Oslo, the capital and most populous city in Norway, is a great weekend escape for travellers wanting to breathe in fresh crisp air, seek adventure and experience the outdoor Norwegian lifestyle. But how can you experience all this in just one weekend?
What to know before you go
Sadly, despite being a popular destination for numerous budget-friendly airlines, Oslo (and Norway in general) is not cheap to visit. Expect to pay around 600 – 1,000 NOK (Norwegian Krone) per day on food, transport and activities per person.
(Approximately 100 NOK equals £8 – £9)
How to get around Oslo
You can access most activities and sites near the city of Oslo on foot, including the Oslo Opera House, the Royal Palace, Oslo City Hall, the Nobel Peace Centre and Akershus Fortress.
If you do want to venture out to the islands, visit Frogner Park or see the ski jump at Holmenkollen, you should purchase either an Oslo Pass or a Ruter# travel card.
Ruter# ticket or travel card can be purchased at ticket machines near bus and train stations and can be used on public buses, trams, subways, ferries (not the Bygdøy ferry) and local trains. Travel to and from the airports is not included. Alternatively, you can download the RuterBillett app and use the app on your phone as you would a travel card.
(Ruter# ticket prices: a 1+2 zone 24-hour pass cost 190 NOK and a 7 day pass cost 640 NOK)
The Oslo Pass gives you free entry to more than 30 museums and attractions and free travel on public transport within zone 1 (Oslo) and zone 2, including the ferry to the Bygdøy museums. You will also have the option to enjoy free entry to outdoor swimming pools, free walking tours, discounts on sightseeing, ski simulator, Tusenfryd Amusement Park (including bus no. 500), concert tickets, climbing, ski and bike rental, and special offers in restaurants, shops, and entertainment and leisure venues.
You can purchase an Oslo Pass from the Oslo visitor centre outside the Central Station Oslo S, Oslo Hostel Central, or most major hotels in the city.
(Oslo Pass prices: a 24-hour pass cost 335 NOK and a 48 hour pass cost 490 NOK)
Day one: how to see Oslo in a day
If you want to see and explore as much as possible in one day (or you’re like us and you got cheap flights from London and you only have 24 hours to spare) you should aim to do four things; wander along the city harbour, catch a ferry on the Oslofjord, visit a museum, and take a walk through nature.
And yes, you can do all of this in only one day! Check out Dan’s video for a quick snapshot:
Wander along the city harbour
Oslo is a very pretty city, set between the rolling green hills and woodland that surround the city in the north and the sparkling blue waters of the harbour.
Start your day early on the east side of the harbour at the Oslo Opera House, home of The Norwegian National Opera and Ballet, and the national opera theatre in Norway. The modern and striking building is situated in the Bjørvika neighborhood of central Oslo, and is part of a large redevelopment program of the historic harbour. But the highlight here is its accessible roof and open public lobbies that make the building more of a social monument, and a great spot for a photo opportunity.
Walking west along the harbour, you will come across Akershus Fortress, the medieval castle on the peninsular. It was originally constructed around the early 1300s to protect Oslo against its invaders. It’s now used for official events and dinners for dignitaries and foreign heads of state, and is open to the public daily until late in the evening. The Norwegian Armed Forces Museum and Norway’s Resistance Museum are located at the same site.
A little further along the harbour is the characteristic and almost formidable Oslo City Hall, or Rådhuset. The somewhat Soviet-style building has been decorated on the outside by great Norwegian art from 1900-1950, featuring motifs from Norwegian history, culture and working life. Inside, the walls are decorated with floor-to-ceiling murals, stately rooms are used for official ceremonies and the Oslo City Hall Gallery features some more unique artwork.
(Oslo City Hall Gallery admission: free. Opening hours: 11am – 4pm)
And, every year on December 10, the anniversary death of Alfred Nobel (1833-1896), the Nobel Peace Prize is awarded during a ceremony hosted here.
Nearby, the Nobel Peace Center is housed in an old train station and is a museum dedicated to the Nobel Peace Prize and its winners. Permanent installations tell the story of Alfred Nobel and the Nobel Peace Prize Laureates and their ground breaking work.
(Nobel Peace Center admission: 100 NOK. Opening hours: 10am – 6pm daily)
Catch a ferry on the Oslofjord and visit a museum on the Bygdøy peninsular
On the harbour, behind the Oslo City Hall (Rådhus), is a jetty for ferries that transport you across the picturesque Oslofjord. It is here than you can catch a 10 minute ferry to Bygdøy.
The Bygdøy peninsular is a popular ferry stop for museums such as the Norwegian Folk Museum, the Kon-Tiki Museum, the Fram Museum (The Polar Ship Farm), the Norwegian Maritime Museum, the Holocaust Center, and the Vikingskipshuset (Viking Ship Museum).
We visited the Viking Ship Museum, known for its fascinating historical stories and artefacts. The Viking Ship Museum is part of the Museum of Cultural History of the University of Oslo, and houses archaeological finds from Tune, Gokstad, Oseberg and the Borre mound cemetery.
(Viking Ship Museum admission: 80 NOK. Opening hours: 10am – 6pm daily)
Take a walk through nature
After visiting Bygdøy, we caught bus 31 back to the Oslo City Hall and grabbed some delicious street food for a quick lunch. From NSB Nationaltheatret Train Station nearby, we caught the T-bane (T1) westbound and up the green hills to Frognerseteren.
Still within the city boundaries, Frognerseteren is the perfect place to explore the forested wilderness that seems so far away from the cosmopolitan city below. The expansive rocky hills and woodland are where hikers, mountain bikers, roller skiers, disc golfers (Frisbee golf), dog walkers and families enjoy the outdoor Norwegian lifestyle. It’s the ideal place for an easy stroll and a picnic on a sunny day.
A little way down the hill, at Holmenkollen, is the one of Norway’s busiest ski resorts and its famously enormous Olympic ski jump. The view from the top is terrifying steep, but halfway up there is the Skimuseet (Ski Museum) with exhibits exploring the history of skiing and a Ski Simulator. And, every weekend in April and May you can enjoy the view over the city and fjord as you fly 361m down the ski jump on a zipline from the very top to the bottom.
(Ski Museum and jump tower admission: 130 NOK. Opening hours: 10am – 4pm daily. Ski Simulator admission: 75 NOK)
From Holmenkollen train station, you can catch the T-bane (T1) eastbound towards the city centre.
If you have time, there is plenty more to see in this buzzing cosmopolitan city, including dozens of lively bars, cafés, restaurants, the Royal Palace, Nasjonalgalleriet (National Gallery) and the Hjemmefrontmuseum (Resistance Museum).
Day two: summer island hopping in Oslo
If you’re lucky enough to had a second day in Oslo (and you don’t have to spend it getting to Torp Airport, 110km away), you can enjoy the best of Oslofjord.
The Oslofjord and its islands can be easily explored by ferry from the city and are a hot spot for water-based summer activities such as sun-bathing, beach-bumming, swimming, kayaking, canoeing, fishing, and sailing.
From the Rådhusbrygge 4 ferry stop near the Oslo City Hall you can catch the ferry to Hovedøya (for monastery ruins), Langøyene (for its beaches and FREE camping), Gressholmen (for its rabbits), Nakholmen, Bleikøya and Lindøya (for cosy summer cottages). Most of the islands have hiking trails, connecting footpaths, wildlife, forests and grassy fields perfect for those keen to explore the area on foot. And, some islands also feature ruins dating from the Stone Age and Bronze Age.
During the summer, you should be able to access most of the islands and the Bygdøy peninsular with an Oslo Pass or Ruter# ticket, but check online for details.
Looking for more travel inspiration?
Check out my recommendation on what to do in:
Amsterdam, Bali, Berlin, Brisbane, Bristol, Budapest, Cambridge, Canberra, Cappadocia, Chamonix, Copenhagen, Dubrovnik, Istanbul, Kotor, Kyoto, London, Lyon, Madrid, New York City, Paris, Oslo, Riga, Scotland, Tokyo and Washington D.C.