When most people talk about Norway, they talk about the fjords. The mountains. The train rides. The incredible scenery and natural beauty. (And I've talked about all those things, too!)
But you hardly hear anyone rave about Oslo, the Norwegian capital.
As an avid reader of other travel blogs, I can't remember reading very many posts about Oslo before my first trip there.
I assumed this was just because it was “just another” big European city; I assumed that maybe there weren't that many things to do in Oslo that really stood out, and that's why I hadn't heard much about the city.
But then I went there on my (first) 10-day trip around Norway.
And guess what? I discovered that Oslo is totally cool.
Oslo is 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 huge; the population of Oslo is just over 700,000.
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. In fact, there are so many cool things to do in Oslo that I recommend spending at least a few days there!
Things to do in Oslo over a long weekend
I was in Oslo for about 48 hours, which I think it a decent amount of time to see the highlights, though I think a long weekend in Oslo would be ideal.
No matter how much time you're spending in the Norwegian capital, here are the things to do in Oslo that I think are the best:
1. Walk along the Oslo 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 is a great 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.
3. Stroll Karl Johans Gate
Also on your walking tour of Oslo, you can 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 is a great place to sit down and sip on a cup of coffee.
3. Visit one of many Oslo Museums
Oslo has a TON of cool museums – we're talking really unique museums that you won't find anywhere else in the world. You could spend a whole long weekend in Oslo just hopping from museum to museum!
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 in Oslo.
*Note that the Viking Ship Museum is being completely reimagined/rebuilt, and will not re-open until 2025 at the earliest.
4. Check out 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 in Oslo
I've been to Oslo a few times now, and have enjoyed staying at both the Scandic Vulkan hotel in Oslo's Vulkan hipster neighborhood (about a 15-20-minute walk into the city center, or about 10 minutes by bus), as well as at the Thon Hotel Terminus, which is close to Oslo's central train station (where the airport train arrives, and where trips like Norway in a Nutshell depart from).
Where to eat in Oslo
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!)
Annual events in Oslo
Just like most big cities around the world, there are tons of annual events to enjoy in Oslo. There are multiple music festivals throughout the summer, including a chamber music festival, a jazz festival, a world music festival, and many more.
There's also a ski festival held in Oslo each March (Norwegians love skiing of all sorts), and a big Pride festival usually in June/July.
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 around $80 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! (Buy your Oslo pass here!)
Note: Special thanks to Visit Oslo for hosting me in the city! As always, opinions are 100% my own.
So what do you think of Oslo now? Have I sold you on the Norwegian capital?
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Norway is quite a pricey destination! Maybe you could consider staying in an apartment or other self-catering option so you could prepare some meals for yourself. Groceries are much more affordable in Norway than eating out for every meal!