Oslo for first-timers: where to go in Norway's compact capital

Oslo* might be the smallest of the Scandinavian capitals but for first-time visitors, there's more than enough to cram in on a long weekend. This is a city that embraces outdoor living, with alfresco dining and a bevy of water sports in the summer.

Oslo's City Hall and waterfront in summer
Oslo's City Hall and waterfront in summer © Jedynakanna - Dreamstime.com

Come winter, fires roar in cosy restaurants and more than 50 museums will vie for your attention. Unsure where to start? Here are the unmissable highlights.

Getting to Oslo: find great value deals on city escapes to Oslo with First Choice*.

A note on getting around

Oslo is supremely walkable, and most attractions are in the centre, but you'll want to use public transport in winter and to get attractions further out of Norway*'s capital city, like the Bygdoy Peninsula.

A day travel card for all modes of transport costs the equivalent of around £10. If you're planning to visit several museums as well, it might be worth picking up the Oslo Pass, which includes access to 30 museums and attractions in the city as well as free public transport.

See the Oslo tiger

One of Oslo's most photographed attractions, and where many walking tours set off from, is a bronze tiger outside Oslo Central Station made by Norwegian sculptor Elena Engelsen.

Mind the prowling Oslo tiger
Mind the prowling Oslo tiger © Jaanall - Dreamstime.com

The artwork is a nod to Oslo's nickname, The Tiger City, which is said to have come from an 1870 poem by Norwegian writer Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson describing Oslo as a dangerous and hostile place. It's safe to say Oslo is no longer dangerous or hostile, but Osloites remain proud of their nickname.

Go museum hopping

Oslo's museums offer a fascinating insight into Norway's Viking spirit and their enduring love of exploration, and most of them are found on the leafy Bygdoy Peninsula, a bus ride away from the city centre.

The most interesting of the lot is perhaps the Fram Museum, which appears as a Toblerone-shaped building from a distance. The focus here is on polar exploration, and you'll have the chance to step aboard an original schooner that ventured to both the Arctic and Antarctic seas.

Nearby, the Kon-Tiki Museum celebrates the adventures of the explorer Thor Heyerdahl, who sailed across the Pacific Ocean by raft. Some of the original vessels he used during his expeditions can be seen here.

Explore the Botanical Garden

Established in 1814, Oslo's Botanical Garden is part of the Museum of Natural History but it's free to visit.

Large sections of the garden are devoted to trees, and themed gardens showcase rare and special species that only appear in specific habitats.

A highlight is the Alpine-inspired Rock Garden, which features a cascading man-made waterfall and lily pond, while the Aromatic Garden, planted with fragrant species, is a sensual spot to visit in summer.

Scale Oslo Opera House

Facing an inlet of the Oslofjord, the Oslo Opera House is an architectural marvel. The futuristic design makes use of Italian Carrara marble, granite and glass to create a building that appears to rise from the water.

Ascend the Oslo Opera House
Ascend the Oslo Opera House © Didrick Stenersen - courtesy of Visit Oslo

What makes this building special is that the roof slopes all the way down to the ground, so that visitors can walk from the pavement to the very top for breathtaking views of the fjord.

It's a sight to behold from a distance too. From across the water, visitors resemble penguins waddling up and down a glacier as they scale and descend from the roof. While, at night, the light escaping the glass windows gives it a space-age feel.

Go on a mini-cruise

You don't need to leave the city to see a Norwegian fjord; Oslo is right at the head of the Oslofjord and you'll catch glimpses of it from any high point in the city.

Venture into Oslofjord all year round
Venture into Oslofjord all year round © Brim Explorer - courtesy of Visit Norway

But if you want to sail into the fjord and get a different vantage point of the city, go on a harbour cruise. The Fjords has sailings departing from right outside the Oslo Opera House all year round.

Visit the urban waterfall

Tucked away in a residential neighbourhood is Nedre Foss, Oslo's urban waterfall. It's a baby compared to the likes of Niagara Falls but is a thundering beauty nonetheless.

A mill has been located here since the 13th century to take advantage of the water power and was only demolished in 1986. Today, the waterfall is surrounded by a small park, where events are regularly hosted during the summer months.

You probably won't want to make a special journey unless there's an event on but Mathallen Oslo around the corner is a great excuse to head this way.

Choose from a wide variety of food and drink at the Mathallen
Choose from a wide variety of food and drink at the Mathallen © CH - courtesy of Visit Norway

The indoor food hall is where you can taste Norwegian delicacies like smoked fish and reindeer, or sit down at one of the food stalls serving everything from Mexican tacos to Colombian arepas.

Walk around medieval Oslo

Originally built in the 14th century, Akershus Fortress is a sprawling castle complex that's still used as a military area. Most of it is open to the public though, and there are guided tours during the summer months.

Take a guided tour of Akershus Fortress
Take a guided tour of Akershus Fortress © Fredrik Ahlsen - courtesy of Visit Norway

The castle grounds are free to visit, and the fortress walls offer superb views of Oslo, but you'll need a ticket if you want to see the former royal residences, banqueting halls and the mausoleum.

Hire a floating sauna

Floating saunas have become hot property in Oslo and they're all clustered around the harbour area, where you can work up a sweat in the dry heat before taking a dip in the refreshing fjord waters right outside. They're open year-round, which makes it rather bracing stuff in winter.

One of the best options for visitors is KOK, which offers sauna cruises around the harbour. You'll enjoy your own floating sauna with room for up to 10 people, plus a skipper who will take you out on the water for a couple of hours. It's a chance to test your limits and sightsee at the same time.

See Edvard Munch's artworks

The National Museum in Oslo, the largest art museum in the Nordic countries, is an essential stop for any Edvard Munch fan.

Visit the country's largest collection of artworks
Visit the country's largest collection of artworks © Fredrik Ahlsen Maverix Media - courtesy of Visit Norway

Among the 6,500 other classic and contemporary pieces on display here is the artist's most famous work, The Scream, as well as earlier versions depicting its evolution from sketch to painting.

The other stop is the MUNCH, which houses a collection of works left to the city by the artist himself, including paintings, sketches and prints, as well as those by other artists. The building, located next to the Oslo Opera House, also offers stunning views of the city.

Climate in Oslo

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The above shows the climate in Oslo. Find out more about conditions across the country in our complete guide to the climate in Norway.

Ready to explore Oslo? Whenever you're planning to visit the Norwegian capital, check out the latest offers on city breaks from First Choice.

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Posted on Thursday 25th January 2024 in: City Europe Excursions

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