things to do in oslo
Last Updated: August 12, 2021

Things To Do In Oslo: History, Architecture & Fjords

Visiting Oslo but you’re not sure how to spend your time in the city? You’re definitely in the right place then because this detailed guide covers all the top things to do in Oslo and its surroundings!

From historic city sights to modern art galleries, Oslo is a city that has something to offer to everyone. Whether you’re into luxurious shopping, outdoor exploration, or Scandinavian architecture, you’ll find plenty of fun things to do in Oslo right here! I’ve also included a few optional day-trips, for all of you who would like to explore more of Norway while you’re there.

Read on to see the best things to do in Oslo and its surroundings and create the perfect travel itinerary for you!

Oslo Opera House

Oslo Opera House

The Oslo Opera House is probably the most iconic building in the city. The home of the Norwegian National Opera & Ballet is situated in Oslo Harbor, right at the head of Oslofjord. The modern building is best-known for its flat “iceberg” shape with sharp and angled lines, which make it seem like the building is rising from the water.

Those angles actually go down from the roof all the way to the ground, making it possible for anyone to stand on top of the roof of the building. It’s exciting to climb to the top of the Oslo Opera House, and the views from the roof are phenomenal.

Frogner Park

Oslo Sculpture Park

Frogner Park is Oslo’s largest park and a place that you mustn’t skip while you’re in the city. It’s home to several interesting attractions, including the Vigeland Park – a park within a park, full of Gustav Vigeland’s sculptures. There’s even a museum with the sculptor’s works, as well as the massive, 14-meter monument that he is best known for.

Frogner Park is also home to the Oslo City Museum, which is a great way to get acquainted with the city’s history and culture. You’ll also find many other landmarks and attractions in the area, including sculptures, restaurants, and even a tennis court!

Oslo Cathedral

Oslo Cathedral is the Church of Norway’s main church. It was constructed in the 17th century, and it’s situated in one of the busiest parts of the city. The church was restored and renovated several times after the original construction, and it was even decorated in different styles at certain times.

During the latest restoration in 1950 led by architect Arnstein Arneberg, all the original furnishings were installed in the church again. If you go inside the cathedral you’ll be able to see the stained glass windows, the ornate ceiling, and the fascinating altar.  

Along the church walls, you will find the Oslo Bazaar, which dates back to the mid-19th century. You’ll find lots of cafes, antique shops, and art galleries here, and they’re worth checking out.

The Royal Palace

Oslo Royal Palace

The Royal Palace is one of Oslo’s most popular attractions. It’s open for public tours in the summer, so don’t miss out on the chance to see the interior of the magnificent palace. Oslo’s Royal Palace is entirely surrounded by a vast park, which happens to be one of the largest public parks in the city, covering a total area of 22 hectares.

Another must-see place within the palace grounds is The Queen Sonja Art Stable. Former palace stables were renovated in 2017, and today that building is home to a multipurpose art venue that functions as a museum, art gallery, and concert hall all in one. It’s open to the public, so definitely check it out while you’re exploring the fabulous Palace Park.

Damstredet and Telthusbakken

Damstredet and Telthusbakken are two historic Oslo streets. They’re both very old cobblestone alleys lined with wooden houses, and they’re a huge contrast from the modern Scandinavian architecture that’s usually seen throughout the city.

Most houses are residential, so there’s not much to do here other than walk around, admire the views, and maybe take a few photos.

Viking Ship Museum

Oslo Viking Ship Museum

The Viking Ship Museum is one of the most popular museums in Oslo. Its exhibits include three Viking ships from the 9th century, as well as various artifacts that were recovered from burial chambers. Visitors can also watch videos that tell the story of how the ships were constructed and used by the Vikings.

If you’re interested in Viking history, don’t hesitate to ask questions. The museum staff is happy to tell you everything you want to know and this museum is an excellent opportunity to learn more about Viking culture and history.

Akershus Fortress

Oslo Akershus Fortress

Akershus Fortress is a 13th-century castle situated in Oslo harbor. The medieval castle was originally constructed as a royal residence but has had many different functions throughout the years. Currently, it serves as the (temporary) office of the Prime minister of Norway and it was previously used as a prison and a military base.

The castle is open to the public and you should tour it if you get the chance. You just need to buy tickets and then you can wander the grounds however you like. The views from the top walls are spectacular and reason enough to get the tickets. Also, there are two military museums in the fortress that you can visit if you have enough time.

Old Aker Church

At first glance, Old Aker Church is nothing special – it’s an old church quite far from Oslo city center. It’s not in the best condition and there aren’t any mesmerizing Frescas inside it. So, what’s so special about this run-down stone building?

Old Aker Church is the oldest existing building in Oslo. It was constructed in the early 12th century and it was restored and renovated several times since then. The church was built as a Romanesque-style basilica but it has a Baroque pulpit and furnishings. It is surrounded by Old Aker Cemetery, which happens to be the resting place of many famous Norwegians.

Oslo Botanical Garden

Oslo Botanical Garden

The Oslo Botanical Garden is a vast indoor/outdoor botanical garden. The garden grounds are huge and they’re home to several different museums, including the Natural History Museum. It’s well worth the visit if you want to see some gorgeous flowers and plants that do not belong in Norway.

The garden boasts over 5,500 plants from all over the world and they’re actively used in education and research in the museum. The different plants are arranged into small thematic gardens and there’s even a section with vulnerable Norwegian plants. This is one of Oslo’s most important recreation areas, and it’s certainly worth your time.

The same goes for the Natural History Museum with its many zoology and geology exhibits. Perhaps the most important part of the university museum is the Climate House – an interactive exhibit that aims to educate visitors on climate change. It’s an excellent learning opportunity, especially for the youngest visitors.

Norway Resistance Museum

If you enjoy museums and learning about history, don’t skip the Norway Resistance Museum. It boasts extensive exhibits on the Norwegian resistance to the Nazi forces’ occupation during WWII, and it’s one of the several museums in the Akershus Fortress.

The varied exhibits include everything from miniature replicas of battles to a vast collection of WWII muskets. The museum is highly educational and worth a visit even if you think you know everything about WWII. The tickets are very cheap and most of the exhibits are located underground, so don’t get tricked by the deceptively small lobby.

Tjuvholmen Sculpture Park

Tjuvholmen Beach

The Tjuvholmen Sculpture Park is a unique place in Oslo that everyone should visit if they get the opportunity. It’s an open-air gallery with views of the Oslo harbor, and which features some rather large, contemporary sculptures. Also, there’s a small pebble beach right next to those giant sculptures, and you’re free to go for a quick swim in the ocean if the weather permits!

The Tjuvholmen neighborhood has a rather interesting history. The name translates to thief (tjuv) islet (holmen), referencing the fact that in the 18th century this is where thieves were brought to be executed. Tjuvholmen because a residential neighborhood in the last few decades, and quite a lot of modern Scandinavian buildings can be seen there.  

Oslo City Hall

Oslo City Hall

The Oslo City Hall is one of the city’s most iconic landmarks. The massive brick building is located in the city center and it faces the Oslofjord. It has two towers that are 63 and 66 meters tall and the eastern tower houses the 49 bells that can be heard chiming throughout this area.

The imposing building is unmissable on any proper tour of the city – literally, you cannot miss it because of how big and chunky it is. Tour the inside of the building to see the vast fresco created by Norway’s most famous painters, including Munch, Krohg, and Sørensen. Oslo City Hall is also home to various events, the most notable of which is the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony that is held every December.

The Fram Museum

Oslo Fram Museum

The Fram Museum is easily one of Oslo’s best tourist attractions. The typically Scandinavian building hides an entire polar exploration ship inside, which might just be the best thing you get to see in Oslo.

This museum also boasts other exhibits on polar expeditions, as well as northern lights shows. If you have any interest in expeditions to the North and South Poles, this museum should be at the very top of your list. If that’s not really something that you would want to know more about, at least come check out the ship. Or just the exterior of the museum with the wonderful Oslo views.

Holmenkollen

Oslo Holmenkollen

Holmenkollen is the hill that can be seen from downtown Oslo. It’s a popular skiing area and there are several reasons why you shouldn’t skip this part of Oslo when you’re visiting. For one, the views of downtown Oslo from Holmenkollen are absolutely breathtaking, especially in the evenings.

There’s also the Holmenkollen Ski Museum with high-tech exhibits on the history of the sport and a thrilling ski simulator. The museum is right next to Oslo’s famous futuristic ski jump, which offers some of the best city views you will ever experience.

The Munch Museum

Edward Munch is one of the most famous painters in the world and Oslo is home to the only museum that’s entirely dedicated to him. With more than 28,000 of his works on display, art lovers could easily spend all of their time in Oslo roaming around The Munch Museum.

The museum got moved to a new waterfront building in 2021 and now it boasts an exterior just as unique as the art inside it. It’s close to the Oslo Opera house, and the extravagant building is impossible to miss as it dominates the surrounding area.

Huk

Huk is one of Oslo’s most beautiful public parks. It’s far away from the busy parts of the city in the Bygdøy neighborhood that is pretty much a peninsula. The park boasts two beaches, – a regular beach and a nudist beach – sculptures, and recreation areas. It gets very busy in the summer months, so be prepared for huge crowds in case you visit Huk in the summer.

It gets so popular because it’s a great place for a swim, but that’s not the only reason why you should visit the beautiful public park. The nature here is breathtakingly stunning regardless of the season. Whether you’ve come to see the spring bloom or the piles of snow in the winter, you will not be disappointed with the Huk landscape.  

Aker Brygge

Oslo Aker Brygge

Aker Brygge is Oslo’s most famous neighborhood and pretty much the heart of the city. It used to be an industrial area but it became popular for dining and shopping back in the 1980s. Nowadays, Aker Brygge is known as Oslo’s high-end residential area, with lots of great, expensive restaurants.

Oslo’s iconic pier is quite scenic and a stroll through the neighborhood is the best way to explore it. Pop in one of the fancy waterfront restaurants for a quick dinner and enjoy the scenic fjord views.

Aker Brygge neighborhood is also home to several art galleries, the most notable of which is Fineart Oslo. The modern art gallery is free to visit, so definitely check it out if you’re in the area. Art lovers will certainly enjoy it and even those who aren’t that big on modern art will find some of the quirkier installations fascinating.

The waterfront neighborhood is also home to Astrup Fearnley Museum of Modern Art, which has one of the best collections of modern art in Oslo. New exhibits are always getting added to the museum, so there’s even value in revisiting it.

Harry Hole Oslo Tour

This one is for all my fellow readers. Jo Nesbø is one of Norway’s most popular fiction writers and he’s best known for his Harry Hole series. The middle-aged detective is an icon because of his excellent crime-solving skills, but also his attitude towards his superiors. He lives and works in Oslo, and it’s entirely possible to go on a guided tour of many places that are mentioned throughout the Harry Hole novels!

Although you can’t actually visit his apartment, you can walk down 5 Sofies Gate, grab a drink at Schrøder’s, and see the Oslo Police Station. It’s recommended to book a guided tour, since it can be challenging for newcomers to navigate the Oslo streets, trying to follow in the footsteps of the veteran detective.

See The Fjords

Oslo Fjord

There are many different ways to see and experience the amazing Oslo Fjord. You can go on cruises, kayak tours, or you can just stand on the pier in Aker Brygger and admire the views – the decision is entirely yours.

The more adventurous travelers will likely marvel at the opportunity to get inside a kayak, while the more relaxed visitors can opt for a simple dinner cruise or a quick daytime expedition. There are plenty of different options for everyone, so you’ll easily find a fjord tour that’s just right for you.  

Best Day Trips From Oslo

Want to explore more of Norway while you’re in Oslo? The capital city is very close to some spectacular towns you can easily visit on day trips!

Lillehammer

Lillehammer

Lillehammer is a resort town just two hours outside Oslo. It’s best known for Maihaugen – the open-air museum that is home to more than 200 restored buildings. It offers a glimpse into the rural, urban, and home lives of Norwegians back from the 1400s to the present and it’s an absolutely fascinating museum.

The small town is also popular for the Norwegian Olympic Museum. The 1994 Winter Olympics were held in Lillehammer and the museum pays an homage to the tradition of the elite competition.

The skiing in Lillehammer is phenomenal, and it’s the main reason why most people come here. Also, many of the original Olympic arenas are still functional and open for business, so you’ll have a great time if you like trying new things.

Another reason to stop by Lillehammer is to visit the spectacular Hunderfossen Adventure Park. It’s popular year-round thanks to the fairytale castle and a wide variety of fun things to do, from rafting to tractor rides.

Fredrikstad

Fredrikstad

Fredrikstad is a city in southern Norway, a little over an hour away from Oslo. The 17th-century city is the only one in Norway to still have fortifications in original condition, and there are no less than five of them.

It’s actually impressive how vintage the city feels – a walk through the cobblestone alleys of the old town feels like you’ve time-traveled back to the 18th century. The charming city is best known for its five forts, the most popular of which is the Isegran fort.

You should also make time to visit the Fredrikstad Museum. It’s the best place to learn about the rich history of the city and the tickets are very affordable. Other interesting things to see in the city include the other four forts, Old Town Model Train Center, Fredrikstad Domkirke, and the Gullskår Rock Carving Field.

Tønsberg

Tønsberg

Tønsberg is a city about an hour and a half southwest of Oslo, so it’s a great place to visit on a day trip. It’s regarded as the oldest city in Norway, founded by Vikings back in the 9th century.

The rich history of the town is worth exploring, and luckily there are several museums that do just that. Slottsfjellsmuseet is one of the most popular museums in town, with exhibits on old Viking ships, whaling, and the early history of the city. There’s also the Haugar Kunstmuseum – an art gallery with exhibits from both local and international artists. It’s one of the best places to visit in Tønsberg, especially if you’re into art.

The oldest town in Norway is also home to the largest ruin site in all of Scandinavia. Mount Slottsfjell is home to the Slottsfjellsmuseet, as well as Slottsfjelltårnet – a 13th-century tower located in an incredibly scenic area.

Drammen

Drammen

Drammen is a port city only about an hour outside Oslo. It sits on both banks of the Drammensfjorden, with several spectacular bridges and incredible views no matter where you look. The Ypsilon bridge is the most famous of them all, both because of its intricate design and panoramic views.

Another popular attraction in Drammen is the Spiral Tunnel. It’s a tunnel inside a hill with six loops that climb to a summit with stunning views of Drammen. You’ll also find a café/restaurant at the top, and it’s a great place to relax while you admire the beautiful vista. It’s worth noting that the tunnel is not for people who get sick or dizzy easily.

The Gulskogen Manor is another popular place in Drammen to visit. It’s an outdoor park featuring a pond, peacocks, and extraordinarily beautiful nature. The park is best experienced in spring/summer when all the flowers are in bloom, or autumn when orange and red colors dominate the park scenery.

Drammen is also known for its incredible ski center, an excellent amusement park, and lots of thrilling hiking trails just outside the main city area.

About the Author Roger Timbrook

Roger is a little obsessed with travel. He has been to over 40 countries, broken 3 suitcases and owned over 10 backpacks in 12 months. What he doesn't know about travel, ain't worth knowing!

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