The political and economic center of Norway, Oslo is a compact capital city which quickly fades into wonderful wilderness areas. You won't have to wander too far from the city center to experience the forests and fjords the country is famous for. Oslo is one of Northern Europe's smallest capitals, so no matter which of our apartments you stay in, you will have all the sights of the city at your disposal and easy access to nature as well.
Oslo as we know it really only began to take shape in the 19th century when Norway broke away from Denmark (only to become part of Sweden) and many of the landmark buildings were constructed in the capital. There wasn't even a settlement where present-day Oslo is until 1624 when King Christian IV (of Denmark) had a fortress built there. Before that there was an Oslo located across the bay that had been occupied by the Vikings and possibly even before them. The former Oslo was destroyed numerous times throughout the centuries by fire and plague, which led King Christian IV to start all over and relocate when he decided to create a regional capital on Oslofjord called Christiana (which was the city's name until 1925 when it finally became Oslo again).
There are some remains from the 17th century Christiana, but most of the historic buildings that remain in the city date back to the 19th century, when the capital was formed and the Royal Palace and Parliament buildings were erected. The cultural heritage of Oslo began to emerge during this time also and national artistic greats such as Henrik Ibsen, Edvard Munch and Edvard Grieg emerged as symbols of the newly independent Norway. The architecture of this time period dominates the city, but the later arrival of low-rise apartment and office buildings are impossible to ignore.
Norway didn't officially separate from Sweden until 1905, when it became a sovereign nation. The city's short history as Norway's capital is characterized by its neutrality in the wars that plagued Europe throughout the century and its rapid economic development into one of the wealthiest (and most expensive) cities in the world.
Oslo is located at the northern tip of Oslofjord in the southeastern part of Norway, close to the Swedish border. It is one of Europe's most sprawling capitals, incorporating over 450 square kilometers and including over 300 lakes.
Oslo is the largest city in Norway with around 560,000 people. It is the third largest city in Scandinavia after Copenhagen and Stockholm. The greater Oslo area spreads out around the city and is home to over a million Norwegians and over half of the country lives within 120 kilometers of the city center. The city has a large immigrant population made up of mostly Pakistanis, Somalians and Sri Lankans.
Norwegian has two forms, which both enjoy official language status—Bokmål and Nynorsk. They are mutually intelligible and most Norwegians use both to some extent. The differences between the two forms are a reflection of Norway's somewhat complicated history ruled by Danes and Swedes. Regardless, Norwegian evolved from Old Norse as did Swedish and Danish, so all the Scandinavian countries enjoy some level of understanding between languages. In Oslo, English is widely spoken.
The city center is quite compact and easily toured by foot in a day. In the summer months boat tours are popular, which can take an overview of the city as their focus or function more as a dinner cruise. The city has a glut of museums, so any exploration of Oslo can easily be structured to take in as many of the culture, art and history exhibits as you desire. If you plan on taking in several museums and using public transportation, you should consider purchasing the Oslo Card, which includes admission to many museums and sights and gives access to trains, buses and metro.
National Gallery: The gallery is housed in a lovely neoclassical building and features mostly Norwegian painters. Munch is perhaps the star here, but the landscapes and folk life paintings are a nice introduction to Norwegian culture and art. Besides, there are Munch paintings all over the city, so don't expect to get your fill here. Universitetsgaten 13. +47 21 98 20 00.
National Museum of Decorative Art & Design (Kunstindustrimuseet): The collection here is one of the oldest in Europe devoted to decorative arts, including tapestries, silver and fashion from ancient Greece through modern Scandinavia. St. Olavs gate 1. +47 21 98 20 00.
Stenersen Museum: This is the city's contemporary art collection, featuring mostly paintings from Norwegian 20th century artists. Many of the paintings take the capital city and its surroundings as their subject. Munkedamsveien 15. +47 23 49 36 00.
Museum of Cultural History (Kulturhistoriskmuseet): This museum is run by the University of Oslo and has permanent exhibitions of classical antiquities, Norwegian artifacts and ethnographical displays. Note that the museum's prized Viking ship collection is housed elsewhere. Frederiks gate 2. +47 22 85 99 12.
National Museum of Contemporary Art (Museet for Samtidskunst): Housed in the grand former Norwegian Bank, built of granite and marble in 1917, the Museum of Contemporary Art focuses on Norwegian painting, sculpture, and photography from after 1945. Bankplassen 4. +47 21 98 20 00.
Munch Museum: A favorite Oslo museum dedicated to a much-loved painter, the Munch Museum has a vast collection of Edvard Munch's paintings and sketches and permanently exhibits the most popular—the Scream and Madonna—and regularly rotates the other thousands. Tøyengata 53. +47 23 49 35 00.
Norwegian Folk Museum (Norsk Folkemuseum): The Folk Museum has a broad collection of artifacts relating to Norwegian and Sami culture. There is also a large outdoor open-air museum with traditional buildings from throughout Norway that date as far back as 1200. Museumsveien 10, Bygdøy. +47 22 12 37 00.
Viking Ship Museum (Vikingskipshuset): This is a unique display of three original Viking ships, all retrieved from southern Norway and dating to the 9th century. Viewing platforms allow guests to see into the hulls of the ships and the museum's location in Bygdøy near the water is fitting. Huk Aveny 35. +47 22 13 52 80.
Fram Museum & Kon-Tiki Museum: Two famous ships have found their resting places near each other in Bygdøy. The Fram is one of the most famous polar ships in the world and it is on display in its original condition with interiors and artifacts in tact at the Fram Museum, which also contains other Norwegian polar expedition artifacts. Bygdøynesveien 36. +47 23 28 29 50. Across the street the Kon-Tiki Museum houses the raft that carried Thor Heyerdahl across the Pacific Ocean, along with other exhibits representing the adventurer's career. Bygdøynesveien 36. +47 23 08 67 67.
Nobel Peace Center: The Nobel Peace Center is both a facility for hosting discussions related to peace and also a museum dedicated to Nobel Peace Prize winners and the concept of the award. The center is located in an old train station, but the exhibits are modern and state-of-the-art. Rådhusplassen. +47 48 30 10 00.
Royal Palace (DetKongelige Slott): The Royal Palace is one of Oslo's famous Neoclassical buildings. The interior of the palace can only be toured in the summer (actually only a small portion of it is included in the tour), but the grounds are open to the public year-round and the park-like setting is one of the nicest and surprisingly accessible outdoor spaces in town. The changing of the guards happens once a day, too, and is free to watch. Drammensueiein 1. +47 81 53 31 33 (number to call for tour tickets).
Rådhus: Oslo's city hall building isn't beautiful to all tastes, but the intriguing blocky building houses a gorgeous interior that artistically expresses Norwegian history and culture. The main hall is where the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony is held. Guided tours and admission price in the summer months. Free in the off-season. Fridtjof Nansensplass. +47 0 21 80.
Akershus Castle (Akershus Slott): Occupying a strategic and beautiful spot on the seafront, the castle has been a fixture on the shore since the early 14th century, but King Christian IV really spruced the place up during his reign and he takes credit for making the castle a royal residence and fortifying it with the walls that still surround it. The grounds around the castle are lovely and the views particularly nice. Tours of the castle's interior are only available in summer. +47 23 09 35 53.
Frogner Park: Frogner Park, located slightly out of town and easily accessible by tram, is home to the Vigeland Sculpture Park, a culmination of the life's work of sculptor Gustav Vigeland. The sculptures are impressive both in size and expression and the outdoor setting make the park a nice alternative to museums. There is also a museum on the premises dedicated to the artist and the conception of the sculptures and the park. Open year-round.
Holmenkollen Ski-Jump: The ski arena that hosted the 1952 Winter Olympic Games has become a popular tourist destination. The site is very close to town and accessible by a 20-minute tram ride. The view from the top of the ski-jump platform is fantastic on a clear day and there is a museum dedicated to all things ski-related for winter sports enthusiasts.
Nordmarka: Nordmarka is the nature area that extends inland from Oslo. Heavily forested, the hills contain kilometer after kilometer of hiking trails and cross-country ski tracks. Public transportation from Oslo will get you to many access points, but to get deep into the wilderness you'll have to use your own two legs. Maps are available in town at the Norwegian hiking organization (Den Norske Turistforening) Oslo office on Storgata 3. The organization also maintains some forest huts for rent in the Nordmarka.
Islands & Beaches: Ferries run from the mainland to various close-lying islands in the fjord just south of the city. The islands exist mostly in a natural state though some contain some interesting ruins or a café or two. This is the place to be in summer for swimming, fishing, picnicking, sunbathing and light hiking. Ferries leave from Vippetangen.
As mentioned above, you don't have to stray far from Oslo to find some non-city entertainment. The forest is nearby for hiking or skiing and the islands are perfect for a day in the sun. There are also several small towns and villages within a day's journey from Oslo, for a better glimpse into Norwegian life away from the capital. For instance, Drøbak, Fredrikstad, and Tønsberg are all within 2 hours away from the city and accessible by train or bus. Another option is a round trip tour called "Norway in a nutshell," available from many package tour companies or cobbled together by yourself using a variety of public transportation options. The nutshell tour takes in some of Norway's most dramatic landscape, including the fjords, and transport includes a scenic train ride and ferry travel. The trip is easy to do in summer on a long day, but will require a slower pace and up to three days in the winter months.
Families traveling to Oslo with children will probably want to spend lots of time away from the city center, visiting some of the attractions listed under Recreation and Day Trips. Skiing, hiking, and island-hopping are all family-friendly activities close to Oslo. Many of the nearby ski resorts offer special packages for children learning to ski. Many of the city's museums are suitable for and interesting to children; the Fram and Viking Ships Museums in particular will appeal to kids and the Nobel Peace Center has a special tour just for younger visitors. The Museum of Children's Art is dedicated to children and has organized educational activities twice a week. Frognerbadet is a large swimming pool complex with water slides and diving platforms located just 1.5 kilometers from the city center and easily accessed by metro. There is a free public skating rink located next door for a wintertime alternative to swimming. In fact there are several skating rinks throughout the city, some which even offer figure skating or hockey lessons for kids.
Immigration has brought cheap cuisine to Oslo. As in all of Scandinavia, kebab and pizza joints are the cheapest places to eat in town, but Oslo also has a nice selection of inexpensive Asian restaurants specializing in Chinese, Thai, and Vietnamese food. Indian and Japanese food is also available at slightly higher prices. For Norwegian food, particularly the specialized seafood dishes, your only choice is to go upscale and you should for at least one meal while you're in Oslo. There are lots of choices for expensive restaurants, including five Michelin-rated gourmet eateries. In many ways the high prices are a result of high quality local ingredients like fresh fish and game.
Oslo is a good party town, but it's expensive to go out for drinks here as in the rest of Scandinavia. Many restaurants turn into clubs at night and the fancier ones have a minimum entry age of up to 25 years old. Expect a cover charge, too, especially if there's a DJ. Alcohol cannot be served per city ordinance after 3:00 a.m., and as a result most bars and clubs close at 3:30. Note that all restaurants and bars in Oslo are smoke-free indoors, but many have outdoor spaces where it is okay to smoke (some are even heated in winter).
Oslo is expensive when it comes to shopping, but not any more expensive than say London or Paris or any other world class shopping city, and the selection may be more limited here, but there is some name-brand high-end shopping to be done here. Alternatively, traditional handicrafts such as hand-knit sweaters, woodcarvings, and various things made from reindeer parts can be purchased in specialty stores in Oslo, but these are also quite expensive. For bargains, there is a large number of second hand shops in Oslo, which are very popular with the younger generation of shoppers. There is also a wide selection of bookstores, both first- and second-hand, selling books, magazines, maps, and comics in a variety of languages. In the neighborhoods where immigrants have traditionally settled exotic imports find their way to market and while it may not be your idea of Norway, you might just bring back a Pakistani tapestry or some Indian spices at a great price. Typical European department stores and souvenir shops can be found on the pedestrian street leading to Karl Johans gate, while Grunerløkka is the place for designer boutiques and original design.
Most international flights arrive at Oslo Airport in Gardermoen, and a high-speed train connects it with the city center in 20 minutes. There are also slow-speed trains and buses that run from the airport to town, which take more like 45 minutes and are cheaper. Some smaller and budget airlines fly into Torp airport near Sandefjord, 110 kilometers away, which also has bus and train connection to Oslo (1 hour 45 minutes).
Oslo has excellent public transportation, and if you find yourself driving in Oslo, you will be sharing the road with the extensive tram system, which always has the right of way. Be on the look out for it at all times and be careful not to park on or too close to the tracks. If you drive into Oslo from outside of the city, you will be charged a toll.
Oslo Central Station is located right in the city center and connects the capital with many destinations within Norway as well as Gothenburg in Sweden.
Oslo has one of the best metro systems Europe, known locally as the T-bane. Look for the blue and white "T" logo for station entrances. The ticketing system is integrated with the bus and tram system and single-journey tickets as well as daily, weekly, and monthly passes are valid on all public transportation modes.
Buses and trams are included with the T-bane in the public transportation ticketing system. The trams generally service points within the city center, while buses will get you slightly farther out.
Taxis in Oslo are very expensive and are usually only used late at night after the public transportation systems stop running. You can call a cab or hail one from the street, but there is often a small fee for ordering a taxi by phone. All taxis in Oslo accept credit cards for payment.
Oslo is both a summer and winter destination with relatively ideal weather for each season. Summer days are long, warm and usually sunny with average temperatures between 15 and 20°C, but with temperatures as high as 30°C not uncommon. Winter temperatures hover around freezing with snow falling and sticking around much of the season in the nearby woods and mountains, making it a consistently good place for winter sports.