Oslo is Totally Cool: Top Things to Do in Oslo in 3 Days

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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.

Oslo, Norway
Karl Johans Gate in Oslo

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.

The Vigeland Park in Oslo, Norway
The Vigeland Park in Oslo

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!

Oslo, Norway
Oslo waterfront

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.

Oslo opera house
Oslo Opera House
Oslo, Norway
Along the Oslo waterfront in 2017

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.

Akershus Fortress in Oslo, Norway
Akershus Fortress

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.

Oslo city hall
Inside City Hall; definitely worth seeing!

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.

Karl Johans Gate in Oslo, Norway
Karl Johans Gate
Looking down Karl Johans Gate from the Royal Palace
Looking down Karl Johans Gate from the Royal Palace
Park in front of Norwegian Parliament
Norwegian Parliament at the other end

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
Stave church at the Oslo folk museum
Stave church at the Oslo folk museum
Norsk Folkemuseum in Oslo
Norsk Folkemuseum
Viking Ship Museum in Oslo
The old Viking Ship Museum

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.

The Vigeland Park in Oslo, Norway
Sculptures at The Vigeland Park
The Vigeland Park in Oslo, Norway

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.

The Vigeland Park in Oslo, Norway
The Angry Boy – most people's favorite statue

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).

Street art in Oslo's Grunerlokka district
Street art in Oslo's Grunerlokka district

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.

Oslo Pride
Oslo Pride 2017

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.

Oslo Pass
The Oslo Pass is a good option if you plan to do lots of sightseeing!

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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72 Hours in Oslo, Norway

"It's a dangerous business, going out your door. You step onto the road, and, if you don't keep your feet, there's no telling where you might get swept off to." - JRR Tolkien

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78 Comments on “Oslo is Totally Cool: Top Things to Do in Oslo in 3 Days

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  1. Have you sold you me on the Norwegian capital? You sure have?
    It looks amazing. And yes every Nordic country isn’t budget-oriented but they’re so worth the cost.
    I went to Finland in the Spring and it was expensive. That’s just the way it is. I knew this already and just sucked it in, went to the food market and ate sushi every day!
    I’m going to Sweden sometime this year and it’ll be the same. Spend the money and enjoy the experience!

      Yes, I totally agree that, despite the expense, Scandinavia is totally worth it! Hope you make it to Oslo sometime!

      She has sold me too! I just returned from Sweden, the value of the krona to the dollar right now is phenomenal-the lowest I have ever seen it. Hopefully it will stay that way for your trip! I don’t know if you’ve been there before, but it is my favorite place in the whole world. Try to venture down to the southern country side and bluffs if you have a chance 🙂

    For a good cup of coffee or to enjoy people-watching check out these cafee’s:

    Liebling: http://www.liebling.no/
    St.Pauli Biergarten: https://www.facebook.com/stpaulibiergarten (part of Liebling)
    Pauls Boutique: https://www.facebook.com/PaulsBoutiqueOslo
    Hva skjer: http://www.hvaskjertorshov.no/
    Fuglen: http://www.fuglen.no/
    Tim Wendelboe: https://timwendelboe.no/
    The Kasbah: http://www.thekasbah.no
    Literaturhuset Cafe: http://www.kafeoslo.no/

      Thanks for the suggestions, Julie!

    Great, informative post!! Reminded me of last year when I spent six months in Oslo and it soon became my favorite city ever. The proximity to nature is a definite plus that you don’t see in many capital cities. My absolute favorites were island hopping and going to Sognsvann (huge lake surrounded by forest). It’s a truly magical city!

    You’re right about it being expensive! The grønland area was the most affordable place to eat out, but then again, it’s not Norwegian food. If you are in a tight budget then it would be best to stay somewhere with a kitchen and cook your own meals.

    Again, great post and love your blog btw!

      Oslo was the first major city in Scandinavia that I’ve visited, and it definitely impressed me!

    Great post I never hear before about oslo but it sounds like is a cool place to go

    I hadn’t heard much about Oslo either apart from people telling me it was boring and to visit Bergen instead. It definitely looks like a beautiful city and you have convinced me to visit when I get to Norway in a couple of years

      Everyone always seems to have mad love for Bergen, but there are SO many other cool places in Norway! (In fact, I purposely didn’t go to Bergen on my trip because I wanted to see something different than what most other people see when they go to Norway.)

        Thank you for writing about a diffrent part of Norway then most! I like have you think, its nice to see something of a surprise when traveling! And I love to read how someone who visit Oslo is talking about the city. Its allways nice to see what you have close by with new eys, makes you want to explore your own backyard more. I grew up outside the city, but close to it. At the moment located 40 min train ride/30 min car ride away in a smaler city.

        But if you go back, Bergen is a nice city because of how it is located, even for us Norwegians. I will recomand you to take the train into the city if you do go. But Oslo also how the easy access to nature sourounding the city aswell.

        South in summer time, nice coast villiages. Lofoten has the beaches without people and fish villages, northern light in the north.Fjords are mentioned for a reason. And one of the things I love the most the lakes in the forrests to swim in on hot summer days. Water is clean, its abondent with space/few people compared to many places and the woods smells so good. It feels private and free. Not everyone likes that tho! I guess you have that in Ohio aswell?

        Its been cold here in may and june this year. But when summer hits like this last week it can get realy hot. the north had 40 c and we in the east have had 27 c. Thats the charm and the “annoying” thing with Norway when it comes to planning, you never know what you get! I hope you get to experiance the light and warm summer nights tho! Its what I allways get amazed by specialy after I have spent a summer in an other country, the winter passes and then it gets so light..and then to sit outside when its warm. I grew up in Norway and love the beauty and varity of the country.

          Obs, my mistake, I see you have already been around a lot of the country 🙂

          Great writings! 🙂

          I sadly didn’t get to experience any of those warm summer nights while I was in Norway, but I still really loved the country!

    Oh, Oslo is in many ways a nice city to live in. but as a tourist you don’t see the dark side of what we natives call “The biggest village in Europe”. The litter, the lack of a decent public transportation system. Biking in our capital is probably one of the most dangerous thing you can do. The city is a pollution trap and in the winter the air is yellow green because 30 000 cars are pouring in and out of the center of the city. Then we have a rampant use of drug abuse. Just try the Riverwalk (and rent a personal life-guard before you do.). However, the city is pretty safe and the bright, sunny summer evenings are fantastic.

      I’m sure that even cities in Norway have their “dark sides,” Robert. Most larger cities do. However, I’d invite you to come visit larger cities in the US (where we have millions of cars and far poorer public transport) to realize just how good Oslo has it! 😉

      I grew up in Oslo and now live in Sydney, and I think you just lack perspective. I used to complain about the public transport system in Oslo, but I think we are so spoiled that we’re annoyed as soon as the bus is 5 minutes late. When I got to Sydney I was shocked at how poor their public transport system is and will never ever again complain about Oslo’s! Also the drug abuse is not nearly as widespread as in Sydney where you see people overdose in clubs regularly and taking stuff like MDMA and coke is seen as completely normal. Sure you will see heavy drug users around the central area in Oslo just as you would in any other big city, but the drug abuse problem really could have been much worse, trust me!

      It’s true about biking though, I hope Oslo can learn a thing or two from Copenhagen to make biking safer!

      Robert you really should travel more. You´d realize you don´t have anything to complain about 😉

      I feel the need to correct Robert on his comments there… Oslo has one of the, if not THE best, public transportation coverages, worldwide. The metro network is fairly extensive, and there are also several tram lines as well as buses criss crossing the city. The paths along the Aker river, which Robert refers to as the River Walk, is not at all that dangerous anymore. It’s well lit, there are more and more restaurants and pubs along its length that provide safety and activity, and the police have managed to scare away most of the more seedy elements. The biking part I agree with, mostly, but it’s not like it will kill you to ride a bike. Just choose the right streets and parks/green spaces and you’ll be fine. Pollution can be pretty bad in winter, but from what Robert writes it sounds like Beijing or Mexico City, and that is certainly not the case.

        Try riding a bike in Amsterdam. I agree with Ole…just came back from Oslo, did the river walk and enjoyed it a lot. My AirBNB hosts were a bit shocked too when I told them, but honestly on a sunny afternoon there is nothing to worry about.

        And while you’re in Oslo don’t forget to visit Ekebergparken on a sunday and enlist (online in advance) for a visit to James Thurells’ skyspace. It is truly a special experience!

    Walking is my first thing to do also! The waterfront is where I would head to…was it pretty long? Even if it’s dark, cold waters, it’s so calming to look at.

      The waterfront area is pretty large. They’re still working on the official promenade, which I think will eventually be about 9 kilometers long!

    Whenever I see pictures of Oslo, it’s always the photo of the Opera house which looks extremely modern and I’m not really a big fan of modern cities. Your post made me realize though that there is more to Oslo than the Opera house. That main street is lovely!!!

      Yup, there’s lots of modern architecture around the Opera House, but there’s definitely more than just that in Oslo!

      Ah, I felt the same as you, but then I discovered a fascinating side to Oslo in its industrial past – the area around the Akerselva river is full of greenery and history! I’ve written about it in the post below 🙂

    Looks like you had nice weather and mostly blue skies here. 🙂

      Haha, well, the photos are a little misleading – it rained both days I was there, but thankfully the rain didn’t last all day!

    Excellent article, Amanda! My wife and I spent four days in Oslo in May and thought the same as you did about the city. We even hit almost all the same places, including the ski jump and Mathallen Food Hall, which aren’t on everybody’s list. We didn’t think that there was enough to do in the city to keep us occupied for that long, but we were wrong. You’re totally correct about Oslo (and Norway in general) being very expensive. Lodging isn’t too bad, but food is very expensive. I suggest hitting ethnic restaurants (Indian, Thai, Middle Eastern) to cut down on your food bill.

      Yeah, I didn’t know if I’d be able to fill 2 full days in Oslo before I went, but then I discovered there’s so much cool stuff to see/do! I didn’t get to all the museums or parks I wanted to visit, so I’ll definitely have to go back!

    It does look very cool!

      Totally cool! I really didn’t know what to expect before I went, so I was really impressed! (Then again, it’s Scandinavia… not sure why I was expecting anything less than awesome!)

    Did you know that the room in city hall that you visited is where they have the Nobel peace price ceremony? All other peace prizes are celebrated at the Stockholm City Hall. #TheMoreYouKnow 🙂

      Yup, I did learn that! One more thing that makes Oslo totally cool. 🙂

      The peace prize is handed out in Oslo. Stockholm have the prizes in Chemistry, Literature, Physics, and Physiology or Medicine.

    I agree, Oslo looks totally cool! I’d definitely like to soak up its city buzz and stunning attractions.

      Yeah it’s definitely a city I’d spend more time in!

    I was only in Oslo less than 24 hours since my flight was delayed, but from what I experienced, I couldn’t help but think it was a super palatable city (and I imagine it would be much better to visit in summer rather than when I was there in winter)!

      Yeah it was a lot cooler than I expected it to be! I actually found myself wishing I’d had more time there, because I didn’t get to see everything I wanted to (though, I did lose nearly half a day to jetlag, which didn’t help either!).

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