What to do in Oslo: The ultimate city guide
The what to do in Oslo city guide will help you make the most of your upcoming visit. Despite the fact that Oslo is Norway’s capital and quite the bustling metropolis to boot, central Oslo retains a decidedly compact and cozy feel that is wonderfully walkable and eminently enjoyable.
Whether you are arriving in Oslo at the finish (or the start!) of a Norway in a Nutshell adventure, passing through Oslo on your way to board a Hurtigruten cruise, or perhaps using Oslo as the start of a road trip around the Norwegian mountains and fjords on your own, you really do want to plan at least an extra 48 hours into your itinerary to experience a taste of what this international city has to offer.
There are wonderful parks and green spaces, incredible museums, delightful cafes and food, and, because this is the capital, there is always something going on in the world of entertainment, be it arts, music or sports.
Our information, above, and guide, below, are most certainly not all-inclusive but will help you get a foot-up on your visit to Oslo and know what to do in Oslo before you arrive.
Oslo Travel Resources
*Important! Although many online guides, maps and printed materials as of this writing still showed two Tourist Information Centers, this is wrong. We know. We traipsed in the freezing rain to where one was and found empty windows. There is now only one Oslo visitor center, open every day, all year, from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. It is in the east hall adjacent to the Oslo Central Station (Oslo S) and can be accessed from inside the east hall or from outside via the Jernbanetorget (the square with the tiger sculpture).
Oslo travel essentials apps
- Visit Norway – The official travel app for Visit Norway (iPhone) provides basic information about nearby businesses and attractions when you are in Norway.
- Oslo Travel Guide – Click here to download the official visitors travel guide app to Oslo and yes, it works even when data roaming is turned off. It is available for iPhone, iPad and Android.
- RuterReise – For navigating the public transit options in Oslo, the RuterReiseapp provides a journey planner including displays of departure times in real-time, maps, and updated information about disruptions and delays. Search for stops, addresses or areas all over south-eastern Norway. Use the GPS location function or key in an address you are trying to reach.
- CityMaps2Go – WE LOVE this app! Even with Wi-Fi and roaming turned off, the maps work and work very well, using the GPS function in your device to locate you on the map. It’s much harder to get lost and much easier to get to where you are going – and you can mark places to interest of you. We used the Oslo city map as well as the companion Wiki guides. app
Learning at least a few key phrases of the local language will be helpful, even if the locals do speak a lot of your mother tongue. There are so many apps, websites, language programs and other resources, so a little exploring before you go. Here is a basic one for Norwegian:
Flights — There are three airports in the Oslo area:
- Oslo Airport at Gardemoen (OSL – the region’s major international airport, which is 45 kilometers north of the city center)
- Moss Rygge (RYG)
- Sandefjord Torp (TRF – the second largest international airport).
Airport Trains All NSB Regional trains operating on the north-south line (Skien-Oslo-Lillehammer-Trondheim) go via Oslo Airport Gardermoen as well as NSB local trains Kongsberg-Eidsvoll. Airport trains also go to Rygge and Torp – click here for detailed information.
Airport bus — Flybussen runs efficient bus transport to and from airports in many major cities, including Oslo Airport. Getting to and from the Gardermoen airport on the bus is convenient. The ride takes 40 minutes (longer during rush hour) and departs every 20 minutes every day.
The Rygge-ekspressen bus service goes directly between Oslo Bus Terminal and Moss Airport Rygge and the ride takes approximately one hour. Click here for more information.
The Torp Express bus service runs from the Oslo bus terminal and the ride takes approximately two hours. Click here for more detailed information.
Train (NSB) – Think of Norway train lines somewhat like an x-y axis – one major line goes north-south, and another goes east-west, both with a few offshoots or onward connections to, say, Sweden. Click here to download a PDF map. Once you know this, it’s easier to get around. The Oslo main station, Central Station (more commonly known as Oslo S), has several departures/arrivals daily on the east-west Oslo–Bergen route, considered one of the most beautiful in the world. We took it from Oslo to Bergen on an early winter day and can confirm that the route is certainly gorgeous, not to mention convenient and affordable. Of course, there are frequent departures to all points in Norway from Oslo’s Central Station.
Countrywide transit – Use this incredibly useful site to find transportation of any kind (boat/ferry, train, bus, plane) outside (or inside) Ostfold or Akershus counties.
Local/county transportation – Ruter is the name of the public transport system in Oslo and the surrounding county, Akershus. City buses, regional buses, trams, subway/metro, ferries and local trains are included in Ruter’s ticket system. All travel is free in Zone 1 and 2 with a valid Oslo Pass – which is pretty huge area, but alas, does not cover rides to and from the airports. Click here to view a Zone map of the Ruter system.
The Oslo Pass (available for purchase from the Tourist Information office just outside the Central Station, most major hotels, and other locations) is worth purchasing IF you plan your time and museum/attraction visits well. Many museums and historical sites are free with the Oslo Pass, as is riding all public transport in the city. The Oslo Pass gives you unlimited free travel by bus, tram, underground, boat and local train with Ruter AS and NSB (Norwegian State Railways), within Zones 1 and 2. Discounts are also available at many restaurants, bike rentals, retail locations, and attractions (discounts range from 10 percent to as much as 100 percent depending on the season so check Oslo Pass for details).
What to do in Oslo
Norway’s Resistance Museum — The Resistance Museum is located in a 17th century building on the grounds of Akershus Fortress, right adjacent to the memorial for Norwegian patriots executed during the war. It is a fantastic museum – plan on a couple of hours (or more depending on your passion) to view the displays covering five years of occupation recreated with pictures, documents, posters, objects, models, original copies of newspapers and recordings. Nearby is the Armed Forces Museum, which is nice enough if you have the time, but really nothing special otherwise. Admission is NOK 50 or free with an Oslo Pass. Getting There: Akershus Fortress, Building 21 0015 Oslo
Akershus Fortress — Akershus Fortress, located in the city centre overlooking the Oslo fjord, is a great place to take in wonderful views of Oslo as well as the surrounding fjord. The building of Akershus Castle and the fortress began in 1299 under King Håkon V. The medieval castle, which was completed in the 1300s, was strategically located at the end of the headlands overlooking the fjord. King Christian IV (1588-1648) modernized the castle and had it converted to a royal residence. Admission is free.
The Viking Ship Museum — The Viking Ship Museum presents historic Viking ship discoveries discovered during excavations at Gokstad, Oseberg and Tune as well as other finds from Viking tombs around the Oslo Fjord. Most significant are the displays of the world’s two best-preserved wooden Viking ships, built in the 9th century. Admission is NOK 80 or free with a valid Oslo Pass. Getting there: The Viking Ship Museum is served by the 30 bus to Bygdøy. Huk aveny 35, 0287 Oslo (or, if you like a long walk, hoof it through town, around the inlet, and back through a beautiful park to this museum as well as several others nearby.)
Norwegian Museum of Cultural History — Located on Bydgoy next to the Viking Ship Museum the Museum of Cultural History is a large open-air museum that is full of wonderful replicas of traditional Norwegian buildings throughout Norwegian history. The most famous building is the intricately carved stave church – which is truly stunning. Admission is NOK 80 or free with a valid Oslo Pass. Getting there: The Museum of Cultural History is served by the 30 bus to Bygdøy. Museumsveien 10, 0287 Oslo (also near the Viking Ship Museum)
Edward Munch Museum — Edvard Munch – probably best known for modern painting known as “The Scream” — has a unique position among Nordic painters and is considered a pioneer in expressionism. The Munch Museum’s collection, left to the city of Oslo by the artist, consists of paintings, graphical prints and drawings. By constantly changing the exhibitions, the museum presents the variety in his life. Be sure to visit the museum website prior to planning your trip as the museum does close for short spans due to exhibition changes. Admission: NOK 100. Free with valid Oslo Pass. Getting There: Tøyengata 53, 0578 Oslo, Norway
Oslo Domkirke (cathedral) — This is considered the most important church of Oslo where all the royal ceremonies have been held for centuries. It has a delightfully rich interior. Admission: Free. Getting there: Karl Johans Gate 11, 0154 Oslo, Norway
Old Aker Church – The church is and old medieval building and is listed as the oldest remaining building in Oslo dating back to the 11th century. Admission: Free. Getting There: Akersbakken 26, 0172 Oslo, Norway
Take the time to wander down Karl Johans Gate, starting at the Central Station. Karl Johans Gate is the main street in central Oslo and features a tree-lined promenade bordered by restaurants, cafes and upscale stores. There is, naturally, great people watching and at the end of the walk you will find yourself at the Royal Palace, home of the Norwegian royal family. Don’t miss the Frogner neighborhood and the Vigeland Park with its spectacular lineup of Gustav Vigeland’s works. If the weather is nice – remember, this is Scandinavia – the park is a popular destination for jogging, walking and picnicking.
Places to Stay in Oslo
Certainly choices are broad, from pensions and guesthouses, to private homes/apartments or camping. If however you choose hotels, you just can’t go wrong with the Nordic Choice Hotels’ Clarion Collection brand. Rooms are comfortable, staff always friendly and helpful, and the food is simple, plentiful and delicious. Best of all, included in the price of your Clarion Collection stay is a breakfast buffet (normal at almost all hotels in Norway), afternoon tea (with pancakes or waffles, of course) and even a light evening meal that includes salads, soup, breads, cheeses, dessert and even a hot main dish. In Oslo, one choice we absolutely loved when we stayed there is the Clarion Collection Hotel Bastion. It is close to the station and central to town yet very walkable and very quiet.
- Nordic Choice has six hotel brands of varying levels, including more basic and more luxurious, for other options.
- Other popular hotel chains are the Thon Hotels and the Scandic Hotels.
- Other alternatives can be explored on the Visit Oslo website or by going directly to our Oslo hotel partner, Booking.com.
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