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. Dear Amanda. I’ll be happy to be your guide if you ever come back to my hometown. It’s not that Oslo is a bad city to live in. I have a sailboat and enjoy the mellow Oslofjord a lot every summer and since I’m living at the edge of the immense forests (15 min from city senter) I go skiing in the winter and hiking in the summer. As a tourist, go to the Tourist information and get a walking map and treat yourself to a pleasant 3-hour walk from Tryvannstårnet (The tower of Tryvann), down to Ullevoldsseter and finish the walking trip with a swim in Songsvann before you take the tube downtown again. And yes, I have been twice to the States (Bought a car at a gas station and drove for 3 months in the US, 1 month in Canada and 1 month in Mexico), I’v been 3 times to Japan. Went by local train last year from Bangkok, to Kuala-Lumpur, Georgtown and Singapore. This year I traveled 1 month in Australia and stayed 14 days in Vietnam) Been all over Europe… The list is quite extensive… In other words I have been to many cities and countries that both has worse slums, transportation, pollution, poverty and drug abuse than we see in Oslo. But then again…. Norway and Oslo is filthy rich… we have so much money that our rulers have to invest them in American junk bonds. We should be able to do SO MUCH BETTER with all the money. Fast trains like Japan, excellent undergrounds like in Singapore, modern schools, clean cities. The list is long… But be welcome Oslo is well worth a visit… Now autumn and winter is closing in and 6 months of cold and darkness with 3 hours of sun comes 21 December 😉

    Compared with Rome, ( Rome was the last main city I visited ) is Oslo in fact quite cheap to eat , shop and live in 🙂 And easier to shop in than Rome, Paris and London. Oslo have a lot of quite large shopping centers, and easy to get to. Forexample in Rome there is really difficult to get to a shopping center without using taxi who is very expencive since its a long way from centre of Rome. We used the train and bus , but it was difficult to find and not a pleasent part of Rome. In the shoppingcenters in Oslo you will find both cheap and expencive shops. For al pocket`s 🙂 And there is a lot of shoppingcenters easy reachable with train or bus. Also some in the middle centrum. And two quite long shopping streets. You have a lot of different restaurants where you get meals from about 9-10 pounds and up. Also there is good grocerystores everywhere, where you can buy food if you want to make your own lunch or breakfast. And living , there is hotels in al price classes. You get a room in a hotel or B&B for two persons from about 9 pounds, cheaper if you take a hostel. So I think that Norway and Oslo has got a undeserved bad reputation about how expencive it is.

      Well, I certainly wouldn’t call Oslo cheap, but it certainly doesn’t *have* to be as expensive as many people assume it is!

    I like the write up, but if you go to Oslo again.. try to do Island hopping in the fjord with the Public transportation pass and head up in the forest on the same day. You can sit an view the Islands you went on earlier the day. Not many capitals you can do Island hopping in.

      Great tip! And I’m sure that would be awesome to do on a summer day!

    Such a nice blog about my favourite city. I moved to Oslo 30 years ago and have lived here ever since. The Great thing about my City is the combination of nature (lakes / fjord /forrest / mountains /beaches), shopping and a nightlife with restaurants and cafees, sites, culture. All within half an hour! In your review you forgot about the Ekeberg sculpture park. Free enter/Open all days. It was one out of Five suggested parks to ever visit, by New York post! (if I remember correctly. One of US big newspapers)

      Yes unfortunately I ran out of time to get to Ekeberg! But I’ve heard it’s great.

    Great photos. I’ve never really considered Scandinavia but with TBEX in Stockholm next year and just having visited the Baltics, I’m definitely thinking about it more.

      It’s definitely worth considering! (Though, Scandinavia is way more expensive than the Baltics! Haha.) I think TBEX will give a lot of people a good excuse to go, though. Which is a good thing – it’s a part of the world so many people dream of visiting!

    Wow, Oslo looks like a very unique city! I was surprised when you mentioned that very few travel bloggers are posting about Oslo– from what you’ve described here, the city definitely seems like it has a great sense of culture. You have definitely sold me on Oslo!

      I mean, it’s possible I’m just reading the wrong blogs! Haha. But, on the whole, I feel like a lot of bloggers skip Scandinavia because of the cost, and when they do visit Norway, they tend to go for places like Bergen that are closer to the famous fjords. Which is a shame – because Oslo really IS cool!

    Im going to Oslo in October and this post just made me even more excited!!

    […] If you’ve ever considered a trip to Norway (or maybe if you’re reading this post because you’re currently planning a trip there), chances are you’ve already had people tell you that you have to go to the fjords. You may have had people recommend Tromso in the north, or wax poetic about Bergen in the south. They may have even told you not to skip Oslo. […]

    Hi Amanda, thank you for a very nice review of Oslo!

    One of the Norwegian favourite pastimes is hiking (gå på tur) and any city will have some nearby forest or mountain with marked trails in summer and freshly prepared ski tracks in winter. When it comes to saving money, it so happens that you can camp for free in these areas.

    In Oslo you can take the metro into the immense woods ( a 20min trip from the city centre) and pitch your tent just about anywhere and why not do so in front of your own personal lake in order to go for a swim in the morning before taking the metro into the city?

    A by many overlooked event in Oslo is the Ski Fest in March at Holmenkollen. This might not sound terribly interesting to someone not into crosscountry skiing and ski jumping, but it is great fun and a mere 5000 people stay in the woods around Holmenkollen for a whole weekend sleeping in tents pitched in the snow and some partying is admittedly done at night. I was going to say that it is worth it, but then the Ski Fest is free, as well as the outdoor camping.

    Yes, you would have to be a little bit sporty I guess. But it would not be your average city break either.

      Very good to know, Marie! Thanks for the tips!

    I’ve been to Oslo a few times, in summer and winter, and i think that is really an expensive city, but if you look well managed decent prices to eat …
    Advise a visit to the North, i was in Geilo and Voss … the landscapes are just as we see in the postals cards … breathless …

      It’s certainly not a cheap city, but then again nowhere in Norway is! Still worth visiting though, if you ask me!

    I like your posted photos very much. For a while I go back to 1985 & 1990. We were going arroun Oslo.
    Have a nice time

    Very nice blogpost about new home Oslo! Beautiful photographs! 🙂

    love to se people enjoy my fave city! (im norwegian) tho im a country girl at heart i love to go for day trips in to oslo just to look at it all or to go shopping. i lived there for a year, and totally miss it! but oslo is not a super dog friendly town (to live in) so i packed my bags & moved back home so that my furry kids cant play outside more. hoping to get some good oslo time in over the summer tho! paradIS ice cream shop at the far end of akerbrygge is the best! all home made and super yummy!

      It’s a very cool city – I can understand why it’s your favorite! (Though, I’m with you – I love visiting cities, but it’s the smaller towns that almost always win my heart.)

    I have extensively traveled through Sweden in my life, and briefly through Denmark and Finland. I have always sort of avoided Norway just because, as you mentioned, the high prices of everything. However, you have sold me! I guess I just needed someone to tell me that it can be affordable. I’m a big mountain fan, and their mountains I’ve heard are the stuff of dreams. Not to mention, my town in small town Iowa is in fact, Norwegian, so it would give me big points with the locals 😉 Thanks for the great post/inspiration!

      Norway is absolutely worth it! I loved it (even in the rain!).

      I think one of the hottest tips for the cheapest possible Norway holiday (outside Oslo), would be to travel with a tent/backpack.

      During the summer, this will be a very nice way to travel, because, as long as you are not tenting in someone’s back-yard, you can put your tent up anywhere you like.
      – I suppose this fit the outdoor-people more than your average traveler though =)

      We see a lot of German and other European tourists, crisscrossing the country in the summer with caravans and mobile-home cars(?).

      They live and prepare food in their vans/caravans and rest at assigned camping-areas (with toilet/shower/washing facilities).

      Some even bring their own food, although, the absolute cheapest food you can get, is in the regular grocery stores (Rimi, Rema, Ica, Kiwi etc).

      There are cheaper hostel types of places one can stay. If you are a gang, there are various opportunities to rent a lodge for several days. Then you split the fee and cook your own food.

      Cool to see someone doing a write-up on Oslo.
      Tip: If you are bored (and the weather is good), take the subway to Sognsvann, when you walk off the platform, you have basically miles upon miles of forest to the north (the further you go, the fewer people you will see). ^^

      Or when you are out at the Viking-ship museum, and if the weather is nice (IF!), take the bus 2-3 stops further, to the end-stop and try and have a dip in the ocean at “Huk” beach. 🙂
      – No sharks here! =D

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