Speaking of Norway, it’s not difficult to imagine a picturesque landscape with dense green forests, impressive fjords, and mountains. Against such wonderful scenery, it’s easy to forget that man can be artistic as well. That’s why many visitors were left surprised to discover that Oslo’s cultural scene is so abundant, with museums and galleries rivaling any metropolis in Europe.
Positioned at the head of the Oslofjord on the country’s southern coast, Oslo was firstly founded by King Harald Hardråde of Norway around 1049. The name is derived from the Old Norse words Ás (Gods) and lo (meadow), and thus can be interpreted as “the meadow of the Gods”. From the 17th century to the beginning of the last century, the city’s name was, however, changed to Christiania when King Christian IV built his town here. The city only regained its original name in 1925. Since then it has become the epicenter of politics, economics, and culture in Norway.
When visiting Oslo today, you might be surprised by the number of cultural attractions in the city. Whether you are a history admirer, an art enthusiast, an explorer, or even a fan of architecture, chances are there is a place that meets your desire. Most sights are clustered around the city center, near the Vigeland Park and on Bygdøy Peninsula.
1. Central Oslo
Stretching from Karls Johan Gate to the promenade, Central Oslo is the heart and soul of Norway’s capital. The area has a bit of everything, ranging from historic monuments, classy museums to trendy restaurants and nightclubs. It was here that King Christian IV built the town of Christiania (modern Kvadraturen) after the devastating fire in 1624. This neighborhood also witnessed the establishment of the Norwegian parliament, the Stortinget, in 1814. Since the beginning of this century, the government of Oslo has started a rejuvenation project, in which the city’s old harbor is redeveloped to a modern massive waterfront.
The piéce de resistance of this project is the Operahuset or the Oslo Opera House. It’s a snowy white architecture that appears like a glacier floating in the waters of Oslo. Designed by the Oslo-based architectural firm Snøhetta, this opera house has become one of the most iconic buildings in Scandinavia since its opening in 2008. Inside, the 15-meters high glass window floods light into the foyer which is made of strips of golden oak. The wall curves up through the center of the foyer to the upper floors, thus it bears the name “the Wave Wall”.
2. Vigeland Park
Just minutes from Central Oslo, you will find yourself at Vigeland Park. Within a vast area of over 320 km², more than 200 bronze, granite, and wrought iron statues are on display. All are designed by the talented sculptor Gustav Vigeland, making it the world’s largest sculpture park made by a single artist.
Considering this park as his lifework, Gustav was also responsible for the sculpture installation and the architectural layout of the entire area. The statues are allocated to five units along an axis, including the Main Gate, the Bridge, the Fountain, the Monolith plateau, and the Wheel of Life. Inside the park, you will also find the Vigeland Museum dedicated to the artist. It comprises his atelier, a personal library, and several works of art.
3. Bygdøy Peninsula
Located in the south-eastern part of the city, Bygdøy Peninsula is home to three of Oslo’s most popular museums: the Norwegian Museum of Cultural History, the Viking Ship Museum, and the Fram Musem. The first one, as its name implies, depicts the life of Norwegians in the centuries past. It’s the country’s largest open-air museum, consisting of more than 140 structures from the 17th and 18th centuries. The highlight of the museum is, however, the restored stave church which was built in the 12th century.
A stone’s throw away from the Museum of Cultural History is Vikingskiphuset or the Viking Ship Museum. It’s home to two best-preserved Viking ships in the world: Oseberg and Gokstad. These centuries-old vessels are excavated from burial grounds across Norway, alongside wood carving, tent components, and other grave goods. Close to the shore is the Fram Museum which tells the story of the very first polar explorations performed by the Norwegians. The Fram – once the strongest’s polar vessel – proudly stands at the central hall of this museum
Tips for visiting Oslo
- Oslo is covered by an excellent public transport system. You can reach nearly everywhere by either bus or trams.
- Bygdøy Peninsula is accessible by bus. Yet Ferry No 91 is a better alternative, especially in summer. The ferry departs from Rådhusbrygge (opposite the city hall) and it takes approximately 20 minutes. Once on the peninsula, you can pleasantly stroll among the museums. They are all within walking distance from each other.
- An effective (and affordable) way for a culture trip in Oslo is using the Oslo Pass. The pass grants free admission to nearly all museums in Oslo, as well as public transport. A walking tour, transportation to/from the airport and a one-way ride with Ferry No. 91 is also included in the pass. The card is purchasable online and valid for 24hours, 48hours or 72hours.
33 thoughts on “Oslo: A Culture Trip to Norway’s Capital”
Such beautiful captures of this Nordic capital. Love the boat withe mast and the flowing water fountain. Hope I will get to visit one day.
Thank you! Those two are my favourites as well 🙂 The park is indeed magnificent during sunset.
Cool! I’m returning in a couple of months and had already visited many of these attractions.
Nice! 🙂 Which place do you like most? My most favourite one is the Vigeland Park. Pretty cool, especially on a nice summer evening 🙂 The opera house and the Viking ships are interesting too.
I never visited Vigeland, but I want to. I saw the opera house from a distance, so I hope to get closer pics and I loved the Viking ship museum.
So all your photos are stunning as always, but I caught my breath with the sunset shot.
Many thanks! It is my absolute favourite as well 😀
We are going to Norway near the end of May. We will definitely be visiting some of these places, and hopefully some off-the-beaten-path places as well. We plan to car camp from Oslo heading towards Bergen. We will have a couple of days in Oslo to see these sights. Thanks for your post.
My pleasure! The Oslo-Bergen route is really scenic. I did it with the Oslo-Bergen railway and I must say it’s one of the most beautiful train trips I have ever made 🙂
By car, I think you will have more time for exploring. My favourite part of this trip is the Hardangervidda plateau. It looks impressive, even in summer when most of the snow is melted away revealing massive lakes.
That sunset (Vigeland) photo is AMAZING, Len!!! How did you like Oslo otherwise? Did you find it was expensive? That was my first impression 🙂
Yes, it’s indeed expensive! In comparison to Germany, the price is nearly doubled. But it’s still more affordable than in Switzerland 🙂 How about Finland? I guess the price is as high as in Norway and Denmark, right?
Prices are high here but Norway is the most expensive place I’ve ever been to! Switzerland was certainly expensive though, too. Maybe it’s a tie, for the things we did and spent money on 😄
Love the Vigeland, could have spent a whole day there! You’ve captured the “one day in Oslo” really well. 🙂 What’s your favourite Vigeland sculpture? Mine was the angry man with the flying babies. Is this your second time in Norway??
Nope 🙂 Just revise my post about Oslo. The Fountain is obviously my favourite sculpture. Followed by the Monolith. When I was there, Pokemon Go had just been released in Europe. And it was fun watching people walked around the Monolith as if they were performing some kind of ritual 🙂
Oh yea, your fountain is absolutely gorgeous. You should send it to National Geographic. 😊
Tell me about it. Pokémon is horrendous, my husband also used to follow it when we were on our travels… 😂🙄
Some very beautiful pictures.
Thank you! 🙂
King Christian IV did NOT build the medieval castle (fortress) of Akerhus. The King built the neighbourhood called Kvadraturen.
More info here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Akershus_Fortress
My mistake! Thanks for letting me know!
This is my second attempt at a comment. I hope it will be posted. I’ve experienced posting comments on your page sometimes, I wonder if it’s a problem with your site?
Wonderful photos as always, Len. I love the idyllic photo of the boats in Bygdoy island. I’d love to visit that place myself. I spent a day in Oslo last summer when traveling to Svalbard but we didn’t really see much in the city except the center and opera house from the outside, because we spent most of our day in a lovely island called Hovedoya. I love the Nordic countries, especially their nature, serenity and culture! The only thing I really didn’t like while I was there were the prices hehe – about 4 times as expensive as Poland so it was really painful 😀
experienced problems *
Thanks you for informing about that, Pooja! I will forward this information to the WP engineer. So far I haven’t changed anything in the setting, so I guess it might be a WP’s issue.
Indeed, my only concern when travelling in Scandinavia is the cost, especially in city like Oslo. It can easily ruin your bank account. The only place that I find less affordable is Switzerland 😛
I’ve heard about some of the best Oslo has to offer several years back, but it is your blog that makes the city now among the top destinations in my Europe wish list. Your photos are so amazing and pretty they make me want to book that flight all the way to the Norwegian capital right away!
Thank you, Bama 🙂 I just came back from Japan. Unfortunately, I could not try the Muscat grapes in Okayama that you mentioned. It’s not in season right now. But I tried the dried version. It’s good as well. Their strawberries are also awesome. I can say they are the tastiest strawberries that I have ever eaten!
It’s the other way around for me. When I was there, strawberry was not in season. I guess we both have to return to Japan one day — I in spring and you in autumn. 🙂
We’ve just been back from a city trip to Oslo and it is nice to see it through eyes as well. To me the Oslo Opera House and the Vigeland left a deep impression. I love the way you captured both, stunning contrast and light in your photographs!
Those two are my favourite as well. Thank you for your compliment! 🙂
I agree with you that Vigeland Park – the world’s largest sculpture park made by a single artist, but the sculpture park in Parikkala, there are nearly 500 sculptures.
Wacky statues 2
In Raahe, Matti Lepistö has made 250 sculptures.
As you see, my Finland offers many surprises for those, who want to explore it and find its hidden gems. If you have some day time, then check my about-page. It is full of information about Finland and me. It contains plenty of photos!
Have a nice day!
Both parks are really impressive! The one in Parikkala looks like a whole village 🙂 Do you know whether the park still exists now?
Was there a picture there from inside the stave church? I’ve seen so many pictures through blogs of stave churches- would love to see one in real life one day.
Unfortunately, I only have the photo of the hallway 🙂 The wooden main chapel is simple, with little decorations. There is no window either, so the room is pretty dark.
The picture are amazing in the blog. The oslo opera house is also a great spot to travel and vigeland park is fantastic. Oslo is great place for tourist destination.
Indeed. Thanks for visiting, Priya 🙂