Surrounded by mountains and water, Oslo offers a wonderful combination of urban attractions and green spaces on a vacation to Norway … voted one of the happiest countries in the world.
Oslo has been considered the “Cinderella” of Scandinavian capitals, with its big sisters being Copenhagen and Stockholm. Not that the latter two are bad as in the fairytale, but if you are considering a Norway vacation, which might be to the Norwegian Fjords and/or the city of Bergen, don’t miss out on Oslo. And here’s why.
Oslo is considered one of the world’s most overwhelmingly green cities. In fact, it has been named European Green Capital for 2019. What gave Oslo this honour? It has one of the lowest carbon footprints in the world, an excellent public transit system, is very considerate of pedestrians, and has a commitment to providing green spaces in the way of parks and nearby woodland and forest. Oslo is fortunate to be located on a fjord, namely the Oslofjord. Within Oslo’s city limits are 40 islands, 343 lakes, and an entire forest.
One item of interest is that Oslo is the venue for the Nobel Peace Prize awards ceremonies each year. Another is that the United Nations recognizes Oslo and by extension, Norway, as the best place to live in the world.
So now that you have reasons to consider a visit to Oslo on your vacation to Norway, let’s look at some of the major attractions in the city.
Oslo is home to Norway’s King Harald V and Queen Sonja, who reside at the Royal Palace. Daily guided tours are available in the summer, which last one hour (four times a day). The tour covers the State Rooms, the Cabinet Parlour, Council Chamber, the Bird Room, the Mirror Hall, the Family Dining Room, the Ceremonial Hall, and the Banqueting Hall. If you happen to be around the palace at 1:30pm, you will be able to watch the Changing of the Guard. You can also look around the Royal Palace Park, with its well-kept lawns and attractive ponds.
Oslo City Hall
The Oslo City Hall is the city’s administrative body and the seat of the City Council. The building, which is considered one of Oslo’s architectural gems, has been decorated with outstanding Norwegian art from 1900 to 1950, with motifs from Norwegian history, culture, and working life. Various events and ceremonies take place here including the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony every December, when the annual winners give their lecture while being awarded a medal and a diploma. The Norwegian Royal Family and Prime Minister usually attend the ceremony. It is possible to enter free of charge or take a pre-arranged conducted tour of the Oslo City Hall. The building’s main hall has a series of wall paintings depicting Norway and Oslo between the wars and also during the occupation. Additionally, there are concerts on the first Wednesday of every month at 1pm.
Oslo (Domkirke) Cathedral
Oslo Cathedral was first consecrated in 1697, and in 1950, it was restored back to its original Baroque interior. It is used for weddings and funerals by the Norwegian Royal Family and the Norwegian government. The pulpit, altarpiece and organ front are all originals. Highlights of Oslo Cathedral are the elaborate stained-glass windows and the painted ceiling completed between 1936 and 1950.
Oslo Opera House
This is the centrepiece of Oslo’s rapidly developing waterfront. The magnificent Oslo Opera House is considered one of the most iconic modern buildings in Scandinavia and is a must-see on a vacation to Norway. It was opened in 2008 and resembles a glacier floating in the waters of the Oslo Fjord. It is the home of The Norwegian National Opera and Ballet as well as the National Opera Theatre of Norway. The roof of the building slopes down to ground level, creating a large plaza for pedestrians to enjoy panoramic views of the city. The main auditorium is in a horseshoe shape and is illuminated by an oval chandelier containing 5,800 handmade crystals.
Starting at the sea, the Oslofjord leads north to Oslo. It is 120 kilometres/75 miles long and full of attractive archipelagos and beaches. The inner part of the fjord has steep, forest-covered hills which slope down to the water. There are many islands situated in the fjord and each one has its own characteristics. There are islands which have extensive hiking trails and also sites of cultural significance, such as the monastery ruins on the island of Hovedoya, which date back to the Middle Ages. The fjord also offers kayaking, canoeing, diving, fishing, and sailing activities on a trip to Norway. Most islands can be reached by boat from Oslo’s downtown. There are scheduled boats to the islands as well as fjord sightseeing trips.
Holmenkollen is a hill you can’t miss while on a vacation to Norway. It is located on the north western side of Oslo. It is about a 20-minute ride outside of the city. So why is it worth visiting? Holmenkollen is a famous ski jump as well as a landmark. The area is a gateway to Nordmarka, one of the most popular recreational areas in the city and a great starting point for hikes both in summer and winter. The surrounding scenery is beautiful. The top attraction though is the Holmenkollen Ski Museum and Ski Jump. The museum presents more than 4000 years of skiing history, Norwegian polar exploration artifacts, and an exhibition on snowboarding and modern skiing. There is also a spectacular collection of unique rock carvings depicting skiers and skiing implements from the Viking age, plus a detailed exhibit covering the polar explorations of Fridtjof Nansen and Roald Amundsen. The observation deck on top of the jump tower provides amazing panoramic views of Oslo.
Akershus Castle or Fortress is a medieval castle that was built to protect and provide a royal residence for Oslo, and has been used as a military base, a prison, and government offices. It has great strategic and symbolic value for Oslo. It is a very old castle, first built in 1299, and has withstood a number of sieges throughout time. Although still in a military area, the castle is open to the public, as are the Norwegian Armed Forces Museum and Norway’s Resistance Museum here. Norwegian royalty is buried in the Royal Mausoleum in the castle. Guided tours of the fortress are available to visitors in the summer. The fortress is also a popular venue for major events including concerts, public holiday celebrations, and ceremonies.
Museums and Art Galleries Galore in Oslo
The number of excellent museums and art galleries in Oslo will keep a culture bug happy for days. Here is a selection of the better-known ones.
Vigeland Museum and Park
Vigeland Park is the world’s largest sculpture park involving one artist and is one of the most popular visitor attractions on a vacation to Norway. Back in 1919, sculptor Gustav Vigeland offered to donate to the city his works, which consisted not only of sculptures but also woodcuts, drawings, sketches, and photographs as well as letters, other writings, and a personal library. This came to fruition in 1923 and Vigeland Park became a reality. Today, there are over 200 sculptures made of bronze and granite, all full-size. The park is extensive and is divided into 5 parts, the Main Gate, the Bridge with a children’s playground, the Fountain, the Monolith Plateau, and the Wheel of life. Some of the fascinating sculptures are Man Attacked by Babies and the Monolith, a 14 metre/45 feet high sculpture with 121 human figures intricately intertwined, the Wheel of Life, a symbolic work that is a sundial with 4 human figures surrounding a baby, and The Angry Boy, complete with a fountain carried by 6 giants. The museum’s collection consists of Vigeland’s over 1,600 sculptures, 12,000 drawings, and 420 woodcuts along with thousands of letters, an extensive collection of photographs, plaster models of his sculpture, and a large collection of the artist’s notebooks. The building housing the museum is a notable attraction in its own right having been designed in the Neo-Classical style and considered one of the best examples of Neo-Classical architecture in Norway.
Viking Ship Museum
The Viking Ship Museum is part of the Museum of Cultural History of the University of Oslo and houses archaeological finds. The most famous one is the completely whole Oseberg ship which was excavated from the largest known ship burial in the world. Other main attractions are the Gokstad ship, noteworthy for being the best preserved Viking ship in the world, built around the year 850AD and the Tune ship. Additionally, the Viking Age display includes sledges, a horse cart, and wood carvings. The adventure film, The Vikings Alive, is screened throughout the day on the ceilings and wall inside the museum. Visitors to the museum, on their vacation to Norway, get an excellent view of the exhibits from a high viewing balcony. From here, you obtain a wonderful overhead view of the three restored Viking ships that were traditionally used for sea burials.
The Fram Museum is dedicated to Norwegian polar exploration. It was built in 1936 in honour of three famous Norwegian polar explorers, Fridtjof Nansen, Roald Amundsen and Otto Sverdrup. One of the highlights of the museum is the Fram, which is the actual vessel used in the earliest explorations of the polar region. On the ship are a number of interesting exhibits such as scientific instruments used in an expedition to the South Pole.
The Kon-Tiki Museum
The Kon-Tiki Museum was built in commemoration of Thor Heyerdahl’s epic expedition across the Pacific Ocean in 1947. It is named after the raft he used on his journey. The museum features a number of interesting items from Heyerdahl’s expedition, the most important being the original Kon-Tiki raft. Also on display are other boats that he used for other expeditions. Another attraction at the museum is a cave tour that takes visitors through a fascinating journey through an actual 30 metre/98 foot cave. There is also a stunning underwater exhibition that includes a 10 metre/32 foot long life-size model of a whale shark. Every day at noon, the museum screens the Oscar-award-winning documentary entitled Kon-Tiki, which was filmed by Heyerdahl himself.
The National Gallery
The National Gallery houses Norway’s largest collection of traditional and modern art including many of Edvard Munch’s best-known works, including his most famous painting, The Scream. There is also an impressive collection of European art with paintings by Gauguin, Picasso, El Greco, Manet, Degas, Renoir, Matisse, Cezanne, and Monet. It also contains the single largest collection of Norwegian art from the Romantic Era.
The Norwegian Folk Museum (Norwegian Museum of Cultural History)
The Norwegian Folk Museum is the largest cultural/historical centre in Norway. It houses the country’s largest open-air museum, with 160 buildings dating from the 16th century to the present. What is remarkable is the vast number of buildings it contains. In the Countryside section, there are farms and rural buildings from all over Norway. The Old Town section is a place to learn about buildings, not only from Oslo but also from other regions. The museum also gives the opportunity to learn about the indigenous Sami culture through folk dresses and folk art. Of particular interest are the exhibitions covering knitting, yes knitting, from the 17th century to the present, as well as a collection of church art, with pieces dating from 1537 up to 1800.
The Ibsen Museum
The Ibsen Museum is dedicated to renowned Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen. It is located in the last home of Ibsen where he was thought to have lived with his wife from 1895 to 1906. The house has since been restored to more accurately reflect the period when Ibsen lived. There are rooms where he wrote his later works. The house features a totally renovated dining room and library with extensive improvements done to the parlours and Ibsen’s own study.
Aker Brygge is a neighbourhood popular with both locals and visitors on a vacation to Norway, due to its shopping, dining, and entertainment facilities and is located in a former shipyard. It is also an upscale residential neighbourhood. A wide range of shops sells different items from fashion to souvenirs. There are plenty of restaurants, bars, and cafes to while away your time. Here you can have a great view of the rest of Oslo.
Grunerlokka was a traditional working-class district, but from the late 20th century, a gentrification process took place and it was taken over by artists, musicians, and designers. It is home to a large number of vintage shops, trendy cafes, restaurants, and a Sunday flea market.