Oslo may not be a city capital that is as popular as, let’s say, Paris, Tokyo, or New York. However, there is no doubt that it’s a wonderful gateway to the incredible country of Norway. That being said, a stop here in your itinerary is something that you surely must NOT miss!
After all, as you land in such a coveted Scandinavian destination, it will be a waste if you wouldn’t spend at least a day in this metropolis that’s not only packed with culture but with breathtaking vistas too — all of which can leave you with fond memories to remember by!
And to make your stay in Oslo even better, how about a list of awesome FREE things to do?
» READ: Norway Road Trip Itinerary (12 Days, West & East Area)
Come and check out this list of the top things to do in Oslo which features the best activities and tours to do in the city and more!
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Free Things To Do in Oslo, Norway
#1 – Witness the changing of the guards at the Royal Palace
The Royal Palace (Slottet) is the current official residence of today’s Norwegian monarch. Other than strolling through the scenic Palace Park that surrounds this building, one of the things that you must try to catch here is the changing of the guards which happens every day at 1:30PM.
If, however, you want to explore the inside of the palace, it is possible — but only during the summer via their official guided tours that last for an hour (English tours are done twice on weekdays only). It costs 135 NOK ($15~ or Php 795~) and it must be booked in advance from a post office.
#2 – See some of the city’s top well-known landmarks
When I first stepped into the Parliament-Palace axis (upper part of Karl Johan Street) in Oslo, I somewhat felt that it was almost akin to that of Paris. Anyhow, there may have been only a few monumental landmarks there, but the rest of the city is speckled with great spots such as…
City Hall (Oslo’s Rådhus)
Did you know that the annual Nobel Peace Prize program held on December 10 is held in this city hall? Sure it may be an invitation-only affair, but if you time your visit, you can attend the traditional torchlight parade in the evening at 7:00PM to catch sight of the Peace Prize winner from the Grand Hotel balcony. Otherwise, this City Hall is open to the public for free and the gorgeous Nordic-themed murals inside the buildings are a must-see!
Parliament House (Stortinget)
There are FREE guided tours at either 10:00AM or 11:30AM and they can be done both in English and Norwegian. However, it’s only being held during the summer and it lasts about 45 minutes (it’s also done during spring and autumn, but only on a Saturday). There is a limit of 30 people per tour though, so it’s best that you arrive at the Parliament House early, outside the back entrance called Akersgata.
Norwegian National Ballet & Opera House
This is arguably Norway’s first submission to modern architecture, and they have been well-praised for it after they were given the 2008 prize for ‘Best Cultural Building’ at the World Architecture Festival Barcelona along with several other accolades. With such a fact, you should see this building for yourself to see how stunning it is! It’s somehow shaped like a glacier and during the summer, it’s a must to climb to its roof (which can be done for FREE) in order to enjoy panoramic views of Oslo and the surrounding fjord. In times when the roof is too slippery to climb, go lounge at the large-scale windows of the Opera House and you might just catch a glimpse of some rehearsals and shows.
Akershus Castle & Fortress
This medieval castle was built back in 1299. It held a strategic location and had also withstood a number of sieges. Around the late 50s, it has been converted into a Renaissance castle and royal residence. Today, the fortress is a popular venue for major events and celebrations. As a tourist, feel free to roam around and inside this fortress, as well as visit 2 of its housed museums that are both related to Norwegian military history. When you go up to the top floor, you’ll even enjoy a sight of Oslofjord (a nearby fjord that leads to Oslo).
This is Norway’s main honorary burial ground and it houses famous Norwegians such as Edvard Munch (the painter famous for his work ‘The Scream‘), Henrik Ibsen, Henrik Wergeland, Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson, Richard Nordrak, Christian Krogh and Alf Prøysen.
Stretched out across a section in Bjørvika, this “Opera Quarter” is where you can find a row of new yet picturesque high-rise buildings that were completed in 2014 as an aim to reshape the urban landscape.
#3 – Visit the charming Norwegian Houses in Damstredet and Telthusbakken
Photo by Trond Strandsberg / CC
Wooden houses are said to be a Norwegian tradition, and if you want to catch a glimpse of such charming structures, you can find them in the two small roads of Damstredet and Telthusbakken in Oslo (just below the medieval church Gamle Aker Kirke).
Stepping into this area will instantly make you feel like you’ve been transported to the countryside, what with its gorgeous pastel-color wooden houses from the late 1700s and 1800s (all of which are inhabited).
#4 – Go window shopping at Oslo’s top commercial spots
If you are merely looking to window shop, there are plenty of places to choose from in Oslo (…that you might just end up buying a unique item or two — there’s no harm in that!)
Karl Johans Gate
Apart from the 2 main shopping malls in Oslo City and Byporten, you can also drop by this “Main Street” of Oslo for unique finds (like a novelty item such as that of a viking helmet!). This area is flocked by tourists though, and it makes sense since it’s near the famous landmarks: Royal Palace and more.
If you’re looking for a scenic yet modern shopping area, head to this waterfront complex that houses some of the city’s finest galleries, pubs, restaurants, theaters, and shops. Another shopping street that you should take note of if you want a look into boutiques would be Bogstadveien (you’ll also find some popular chain stores like H&M, etc.)
Located at Oslo Cathedral, the bazaars that you will find here were constructed from 1841 onwards and there are various stalls by artisans and craftsmen (as well as some cafes and eating places).
- Oslo has several markets that open on certain times of the year. During March and December, a 2nd-hand and antique market in Vestkanttorvet takes place in Majorstuen every Saturday, and then a flea market Grünerløkka opens up every Sunday.
- Come holiday season, of course the Christmas Markets are a must to see in Oslo. You’ll find the two main ones in Rådhusplassen and in the Folk Museum on Bygdøy.
- For the foodies, come late September to Matstreif Festival (held also on Rådhusplassen).
#5 – Visit some note-worthy churches
Photo by Bjørn Erik Pedersen / CC
There are several churches / cathedrals in Oslo, but those that you must see would be:
Old Aker Church (Gamle Aker Kirke)
This is Oslo’s oldest remaining building and the only remaining church from the Middle Ages (said to be built around 1150).
This is used for weddings and funerals by the Norwegian Royal Family and the Norwegian Government. (After the terror attacks in Oslo back in July 2011, the square in front of Oslo Cathedral called as Stortorget is used as a center for compassion).
The Trinity Church (Trefoldighetskirken)
A neo-Gothic style church that is considered as one of the most beautiful churches in Oslo — and they may just be right about that!
#6 – Enjoy nature within the city
Photo by Helge Høifødt / CC
This may be the capital, filled with old and new buildings alike, but Oslo is the kind of city that has plenty of green and nature too!
This is a 20 to 40km wide forest that surrounds the city. Clearly, it’s a great recreational area for locals; besides, there are several lakes where you can swim in! However, take note that there are lakes such as Maridalsvannet that are for drinking water in the city.
Found in Tøyen, this places houses a wide rage of botanical variety and diversity. The entrance is FREE so make the most of it! (Open Tuesday to Sunday, 11:00AM to 4:00PM).
At 8 kilometers long, this river holds waterfalls, swimming spots, fishing grounds, forested areas, and wildlife. (NOTE: In my opinion, the best waterfall in Akerselva is located by the Beier Bridge).
#7 – Lounge around unique sculpture parks
Aside from its natural spaces, Oslo has wide green spaces too that are filled with unique sculptures worthy of your time.
Frogner Park (Forgnerparken) and the Vigeland installation
This is the largest park in Oslo and also one of Norway’s most visited attractions. To add, this is the world’s largest sculpture park made by a single artist: that is, the Norwegian artist, Gustav Vigeland. There are more than 200 sculptures in bronze, granite and wrought iron all throughout this park and in the center, you’ll find the well-known Viegland installation (which makes other people incorrectly refer to Frogner Park as Vigeland Park). At the center of everything — which is the highest point in Frogner Park — lies the most popular attraction, the Monolith (Monolitten) which is a totem-like structure that is composed of 121 human figures rising towards the sky. Other things that you can find here are: a picturesque central bridge, a pond, the Frogner Manor, a pavillion, and the neighboring Frogner Baths or Frognerbadet (a pool complex).
This is a national heritage park that contains over 31 scultptures. When in this area, take your time to go up Ekeberg hill to see a great view of the city. (TRIVIA: This point is said to be the background of the famous painting of Edvard Munch: Scream.)
#8 – Visit museums that have FREE admission
The following museums have FREE admission on Thursdays:
This is Norway’s largest public collection of paintings, drawings and sculptures. You will find here Edvar Munch’s ‘The Scream‘ and Madonna among many others.
Museum of Contemporary Art
Contains about 5,000 works of Norwegian and international artists that covers broad spectrums of genres and media.
National Museum (Architecture Museum)
This place explores contemporary and historical themes. Meanwhile, the building itself is a juxtaposition of classicism and modernist architecture between Norway’s two most important architects.
Oslo City Museum
Learn more about the city’s history through models, paintings, and photographs.
In here, you can explore the first films that were shown in Oslo as well as Norwegian collections of costumes and clips of several celebrities and films respectively.
Other paid museums that are worth your while: Viking Ship Museum, Norwegian Maritime Museum, and Fram Polar Ship Museum.
#9 – Try or see some winter-related wonders
In the long Scandinavian winters of Oslo, there are a lot of FREE ice rinks that pop up all over the city such as the Spikersuppa that’s located between the National Theatre and Parliament. You can bring your own ice skates to this venue, or rent a pair from the pavilion next to the rink for 100 NOK per day. (Remember that the rink closes from late 3PM to 5PM to renew the ice).
This ski jump basically embodies more than a century of skiing competions and it’s quite a sight to see. If you have an Oslo Pass, you can enter the building as well as its ski museum (said to be the oldest ski museum in the world).
#10 – Indulge in FREE music shows, concerts, and festivals
There is NO shortage of entertainment when you come visit Oslo!
Frank Znort Quartet
This ‘quartet’, that’s famous for its colorful music, typically plays FREE concerts to anyone and everyone on Sunday nights — just check their schedule on www.blaaoslo.no (this site also lists others free concerts that are happening around the city). Come summer time, they regularly play outdoor sets from 5:30PM.
National Music Day
Held on the 1st Saturday in June, this free music festival welcomes hundreds of artists on almost 40 outdoor stags. All genres of music are played, from rock to jazz, to choirs and folk music!
Visiting in mid August? Be sure to check out the free-entry Mela festival that introduces worldwide artists of music, arts, crafts, theater and dance.
Granittrock (Rock Festival)
Done usually on September, this is the festival to attend if you’re more into rock or hip-hop! (Admission is FREE and there are usually big names who come to play).
For a complete calendar of FREE events, go here.
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LOCAL CURRENCY: Norwegian krone (NOK)
$1 = 8.5~ NOK = Php 50~
BONUS TIP: If you want to save even more, I suggest buying an Oslo Pass. For example, for a 2-day pass that costs only 595 NOK ($70~ or Php 3,500~), you can already gain free entry to more than 30 museums and attractions, free travel on all public transport (including ferries), free car parking, free entry to outdoor swimming pools, free guided walking tours, and discounts on sightseeing, car hire, ice-skate and ski rental, restaurants, shops, entertainment and leisure venues!
PLUS, if you are in Oslo during the city’s “Tourist in your own city” day, the Oslo Pass is free for everyone (valid only within the day). This 2017, that day will be on April 17. (For more details, see VisitOslo.com).
» How to get to Oslo?
By plane. Oslo Airport (Gardermoen) is the largest airport in Oslo and is the main international gateway to Norway. (In case you’re wondering where to look for the best flight deals, my go-to platforms are Momondo, Kayak, and Skyscanner.)
You can reach the city by Flytoget train (180 NOK), by NSB train (90 NOK), by Flybussen bus (150 NOK), or by taxi (approx. 700+ NOK)
By train. All long-distance trains in Sweden and Denmark can end up in Oslo where the stop is at Oslo Central Station.
By bus. Oslo is well-served by bus from most of Europe. The biggest Scandinavian bus operators wold be Swebus (Swedish) and Nettbuss (Norwegian).
By boat. Oslo is connected to Denmark and Germany by car ferry, and the port for cruise lines is near Akershus Festning.
» Where to stay in Oslo?
Your best choices would be…
» How to get around Oslo?
By foot & by bike. It is easy to go around Oslo on a bike. For example, a ride across the city center takes just about approximately 15 minutes. You can rent bikes via the tourist office (except during winter) for as short as 3 hours for 29 NOK only.
By tram, bus, or metro. All public transportation in Oslo have a standardized fare scheme: single ticket (NOK 30), 24-hour ticket (NOK 90), 7-day ticket (NOK 220), 30-day ticket (NOK 650) and 365-day ticket (NOK 6500). Always make sure that your ticket is validated (activated / stamped) before entering the metro platform or boarding the rear door of a bus or tram.
By taxi. Taxis in Oslo are very expensive, so I suggest that you avoid it. The starting price is at least 80 NOK, in which short central rides can cost up to 100 NOK. (You can pay them by credit card).
» Helpful Norwegian phrases?
Norwegian is the language spoken in Norway, and it is closely related to Danish and Swedish. In fact, I once met a Swedish girl and a Norwegian girl during a trip in Bali, and they were both speaking to one another easily — I had to ask and they said that there weren’t that many differences between their laguages.
Now when you’re visiting Oslo, it doesn’t hurt to learn a few of the following basic phrases:
- Hello (formal): God dag (Goo dag)
- Hello (informal): Hei (Hay)
- Thank you: Tusen takk (Two-sen tahk)
- Yes: Ja (Ya)
- No: Nei (Naye)
- Goodbye (formal): Ha det bra! (Ha de bra!)
Goodbye (informal): Hade! (Ha-de!)
- Excuse me: Unnskyld (Unn-shill mei)
- I’m sorry: Jeg beklager(Jei be-klag-er)
- Is there someone here who speaks English?: Er det noen/nokon som kan snakke engelsk her? (Ær de no-en såm kann snakk-e eng-elsk hær?)
- Help!: Hjelp! (Yelp!)
- Cheers!: Skål! (Skawl!)
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Oslo is certainly the kind of destination that is worth your while!
With a good mix of green and urban scenes, as well as cultural and entertainment spots, it’s bound to have something for just about any kind of traveler out there.
- What do you think of Oslo?
- Would you like to visit this city? Why or why not?
- Or have you visited here before? How was it?