vibrant harbor and waterfront area. All this makes it a rewarding city to explore. If you’re spending a weekend in Oslo or 2 days in Oslo, let us help you make the most of your trip, so you can experience some of the best things to do in Oslo.
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How to Get Around Oslo
Oslo is an ideal walking city, many attractions are easily reached on foot from the city center. However, to make the most of your time in Oslo, you should make use of Oslo’s efficient and excellent public transportation system. You can find information about ticket prices and how to plan your journey here.
If you are in Oslo between April-November, a great way to get around is on a bicycle. Oslo is a bike friendly city with great bike infrastructure. Renting a bike is quite easy and pretty cheap. You can find more information about bike rental here.
Avoid using taxis unless in it’s absolutely necessary as they are very pricey, and you will run a large tab.
Your 2 Days in Oslo Itinerary
This itinerary is perfect if you are spending 2 days in Oslo or on a weekend break. We have decided to give you a good mix of popular sights and off-beat corners. To get to some of the distant sights you’ll need to use public transport.
You should look into buying the Oslo Pass as it offers free travel on all public transport and free entrance to most museums and attractions in the city. A 48-hour Oslo Pass costs 655 NOK. This may seem pricey but given that Oslo is one of the most expensive cities in the world, don’t be surprised with the high prices in general. In my opinion, it’s definitely worth getting the Oslo Pass. Jacky and I squeezed in many fantastic museums and attractions that are free with the Oslo Pass and ensured we got our money’s worth.
If you are visiting in the winter, you’ll probably want to spend more time indoors in museums while during the summer the weather should be pleasant enough to explore the city’s recreational and urban spaces. Depending on your preferences you can put an emphasis on one part or another of this itinerary.
We understand that everyone travels at a different pace so feel free to choose the destinations according to your own pace. We’ve included a free map of the top sights in Oslo for your convenience. You can find adresseses of the attractions by clicking on the icons in the map. Below we have compiled a list of the best things to see (or eat) in Oslo over the course of two days:
Day 1 in Oslo
Today’s itinerary will cover the main sights in central Oslo as well as the lively waterfront area. Many of Oslo’s most important institutions and sights are situated in the western part of central Oslo, and most of them are within walking distance of each other.
Kick off your weekend in Oslo at Stockfleths which serves some really nice coffee and tea and has a nice selection of pastries and sandwiches. On Sundays when many cafes are closed or open late, Espresso House, the largest coffee chain in the Nordics is a good bet. They have several locations in Oslo.
2. Oslo Opera House & Barcode Project
The Oslo Opera House is the home of the Norwegian National Opera and Ballet. It was inaugurated in 2008 on the waterfront in the Bjørvika area, and much of the building is positioned in or under the sea. The building is famous for its striking sloping roof, which is covered in white marble and granite. I was really impressed by how this creates an illusion of an iceberg in the sun or a glacier emerging from the Oslofjord.
With 1,100 rooms, the Opera House has a total area of about 38,500 m2 and has three main performance spaces for opera, ballet and concerts. Instead of entering the spatially refined foyer, climb the roof of the building, for a view of the city and a unique architectural experience. It’s no surprise that during the summer, the roof is a popular spot for picnics and sunbathing.
The roof of the Opera House is a great location to get observe the ‘Barcode Project’. It is a section of the Bjørvika area on former dock and industrial land that consists of a row of new multi-purpose high-rise buildings. The buildings have been the subject of raging public debate in Oslo because of their height and design and people have polarising opinions on them. In my opinion the buildings are certainly a bellwether of creative modern architecture in Oslo and not gaudy monstrosities.
3. Oslo City Hall
The Oslo City Hall (Rådhuset) is the seat of the city council and was inaugurated in 1950 to mark the city’s 900th anniversary. From the outside, Oslo’s City Hall doesn’t dazzle with its Functionalist architectural style and solid dark brown brick construction. What makes this place one of the best places to see in Oslo are the magnificent murals and the art-packed corridors of its interior.
The Nobel Peace Prize is handed out in Oslo City Hall on the 10th of December every year making it the sole Nobel Prize presented outside Alfred Nobel’s native country of Sweden. When the Nobel Foundation was founded, Norway and Sweden still formed a union.
Jacky and I were both completely in awe of the lovely artwork here that doubles as a storybook of Norwegian history and culture. One of the main highlights is the ceremonial main hall which features a humongous oil painting by the artist Henrik Sørensen. We were also highly impressed with the Banqueting Hall and the sumptuously decorated Feast Gallery on the second floor.
The City Hall is open to visitors daily from 09:00 – 16:00. Best of all, entrance is free making it a great place to visit in Oslo if you’re on a budget.
4. Akershus Fortress
The mighty Akershus Fortress (Akershus Festning) is one of the must-see attractions in Oslo. It has been standing guard over the city to fend off all attempts to invade the city from the sea for over 700 years. King Haakon V initiated construction work in the late 13th century and the fortifications have undergone numerous improvements and reconstructions. Akershus Fortress consists of a castle, historic buildings, museums and defence installations. The fortress is a beautiful area to stroll around, especially on a sunny day, with many viewpoints to look over the city. For those interested in history, the Norwegian Resistance Museum lends a fascinating insight into the fate of the Norwegians during the German occupation in World War II.
The Akershus Fortress is ostensibly one of the most haunted places in Norway with high levels of ghost activity. Some of the staff working at Akershus claim that to have heard whispers in the dark corridors and have had strange forces shoving them in the back. People also tell of eldritch screeches of rattling chains in the night.
Despite its spectacular setting on a hill at the head of Oslofjorden, Akershus Castle was initially intended more as a royal residence than for defense purposes. The castle was completely rebuilt in Renaissance style by the Danish king Christian IV in the early 17th century after a fire that burned down the whole city. Having a strong affinity for castles, I enjoyed exploring the castle and its grand halls, mausoleum, and rooms. A particular highlight here is the tastefully decorated King Christian IV’s Hall. The artwork on the walls features Danish and Swedish noblemen, and the artful tapestries are from local Norwegian artists from the 17th century. It serves as a waiting room when guests arrive for official dinners and functions.
Entrance to the fortress is free while access to the museums and the castle come at a price. The fortress is open May-Sep: 06:00 – 21:00 and Oct-Apr: 07:00 – 21:00. The entrance to the castle costs 100 NOK. Opening hours of the castle are May-Sep: 10:00 – 16:00 (Mon-Sat), 12:00 – 16:00 (Sun); Oct-Apr: 12:00 – 17:00 (Sat-Sun).
Pakistanis constitute the single largest ethnic minority in Oslo. Take advantage of this by dining in one of the city’s many Pakistani/Indian themed restaurants. Mehfel is one of the absolute best places in the downtown area and serves some mouth-watering chicken and lamb dishes.
6. Oslo Cathedral
Your next destination on this two-day itinerary of Oslo is the Oslo Cathedral (Oslo Domkirke). It is the principal church for the diocese of Oslo. The church dates back to the late 17th century and has witnessed a series of reconstructions and renovations in Baroque and Neo-Gothic styles, one of which resulted in its striking bronze spire.
Among the embellishments inside the cathedral are stained-glass windows, a silver sculpture with a Last Supper motif and the vast altarpiece with intricate woodwork. The lavishly painted ceiling, depicting scenes from the Old and New Testaments, was created by local artist Hugo Lous Mohr between 1936 and 1950. This work was rather controversial since the original ceiling paintings were destroyed. In my view, the ceiling is intriguing, if not conventionally beautiful. Overall, despite being modest by European standards, the Oslo Cathedral definitely warrants a visit.
Oslo Cathedral is open Mon-Thu & Sat-Sun from 10:00 – 16:00 and on Friday from 16 till 6 in the morning on Saturday. Entrance is free.
Oslo is the oldest of the three Scandinavian capitals being officially established in the mid-11th century. For over 300 years from 1624 to 1925 the city was known as Christiania and then Kristiania, before reverting to its original name of Oslo.
7. Karl Johans Gate
The impressive Karl Johans Gate (popularly known as just Karl Johan) is Norway’s most well-known and busiest thoroughfare. It runs for a little over 1 kilometer from the Central Station to the Royal Palace. The street is flanked by grand Neoclassical buildings on both sides and is also home to the delightful Studenterlunden Park. Many important public buildings and institutions are located here such as the National Theater, the Norwegian Parliament building, and the old campus of the University of Oslo (now home to the Faculty of Law). The Norwegian Parliament building (Stortinget) is one of the most beautiful parliament buildings that I’ve seen and has a graceful yellow-brick Neo-Romanesque exterior.
Karl Johans Gate is home to a bevy of department stores, specialist shops and places to eat. It has been a popular meeting place since the 19th century. The street is also the focal point for royal occasions and state visits and is especially full of life on 17th May, Norway’s National Day. Jacky and I both really enjoyed our stroll on Karl Johans Gate and were pleasantly surprised by the vibrancy of the nightlife in and around the street.
8. The Royal Palace
Oslo’s Royal Palace (Kungliga Slottet) sits at the western end of Karl Johans Gate. This 19th century Neoclassical building serves as the primary residence of the Norwegian royal family. In typical Nordic style the Royal Palace is austere when compared to the more exuberant palaces of mainland Europe and stands relatively unguarded, sans walls or rails. A fairly quotidian changing of the guard ceremony takes place daily at 13:30. What I really liked here was the surrounding park which is open to the public year-round.
The Royal Palace is open to the public on guided tours from the end of June until mid- August. Tours cost 135 NOK for adults but it’s not worth taking the tour in my opinion.
9. National Gallery
The National Gallery (Nasjonalgalleriet) is home to Norway’s largest public collection of paintings, sculptures, and engravings. Most visitors, like us, flock here to see Edvard Munch’s ‘The Scream’, one of the most frequently depicted works of art in the world and a seminal piece of Expressionism.
The painting has been reproduced in countless posters around the world, and still inspires artists today all the while working its way into popular culture. There are several other Munch’s paintings here beyond ‘The Scream’ as well as Norwegian art from the 19th and 20th centuries. Jacky and I both particularly enjoyed the works of Johan Christian Dahl and Harald Sohlberg’s spectacular ‘Winter Night in the Mountains’, which was voted Norway’s national painting a few years ago.
Although not as extensive compared to some prominent national collections, European art is well represented with paintings from Van Dyck, Rubens, El Greco, Cézanne and Matisse.
Since January 2019, the National Gallery has been closed because it is relocating to a new location in Oslo and is slated to open sometime in 2020. It will become the largest art museum in the Nordics when it opens. To compensate for this, you can visit the Historical Museum (Historisk Museum), that is owned by the University of Oslo. Rare objects from Viking and medieval times are on show and medieval ecclesiastical art is particularly well represented. There is also a rich collection from the Arctic cultures. Opening hours of the Historical Museum are 10:00 – 17:00 (May-Sep) and 11:00 – 16:00 (Oct-Apr). Entrance costs 100 NOK.
10. Aker Brygge & Tjuvholmen
When spending a weekend in Oslo, a visit to the vibrant borough of Aker Brygge is one of the top things to do. Aker Brygge was formerly dominated by a big shipyard that closed in 1982, freeing up a potentially attractive area on Oslo’s harborfront. Since then, Aker Brygge has been transformed in Oslo’s most chic entertainment hub and features the biggest concentration of restaurants in the city. Many of the old shipyard warehouses have been restored and you can see a juxtaposition of old and new architecture here. Aker Brygge is a delightful setting in which to enjoy a chilled beer at the quayside or just to take a stroll along the promenade and soak up the atmosphere. Jacky and I really enjoyed our time chilling in Aker Brygge, especially taking in the panoramic view across the water.
The islet of Tjuvholmen (literally Thief’s Islet) lies adjacent to Aker Brygge. Like Aker Brygge, it has undergone massive redevelopment and is home to some exemplary examples of modern architecture and a swathe of high-end condos. You can find numerous fancy bars and restaurants here too. A notable point of interest in Tjuvholmen is the Astrup Fearnley Museum of Modern Art, one of Norway’s leading museums of contemporary art. If you’re visiting in the summer, there is a little man-made beach and some docks to jump off and go swimming.
I mentioned earlier that there’s a bevy of great eateries in both Aker Brygge and Tjuvholmen, making either of them the ideal location for having dinner on your first day in Oslo. Døgnvill Burger serves an amazing array of succulent burgers. Oslo is also a great place to try seafood and Lofoten Fiskerestaurant is one of the very best places in town to try favorites such as halibut, seabass, and baked salmon. If you’ve got serious cojones, you can even pre-order the lutefisk (dried stockfish that has been soaked in lye and then poached in broth), a Norwegian delicacy. I’ve tried it and can guarantee that it’s definitely an acquired taste.
Day 2 in Oslo
Today’s itinerary covers the must-see attractions in Oslo outside the center, including some amazing museums, a famous ski jumping arena, a renowned sculpture park, and a slice of hipster Oslo. I recommend seeing at least two museums on the Bygdøy peninsula that we’ve covered. Afterwards, if you’re still in the mood to see more great museums, you should visit our next two recommendations. It would be a good idea to do so if you’re traveling with kids or exhibit a particular affinity for museums and history. Otherwise, you should skip these two museums and go to the artistic quarter of Grünerløkka.
Start your second day in Oslo by grabbing a delightfully fresh brew and pastries at the retro Fuglen Espresso Bar, one of the best cafes in Oslo.
2. Holmenkollen Ski Jump Arena & Ski Museum
The famous Holmenkollen Ski Jump Arena is one of Norway’s biggest tourist attractions. Competitions have been held here since 1892 and it has been remodelled over a dozen times and is recognized as one of the best ski jump facilities in the world. Make sure to ascend the jump tower and marvel at the fortitude of ski jumpers when you gaze down the steep slope. It’s a bit terrifying if you have acrophobia. If you’re there in the summer, a zipline permits dauntless visitors to travel from the top to the bottom of the jump tower for a fee. The outdoor viewing platform here offers breathtaking views over Oslo and the inner Oslofjord. Later, you can also check out the ski simulator, which creates a realistic scenario of what skiers undergo during their runs.
Norway is regarded as the “spiritual home of skiing” and the town of Morgedal is considered to be the birthplace of the sport. Now, I’m as clueless about skiing as Sarah Palin defining the ‘Bush Doctrine’ and wanted to educate myself on the subject. But Jacky, being the archetypal Austrian, skiing runs in her blood. Thus, we both wanted to visit the Ski Museum at the base of the ski jump. The Holmenkollen Ski Museum is the oldest one in the world of its kind and showcases a wide range of interactive exhibits, including an ancient pictograph that chronicles the history of skiing. The museum also displays various types of skis from different eras and regions of Norway, and follows the evolution of each of the skiing disciplines. The exhibits are certainly very informative and offer a great insight into the history of skiing.
The Holmenkollen Ski Jump Arena & Museum is open throughout the year. Opening hours are 09:00 – 20:00 (Jun-Aug), 10:00 – 17:00 (May and Sep), and 10:00 – 16:00 (Oct-Apr). Entrance costs 140 NOK. Overall, a visit to Holmenkollen is one of the best things to see in Oslo, so don’t miss out on it!
If arriving to Holmenkollen with public transport, remember to wear a comfortable pair of shoes as the arena is an uphill 15-minute walk from the nearest stop.
3. Norwegian Museum of Cultural History
Make your way to the Bygdøy peninsula where your first stop will be the fascinating Norwegian Museum of Cultural History (Norsk Folkemuseum). No visit to Oslo would be complete without a visit here. More than 150 buildings from all over Norway representing different architectural styles have been assembled in this massive open-air museum to provide a comprehensive glimpse in the social history of Norway. I had great fun watching traditionally dressed artisans demonstrate age-old crafts such as pottery, weaving, and the making of candles, which you can purchase in their workshops. An annual highlight is the Christmas market (Julemarkedet) in December.
Every year since 1947, Oslo has presented London its Trafalgar Square Christmas tree in recognition of the UK’s support to Norway during World War II.
The highlights of the museum are the Old Town, which is a reproduction of an early 20th century Norwegian town, an outstanding exhibit on Norway’s Sami population, and the majestic Gol Stave Church. The 13th century church was brought over from the region of Gol and is adorned with paintings and carvings. The museum is open daily from 10:00 – 17:00 (May-Sep) and 11:00 – 16:00 (Oct-Apr). Entrance costs 160 NOK.
Lunch options are pretty scant on Bygdøy, so Cafe Arkadia, which is part of the Folkemuseum is a good option. Another decent alternative is Cafe Hjemme hos Svigers that is a little further down the street from the museum.
5. Viking Ship Museum
The Viking Ship Museum (Vikingskipshuset) features three of the world’s best-preserved Viking ships from the 9th century that are among Norway’s most beloved cultural treasures. These funereal ships were discovered in the Oslofjord between 1867 and 1904 and have been painstakingly restored since then. Unearthing the 1,000-year old Viking ships from the burial mounds proved a difficult task and it was discovered that robbers had also plundered some of the grave furnishings. They are named after the locations where they were found.
The Oseberg is the most impressive ship and features elaborately decorated dragon and serpent carvings. It still retains around 90 percent of its original timbers. The Gokstad is the largest ship amongst the trio and was capable of traveling at a pace of 12 knots. The Tune is the least well-preserved and was intentionally left that way to give visitors a perspective of shipbuilding in the Viking era. Viking ships were extremely seaworthy and could travel long distances. The ships were used to transport the bodies of high-ranking chieftains on their last journey to the kingdom of the dead.
Other displays include sledges, beds, a horse cart, wood carving, tent components, buckets and additional grave goods. Though Jacky and I both liked the ships for their craftsmanship and significance, we felt that there is little else to see, and the museum offers very little information on the Vikings themselves. However, the museum is set to be expanded in the upcoming years which we’re excited to see!
The Viking Ship Museum is open daily from 09:00 – 18:00 (May-Sep) and 10:00 – 16:00 (Oct-Apr). Entrance costs 100 NOK.
6. Fram Museum
The spectacular Fram Museum (Frammuseet) is a tribute to polar exploration, particularly the polar ship Fram. This magnificently restored polar ship has been further north or south in the world than any other sailing vessel. The museum highlights expeditions made by explorers Fridtjof Nansen and Roald Amundsen to the Arctic and Antarctic and their valiant exploits are captured in the various displays. Expedition paraphernalia, paintings, and photographs of the polar explorers are on show.
The Fram Museum is definitely one of the must-see Oslo attractions, especially if you’re traveling with kids. What really makes this museum special is what it offers visitors. You can climb aboard this historic vessel and envisage what it must have been like to steer this indomitable schooner on a voyage with the polar explorers. It gives a fantastic opportunity to explore the galley, sleeping quarters, engine room, cargo hold, you name it. There is also a contraption that simulates pulling a sled which is quite fun.
The Fram Museum is open daily, and operates varying hours depending on the time of the year. Admission costs 120 NOK. Go and check it out!
7. Kon-Tiki Museum
We come to our final recommendation on Bygdøy, the Kon-Tiki Museum (Kon-Tiki Museet), which serves as a tribute to the legendary Norwegian explorer Thor Heyerdahl. In 1947, Heyerdahl and his five-man crew sailed across the Pacific from Peru to Polynesia in the fragile balsa wood raft, Kon-Tiki. The voyage proved that it would have been possible for South Americans to have reached Polynesia in ancient times. This raft is the centerpiece of the museum and you get a first-hand account of how Heyerdahl and his men endured the voyage and dealt with problems through various texts, photos, and montages.
The museum’s other exhibits include the papyrus boat Ra II and many archaeological finds from Heyerdahl’s expeditions to places such as Easter Island and Peru. The Kon-Tiki Museum is quite small and worth a quick look if you have time.
The museum is open daily, throughout the year. Entrance costs 120 NOK.
8. Grünerløkka District
Grünerløkka is a former gritty working-class district that has undergone a massive facelift and renaissance in the last few decades. With its high immigrant population, cool street art, trendy bars, cafes, restaurants and vintage shops, this edgy and urban district is perhaps the most interesting area of Oslo. Here, the tourist hordes thin, the streets broaden and you can tap into a Norwegian living vibe that manages to be laid-back yet sophisticated. It’s no surprise that Grünerløkka is sometimes called ‘Soho of Oslo’. On a Scandinavian scale, Grünerløkka can be compared to Södermalm in Stockholm and Vesterbro in Copenhagen. We liked it so much we ended up going there twice.
You can easily spend a couple of hours strolling down the streets like Markveien and Thorvald Meyers gate, admiring the funky vintage and designer shops and galleries. If you love street art as much as we do, you won’t be disappointed as Grünerløkka boasts a thriving street art scene. There are a couple of sleek espresso bars in Grünerløkka if you want to take a breather such as Tim Wendelboe, which has excellent brews. If you enjoy craft beer as much as I do, there are two great drinking dens here – Grünerløkka Brygghus and Schouskjelleren Microbrewery, that serve some awesome IPA’s and porters.
If you’re planning on purchasing hard liquor in Oslo, you’ll have to go to one of the Vinmonopolet stores. Norway has a monopolized market where only the state-run retail Vinmonopolet stores are permitted to sell hard liquor. Light beers and ciders below 4.7 percent alcohol can be purchased in supermarkets.
9. Vigeland Sculpture Park
The last stop of this 2-day itinerary is the renowned Vigeland Sculpture Park, which also happens to be a part of Oslo’s largest park, the Frogner Park. It is named after the prominent Norwegian sculptor Gustav Vigeland, and you can see more than 200 sculptures of his depicting humanity in all its forms along the central axis of the park. The park is the world’s largest sculpture park made by a single artist and was mainly completed between 1939 and 1949.
The main attraction in the park is the soaring Monolith sitting on a stepped plinth. It is comprised of 121 human figures, contorting and clinging onto each other, symbolizing the struggle of life. 36 groups of granite figures depicting the cycles of life and relationships are present on the steps leading to the monolith. There are several other eye-catching works in the park like the bizarre ‘Man Attacked by Babies’ and the highly popular ‘Angry Boy’. I wonder why the boy is so irate? A stroll through the Vigeland Park is a delightful experience and the visual interplay between the sculptures and verdant lawns provides a breath of fresh-air.
Entrance to the Vigeland Sculpture Park is free and it is open 24/7.
10. Traditional Norwegian Dinner
Cap of your weekend in Oslo by treating yourself to a wonderful dinner. Lorry is a pretty good restaurant where you can try reindeer and the Norwegian national dish of fårikål (pieces of mutton or lamb served with cabbage, whole black pepper, and potatoes). I really enjoy devouring mutton and this dish didn’t disappoint. Otherwise, another alternative is Mamma Pizza, a fantastic Italian joint.
Where to Stay in Oslo
Accommodation in and around central Oslo provides convenient access to most of the main attractions. There are plenty of good options here for all budgets. Of course, just like in the rest of the Nordics hotel prices in Oslo are pretty high.
Hostel: Anker Hostel, good no-frills option in Grünerløkka, 10 minutes from Oslo Central Station.
Budget: Citybox Oslo, nice budget hotel, only a 2-minute walk from Oslo Central Station.
Mid-range: Thon Hotel Rosenkrantz, chic pick within 2 minutes of Karl Johans Gate, only a 10-minute walk from Oslo Central Station.
Splurge: The Thief, sumptuous top-choice in Tjuvjolmen, and a 5-minute walk from Aker Brygge.
Now, what do you think? How would you spend a weekend in Oslo? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below!