Oslo is a cosmopolitan city, one that is thriving and alive with business and everyday life; it’s not just there for tourists. To get the most out of a visit to Oslo is to experience and embrace the modern city while seeking out its culture and history.
In Oslo, you won’t find a charming “Old Town” where tourists naturally migrate looking to spend a leisurely day wondering café and shop-lined cobblestone streets. Instead, Oslo is going to throw you right into city life, where you’ll have to hustle yourself around town to seek out all the great things to see in this capital city. In just one day, you’ll feel like a local after you’ve ridden the tram across town, taken the bus to outlying neighborhoods, strolled the pedestrian shopping streets and dined at restaurants. What I find most refreshing about Oslo is that when you are there, you don’t feel like a tourist.
If you find yourself in Oslo and are short on time, you can definitely do a lot in just one day thanks to a compact city center and a good public transport system. Here are my tips on how to get the most of your day in the City of Tigers.
(For information on how to get to Oslo from the airport, check out my post on Transportation Options here).
You are going to want to get an early start if you want to get a good taste of Oslo in just a day. Before you hit the pavement, fuel up with a good breakfast. Many of the hotels, if not most in both the city and by the airport, offer a grand breakfast buffet. Most offer both traditional breakfast items and Norwegian breakfast staples, like smoked salmon, brown cheese, brown bread, mini hot dog style sausages, salmon caviar spread, and waffles.
If you want to venture outside of the hotel for a quick breakfast, it’s easy enough to find a coffee house around Oslo offering breads, pastries and breakfast sandwiches. The chains you’ll find around the center of Oslo are the Espresso House and Kaffeebrenneriet.
Vigeland Sculpture Garden
Start your day by going for a morning stroll through the Vigeland Sculpture Garden at Frognerparken. Although not directly in the city center, it’s a short, easy tram ride to this park. Even if you have little interest in parks and/or sculptures, you will be doing yourself a disservice by not giving up an hour of your morning to see this beautiful place.
The park is home to over 200 sculptures all created by the same Norwegian sculptor, Gustav Vigeland. The human figures, mostly in bronze and granite, exhibit the gamut of the human experience. They are on display just a short distance from the park entrance, which is just across the street from the Tram Stop. In just 30 to 45 minutes, you can do a walk that will take you across the park bridge lined with the bronze statues to the amazing bigger-than-life stone statutes and back to the tram stop.
Getting There: It’s very easy to get to the Sculpture Park on Tram 12 from the Central Area / Train Station. Take the tram in the direction of Majorstuen, and in about 10 minutes, you’ll arrive to the Frogner Park tram stop. Cross the street to enter the park.
The Oslo Opera House
Built to resemble a giant iceberg, you can walk along the sides of the building to access the roof. The building is best photographed during midday against a bright blue sky or from across the waterway at dusk when the building seems to glow against the darkening evening sky.
If you have an interest in seeing more of the Opera House than just the exterior and you don’t mind swapping some shopping out of your schedule, consider going on a 50 minute tour. From September through April, tours are offered on Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 1:00PM. For more information on what you’ll see on a tour and to confirm dates and times, visit the Opera House’s website here.
The Museum of Cultural History and
The Viking Ship Museum
To get your historical and cultural fix while visiting Oslo, head outside of the city center to the Museum of Cultural History and the Viking Ship Museum. These two museums are about a 20 minute bus ride from the Oslo Central Train Station and Opera House and an easy 5 minute walk from each other.
Your first stop will be the Museum of Cultural History. Here, you’ll have an opportunity to see some examples of Norwegian farm life, a traditional Stave church, a town square adorned with buildings showing off Norwegian architecture and some Norwegian antiques. There is also a very nice souvenir shop on the property as well as a great café offering some sweet and savory traditional Norwegian snacks like waffles and open-faced shrimp sandwiches. Plan to spend about 40 minutes here.
Your second stop, the Viking Ship Museum, focuses on three Viking ships dating back to 834 A.D. that were recovered from burial mounds around Oslo about a century ago. Two of the ships are in great shape, and it’s quite breathtaking to stand next to these wooden beauties. You can get a bird’s eye view of the ships or stand alongside them to really appreciate their size and the intricate carvings on them. There’s also a small gift shop selling Viking tchotchkes. Plan to spend about 30 minutes here.
Getting There: Directly in front of the Central Train Station, you’ll find both the tram stop and the bus stop. Take the 30 bus towards Bygdøy. The bus will drop you off right in front of the Museum of Cultural History. When finished here, walk over to the Viking Ship Museum by making a right at the exit of the Museum of Cultural History. Follow the sidewalk for about 5 minutes, and you’ll come upon the Viking Ship Museum on your right. To get the return bus back to the city center, you’ll find a bus stop on the opposite side of the street that you just walked along … right across from the side entrance to the Viking museum.
Enjoy Traditional Norwegian Cuisine for Lunch
You’ve probably worked up an appetite by now and like any good tourist, you probably want to try some of the local cuisine. It’s a bit of a challenge to find restaurants in Oslo that serve Norwegian dishes, but the Stortorvets Gjestgiveri is one, and you can even find reindeer on their menu. This formal restaurant is very convenient for a tourist on a tight schedule thanks to its location just off of Karl Johans gate and close to the Oslo Cathedral and train station.
If you are more in the mood for a light traditional lunch in a less formal environment, then head over to the Kaffestrova located just a few blocks away from Stortorvets Gjestgiveri towards the National Gallery. A cafeteria style restaurant, you’ll be able to find an inexpensive lunch here with most diners opting for the delicious meat cakes with gravy and a side of boiled potatoes, mushy peas and lingonberries. It’s been in business for 100 years.
After lunch, it’s time to do some shopping, and there’s no better place than the pedestrian street, Karl Johans gate. It starts on one end at Oslo’s Central Train Station and extends to The Royal Palace. It’s just about a mile long from one end to the other.
Along this street you’ll find international stores like Zara and H&M next to Norwegian stores like Dale of Norway and Moods of Norway. You’ll also find a few souvenir shops selling the typical inexpensive knickknack items.
However, if you want to pick up some quality souvenirs, just walk a block off of Karls Johans gate over towards the Cathedral. At the corner of Stortorvet and Kirkegata (next to the Stortorvets Gjestgiveri restaurant, you’ll find the Glasmaginost building. Here, in the basement, you’ll find Den Hinfludesen, a store selling high quality souvenirs like Viking drinking cups, wood carved trolls, national dresses and more practical items like Dale of Norway sweaters, hats and mittens.
The Royal Palace
The Royal Palace, with its 173 rooms, is the residence of the Norwegian monarch. The Royal Palace is only open to the public during the summer, and you are required to take a one-hour guided tour to visit it. The tour takes visitors through the state rooms including the Cabinet Parlour, Council Chamber, White Parlour, King Haakon VII Suite, Upper Vestibule, Bird Room, Mirror Hall, Family Dining Room, Small Ceremonial Hall, Great Hall and the Banqueting Hall. English tours are offered daily at noon, 2 pm, 2.20 pm and 4 pm. If you are just in the city for a day, you may want to just stop by for a photo opportunity.
The Scream at The National Gallery
Even if you aren’t into Art Galleries, while in Oslo, you should at least make a stop to see the famous painting by the Norwegian Expressionist artist, Edvard Munch. The Scream, painted around 1893 using oil and pastel on cardboard, features a ghoulish figure with an agonized expression on its face set against a landscape (believed to be Oslo) with a deep orange sky. It’s housed in the National Gallery and not the Munch Museum (which is also in Oslo) and is conveniently located off of Karls Johansgate close to the Royal Palace.
The first floor of the museum houses the museum shop and the elegant café, the French Salon, with its polished marbled stucco walls and gilded ornamentation. It’s a great stop for a quick cup of coffee and sweet treat.
The second floor houses the color-coded galleries, with The Scream located in Gallery 19. You can pick up a map of the galleries at the ticket desk. When you get to the top of the stairs on the 2nd level, make a right and go straight back a few galleries. Museum security is all over the place so just ask, and they’ll point you in the right direction. The Scream is on the rear wall of the gallery.
Nobel Peace Center
This two story museum is dedicated to the Nobel Peace Prize and the peace efforts of the current winner as well as its past laureates. The ground floor of the museum houses the Alfred café (offering locally sourced, sustainably produced and seasonal foods), a small gift shop (offering unique gifts from around the world), and a moving exhibition (based on the most recent Nobel Peace Prize winner).
The second floor houses the permanent exhibits including my favorite, the Nobel Field. The Nobel Field is a room dedicated to all past laureates. In this dimly lit room illuminated by small white lights, you’ll find each laureates story presented on their own personal screen.
Happy Hour in Grünerløkka
Take a break from the city center and head east to Oslo’s trendy neighborhood, Grünerløkka. Just a quick tram ride away, here, you’ll find plenty of funky bars and artisan coffee shops. It’s a perfect area to find a spot to relax and enjoy either a cold pint of Ringes beer or a smooth mug of Norwegian coffee.
When you get off the tram, walk two blocks north to the Olaf Reyes plass. Along the north side of this square park, you’ll find a block full of outdoor restaurants and cafes (Grüners Gate between Marveien and Thorvald Meyer Gate). Another popular place to grab a drink and a light bite is the Nighthawk Diner just two blocks north from the park along Thorvald Meyers Gate at Seilduksgata.
If you prefer to try some local craft beers in a relaxing bar, then head over to BrewDog (BD57) at Markveien 57, just 3 blocks southwest of the park. Here, you’ll find 20 taps pouring a variety of craft beers with half from BrewDog and the other half consisting of a rotating curated selection from brewers across Norway and Scandinavia. If you prefer a cup of coffee, consider Tim Wendelboe’s Espresso Bar & Roastery located just a block west of the park at the corner of Grüner Gate and Fossveien.
Getting There: Take Tram 11, 12, or 13 to Schous Plass stop.
Dinner in Aker Brygge
Aker Brygge is an area along Oslo’s waterfront filled with ice cream kiosks, pricey restaurants, a few stores, a hotel or two and residential buildings. During the day, it feels like a ghost town, but once the work day ends, you’ll find this place buzzing with mostly business people and tourists filling the waterfront restaurants for dinner.
Most of the restaurants in this pedestrian area of the city offer both indoor and outdoor seating (heated on chilly days). For a list of restaurants, check out Visit Oslo’s guide.
A night cap in Aker Brygge
After dinner in Aker Brygge, stick around this posh neigbhorhood for a nightcap. Mosey on over to the Underbar for a quiet, intimate drink. This small, cozy basement bar has a lounge atmosphere and a great bourbon selection. If you are looking for a bit more action, head upstairs from Underbar to the more lively Beer Palace. The Beer Palace has one of Oslo’s largest beer offerings. Enjoy a drink in a traditional pub setting that also offers pool and shuffleboard.
Where I Stayed
During my visit to Oslo over a few days, I stayed at two hotels, the Thon Hotel Opera and the Clarion Hotel Royal Christiania. Both hotels are conveniently located right outside of the Central Train Station making it easy to get around to many of the sights on foot as well as access the trams and buses needed to get to other areas around Oslo.
Have you been to Oslo? What were your favorite experiences and sights? Do you have any recommendations for restaurants and bars? Share in the comments below.
Special thanks to Visit Oslo, Flytoget, and Visit Norway USA for providing assistance with accommodations, transportation and admission to sights in and around Oslo during my visit. As always, opinions and recommendations are 100% my own. For more information and assistance in planning your visit to Oslo, check out Visit Oslo’s website.
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