Norway’s small capital city Oslo might be pricey, but the extra outlay is worth it for the experience. As the green capital of Europe, it often feels more like a giant outdoor park – beautiful and enchanting (even when it’s raining). Add to this some world-class history, culture and art museums and a bustling year-round music scene, you’re sure to have an eye-opening experience if you follow our handy guide!
Must spend time in nature in Hovedøya
Locals refer to Oslo as “the blue and the green with a city in between” as despite its intensely urban feel, Oslo city still feels like an afterthought in relation to the vast, beautiful and overwhelming nature that is accessible within minutes, no matter where you are standing.
Hopping on the B1, B2, B3 or B4 ferries from Aker Brygge well take you to largely uninhabited islands in no more than 20 minutes, and from here you can wander off into the woodland, lay out a picnic blanket, or strip off and take a dip. It’s the perfect way to relax and unwind on a warm day before heading back into town for the evening.
Must hike the Aker River until you reach the markets
Sunday is a great day to use your feet, by taking a leisurely hike up the Aker River. Near the top there are two conveniently located markets around Blå and Ingensteds in Grünerløkka are full of Knitwear, jewellery, ceramics, glass, wool, clothes, toys, paintings, bags and curious antiques you’re unlikely to find anywhere else.
The walk encompasses much of Oslo’s industrial heritage – passing over the Aamodt bridge gives a beautiful view over the waterfall into the former factory buildings that are now the campus of the Oslo University Of The Arts.
Must take a selfie in the Sculpture Park
The Sculpture park in the Frogner Park houses more than 200 athletic and playful sculptures by Gustav Vigeland in bronze, granite and cast iron. They capture the human form – man, woman and child – in a myriad playful poses and evocative inter-personal vignettes. Most famous are The Angry Boy, The Monolith and The Wheel of Life. Vigeland was also responsible for the design and architectural outline of the park, which is one of Norway’s top tourist attractions, with more than one million annual visitors.
If you’re looking for good social content, the park is a meme-lovers paradise, with every sculpture, from the humorous to the serious, ready to be snapped-and-captioned for your Instagram and Snapchat. Get lost getting creative and let all your friends back home know that you have time to be cultured AND funny.
Must go shopping – especially records
Ok, we can’t ignore the fact any longer – prices in Norway are eye-watering high, no matter where you come from. Expect to pay between 20% to 40% more than you would expect even in an expensive city like London.
Luckily, if you are a resident of a country other than Norway, Sweden, Finland or Denmark, you can have the Norwegian VAT (mva) refunded at the airport when you leave the country. When you make a purchase, you must clearly state your country of residence in order to have the necessary export document filled in by store staff.
That said Oslo has a great selection of record shops too, reflecting its diverse music culture. The largest record shop for new vinyl in Oslo is Big Dipper records on Torggata 16, while Neseblod Records (Schweigaards gt 56) and Katakomben (Youngstorget 6) best represent Norway’s niche but highly regarded black metal scene (try it – you might like it!). If black metal is too niche for you, try Råkk & Rålls (Akersgata 39). Second hand vinyl of all genres, Pop/Rock, Indie, 60´s, punk, reggae, electronica, jazz, kitsch furniture and accessories sit alongside some other treasures.
Must take a Pop Art Masterclass
So that’s where all of Damien Hirst’s formaldehyde animals ended up… The Astrup Fearnley Collection is a collection of modern and contemporary art counted among the most significant of its kind in Northern Europe.
Famous, ground-breaking modern works works you’ve seen a hundred times reproduced in pop culture and online are displayed ‘in the flesh’ for you to pontificate about and ponder, housed in a museum building designed by the renowned Italian architect Renzo Piano.
Made up of three pavilions that reside under one distinctive glass roof, shaped like a sail, the building looks out into Oslo’s harbour. It’s a digested ride through visual art from the 60s/70s through to the present day and makes a perfect daytime excursion.
Must get to know Norwegians at the Oslo City Museum
Norwegians can seem shy at first. So if you’re left wondering more about their back story, it’s worth a visit to the Oslo city museum, conveniently located next to the Sculpture Park. The museum presents the city’s history through the eyes of its population – a third of which are from non-Norweigian backgrounds. It’s a fun and evocative way to get to know your surroundings better – particularly mocked up interiors of different Oslo families’ private dwellings.
Having heard the story of the people, slide by a free 15 minute tour of Oslo City Hall to get a quick rundown of the power. Inaugurated in 1950, Oslo City Hall is the city’s administrative body and the seat of the City Council. Despite its understated functionalist exterior, the building has been decorated by great Norwegian art from 1900-1950, with motifs from Norwegian history, culture and working life. The frescos in the grand hall are unmissable.
Must check out the live music at Øya Festival
Oslo is often mentioned as the “live capital” of Scandinavia as it has more double the annual shows thanas Stockholm and Copenhagen combined. The best time to get there is August with Øya Festival – the ultimate urban music festival. It feels like the best of Glastonbury’s A-list line up, in an intimate location that feels like one giant VIP area – and no camping!
But even if your trip to Norway doesn’t coincide with with Øya, you’re more than likely to be able to catch an international artist passing through town, or a slew of homegrown Norwegian talent – from pop to black metal – of which the Norwegians are very proud.
STAY: Comfort Inn Karl Johan is reasonably priced for its location in the city, kitschy but clean and has a gym and good Scandinavian and Continental buffet breakfast.
BOOK A FOODIE WALKING TOUR: Oslo has a great culinary heritage. On a whirlwind tour the easiest way to find the best taste of the city book a foodie tour led by an expert guide
MORE INFO: Check out the Visit Oslo website.
TIP: More so than many other cities, the Oslo Pass represents real value for money. It can be bought online and activated on your phone, and gives you free transport by car, tram or boat, entry into most of Oslo’s best attractions and a 20% discount and a handful of great restaurants in the city.