If you’re considering a trip to Norway, chances are it involves a night or two in the capital city, so you will want to know the best things to do in Oslo. This laid-back city has a lot to offer, including fascinating history, innovative architecture, fjord scenery and buzzy nightlife.
I was sick for a couple of days while I was in Oslo, so I didn’t get to explore as much as I had planned. For that reason, I asked some travel blogger friends to collaborate with me on this article. So this list of the best things to do in Oslo is not just my subjective take – it is the combined view of 11 seasoned travellers. Read on for our take on the chilled-out capital of Norway.
Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links. These are links to products or experiences I recommend and if you were to buy something after clicking on them, I might earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. Any earnings go towards the upkeep of this blog, which I appreciate.
Table of Contents
Why Visit Oslo?
I was drawn to Norway for its natural beauty and in particular its majestic fjords. Before I went, I hadn’t heard too much about Oslo and even when I did some research, I didn’t pick up on a huge amount of excitement about the capital city.
So I was pleasantly surprised when I discovered Oslo is handsome and attractive, with some impressive architecture and lovely green spaces. It also has a long, dramatic history involving Vikings and besieged fortresses. And of course, it’s a water city, located on the shore of the beautiful Oslofjord; so it comes with a sense of opportunity and a fresh breeze like so many waterside cities do.
This list of the best things to do in Oslo reflects all of those elements.
15 Best Things To Do In Oslo
1. Watch The Sunset From Oslo Opera House
Arguably Oslo’s most famous building, I think it might actually be illegal to visit the Norwegian capital without walking all over the Opera House.
Yes, literally walking over it. The roof of this innovative building is formed of sloping marble and granite walkways, so you can wander onto the ground-level terrace and then up the sides and onto several viewing platforms. From here you can look out over the harbour and the city. It’s such a cool thing to do in Oslo – especially when the sun goes down.
The Opera House was designed by the Norwegian architectural firm Snøhetta and opened in 2008. It won architectural awards including the culture award at the World Architecture Festival in 2008 and the European Union Prize for Contemporary Architecture in 2009.
Olso Opera House is home to the Norwegian National Opera and Ballet, and the national opera theatre in Norway. However, you don’t need a ticket to enjoy the roof – it’s open to the public and free.
2. Visit The Royal Palace
Norway is one of those countries with a Monarchy, so when you’re in Oslo, check out the Royal Palace. It sits at the western end of Karl Johans gate (which is a lovely street to stroll down, by the way, and a feature in my self-guided walking tour of Oslo) and looks very grand up on a slightly raised elevation.
It was built in the 19th century as the Norwegian residence of King Charles III John, who reigned as king of Norway and Sweden. Today, the palace is the official residence of the current Norwegian monarch, King Harald V of Norway.
There are a couple of things to do at the Royal Palace, including a tour of some parts of the interior, watching the changing of the guard, or simply enjoying the gardens that surround the palace. It’s a nice spot for a picnic on summer’s day.
3. Explore The Medieval Akershus Fortress
If you’re a history lover, one of the best things to do in Oslo is to explore the Akershus Fortress (or Akershus Festning). This is a medieval castle that was built in the 13th century to protect the city and provide a royal residence. The castle has also been used as a military base, a prison and the office of the Prime Minister of Norway.
The fortress has never successfully been besieged by a foreign enemy, despite many attacks by Sweden over the centuries. However, it surrendered to Nazi Germany in 1940 when the Norwegian government evacuated the capital in the face of the German assault on Denmark and Norway.
Akershus Fortress is a complex of buildings on a raised promontory next to the harbour and the views from the walls are great. It’s free to explore the grounds and I found that the cobbled streets and old archways were lovely to wander around.
4. Wander Aker Brygge Quayside
Oslo is a very chilled-out city, but it comes to life on Aker Brygge, the quayside area of the harbour.
The harbour itself is a busy one with all kinds of boats from sailing ships to massive cruise liners coming and going.
And on Aker Brygge the quayside promenade is lined with a number of restaurants and bars, many with outdoor terrace seating. There are also some pontoons converted into floating bars. It can be a busy spot, with lots of people taking a walk along the harbour or dining out. In summer there’ll be huge queues at the ice cream stalls! It is also where the National Museum has been relocated after its refurbishment.
If you wander a bit further south of the restaurants on Aker Brygge, you’ll find some grassy areas. These can be a lovely spot to sit and watch the boats bobbing on the water. There’s a small sculpture park called Tjuvholmen Sculpture Park and also the Astrup Fearnley Museum of Modern Art, housed in an impressive angular building.
Right at the end, you’ll find Tjuvholmen Bystrand and Tjuvholmen Badeplass, a small beach and bathing area. These will be packed with people sunbathing and dipping in the fjord on a warm summer’s day!
5. Take A Boat Trip On Oslo’s Fjord
Contributed by James Ian from Travel Collecting
A trip to Oslo wouldn’t be complete without a cruise on Oslofjord. Of course, you can see it from the harbour, but there is much more to the fjord than you see from the city. There are several cruises available.
A fun option is a three-hour dinner cruise on a sailing boat with an all-you-can-eat shrimp buffet. The cruise leaves at 6:00 pm in summer. Tables are set up around the deck, so you can sit comfortably, grab a beer or a glass of wine, and enjoy the views. You soon leave the city behind and start to cruise past sailing boats, tiny islands dotted with picturesque holiday homes, and small isle nature preserves covered in woods. It’s incredible that this is all so close to the city centre, and yet a world away. Keep an eye out for lighthouses in the fjord along the way, too.
Soon after setting sail, the shrimp buffet opens on the lower deck. There are mounds of super fresh shrimp, accompanied by white bread and butter. Eating as much shrimp as you like while enjoying the views and the fresh sea air is a great way to spend a few hours on your Oslo vacation.
There are other cruise options available. Daily 2- or 3-hour cruises also venture into the fjord, on large sailing boats, regular motorized boats, and even ultra-modern catamarans. Themed cruises, including a jazz cruise, a brunch cruise, and one with an option to take a dip in the fjord, are also offered.
6. Discover Viking Ships At The Viking Museum
Contributed by Rachel from Bucket List Places
If you want to imagine what it might have been like on Oslo’s fjords a thousand years ago, go to the Viking Museum.
It was built way back in 1926 and quickly became a historical and cultural hub. In fact, it’s more than just a museum preserving ancient Viking artefacts– they also take pride in researching the history and culture of the Viking Age.
The museum houses the world’s three best-preserved Viking ships and lets you walk around and experience the size and craftsmanship of each. The Oseberg is an oak ship dated to 850 BC and features impressive hand-carved animal ornaments fit for the aristocracy the boat carried.
Meanwhile, the Gokstad was designed to be fast and nimble as it sailed (and rowed) across the seas. While the final ship, the Tune, isn’t as well-preserved as the others, it provides a look into the inside of this style of craft and some of the engineering that kept the vessels afloat. There are also over 8,000 artefacts and objects to peruse, from intricately carved swords to delicate glass bead jewellery, golden spurs, and more.
To get there, you can take the public bus to the stop called Vikingskipene. There’s also parking available if you plan on driving. The museum is currently undergoing renovations until 2024, but if you want to learn more about the Vikings, you can head from Oslo to Copenhagen for another Viking ship museum– and even take a ride on a replica boat!
7. Relive The Past At The Norwegian Museum of Cultural History
Contributed by Nicholas from The World Overload
Located a short distance outside of the city, the Norwegian Museum of Cultural History (Norsk Folkemuseum) shows how the Norwegian people lived from the 15th century to the present.
What makes it worth seeing is the number of buildings that have been brought from all over the country to fill the collection. This will give you a great opportunity to see and learn about other regions of the country and how each one is uniquely different. If you’re on a tight travel schedule and can’t explore all of Norway, you can get a quick tutorial here on what other parts of the country were like.
The highlight of the collection is the Stave Church, built in 1200, located at the top of a small hill overlooking the whole museum
The entirety of this open-air museum is outdoors. So, you’ll be able to have a nice walk while making your way to all the different areas. You may also find re-enactors in period clothing scattered throughout the family homes and communal areas. It will kind of give you an idea of how it was back in time. There are live animals as well you will find on any farm. This place will only take 2-3 hours and is a great thing to do in Oslo if you want to learn more about this great country.
8. Take A Walk In Frogner Park & Vigeland Sculpture Park
Contributed by Melissa from Parenthood and Passports
Frogner Park is the largest public green space in Oslo. The urban park has a swimming pool, cafe, and the biggest playground in all of Norway, making it one of the best things to do in Oslo with kids.
But the largest draw to the park in Oslo’s city centre is an area known as Vigeland Sculpture Park. The free sculpture park boasts more than 200 statues all created by Norwegian artist Gustav Vigeland. It is the largest sculpture park in the world created by a single artist.
The sculpture park was created in the 1940s as a celebration of the different stages of life and their unique challenges and complexities. The statues all represent a phase in the cycle of life, from birth to death. At the centre of Vigeland Park, The Monolith column marks the highest point in Frogner Park. The large column is intricately carved, depicting 121 people intertwined together.
Another popular sculpture in the park, Angry Boy, is a favourite among tourists. This statue of a toddler boy in the middle of a tantrum can be found along the path leading to The Monolith. So many people have touched the statue’s tiny hand, that it has had to be reinforced over the years and is now much shinier than the rest of the sculpture, which has dulled over the years.
9. Behold The Scream At Munch Museum
Contributed by Clare from Where’s Clare
Edvard Munch was one of Norway’s most famous artists. His most notable work, a painting called The Scream, features a blood-red sunset. The spot from which Munch once stood and witnessed this sunset is now the site of the Munch Museum. There are four copies of The Scream; two on rotation in the Munch museum and one in Oslo’s National Museum.
The Munch is far more than an art gallery. Each floor uses the space completely differently. There is an immersive fusion between art and the music of Satyricon, a Norwegian metal band. In contrast, another floor features an interactive child-friendly display which encourages visitors to draw on the walls. Throughout the exhibition on Munch’s home, eagle-eyed visitors may be able to spot tiny scenes of mice living within the furniture. The top floor features a bar and roof terrace with stunning views over the city.
The Munch Museum is situated on the waterfront behind Oslo’s iconic Opera House. It is open from 10:00-18:00 on Monday and Tuesday and 10:00-21:00 Wednesday to Sunday. Entry costs for 160 NOK for adults and 100 NOK for under 25s. The Munch museum is included on the Oslo Pass which provides entry to many attractions across Oslo as well as free public transport.
10. Explore Grunerløkka
Contributed by Hege from The World By Hege.
Grunerløkka is a vibrant city district in Oslo that used to be a rough east-end scruffy neighbourhood, but slowly has transformed into something of a chic hipster quasi-west-end area.
Situated between East and West along the Akerselva river, just a ten-minute walk from Oslo Central Station (or tram ride), there is a myriad of cafes and bars in Grunerløkka. You also find charming parks with Sunday markets, and small speciality shops with vintage design treasures, art, concert venues like Blå (Blue), and finer foods.
Enjoy the outdoor seating in Olaf Ryes Plass or Birkelunden Parks (in the summer), or go barbequing in Sofienbergparken Park with some of your friends!
These charming streets are perfect to explore on foot, where the pace is slower than in the city centre. If you are into a bit of history, there are lots to find here. From traces of dramatic incidents during the second world war, the industrial era, or in design and architecture.
There are also amazing hiking trails along the Akerselva river, where you find waterholes and cafes. A stone’s throw away is the Mathallen food court with a myriad of tastes and gourmet gems just by the waterfall!
11. Sample The Food At Mathallen
Contributed by Angela at Where Angie Wanders
Mathallen Oslo is a fabulous indoor food venue featuring thirty various stalls selling a delicious range of dishes from around the world. A stop for lunch or dinner in Mathallen followed by a wander around the surrounding area is one of the best things to do in Oslo if you’re a foodie.
Fans of Asian food will love the noodles and bao buns served at Hongs Bao Bao, while those looking for Norwegian delicacies will love the local cheeses and accompaniments at Out and Sant.
For those with a sweet tooth the freshly baked doughnuts and artisan pastries at the Cupcake and Pie Company are beautiful to look at and of course, to taste; delicious mouth-watering fillings include pistachio and salted caramel. And for drinks, both health orientated and alcoholic, head to REFRESH for freshly made smoothies or Smelteverket, a 50-metre bar and restaurant in the basement.
The individual eateries in Mathallen have small bar-stool style seating around their counters with the main seating area being right in the middle of the hall allowing visitors to buy food from different stalls and eat it in one central dining space.
Mathallen Food Hall is located outside of Oslo central in the up-and-coming district of Vulcan close to the neighbourhood of Grunerlokka, known for its street art, park and river. It is an enjoyable 20-minute walk from the city centre taking in the various neighbourhoods on the way. Alternatively, you could catch the number 12 or 13 tram to Schous plass in Grunerlokka.
12. Enjoy The View At Holmenkollen Ski Museum
Contributed by Megan Starr from Megan & Aram
A can’t-miss place in Oslo is Holmenkollen. The famous ski jump and museum is actually a neighbourhood in Norway’s capital city (and a mountain!) but it is truly famous for its skiing history and place in competitions today.
Holmenkollen has been around since the end of the 1800s and while many immediately think of the ski jump when they hear the name, the actual name of the jump is Holmenkollbakken. The ski jump gained international status in 1952 when the Olympics took place there and today you can stop at the Holmenkollen Ski Museum which sits adjacent to the jump.
The Holmenkollen Ski Museum is the oldest ski museum in the world and was founded in 1923. You will get to learn about the history of skiing (the word ‘ski’ is actually Norwegian) and how the sport dates back over 4000 years as rock carvings from the Stone Age indicate. You can also learn more about ski history from the Viking Age inside.
To reach Holmenkollen, you are looking at a short journey from Oslo city centre on the t-bane (Oslo Metro) where you will need to get off at either Holmenkollen or Besserud station. It is a short walk to the ski jump, museum, and other sites (such as a restaurant and old church).
If you get your hands on an Oslo Pass city card, you can access the museum for free. The public transportation up to it is also covered with your Oslo Pass.
An alternative could be to take a panoramic sightseeing tour of Oslo, which includes Holmenkollen.
13. Feel Adventurous At The Kon Tiki Museum
Contributed by Bex from Begin To Adventure
Oslo is a city full of exhibitions and museums celebrating Norway’s intrinsic sense of adventure. Nothing sums up this national spirit more than the Kon Tiki Museum. A story so insane you would think it the stuff of fiction. In 1947, Adventurer Thor Heyerdahl and his trusty crew set sail across the ocean, from Peru to the Pacific Islands. A feat only made more impressive by the fact they sailed on a handbuilt raft made from balsa wood.
After 101 days at sea, and against all odds, the men were successful. The Kon Tiki Museum now stands as a monument to this great adventure and Heyerdahl’s other heroic feats. The museum’s centrepiece is the life-size replica of the original raft, allowing you to envision the difficulty of the voyage first-hand.
Make sure you stroll through the 30-metre-long replica of a cave on Easter Island to feel like you too have touched down in the pacific.
The Kon Tiki museum sits on Oslo’s Bygdøy peninsula, next to the Fram Museum and the Norwegian Maritime Museum. There is a regular bus service from the city centre to the peninsular. Just take bus 30 to Bygdøynes.
14. Eat Traditional Food At Oldest Restaurant In Olso
Oslo has a varied food scene with plenty of international options, but you might want to take the opportunity to try some traditional Norwegian Food. And where better to do that than the oldest restaurant in Oslo: Engebret Café.
Named after its founder Engebret Christoffersen, Engebret Café is the oldest restaurant in continuous operation in Oslo. It opened in 1857.
The restaurant has a very traditional ambience and retains much of its original appearance, despite a fire in 1921. It is known for the famous artists who have frequented the restaurant, including Henrik Ibsen and Edvard Munch. In the 1990s, Crown Princess Mette-Marit, wife of the heir to the Norwegian throne, worked there as a waitress.
Norwegian cuisine often features fresh fish, and I heard the salmon is great at Engebre. However, when I visited, I was tempted by a roast reindeer served with roast root vegetables – and it was truly delicious!
15. Take A Day Trip From Oslo
Contributed by Bradley from Dream Big Travel Far
Oslo is a fantastic city to base yourself in and there are many day trips where you can explore other parts of the country, including some of Norway’s best places. One easy example is Fredrikstad, a quaint and historic city that is only over an hour’s drive or bus ride away from Oslo.
Founded back in 1567, it’s actually the oldest city in Norway! Simply strolling around the old town can take you back in time with its cobblestone streets, fortress towns, old fortifications, wooden and timber houses, and Baroque architecture. You can even see prisons and old storehouses from the 1600s that still stand today.
Visit the maritime museum on Isegran, marvel at the centuries-old Kongsten Fort, watch the magical sunset from the Hvaler archipelago, or even watch the local Fredrikstad FK in action in a football match! And across the water, the city’s more modern area has a truly stunning waterfront view.
Alternatively, you can do a day trip to Lillehammer, a ski resort town home to the Norwegian Olympic Museum and world-class winter sports facilities. There is also the more underrated Tonsberg, which was founded by the Vikings and hosts the famous Tonsberg Medieval Festival every year in May and June.
Map: Best Things To Do In Oslo
Here’s a map of the 15 best things to do in Oslo.
How To Use This Map: Click the tab in the top left-hand corner of the map to view the layers. If you click the icons on the map, you can get more information about each one. If you click the star next to the map’s title, it will be added to your Google Maps account. To view it on your phone or computer, open Google Maps, click the menu, go to ‘Your Places’ or ‘Saved’, then click Maps and you will see this map in your list.
Practical Questions About Oslo
When To Visit Olso
Being in Scandinavia, Oslo can get some pretty cold weather, so the peak season runs from June to August. I went in early June, and the city really looked glorious in the sunshine. The grassy areas were a vibrant green and the flowers along Karl Johans gate were blooming. I arrived on a sunny Sunday and I was amazed by how many people were sunbathing and or dipping in the water around Aker Brygge.
How To Get To Olso
Oslo’s airport is Gardermoen Airport, approx 35km northeast of the city, and connected by a pretty fast train. I used Skyscanner to find flight deals for Oslo. I also found the Citymapper app a useful tool in helping me get from the airport to Oslo.
Where To Stay In Olso
I stayed in two hotels in Oslo – one at the start and the other at the end of my 7 days in Norway.
The first was a smart 4-star hotel called the Hotel Bristol. It is located in the centre of Oslo, making it easy to get to the main attractions in the city. It also has very nice rooms and a good breakfast buffet. The style is a little old-fashioned, but the facilities were high spec and modern. There was free water in the room, which was a nice touch that I appreciated.
The second hotel I stayed in was 3-star and therefore more affordable. The Thon Astoria was also very centrally located, not far from Oslo S train station, which is useful if you’re heading to Bergen or Flam. I had a single room which was compact but had everything I needed. The breakfast buffet was also very good.
Oslo is a handsome capital with a chilled-out vibe. The best things to do in Oslo involve a millennium of history, some world-class museums and a vibrant waterfront location.
If you need more Norwegian inspiration, check out my itinerary for a week in Norway. I’ve also written about things to do in Bergen, Norway’s second city and a guide to Flam, a beautiful town on a stunning fjord.