The capital of Norway, probably isn’t the first place that comes to mind when you think of European cities. Norway is best known for its fjords and northern lights, and most travellers only stop by Oslo on their way to explore the country’s famous natural features. However, if you give it a chance, Oslo has a lot to offer.
Oslo has a delightful fusion of historical and modern architecture and culture. For nothing but the price of a bus ticket, you can discover the incredible archipelago of islands in the Oslo Fjord, and nature walks are accessible straight from the city.
While Norway was ruled by Sweden and Denmark until it became independent in 1814, Oslo was founded over a thousand years ago, and dates back to the Viking era. Perhaps unsurprisingly, you can find the country’s most important Viking relics in the capital.
If you are considering going to Oslo, but are wondering if it is worth it, read on for some of the best reasons to visit.
Not many tourists know that Oslo has a cluster of picturesque islands right in the Oslo Fjord. You can easily reach them by ferry in the summer months from Rådhusbrygga or take an island-hopping tour.
The biggest and most popular island is Hovedøya, the first one you reach by ferry. There are a lot of things to do on the island, and as opposed to the other islands, you can easily spend a whole day. Some activities there include relaxing on the beaches, exploring the 1147-years-old monastery remains, and looking for military ruins from the 19th century. There are also often art exhibitions on the island.
Besides Hovedøya, you can visit Langøyene, Gressholmen, Lindøya, Bleikøya, and Nakholmen islands. They are all delightful to walk around, and you can look at the cute cabins, stroll along the beaches and rocks on the waterfront, eat ice cream, and take in the Norwegian island life.
Many locals have cabins on the islands that are inhabited, and stay there over the summer months, taking the ferry into Oslo to go to work.
You can find high-end restaurants throughout the city with traditional and delectable fusion dishes, but there are also budget options for local and international cuisine.
One of the best places to eat out is Aker Brygge, the vibrant and modern marina where you find a wide variety of fine restaurants and bars. The Grünerlokka neighborhood is also a foodie’s paradise.
A popular stop there is the Mathallen Food Hall, where you find more than 30 restaurants, cafés, and shops. This is perfect if you want food from different places as you can eat it all in the hall. Or, you can also use the individual restaurant’s eating areas if you buy everything from one place.
Due to the international communities in Oslo, you will find a wealth of Indian, Turkish, Thai, Italian, and other international restaurants throughout the city, and these are usually more budget-friendly.
Oslo is famous for winter sports. In winter, the forests surrounding the city turn white in a thick, soft blanket of snow, the lakes freeze, and cross-country skiing tracks crisscross the landscape. Where people hike in the summer, they ski in the winter.
But if you are more into the action of downhill skiing or snowboarding, do not worry. Oslo Winter Park has 18 slopes, 11 lifts, and gear for rent, and you can easily get there with public transport. There are also ice rinks throughout the city, and the one in Frogner is particularly well worth visiting.
If you prefer to watch sports instead of practising them, Oslo also holds a huge winter sports arena with a 60-meter tall ski jump and cross-country tracks. You may not believe it, but Oslo is the only city in the world with a ski arena in the city.
This is where World Cups in ski jump, biathlon, and cross country are held, and thousands of people gather for the events. Unsurprisingly, Norway has world-class participants and a long line of gold medals in these activities.
Holmenkollen is also home to the world’s oldest Ski Museum which holds exhibitions showcasing 4000 years of skiing history.
If you ever happen to be in Oslo on 17 May you are up for a unique experience. This is one of the few days you will see the streets jam-packed with Norwegians dressed in traditional dresses and waving the Norwegian flag.
The big celebration is in recognition of Constitution Day, which was on the 17th of May 1814. In the morning, all school children march in large parades waving the Norwegian flag through the city together with musical bands.
Later in the day, the students graduating from high school either walk or drive their vans and buses in a fun parade where they do creative activities to entertain the spectators.
Graduation in Norway is a little different than in other countries. The graduates wear red, blue, black, or white clothes depending on the degree they are studying.
The suits are usually full of prints and scribblings and the hat they wear has a long thread full of items that are hung on when the individual has done different challenges. These could range from downing a bottle of champagne within a certain time or kissing a policeman.
The period when they wear the suits is usually the last month of their studies and ends on the 17 May after a lot of parties and challenges. Their buses and vans are also painted in the same colour as their suits and are used to drive to different gatherings. In the parade, they will typically hand out cards to the children with fun jokes written on them.
Wrapped in nature, Oslo is a haven for outdoor lovers as there are many hiking trails easily accessible from the city. One of the most beautiful and popular walks in Oslo is Sognsvann. You can take the metro straight to the walk which winds around the picturesque lake.
Other hill areas where you can go hiking and enjoy spectacular views of Oslo city and the Oslo Fjord are Vettakollen, Kolsaastoppen, and Grefsenkollen. They are all easily reached by public transport from the Oslo city centre.
If you head out on a walk during the weekends or in the evenings, you will realise just how much the Norwegians embrace nature. Many of them will be hiking with you!
Compared to the other European capital cities, Oslo is a small city and it is a lot safer than most of Europe.
Generally, Norwegians are extremely honest and you will often experience that people will run after you if you lost something or forgot something on the ground, on the train, or in a café to return it to you.
While pickpocketing can happen in the busiest areas like the main train station and shopping street, you really just have to watch your belongings like in any other crowded place around the world.
Oslo is famed for its green spaces throughout the city. Most used by the locals and often recognised by tourists is Frogner Park.
Situated by the Frogner neighborhood, where million-dollar villas with large gardens take up the space. The park used to belong to the manor, but today it is a vibrant green lung in the city where people walk their dogs, friends have picnics, and families play.
It also houses the world’s biggest sculpture park with work from a single artist. The Vigeland Park houses more than 200 statues of naked people in human size and bigger of all stages in life from newborn babies to old grandparents. They are all created by the artist Gustav Vigeland.
The Palace Park (Slottsparken) is also a popular park among locals and visitors. Once you have seen the Royal Palace, you can sit down and have a picnic in the park.
Other parks worth visiting in Oslo are Sofienberg Park, Ekeberg Park, and Kampen Park.
Oslo is the place to go if you want to see the most important Viking finds in the country. The Viking Ship Museum is home to restored Viking ships from the Gokstad, Oseberg, and Tune graves.
On top of that, you can see a lot of the items that remained in the graves and other Viking-era finds. The museum is one of the most popular in Oslo, but now it is under restoration until it reopens as the bigger and more impressive Viking Age Museum in 2026.
The Historical Museum in Oslo also has exhibitions on Viking history, journeys, and war history. There is also a fairly new digital Viking museum in Oslo, The Viking Planet, where you can dive into the thousand-year-old history of the Vikings in an innovative way.