I never used to be a big fan of Oslo, mostly because by Norwegian standards, it’s kind of ugly. And to me Norway is all about beautiful views.
While Oslo was established in 1048, it was only Norway’s capital briefly in the 1300s and then not again until 1814. Plus after a fire devastated Oslo in 1624, the city was actually moved slightly west, so today you won’t find the same rich history here as you do in Bergen or Trondheim.
And so whenever people asked me where to go in Norway, I would say that you can’t go wrong anywhere in Norway, but maybe avoid Oslo. It’s a wonderful city for locals, but most foreign tourists come to Norway for the incredible views, which isn’t really Oslo’s strong suit.
I mean yes, Oslo is surrounded by beautiful nature and there are so many parks and green areas right by the city, but the landscape is nowhere near as impressive as that surrounding Bergen, Tromsø, Ålesund, or oh my goodness Bodø.
But my heart has finally warmed to Oslo.
When I lived in Telemark I would usually visit Oslo at least a couple of times a month, but after moving up north five months ago I didn’t visit Oslo once – until this past weekend! And wow was it nice to be back.
While I still probably wouldn’t consider Oslo a must-visit on any Norway trip, if you are planning some time in the city don’t worry, you won’t be at a loss for what to do in Oslo. At least if you read this! I thought I’d share some of my top tips for things to do in Oslo, and I’ve been surprised by how long the list has become.
I started taking notes on my phone while wandering the city over the weekend and it seemed like every five minutes I was pulling out my phone to add something else, which must be a good sign!
Table of Contents
Walk up the roof of the Oslo Opera House
Whether you’re arriving by train, or bus, you will almost definitely start your Oslo trip at Oslo Central Station. And right next to the station happens to be one of the most famous sites in Oslo: the Oslo Opera House.
I remember when it first opened in 2008 and it felt like a milestone for the city. Oslo was finally becoming cool. And actually it’s crazy to think how much Oslo has changed in the decade since then. Mostly in good ways!
The Opera House is a popular summer hangout, with people sunbathing here on sunny days, but I personally think it’s also magical in the winter. So if you’re looking for things to do in Oslo in winter I’d still recommend this.
Go for a cook and dip at KOK
KOK is a new floating sauna established in 2017, now with two sauna boats. You can relax in the sauna docked across from the Opera House, and then if you’re brave (and you should be) you can take an icy dip in the fjord!
Another new place in Oslo featuring all capital letters, SALT is a nomadic restaurant/art/sauna project that has already been in Nordland and Bergen, and now it is in Oslo until 2020. It features three saunas, art exhibitions, a café, concerts, a market, and other events. It’s all very hip and exciting.
Take a boat trip down Oslofjord
I love experiencing Norway from the water, and while Oslofjord isn’t the sort of dramatic mountainous fjord that Norway is famous for, it’s always nice to get out on the water! There are a bunch of tour boats that leave from near Oslo Station, like this 2-hour sightseeing cruise.
Kayak down Oslofjord
Another fun way to get out on the water in Oslo is to go kayaking. Again there are a few tour options, like this 3-hour kayaking trip.
Eat dinner on a boat down Oslofjord
There are a few tour options here where you can even have dinner on a boat, like this 3-hour buffet on wooden boat sailing through the fjord in Oslo.
Visit Akershus Fortress
Right by the harbor you’ll find Akershus Fortress, a medieval castle that now serves as a museum. It has nice views of both the city and waterfront and I always see lots of families here on sunny days.
Have a drink and bite at Vippa
About a year ago I was telling a woman in Sweden how much I prefer Gothenburg to Oslo, and she was just like, but Gothenburg doesn’t have Vippa!
Vippa is a trendy food hall right on the water across from Akershus Fortress, and it really is the nicest place to eat or have a drink on a sunny day. It’s also still a little bit off the beaten path – or at least I’ve only heard Norwegian being spoken there.
If you keep walking around the harbor past Vippa you’ll eventually get to Aker Brygge, with lots of shops and restaurants right on the water.
This is an especially popular spot in the summertime, as you can eat fresh seafood outside right by the water.
Island hop around Oslofjord
From Aker brygge you can take a ferry to the different islands around Oslofjord with a regular public transport ticket or an Oslo Pass. You can visit Hovedøya, Lindøya, Nakholmen, Bleikøya, Gressholmen and Langøyene, and if you’re visiting on a nice summer’s day you should definitely bring your swimsuit for a dip in the fjord!
Walk down Karl Johan
If someone only has a few hours in Oslo, say before getting a train to Bergen, I always at least recommend that they walk down Karl Johan, Oslo’s main shopping street, which ends with the Royal Palace. You can store your luggage in luggage lockers at both the bus terminal and central train station, and then Karl Johan starts from right outside the train station.
I particularly love Karl Johan around Christmas with all the decorations so again, it’s a great thing to do in Oslo in winter.
Stock up at the Freia Store
You’ll probably notice the huge Freia sign on Karl Johan, and if you don’t know what it means, oh my goodness you are in for a treat, literally. Freia is a Norwegian chocolate company, most famous for the Freia milk chocolate bar and Kvikk Lunsj (like a Kit Kat, but don’t ever say that to a Norwegian).
The factory is actually in Grünerløkka, but there’s a shop on Karl Johan where you can buy the chocolate bars for slightly cheaper than in most super markets.
Most people who have visited me in Norway chose to buy Freia milk chocolate as gifts for people back home, so if you want to do the same this is a great place to do it! Or you can be like me and wait to buy it at Duty Free at the airport and then eat half of them on your flight. Wish that weren’t a true story, haha.
The Royal Palace
And then at the end of Karl Johan you’ll see the Royal Palace, which is the residence of the king of Norway. People are always surprised by how close you can get to the palace. I mean basically it seems like you could walk up and knock on the door to see if the king is home.
In fact I’d say the Royal Palace should really be at the top of any person’s list for what to do in Oslo.
Have a cocktail at HIMKOK
Himkok is Oslo’s “hidden” speakeasy, which is sort of funny because actually it’s probably Norway’s most famous bar and craft distillery.
Frogner Park + Vigeland Sculpture Park
Frogner Park is the biggest park in central Oslo, and you should definitely, definitely come here if you happen to be in Oslo on a beautiful sunny day, especially in the summer.
But even if the weather isn’t great Frogner Park is worth visiting to see the Vigeland Sculpture Park section, which might just be Oslo’s most popular attraction. The park has over 200 of Gustav Vigeland’s sculptures, some of which are truly bizarre.
Viking Ship Museum
If you’re into Vikings (I mean, you should be), then definitely check out the Viking Ship Museum, where you can see preserved Viking ships and other artifacts.
When people are looking for fun things to do in Oslo with kids, I always recommend this museum – I adored coming here as a child!
In 9th grade my English class had to do oral reports on a nonfiction book and I chose Kon-Tiki, and after I gave my report everyone was like, um Silvia, you were supposed to choose a nonfiction book. Because that’s how unbelievable Thor Heyerdahl’s epic raft journey across the Pacific Ocean in 1947 was.
And at the Kon-Tiki museum in Oslo you can learn all about Heyerdahl’s adventures.
Norwegian National Gallery/Museum
Most people visit the National Gallery to see Edvard Munch’s The Scream, which is now moving to the new National Museum to be opened in 2020.
Speaking of new museums, the Munch Museum recently opened in Oslo and exhibits over half of Munch’s paintings.
A bunch of other museums
To be honest I’m generally not a big museum person, so I haven’t been to many in Oslo (and when I have I’ve probably spent most of my time sulking on a bench somewhere). But if you are into museums you will love Oslo!
Take the tram up out of the city to Nordmarka
One of the great things about Oslo, and every Norwegian city really, is that wherever you are in the city you’re only a short public transport ride away from some beautiful nature.
A nice way to get out of the city is to ride the tram up to Hollmenkollen, which is the start of Nordmarka, Oslo’s main outdoor recreational area. You can start hikes or cross-country skiing from Tryvann and Frognerseteren and you won’t even know you’re in Norway’s biggest city.
My mom used to always do this as a student in Oslo – in the winter she would bring her skis out and pretend she was back in the mountains of Telemark where she grew up.
Holmenkollen Ski Jump
And while you’re up at Hollmenkollen you should check out the ski jump. The Holmenkollen Ski Jump offers one of the best views over Oslo, plus it even has a little ski jumping museum for you to learn more about the sport.
I love seeing ski jumps in real life because it’s so crazy when to think about people actually flying off of them – they’re so high!
Walk along the Akerselva river
If you want to experience a quieter side of Oslo, you could walk along the Akerselva river, which will take you by old industry buildings that now house cafés and galleries, as well as through beautiful pieces of nature right in the city. Most people start from Maridalsvannet Lake, which is 8 kilometers from downtown Oslo. It’s about a two hour walk, but you can break it up by stopping in a café or two on your way.
Take an electric scooter around town
If you’re not into walking I would typically recommend renting a bike, but now the hot new ride in Oslo is the electric scooter! You’ll find these scooters scattered throughout downtown Oslo, and you can rent one for a 10 kroner unlocking fee + 2 per minute. Just download the VOI app and follow the instructions to unlock an available scooter.
Take a walking tour
If you really want to make the most of your time in Oslo, you could take a walking tour. There are so many on offer, like this 2-hour walking tour, this 2.5 hour hipster tour, or even this 7-hour grand tour and fjord cruise.
Grünerløkka is Oslo’s hipster neighborhood, with lots of small independent boutiques, vintage shopping, cafés, restaurants, bars, and music gigs.
Then you can cross the river at stop by Mathallen, Oslo’s food hall with lots of local dishes on offer. It’s a bit touristy, but if you want to sample a few different types of Norwegian dishes this is perfect.
Have a cheap + delicious meal in Grønland
And then after Grünerløkka you can head over to Grønland for some food.
Grønland is one of my favorite areas of Oslo, because of all the amazing food. You’ll find lots of Indian and Middle Eastern restaurants, and the food is surprisingly cheap – for Norway. I keep going back to Punjab Tandori to satisfy my Indian food cravings.
Damstredet and Telthusbakken
My biggest complaint about Oslo is that it doesn’t have the lovely cobblestone alleys and colorful wooden houses of most other Norwegian cities. Except actually it does.
In Damstredet and the nearby Telthusbakken you can see some old 18th century wooden homes. It really doesn’t even feel like being in Oslo, even though it’s still in the city center.
This is also a super popular spot for Instagram photos, in case you’re into stuff like that.
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Visit Ibsen and Munch’s graves at Vår Frelsers
And while you’re at Damstredet you might as well stop by Vår Frelsers where notable Norwegians like Ibsen and Munch are buried.
I’m not a huge fan of museums and tend not to get as excited as I probably should about seeing famous works of art in real life, but oh my goodness do I love seeing where those famous artists have been buried. I hope that’s not morbid. I mean, obviously it is.
And then of course if you’re visiting Oslo around Christmastime you have to check out the Christmas markets! I’ve written more about the Oslo Christmas markets here. Oslo in winter really is so magical.
And if you’re wondering where to stay in Oslo, I’ve also written a huge guide to my favorite Oslo accommodation options.