When we visited Oslo back as part of a big summer trip around Norway to my surprise it quickly became one of my favourite European cities. Prior to this I hadn’t had any expectations about the city, in fact we only really visited because our flight from Tromso went via Oslo before heading back to London. What we discovered was a really amazing city break destination with the perfect blend of history and modern culture. There really was so much to do in Oslo that we had drastically underestimated the amount of time we needed. If you’re short on time like us then here are the 5 absolute must-do cultural and historical attractions.
Oslo Opera House
Oslo Opera House is the jewel of the Oslo waterfront and personally my favourite opera house (sorry Sydney!) as it has been designed specifically to not only evoke the nature of the Norweigan landscape but to encourage communal gathering on and around the building. You can see much of the surrounding area from the roof of the building, especially all around the harbour where there are not too many tall buildings, and it’s a great viewing spot for the Opera House’s outdoor plays, concerts and festivals.
Inside is equally impressive. The wooden interior in the main entrance area is again a strong connection to Norway’s natural world. You can of course wander around the public interior spaces (and the roof) for free but if you want to see in the theatre the best way is by coming to an opera or ballet performance or by taking a guided tour of the opera house which costs 120 NOK (approx £11.50).
You can really get a sense of how old the history is in Norway when you find out that Akerhus Fortress was constructed in 1300s! Situated on the headland in Oslo, today it stands out quite dramatically as a castle in the middle of a rather modern city.
To find out more about the history you can take a guided tour of Akerhus Fortress daily in the summer or at weekends the rest of the year for 50 NOK (approx £4.75) from the Visitor Centre. If we had more time during our visit this is something I would like to have done. The area is nice just to walk around but it is hard to get a sense of the history without some guidance and we didn’t really know what we were looking at!
Vigeland Sculpture Park
We all know that Oslo is expensive but did you know it has an amazing free art museum in the form of Vigeland Sculpture Park?
Located in the beautiful Vigeland Park there are more than 200 sculptures in bronze, stone and iron by the artist Gustav Vigeland, making it the largest sculpture park by a single artist in the world! It is the perfect way to spend a casual afternoon in Oslo and unsurprisingly a very popular spot with tourists and locals alike.
The sculptures are in several main areas of the park but are concentrated on the bridge and the main monolith in the centre. The ones that line the bridge shows humans in various states of emotion – including the popular angry boy – and the monolith sculptures depict the stages of human life. Some are emotional and some are downright weird but it’s an absolutely fascinating place to visit and I loved trying to decide which were my favourites!
Viking Ship Museum
If you’d told me that my #1 favourite thing to do in Oslo would be a museum housing some very old boats I’d never have believed it. The reason that we ended up here was having to choose between the Viking Ship Museum and the Fram Museum. We didn’t have time to visit both so we made the decision based on the fact that we had already been to the Polar Museum in Tromso (the Fram Museum is also based around Polar Exploration and will be on my list for next time!)
To visit the Viking Ship Museum you need to catch a ferry from the main harbour in Oslo to Dronningen. From there you can catch a No. 30 bus towards Bygdøy or it’s about a 12 minute walk along a straight road. The entrance fee is 100 NOK (approx £9.50) and also includes entry to the Historical Museum in Oslo within 48 hours!
So why is the Viking Ship Museum so good? You really have to see it for yourself to understand. There are 3 viking ships in the museum in different states of completeness. They range from the first excavated Viking ship to the best preserved Viking ship in the world from 890AD! It is hard to really describe how magnificent it is to see it in person and shows how the Vikings were master craftsmen… it looks as if you could take it out to sea and sail away in it even now!
One thing on many agendas when visiting Oslo is a trip to see Norway’s most famous piece of art, The Scream. What the Mona Lisa is to Paris this is to Oslo but you’re at a distinct advantage here because there are 2 copies on display in the city. One of these is at The National Gallery in the main city centre of Oslo and the other is at the Munch Museum. The entry free for both is 120 NOK (approx £11.50) so it just depends whether you are more interested in Munch or a general overview of Norweigan art.
It is worth checking the current exhibitions at the Munch Museum before making your choice. We were influenced by the fact that during our visit there was a specific exhibition comparing Munch to Van Gogh. Many pieces from the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam were on loan to the Munch Museum at the time so it was an extra treat to get to see them!
We absolutely loved our time in Oslo and I have been recommending it to everyone as the perfect European city break destination ever since… just take my advice and book more than 2 days there to fit everything in! If you have been please leave me your suggestions for things to do on a return visit in the comments as I will definitely be returning to explore more!