Oslo is a unique city which combines city life with easy access to nature. It’s a great place to explore because of its unique architecture, abundant cultural attractions, great food, diverse shopping experiences, stunning scenery, healthy living and opportunities for sport.
Where is Oslo?
Oslo is the capital of Norway which is situated in Scandinavia. The city is found on the south-eastern tip of Norway close to the Swedish border. In fact, the Swedish city of Karlstad is about 165 km (103 miles) from Oslo. Norway itself is bordered by the Norwegian Sea to the north and the North Sea towards the south.
Is Oslo Worth Visiting?
In my opinion, Oslo is worth visiting. The city is full of interesting and fun things to see and do and I love the way life here is closely linked to nature. Here are my 21 reasons why you should add Oslo to your bucket list of places to visit.
1. Attractive & Accessible Location
Oslo is easily reached by train, bus, ferry plane or car. There are direct flights from most European cities to Oslo. A quick 2-hour flight from London will transport you into the heart of nature.
Oslo is a city surrounded by nature, nestled between the Oslofjord and forested hills and mountains. The Oslofjord is an inlet in the south-eastern part of Norway which is part of the Skagerrak Strait which connects the North Sea to the Baltic Sea via the Kattegat sea area. As you can imagine, Oslo’s location makes this a city which embraces the outdoors, nature and healthy living.
2. Environmentally Friendly
Oslo is known for being a green, environmentally friendly city. If you fly into Oslo, the city’s recent airport terminal is one of the world’s greenest and most sustainable. Over 70% of its passengers are able to access the airport via public transport and snow is collected, stored and used as a coolant for the building in the summer months. Natural materials were also used to construct the building including recycled steel and environmentally friendly concrete mixed with volcanic ash.
If green matters are important to you, Oslo is definitely a destination worth considering. In 2019, the city was awarded the honour of being the European Green Capital for conserving natural areas and reducing pollution. In fact, the city has one of lowest carbon footprints in the world, as well as efficient and well-used public transport, sustainable food production and green spaces. Needless to say, cycling plays an important role in the life of Oslo citizens.
3. Compact City Centre
When you are looking for a weekend break, having time to explore the city is important. Oslo is the perfect choice as the city has a compact centre. What’s more, it’s easy and safe to explore Oslo on foot or by bike. Travelling this way means that you won’t miss any of the sights and you can stop and start when and wherever you like. However, if you prefer public transport, the city has an efficient public transport system which avoids the need to travel by car.
4. Unusual and Original Architecture
Hand in hand with its reputation for being green, Oslo is seen as the city of renewal and reinvention. Many old buildings have been given a new lease of life fit for the modern age. The stunning Oslo Opera House resembles an iceberg and is made of marble and glass. It’s been designed so that visitors can walk across the roof and look into the building to see rehearsals inside. In addition, the redevelopment of twelve narrow high-rise building in the dock area has resulted in what is known as the Barcode District (Bjorvika Barcode) which houses national and international businesses. The buildings have been designed and built to resemble reading a bar code.
If you love museums, Oslo could be just the place for you. Amazingly, the forested Bygdoy Peninsula is home to no less than 5 national museums: Viking Ship Museum, Fram Museum, Norwegian Folk Museum, Kon-Tiki Museum and Norwegian Maritime Museum. Don’t miss out on visiting the world’s best-preserved Viking ship. If it’s polar exploration which fascinates you, check out the Fram Museum.
6. Art and Culture
Famous Norwegian artists and writers are also celebrated in Oslo. Usually, you can see Edvard Munch’s famous painting, ‘The Scream’ in the National Gallery. However, this is currently being exhibited at the Munch Museum. In addition to admiring his work in the galleries and museums, you can head to Ekeberg Park which is the landscape which inspired his paintings. If you love art, another interesting place to visit is the Astrup Fearnley Museum which has changing exhibitions and displays work by Damian Hirst. If you like contemporary artists, check out Rod Bianco’s white cube space which is hidden behind an unmarked black door on Waldemar Thranes Gate.
Although currently closed until 2021 for renovations, the Henrik Ibsen Museum is Ibsen’s last home and celebrates his life and works. However, you can still check out his famous quotes in stainless steel which can be found on the pavements of Oslo. The 69 quotes follow Ibsen’s daily route from his home in Arbins Gate to the Grand Café where he ate lunch every day.
If you love the performing arts, the Oslo Opera House mentioned in point 4 is home to the Norwegian National Ballet and Opera.
7. Local Food and Drink
Given its location and concern for the environment, Oslo also has a growing reputation for serving fresh, sustainable food. Of course, the harbour provides much of the fresh fish and seafood for many of Oslo’s restaurants. However, many chefs grow their own ingredients or source and serve locally sustainable products or products from Norway only.
The good news is that you can find food for all budgets in Oslo. Check out the Mathallen food hall which has food stalls with shared tables. The speciality here is King crab. Another popular place with the locals, which is slightly off the tourist route, is Vippa. This is a food court located by the fjord inside an old industrial building which has great sea views!
Perhaps surprisingly, the Norwegians are the second biggest coffee drinkers in the world. So, if coffee is your thing, Oslo is the place for you. If you want an authentic place to drink your coffee in peace away from the crowds, head to Tim Wendelboe where they roast beans on site. If you fancy something a little stronger, the Himkok Bar serves award-winning cocktails and ranks among the top 50 bars in the world.
8. Food Specialities
Oslo is fast becoming a culinary destination. When you visit, try out the ever popular Polse which is a hot dog cooked in beef stock. It is then wrapped in lompe (a flatbread made of potato, milk and flour) and served with ketchup and mustard along with dried onions, remoulade and pickles. Other Norwegian favourites include farikal (lamb and cabbage stew), lapskaus (brown stew) and kjottkaker (large meatballs).
9. Live Music
Oslo is a great place for outdoor festivals and nightlife. The city has a lively yet cultured scene. The annual Oslo Jazz Festival takes place in August and has been running for over 30 years. During this time, you can experience a wide range of jazz music from well-known and unknown artists. If pop music is more your thing, look out for the 4-day Oya festival which is also held in August. It features international artists and emerging talent.
Oslo’s main shopping street is called Karl Johan. Behind the Royal Palace, you will find the main shopping area of the city in the Majorstua district. In addition to high-end shopping, you will also find trendy clubs and bars here. Look out for the streets called Bogstadveien and Hegdehaugsveien.
Futher west, you will find Frogner and Bygdoy Alle. Here you will find interior design and furniture stores, along with art galleries and antique shops. There are also many good restaurants and bars here when you want to take a break from shopping.
If you love vintage shopping, artisan goods and street art, check out the Grunerlokka district with its interesting boutiques and unique vibe.
11. Enjoy Sea Air at the Harbour
Oslo’s harbour has been redeveloped. The old shipyard has been combined with modern architecture and is now a stylish waterside development called Aker Brygge where you can shop and eat. There is a boardwalk lined with restaurants and a pier. You can also take a ferry from the harbour to visit the Oslo fjord.
12. Take Advantage of Life Outdoors
The city of Oslo is surrounded by nature and even has its own fjord. This makes it the perfect city to visit. Once you’ve had enough of the bustle of the city, you can venture out of the city and relax outdoors and enjoy the stunning scenery. You can explore the Oslofjord waterways, sunbathe and have picnics on the beach. This is because it’s a short 5-minute journey by ferry from the city to the main island on the fjord called Hovedoya. This island has forests, beaches and monastery ruins. There are plenty of other islands to visit and island hopping is fun for all the family.
Alternatively, you can take a tram to the north to explore the forests of Nordmarka. If you enjoy greenery, the biggest park in central Oslo is called Frognerparken. In this park you can also enjoy 212 Gustave Vigeland sculptures.
13. Enjoy Sporting Activities
It’s hardly surprising that sport plays a big part in Oslo life given its natural location. When you are visiting, why not head out of the city and enjoy some healthy activities outdoors? For instance, you can try kayaking on the fjord or swim. These activities are sure to please young adults and kids alike.
If that’s not for you, the Nordmarka forest areas are great places to hike or explore by bike. In winter, you can also ski on the ski slopes of Nordmarka and all year round on the indoor slopes at Sno. Even if skiing isn’t for you, don’t miss out on visiting Holmenkollen. Take the metro to the edge of the Nordmarka forest and be amazed by the huge Olympic ski jump. From the viewing platform at the top of the tower, you can experience some of the best panoramic views of the city and there is also a museum.
14. Immerse Yourself in History
As mentioned in reason number five, Oslo has many fascinating museums including the Viking Museum on the Bygdoy Peninsula which celebrates the history of these sea-faring people. Also located on the Bygdoy Peninsula is the Fram Museum which is dedicated to the history of polar exploration, in particular expeditions, vessels and explorers. One of the vessels you can visit is the 39m schooner ‘Fram’ (meaning forward) which was the first ship built by Norwegians for polar research. This ship was used by Roadl Amundsen when he set sail in 1910 and became the first man to reach the South Pole in 1911.
Alternatively, the 700-year old Akershus Festning fort dominates the Oslo harbour front. Within this sprawling complex is a medieval castle (Akershus Slott) which was historically the home of Norwegian Kings and Queens. Today the Royal Palace is the residence of the King of Norway. It is situated at the end of Oslo’s main street, Karl Johans Gate and is open to the public during the summer. Another interesting historic place to visit is Damstredet and Telthusbakken. These are picturesque streets which form part of central Oslo and feature colourful wooden homes dating back to the 18th century.
15. Have Fun
If you are looking for thrills, TusenFryd is the biggest amusement park in the country of Norway. It’s located 20 km south of Oslo and also features a water park BadeFryd. The journey takes approximately 20 minutes by car so it’s an ideal day out from Oslo.
16. Marvel at the Fjords
There are many boats which offer trips around the beautiful Oslofjord. Head to Pier 3 by the City Hall. Why not have a romantic dinner on a boat whilst enjoying the fjord? If you have more time, the Western Fjords are also accessible by train from Oslo, particularly the Naeoryfjord which forms part of a World Heritage Site.
17. Visit the Ekeberg Sculpture Park
One of the interesting green places in Oslo is the Ekeberg Sculpture Park. It’s a wooded park which is a 30-minute walk from central Oslo. In addition to overlooking the city, this park features 31 sculptures including work by Salvador Dali and Damian Hirst. The park also inspired the Norwegian artist Munch to paint his famous painting ‘The Scream’. The park is open every day and it’s free to visit.
18. Follow the Akerselva River
If you enjoy walking or cycling and would like to see Oslo from another perspective, you can take an 8km journey along the course of the Akerselva River. The river starts at Oslo’s Lake Maridalsvannet and winds its way through downtown Oslo dividing the east and west sides. There are trails along the riverbank which are perfect for hiking and cycling. You can also explore different neighbourhoods including Grunnerlokka and enjoy the vintage boutiques, quirky cafes and pubs which you will stumble across as you follow the course of the river.
19. Relax in Oslo
Oslo is a place where you can relax as you explore the city and enjoy the natural environment which surrounds it. To relax further, you can also take advantage of urban saunas on the harbour and then perhaps plunge into the fjord! For example, SALT offers a bath and sauna in wooden buildings inspired by traditional Norwegian racks for drying fish. Alternatively, KOK is a floating sauna boat with a hatch in the middle of the floor which leads directly to the water.
20. Oslo With Kids
Oslo is a great place to visit with all the family. Firstly, it has some interesting museums whether your kids are into art or history. Kids will marvel at the world’s best-preserved Viking ship and enjoy learning about the perils and triumphs of polar exploration. The kids will also enjoy walking over the top of the Opera House and running free in the open green spaces and forests in and around Oslo. You can also keep them busy by trying out sporting activities on the fjords and island hopping with picnics.
21. Free Stuff to Do in Oslo
Whilst Oslo can be an expensive city, there are loads of free things you can do in Oslo to keep budgets in check. Unsurprisingly, many of the free things to do in Oslo involve the outdoors. For example. the Ekeberg Park is free to visit and combines wooded parkland with fascinating art exhibitions and good views of the city. Don’t forget that Vigeland Park with its 200 sculptures is also free to visit.
Oslo’s Botanical Gardens and its greenhouses are another free place to visit, and the gardens are studded with large woven sculptures. In 2020, a brand-new Climate House will open at the Botanical Gardens and it is planned that the entrance hall and amphitheatre will be free to visit. The Palace Park is another free green space to visit and enjoy.
The Oslofjord islands are also free to explore once you’ve paid for the ferry ride. Another watery freebie is the walk along the Akerselva River. You can also check out the boardwalk on the harbour and spend time watching the hive of activity here.
If you want to plan your weekend in advance, you can check out the information below about different attractions and experiences.