When most people talk about Norway, they talk about the fjords. The mountains. The train rides. The incredible scenery and natural beauty.
But you hardly hear anyone rave about Oslo, the Norwegian capital.
As an avid reader of other travel blogs, I can't actually remember reading very many posts about Oslo — in fact, I can't name one off the top of my head.
I assumed this was just because Oslo was just “another” big European city.
But then I went there last month on my 10-day trip around Norway. And guess what? Oslo is totally cool.
It's clean and colorful and filled with green spaces. The people are friendly (even the palace guards will talk to you here!), and it has a fun mixture of both old and modern architecture. And it's not really even that big — the population of Oslo is just 620,000.
Oslo is definitely NOT just another cookie cutter city in Europe, and I don't think you should skip over it when you go to Norway.
I was in the city for about 48 hours, which I think it a decent amount of time to see the highlights (though I think 72 hours would be even better).
Here are a few things that should make your must-do list in Oslo:
Walk along the waterfront
Whenever I get to a new city, I like to do one thing first: WALK. Walking around a new city is the best way to get to know it, in my opinion, and walking along the trendy new waterfront in Oslo was a neat way to see the old and modern being mixed together. The waterfront area has been revamped in recent years, with a bunch of really modern buildings going up alongside some of the older ones. They're building a big promenade that will eventually let you walk for kilometers.
Some of my favorite attractions to check out on this walk included the Akershus Fortress, the Opera House (which is actually classified as a work of art, meaning you can walk all over it — even on the roof), and City Hall. Oslo's City Hall doesn't look all that special from outside, but inside it's covered in murals and a beautiful marble floor sourced entirely from within Norway.
Karl Johans Gate
Also on my walking tour of Oslo, I hit up Karl Johans Gate, the main street in the center of Oslo that leads from the train station to the Royal Palace. It's colorful and partially tree-lined, and would be a great place to sit down and sip on a cup of coffee.
Oslo has a TON of cool museums — we're talking really unique museums that you won't find anywhere else in the world. Sure, you have the usual City Museum and National Gallery and a museum of contemporary art. But then you also have museums like:
- The Munch Museum, dedicated to expressionist painter Edvard Munch (famous for his “The Scream” painting)
- The Kon-Tiki Museum, focusing on the expeditions of world-renowned scientist and explorer Thor Heyerdahl
- The Viking Ship Museum, which houses the remains of Viking burial ships that are more than 1,000 years old
- The Norwegian Folk Museum, which includes a large open-air portion with buildings from all over Norway (my favorite was the stave church)
- The Nobel Peace Center, because the Nobel Peace Prizes are awarded in Oslo each year
- The Holmenkollen Ski Museum, located inside Oslo's huge ski jump, which presents more than 4,000 years of skiing history
I would highly recommend setting aside some time to check out at least a couple of these museums.
The Vigeland Park
I mentioned before that Oslo has a ton of green spaces, and one of my favorites was Vigeland Park — the world's largest sculpture park made by a single artist. The park was completely designed by artist Gustav Vigeland, who not only laid out the 79-acre park, but also completed the more than 200 sculptures displayed within it.
It's no wonder that this is one of Oslo's top attractions. It's free to enter, open year-round, and has tons of interesting sculptures to see.
Where to Stay
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I stayed at the funky Scandic Vulkan hotel in Oslo's Vulkan neighborhood, which is about a 15-20-minute walk into the city center, or about 10 minutes by bus. The neighborhood around the hotel is a bit hipster in nature, filled with street art and cafes (many of which are actually really affordable by Oslo standards!).
I loved the floor-to-ceiling windows in my room, and the fact that I had a really cool work space (not to mention a ridiculously comfortable bed — Norwegians know how to make beds!).
And the best part? It's not a ridiculously expensive hotel. If you book online, you can find rooms for less than $150 USD per night (which is great for Norway!).
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Where to Eat
I found food in Norway to be one of the most expensive things. You could easily go out and spend $40+ on a small meal. I went out for a couple of nice dinners, but also did my best to look for places that wouldn't break the wallet.
Best splurge: Tjuvholmen Sjomagasin, near the waterfront. The food and staff were both incredible. (I had their 3-course set menu, which costs a steep 595 NOK, or about $75 USD.)
Best value: Mathallen Food Hall, which is super close to the Scandic Vulkan hotel. The downside is you won't find a ton of Norwegian food here, but the upside is that everything is affordable. (I was able to get a large chicken sandwich for lunch for under $10 here!)
Can you save money in Oslo?
A big question I got on my Facebook page while I was traveling around Norway was, “Is it as expensive as people say it is?” And, well… I'm not gonna lie: Norway IS expensive. Oslo IS expensive. But that doesn't mean you can't save money.
Hotels don't have to break your budget. You can find cheaper food if you spend some time looking. And you can save a lot on everything else with an Oslo Pass.
Like many other city passes around the world, the Oslo Pass gets you free or discounted admission to a ton of sites and attractions all around the city of Oslo. You can get into all those museums I listed above (and more) for free; you can take free walking tours; you can get discounts on fjord cruises, bike tours, and even the ski simulator at Holmenkollen. And you also get free rides on ALL public transport with your Oslo pass — buses, trams, metro, and even ferry boat.
At 590 NOK ($75 USD) for a 72-hour pass, you can definitely get your money's worth. I don't think I would ever recommend visiting Oslo without one of these!
So what do you think of Oslo now? Have I sold you on the Norwegian capital?
*Note: Special thanks to Visit Oslo for hosting me in the city! As always, opinions are 100% my own.
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