12 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions & Things to Do in Oslo
Oslo is one of the world's largest capitals in terms of area but only 20 percent of this land mass has been developed, the remainder consists of parks, protected forests, hills, and hundreds of lakes. Parks and open spaces are an integral part of Oslo's cityscape, and are easily accessible from almost anywhere in the city. The center is a joy to explore on foot thanks to the numerous pathways and trails connecting its public spaces, as well as its many pedestrian-friendly areas, including the city's main street, Karl Johans gate. Stretching from Oslo Central Station near the waterfront all the way up to the Royal Palace, this wide avenue passes many of Oslo's tourist attractions, including the palace, the National Theatre, the old university buildings and Oslo Cathedral. Regularly ranked one of the best cities in the world in which to live, Oslo boasts a rich cultural scene and is famous for its theatre, museums and galleries.
See also: Where to Stay in Oslo
1 Akershus Fortress
Rising above the Oslofjord on the promontory of Akersnes sits the majestic Akershus Fortress, built by Håkon V at the end of the 13th Century. Take your time to wander the grounds and ramparts with their wonderful harbor views before exploring the quaint chapel with its tomb of Håkon VII (1872-1957) and the remains of the original medieval castle. Also located in the grounds is the Museum of the Norwegian Resistance. Be prepared to spend a few hours here learning about the German occupation of 1940-45. If you've any energy left, head over to the Norwegian Armed Forces Museum in Oslo's old Arsenal with its displays of weapons and exhibits illustrating the history of the Norwegian forces and the defense of Norway down the centuries.
Address: Akershus Festning, 0015 Oslo
2 Oslo Cathedral
Although consecrated in 1697, Oslo's Cathedral has been rebuilt and renovated numerous times. Its tower was rebuilt in 1850, while its interior was renovated soon after the end of WWII. Notable features include the main doorway with its decorated bronze doors, as well as the ceiling paintings by H. L. Mohr, the Baroque pulpit and altar (1699), and the stained glass by Emanuel Vigeland. Afterwards, be sure to visit the Oslo Bazaar along the old church walls. Dating back to 1841, these fascinating halls are now occupied by galleries, cafés and antique dealers.
Address: Karl Johansgt. 11, 0154 Oslo
3 City Hall
Oslo's enormous City Hall (Rådhuset) is undoubtedly one of the city's great landmarks. This imposing square building, built of concrete faced with brick, was designed by Arnstein Arneberg and Magnus Poulson and has two towers, one of them adorned with a huge clock face. One of the towers houses the 38 bells that can be heard chiming throughout the harbor area. Along with its fascinating facade with its sculptures and reliefs, the interior is also worth a visit, boasting a rich fresco created by Henrik Sørensen, Per Krohg, Edvard Munch and other famous Norwegian artists.
Address: Rådhuset, 0037 Oslo
4 Aker Brygge
Built around an abandoned shipyard, Oslo'a Aker Brygge area is the heart and soul of the city. Bustling and vibrant day and night, its stunning architecture - that magnificent blend of new and old that perfectly compliments Norway's stunning natural beauty - is everywhere on display, and everywhere breathtaking. It's estimated that 12 million visitors find their way to Aker Brygge every year, drawn by its sea-front boardwalk, fine shopping, great restaurants, and cozy year-round patio bars with their snug rugs and fireplaces. While visiting, be sure to pop into the newly opened Astrup Fearnley Museum of Modern Art. The museum consists of two buildings: one for its own collection of works by such greats as Andy Warhol, Damien Hirst, and Jeff Koons, the other for rotating exhibitions.
Address: Bryggegata 9, 0120 Oslo
5 National Museum of Art, Architecture and Design
Oslo's National Museum is a must-see, and in fact incorporates a number of exhibition venues across the city, so be prepared to spend time exploring them. The venues include the National Gallery (Norwegian artists from the 19th Century to the present, including J. C. Dahl and Edvard Munch); the Museum of Contemporary Art (modern Norwegian and international artists); the National Museum: Architecture (historical themes through to contemporary architecture); and the Museum of Decorative Arts and Design (design and crafts through the ages).
Address: Kristian Augusts gate 23, Oslo
6 Royal Palace
Located high up on the northwest end of Karl Johansgate, the Norwegian Royal Palace, built in 1825, dominates the cityscape. Although the impressive 173-room building is not open to the public, visitors are free to wander the grounds and gardens or watch the regular changing of the guard. Just to the south of the palace sits the Norwegian Nobel Institute, where the Nobel Peace Prize is presented.
Address: Bellevue, Oslo
7 Vigeland Sculpture Park
The iconic Vigeland Sculpture Park - the largest such park in the world - is one of Norway's most famous tourist attractions. Open year round, this unique sculpture park is Gustav Vigeland's lifework and contains 650 of his dynamic sculptures in bronze, granite and wrought iron. Vigeland was in charge of the design and layout of the park (completed in 1949), placing the majority of sculptures in five themed groups along a 2,800 ft long axis. The oldest is the fountain group, depicting the cycle of human life, beyond which can be seen the 55 ft high Monolith comprising 121 intertwined human bodies. (If you're interested in learning more about Vigeland the artist, visit the Vigeland Museum near Oslo's Municipal Museum.)
Address: Nobels gate 32, N-0268 Oslo
8 Natural History Museum & Botanical Gardens
Oslo's Natural History Museum - consisting of the Geological Museum, the Zoological Museum and Botanical Gardens - is Norway's largest natural history collection. The Geological Museum includes minerals, precious metals and meteorites, plus an impressive collection of dinosaur skeletons, while in the Zoological Museum you'll find dioramas of Norwegian fauna. Best of all, however, is the exquisite Botanical Garden. Founded in 1814, the garden features 7,500 different plant species from Norway and other parts of the world, 1,500 of them located in the beautiful Rock Garden with its waterfalls.
Address: Sars gate 1, 0562 Oslo
9 Munch Museum
Dedicated to the life and work of Norway's greatest painter, Edvard Munch (1863-1944), the Munch Museum contains a vast collection of paintings, graphic art, drawings, watercolors and sculptures from the great artist's life. Containing almost 28,000 works of art in addition to personal effects and tools - even his private library - the museum also puts on special exhibits devoted to particular aspects of Munch's work through film screenings, concerts, guided tours and lectures.
Address: Tøyengata 53, 0578 Oslo
10 Oslo Opera House
Home to the Norwegian National Opera and Ballet as well as the National Opera Theatre, the 1364 seat Oslo Opera House seems to almost want to slip into the city's harbor, an effect exaggerated by its angled exterior surfaces. Clad in Italian marble and white granite, the Opera House is the largest cultural building constructed in Norway since Trondheim's Nidaros Cathedral in the 14th Century. In addition to its many performances, visitors can also participate in a variety of interesting public programs and behind-the-scenes tours… and, of course, enjoy a stroll on the building's roof.
Address: Kirsten Flagstads Plass 1, 0150 Oslo
11 Ultima Contemporary Music Festival
This annual festival takes place mid-October and includes everything from operas to orchestral and chamber concerts to recitals. Numerous musical institutions collaborate to organize the festival, which includes a competition for new orchestral works that draws highly acclaimed composers and musicians from all over the world.
Address: Slottsgate 3, N-0157 Oslo
12 Festival of Chamber Music
Held in Oslo each August, this annual month-long festival includes dozens of chamber music concerts drawing internationally acclaimed musicians from around the globe. Performances take place in the spectacular Akershus Fortress, with the stunning Oslofjord as a backdrop. Taking place the same month and in the same location, the Oslo Jazz Festival is another huge draw for musicians and fans alike.
Address: Byngning 3, 0015 Oslo
Where to Stay in Oslo for Sightseeing
If you're visiting Oslo for the first time, the best place to stay is in Central Oslo, preferably close to Karl Johans gate, the city's main street. Here, you'll find attractions such as the Royal Palace, National Theatre, and Oslo Cathedral, as well as an impressive array of museums and galleries. Most of the city's top attractions are within walking distance of each other. Below are some highly-rated hotels in this central location:
- Luxury Hotels: Minutes on foot from some of Oslo's top museums and galleries, central station, and the Royal Palace, the eco-conscious Thon Hotel Rosenkrantz Oslo sports bold, contemporary decor, and the good-value rates include a breakfast. Within walking distance of Aker Brygge, the National Gallery, and Royal Palace, the family-run Hotel Continental Oslo is adorned with distinctive works of art and elegant furnishings. Each room is unique. The pet-friendly Clarion Collection Hotel Bastion is also in a handy location, near Central Station and the opera house. Rates include an organic breakfast and a light buffet dinner.
- Mid-Range Hotels: In the heart of the city, near central station and the National Gallery, Clarion Collection Hotel Folketeateret sits at the top-end of the mid-range hotels, with its cozy, contemporary rooms and a free breakfast. The earthy, textural decor is a standout feature of the eco-friendly Oslo Guldsmeden, 100 meters from the Royal Palace, near Aker Brygge. Rates include breakfast made with produce from local farms. On a quiet side street in the city center, Thon Hotel Munch has crisp white rooms with bold splashes of color and an organic buffet breakfast.
- Budget Hotels: Central Oslo has few budget options, but the Cochs Pension is one of these, in a great location near the Royal Palace. Rooms come with fridges and some have kitchenettes. Smarthotel Oslo is another central option. The rooms are small, but the hotel lies just around the corner from Oslo's main shopping street. About 20-minutes away from the city center by tram, Oslo Hostel Haraldsheim is also budget friendly. Rates include breakfast and parking.