On the northern shore of the Oslofjord, Norway’s capital and the third largest city in Scandinavia is a trendy and sophisticated metropolis that has grown rich from shipping and oil.
Key to the high quality of life, nature is everywhere in Oslo, as the fjord is right in the city’s backyard and you’re never more than a bus ride away from untamed forest and walking trails by the water and mountains.
Tip: Get the Oslo Pass for free entrance to loads of attractions and free use of public transport
Culture in Oslo means coming face-to-face with The Scream by Edvard Munch and the visceral sculptures by Gustav Vigeland in the Frogner Park.
Exciting modern projects like the Oslo Opera House, the upcoming Munch Museum and the Aker Brygge district have cropped up by the water, while long-established museums recall Viking history and the audacity of polar explorers like Roald Amundsen.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Oslo:
Viking Ship Museum
An arm of the University of Oslo’s Cultural History Museum, the Viking Ship Museum has jaw-dropping finds from four different Viking burial sites around the Oslo Fjord.
The museum is on the Bygdøy Peninsula and shines thanks to the Oseberg Ship.
This 9th-century burial ship was excavated in 1904-05 and is like new as it had been encased for all that time in watertight and airtight mud.
No less exciting are similar ships from Tune and Gokstad, together with all the artefacts found buried with them like beds, small boats, a complete cart, tent components, wood carvings, textiles and other treasures brought to light in Viking graves.
As you go, the film Vikings Alive is projected onto the walls and ceiling, adding context on Viking burial rituals.
Free to enter at any time of year, Frogner Park is in Oslo’s namesake borough and is a joy for the installations by 20th-century sculptor Gustav Vigeland.
There are 212 sculptures in total, in bronze and granite from Iddefjord.
Vigeland’s works are Realist and their subjects are bizarre, from a man fighting with babies to a woman being ridden by a baby using her platted hair as reins.
Many of these works like the Angry Boy (Sinnataggen) have become identifiers for Oslo.
The Angry Boy is in a 100-metre-long ensemble known as The Bridge, between the eastern Main Gate and the Fountain.
On that same axis, a few hundred metres further, is the Monolith, an elevated 14.12-metre totem composed of 121 human figures.
This work alone took 14 years to carve from one gigantic piece of granite.
Included in: Oslo Highlights 3-Hour Bike Tour
After the sculpture park visit the Vigeland Museum in the Neoclassical building on the southern boundary.
This beautiful structure was built in the 1920s as the atelier and home of Gustav Vigeland after he had agreed to donate his works to the city.
After his death the building became a museum in 1947, preserving his private apartment on the third floor where he lived from 1924 to 1943 and which is fitted for the most part with items he designed.
And being the place where Vigeland worked, the museum gives you a clear sense of the artists’ process, revealing the plaster models for the sculptures in the park, preparatory sketches, casts as well as many of Vigeland’s earlier pieces.
There are also short-term contemporary art exhibitions at the museum.
Oslo Opera House
A spellbinding landmark right on the harbour, the home of the Norwegian National Opera & Ballet is the Oslo Opera House, completed in 2007. Resembling an iceberg, this angular building is clad with white granite and Italian Carrara marble and has a main auditorium that can seat 1,364 spectators.
On a casual visit you can go up to the roof for free for a phenomenal view of the Oslofjord, best done at sunset.
The inside is also a delight, with warm surfaces covered with oak to counter the iciness of the exterior’s glass and stone.
In the lobby there’s a wall panel designed by Olafur Eliasson, and on a platform in the fjord is a glass and stainless steel sculpture by Monica Bonvicini.
You can also book a guided tour to go backstage and see the set workshop and get a table at the cafe/restaurant.
All about the adventures of the 20th-century anthropologist Thor Heyerdahl, the Kon-Tiki Museum is named after the balsa wood raft that Heyerdahl sailed from Peru to Polynesia in 1947. His purpose for taking on this perilous journey was to prove that Polynesians had emigrated to the Central and South Pacific from South America.
In another daring expedition Heyerdahl sailed from Morocco to Barbados on the papyrus reed boat Ra II to prove that the Ancient Egyptians could have crossed the Atlantic.
You’ll get to see these two vessels, as well a replica of the Tigris, which he sailed from Iraq to Pakistan.
An Oscar-winning documentary film about the Kon-Tiki expedition is shown at 12:00 every day, and there are artefacts, photos and accounts from all of Heyerdahl’s adventures.
Included in: Norwegian Explorers 3 Museum Tour
Holmenkollen Ski Museum & Tower
A shortcut to Norwegian sporting history but also national identity, the Holmenkollbakken hill has been staging ski jumping competitions since 1892. The ski jumping events of the Winter Olympics were held here in 1952 and Four FIS Nordic World Ski Championships have taken place at this venerated location.
Within the structure of the ski jump is the Ski Museum, which guides you through the 4,000-year history of skiing in Norway.
You can peruse artefacts from Norwegian polar exhibitions and check out state-of-the-art skis and snowboards.
At the highest point of the ski jump is a panoramic observation deck that lets you look over Oslo and its fjord.
Where to stay: Best Hotels in Oslo, Norway
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