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Norway’s capital Oslo was the third stop on our fjords and cities Scandinavian itinerary. Blessed with sunny skies and the handy Oslo Pass, our adventures in Oslo were full of culture, enjoying the outdoors and the city’s relaxed atmosphere.
Here are our suggestions on great things to do in Oslo using the Oslo card. But first, a quick overview of the city’s history and geography.
Oslo is a small and modern looking city by European standards. Having been destroyed by fire in the 17th century, the city was rebuilt and underwent several name changes until Oslo was settled on in 1925.
Most of the landmark buildings such as the Royal Palace and Parliament building date from the 19th century.
An important port and maritime hub, in Oslo you’re never far from the fjord and that has defined the city’s history and culture. The city is on Norway’s southern coast tucked away on the shores of the inner Oslo fjord that flows into the North Sea.
Oslo has over 50 museums and many of them are conveniently located on the Bygdøy Peninsula. Ranging from cultural experiences to maritime exploration and adventures, there is something for everyone.
Getting to Bygdøy is easy. Take the number 30 bus from Jernbanetorget outside the main station – about 30 minutes. From May to October you can take the museum ferry from Pier 3 outside City Hall – 10-15 minutes. Once you are there you can either walk or take the local buses between the museums.
Take advantage of the free or discounted entry to over 300 museums included in the Oslo Pass. Even if you get museum fatigue after an hour or so like me, you wont feel guilty skipping over the sections you don’t find as interesting.
Viking Ship Museum
One of my favourite museums in the world, Oslo’s Viking Ship Museum must be on your list of things to do in Oslo. The museum is home to three Viking burial ships from around 800-900AD. Discovered in the 19th and 20th centuries, the ships are displayed with the artefacts found alongside them.
Entering the museum you are struck by the size and beauty of the ships. They silently dominate the custom designed space. My favourite, The Oseberg ship, is ornate and carved with pictures of animals indicating that this was a vessel for nobility.
Apart from feeling tiny as you walk below the beautifully preserved ships, there are several viewing points where you can see the ships from above. There is also a short multi media presentation brings the world of the Vikings to life.
Having visited the site at Sutton Hoo, home to Britain’s famous ship burial sites, and learning about the rituals of Viking burials, seeing the ships intact was such a thrill.
The Viking Ship Museum is open every day from 09:00am to 18:00pm May to September and 10:00am to 16:00pm October to 23rd December.
If you’re impressed by epic journeys you should head to the Kon-Tiki Museum. Here you can explore the adventures of Norwegian explorer Thor Heyerdahl and see the original Kon-Tiki balsa wood raft he used to cross 7,000 kilometres of the Pacific Ocean in 1947 .
“BORDERS? I HAVE NEVER SEEN ONE. BUT I HAVE HEARD THEY EXIST IN THE MINDS OF SOME PEOPLE.”
– THOR HEYERDAHL
An enthnologist, Heyerdahl was attempting to prove that people from South America settled in Polynesia when he sailed on the Kon-Tiki. He went on to complete several other incredible journeys and research into life on the Galapagos and Easter Islands.
The museum is dedicated to Heyerdahl’s fascinating body of work. Apart from the original raft there are interactive displays in English as well as Norwegian. The museum shows Heyerdahl’s Oscar winning documentary – Kon-Tiki– about his journey at 12 pm.
We visited the Kon-Tiki museum after the Viking Ship Museum and the contrast between the vessels was so striking. The raft used in the Kon-Tiki voyage looks so flimsy compared with the majestic Viking ships.
The Kon-Tiki Museum has varied hours depending on the season.
Norsk Folkemuseum – Norwegian Folk Museum
Norwegian culture is defined by its landscape and there is a strong emphasis on farming and fishing traditions. Journey through time at the Norwegian Folk Museum and learn how Norwegians lived over the centuries. There are over 160 buildings to explore throughout the complex and if you visit on a weekend you can experience traditional dancing and bread making.
This huge open air museum is home to the beautifully ornate Gol Stave church pictured above. The church dates from 1200 though only a third of the original building remains due to changes wrought by the passage of time and historical events such as the reformation when Catholic elements were removed.
I enjoyed the section on Sámi culture. The Sámi come from the Arctic area of Sápmi, that includes parts of far northern Norway, Sweden, Finland and northern Russia. The only recognised indigenous people of northern Europe the Sami have a proud and unique culture despite centuries of persecution.
The Norsk Folksmuseum is open May 15 – September 14: Every day 10:00 – 18:00; September 15 – May 14: Weekdays 11:00 – 15:00, Sat and Sun 11:00 – 16:00 with some closures over the Christmas period
Norwegian Maritime Museum
The Norwegian Maritime Museum has interesting displays dedicated to Norway’s seafaring history. From wooden figureheads washed up on beaches to the wartime activities on Norway’s shores, the museum explores the importance the sea has played in Norway’s history, commerce and culture.
Unfortunately the hall housing the traditional boats was closed during our visit. It’s due to reopen in 2019.
Our kids particularly enjoyed the remote control boats that you can drive around a huge pool on the basement level. Tokens for the boats are available at the ticket desk.
The Norwegian Maritime Museum has varied hours depending on the season.
Wander Oslo city centre
Most cities warrant some random wandering and Oslo is no exception. It’s a small city centre and perhaps not as traditionally pretty as other European cities but there is some interesting architecture and cool urban spaces.
Oslo Opera House
Completed in 2008, Oslo’s Opera House is one of the best places in the city to relax and watch the passing foot traffic on a sunny day. Take a break at the cafe and gaze out at the beautiful glass sculpture in the fjord. “She Lies” by Italian artist Monica Bonvincini turns on its own axis, moving with the winds and tide.
The building itself seems to emerge from the fjord thanks to its stunning ‘iceberg’ design. I loved all the angles and viewpoints from the slanted roof. The oak and glass interior is no less impressive. Read about the design of Oslo’s Opera House.
The Opera House is open Monday–Friday: 10.00am to 19:00pm, Saturday: 11.00am to 18.00pm, Sunday: 12.00pm to 18.00pm
Next door to Oslo’s main train station, Oslo Sentralstasjon or Oslo S, the Østbanehallen is an upmarket food hall with various eateries and an organic supermarket.
The former station building is impressive in itself having been recently renovated. Its central location means it’s a handy place to stop off for a snack or meal. The Oslo Visitor Centre is also found here.
Oslo’s fortress, Akershus, has been standing guard over the city since the 14th century. The medieval castle is strategically placed overlooking the Oslo Fjord so you enjoy some lovely views of the harbour from the grounds.
Unless you want to enter the castle, it is free to enter the grounds and they would make a great picnic spot.
The castle itself is open to the public but it also used for events and concerts throughout the year so do check opening times carefully. The grounds are open until 21:00pm each day
Aker Brygge wharf
Oslo’s bustling harbour is the place to relax over a beer and indulge in a spot of people watching. There are several shopping malls with very tempting Scandinavian design stores if you fancy some shopping.
Island hop on the Oslo Fjord
We visited in Spring and enjoyed glorious weather perfect for exploring the islands of the Oslo Fjord by ferry. There are only a handful of islands in the fjord and its a perfect activity if you want to relax and explore the local landscape beyond the city.
On the island of Gressholmen we took a stroll across the island climbing small hills for views of the fjord and the Heggholmen lighthouse.
You can explore the ruins of a Cistercian monastery on Hovedøya and go swimming from little beaches and inlets across the island too.
Ferries depart from Aker Brygge wharf year round but there are additional services in the summer months.
Visit Frogner Park and Vigeland Sculpture Park
Oslo is famous for its green spaces. The largest and most renowned of these is Frogner Park, home to the Vigeland Museum and Sculpture park.
With over 200 sculptures by Gustav Vigeland, the park is the artist’s lifework and showcases his talent with bronze, granite and wrought iron. He was also responsible for the layout and design of the gardens. Sadly the artist died in 1943 before his full vision was realised.
We spent a couple of hours wandering through the park and admiring the statues. The most famous pieces are the granite centrepiece ‘The Monolith’ and ‘Angry Boy’ (kid having a tantrum) statue. But I loved the various emotions and stages of human life depicted in the collection.
Family travel tip: There is a fantastic playground for toddlers to tweens to the left of the main entrance on Kirkeveien
How to use the Oslo Pass / Oslo card
Oslo is notoriously one of the most expensive cities in the world to visit. The prices are comparable with tourist prices in London and in some cases slightly higher.
Now while, we are not budget travellers, we are always looking for value and convenience when we travel. We thought the Oslo card met all those criteria.
The Oslo Pass offers great value and is one of the more generous city cards we have used. You can buy a pass for 24, 48 or 72hours and they cover:
✪ Free admission to 30 museums
✪ Public transport on trams, buses and ferries in zones 1 and 2 – excludes to and from the airport
✪ Discounts and free admission to attractions including city walking tours and the popular fjord mini cruise
There are discounts for children and seniors
Oslo Pass app
We used the Oslo Pass app and found it convenient and easy to use. You simply download the app to your smart phone, pay for your preferred pass and then activate the pass on the day you wish to start using it.
A daily QR code is downloaded to your app for you to use at museums, attractions and on public transport.
I am a bit of a tech nerd and I really liked not having to worry that I had lost my city card when we were out and about. The app is available for iPhone and Android and all instructions are in English.
Visit Oslo also produce a handy Oslo City app to help you plan your visit.
Oslo is such a fun city to visit. We loved its mix of cultural and outdoors activities, efficient public transport system and relaxed vibe. I feel like we missed out on lots too and would love to return to discover more.
We were kindly given complimentary Oslo City Pass cards by Visit Oslo. For more information please read our disclosure page. All opinions are our own.
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