Oslo is a city that many tourists merely see as a stop on their way to the fjords on the west coast, the Midnight Sun in the North or the breathtaking nature on the Lofoten islands.
Then there is also competition from other Nordic capitals: Stockholm being the biggest and perhaps the best known, Copenhagen known for its Little Mermaid Statue, and Helsinki, which is particularly known among design and architecture lovers (disclaimer: my previous home town for almost 10 years). But having visited all those cities several times, I can reveal Oslo has something unique: it really has it all.
Here are our top reasons for visiting Oslo:
You only need a day or two
Got only a day? Or maybe 2? No problem. If you’ve ever been to London, Paris or New York for the first time (let’s not even begin with cities such as Shanghai or Delhi), you know how meticulous planning it takes to ensure you get to cross just a thing or two off your list because of long distances, complex public transport, long queues to sights or simply just because of the overwhelming amount of things to see or do. Oslo is super compact, which means that those with limited time will be able to get a taste of everything: the nature, culture, shopping, sightseeing and literally tasting Norway – even if you’ve only got a day.
Architecture, design and art in Oslo
The new Oslo Opera House was opened in April 2008 and has since then become, to many, the symbol for the entire city. Designed by the Oslo-based architecture firm Snøhetta (they are located just some 10-15 minutes walk from the Opera House, behind the Akershus Fortress), the Opera House is not only a stunning example of contemporary public architecture, but also houses a cafe and a restaurant that are both open to public.
Another Great example of contemporary architecture is the Astrup Fearnley Museum of modern art. Designed by the Italian architect Renzo Piano, the museum is located in Tjuvholmen, an area entirely built after 2010, offering several other pieces of interesting architecture, such as the hotel Thief.
If you’re into funkis architecture, you will get a 3-for-1 deal by taking a trip up to Ekebergrestauranten: the building is a fantastic piece of recently fully refurbished funkis architecture and offers one of the best views in Oslo, as well as local flavours on the menu.
On the other side of the city, Vigelandsparken is a short tram ride from the city center and the world’s largest sculpture park with works from only one sculptor, Gustav Vigeland.
While Stockholm consists of a large number of islands, Helsinki covers a wide area and Copenhagen is where the Nordics meet Continental Europe, Oslo is densely populated and surrounded by hills that offer unique spots for sightseeing. It’s also a capital where you can literally “ski in and ski out of the tube”.
The Oslo people love outdoor life, and the public transport system extends to locations that would normally not be within reach by a bus or the tube. In Oslo, a nature experience really doesn’t require a daytrip out of the city.
Frognerseteren and Holmenkollen are popular tourist attractions, however if you feel like a walk in the woods, you can still take the same tube up to Frognerseteren and follow one of the marked trails or ski tracks to enjoy the forests that surround Oslo (“marka”). Another option is to take the tube up to to Sognsvann, which is a lake and a very popular place for family outings, running, hiking or skiing in the winter. You need a total of 2-3 hours for a the tube rides and quick lunch at Frognerseteren, or a walk around Sognsvann. Just remember Sognsvann doesn’t have a restaurant.
A walk along the river Akerselva is always a good idea – just remember that the walk is heavier if you start from the city center. Summer: If you enjoy long walks, head all the way up to Brekkedammen with a towel and packed lunch for a refreshing swim in the lake or just to enjoy the lovely lake view.
Similarly, the many islands just outside the Oslo city are great for a picnic and you get there conveniently on boats that are part of the public transport system.
In terms of shopping, Oslo offers something for everyone. In addition to a growing number of international designer brands such as Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Hermés and Burberry, there is a particularly good selection of outdoor clothing, watches, lifestyle shops, vintage, sustainable clothing, design and much more. What is best, you really don’t need an entire day for shopping as the main shopping areas are close to each other. See our high end shopping guide here.
What would a holiday or trip be without food? Regardless of your preferences – seafood, French, local, fine dining, Asian – there is more than plenty to choose from.
For visitors on a schedule, restaurants at the Oslo opera house, Ekeberg and Frognerseteren offer a great opportunity to combine sightseeing with a great dinner or lunch. If you are looking for seafood, restaurants Fjord and Tjuvholmen Sjømagasin have great menus and wine lists. Summer-only restaurant Solsiden (the sunny side) is a popular classic among the locals for a reason: it’s one of the best seafood restaurants in town.
For those looking for Michelin star or near Michelin star level experiences, there is an option for any occasion: Maaemo for the ultimate Michelin experience, Kontrast with their modern Scandinavian take on fine dining or Statholdergaarden for those who prefer classical gourmet.
It doesn’t get much more down to Earth than this
Those of us that are used to travelling know that queues and ever-tightening security comes along with it. So visiting buildings of importance, museums and other attractions usually comes with thorough security. In Oslo, you are actually able to for example take a stroll in the same park that surrounds the Royal Palace, the King’s and the Queen’s majestic home, without it creating a police alert. There is security, but you won’t get into trouble by snapping selfies in front of the palace. Or perhaps you’ll walk past one of the top politicians on Karl Johans Gate, next to the Parliament House, without any sign of their position.