What to see
Oslo Opera House
The Oslo Opera House (Operahuset) was opened in 2008 and quickly won some of the most prestigious culture and architectural awards in Europe. It was designed to look like a floating sheet of ice and is one of the most fascinating buildings in Oslo. This marble and granite structure with hard-angled corners is home to the Norwegian National Opera and Ballet and the National Opera Theatre in Norway. With its high glass partitions, the building appears to be rising right out of the sea. One of the interesting features of the design is a ramp that allows you to walk on top of the building, which acts as an observation deck overlooking the whole city. While the outside of the building may look a little “ice cold,” the warm, wood interior is as welcoming as can be. After the 14th-century Nidaros Cathedral, this is the most important cultural building in the city and possibly the most important in terms of the arts.
Holmenkollen Ski Museum and Tower
The Holmenkollen Ski Tower (Holmenkollbakken) is one of the city’s most popular spots with its stunning views from the hill over the city. The Ski Museum (Skimuseet i Holmenkollen) museum at its base is known as the world’s oldest ski museum, having been established in 1923. In addition to items describing the history of skiing in the form of objects, photos, and documentaries, the museum also exhibits the belongings of famous polar explorers Roald Amundssen and Fridtjof Nansen. The hill on which they stand is 370 meters above sea-level, with an imposing ski jump tower that opened in 2010, itself is 60 meters high, and quickly has become one of the world’s most popular towers of its type. Made of concrete and 1,000 tons of steel, this is the place for an unforgettable skiing experience. If actually skiing off the tower sounds a little daunting, you can try the 12-person simulator. The complex also features a café, a souvenir shop and a terrace for looking out over Oslo.
Viking Ship Museum
The Viking Ship Museum (Vikingskipshuset på Bygdøy) exhibits ships named after where they were found – the Oseberg ship, Gokstad ship and Tune ship. Archaeological excavations into burial grounds found both these impressively well preserved ships, as well as many other items of value reflecting Viking history, including many pieces uncovering the secrets of the day-to-day social lives of the Vikings. These include wood carvings that show the depth of Viking artwork, though the museum’s stars are certainly the ships. The museum also features a souvenir shop, where you can pick up something to remember your trip by.
This 700-year-old fortress that once housed Norse kings is one of the icons of Norway and a destination that should be high on your list of places to visit while in Oslo. Construction on Akershus Fortress (Akershus Festning) began under King Haakon V in the 13th century, and in 1624, Oslo’s city center was founded within the castle walls. The building that forms the centerpiece of the city’s skyline and is also one of the city’s most important spots for promenades, culture and the arts. Military buildings were added over time, giving it even more character, and it now even forms the headquarters for the Norwegian Ministry of Defence and Defence Staff Norway. The fortress is also used for official events by the Norwegian state. In addition to the medieval castle, the fortress houses such important structures as the royal mausoleum and the castle church, all of which form an unforgettable view right over the harbor. Norway’s Resistance Museum (Norges Hjemmefrontmuseum) and the Norwegian Armed Forces Museum (Forsvarsmuseet – The Defence Museum) are also within the fortress. The fortified settlements, together with their historical and artistic value, form a critical part of Oslo’s cultural scene, while it also houses concerts and exhibitions.
The Norwegian poet and playwright Henrik Ibsen (1828-1906) spent the last 11 years of his life in this house, and since 2006 it’s served as one of Oslo’s most notable museums. After Ibsen’s wife’s death in 1914, Ibsen’s study and bedroom went to the municipality of Kristiania and his library was donated to the Skien Museum. The dining room was given to the Grimstad Museum, the town in which Ibsen wrote his first play, Catilina, while working as a pharmacy assistant. The Grimstad Museum is Norway’s oldest Ibsen Museum, opened in 1916. The most attractive furniture of his house, in his so-called “red room” was given to his son who was living in Italy at the time. The furniture was preserved in his son’s house in Italy before being bought back by the Norwegian government in 2002, and placed in the Ibsen Museum (Ibsenmuseet). Some of Ibsen’s most famous works include Peer Gynt (1867), A Doll’s House (1879), Ghosts (1881), An Enemy of the People (1882) and The Wild Duck (1884).
A rich collection of the works of Edvard Munch, including his oil paintings, prints, watercolor paintings, and sculptures is housed in this museum. The expressionist painter’s best-known work is unquestionably The Scream (Skrik). In 2004 the painting was stolen, though it was found in 2006 and returned to its rightful place in the museum. In most of his works, one sees the major themes of love and death playing out against one another. As a result, the artist juxtaposed the use of depressive colors with more uplifting tones. Munch’s personal museum is also housed in the museum. The museum has many temporary and permanent exhibitions, film screenings, concerts and conferences. A tour through the Munch Museum (Munchmuseet) might be easier with the helpful audio tour system available.
Nobel Peace Center
In addition to the permanent exhibition of the Nobel Peace Center (Nobels Fredssenter), it tells the history of the peace prize and its history, as well as that of Alfred Nobel himself, the father of the award. The center was opened in Oslo in 2005, and provides information about the lives, works and projects of all the people who’ve won the award. It also houses modern conference rooms, meeting rooms, exhibition spaces and media centers to make it a really top-notch cultural and artistic venue. This center was converted from an old 1872 train station and is one of the most important places to visit in Oslo. The Nobel Peace Center is perfectly easy to walk around on your own, though if you’d like you can join the tours that are organized as well.
The Oslo Cathedral (Oslo domkirke) was built in 1657, which actually makes it Oslo’s third cathedral – the first cathedral is the 12th-century Hallvards Cathedral. For over 500 years, this was Oslo’s most important cathedral until 1624, when a fire led to it being rebuild in a safer region of the city. In 1639 a second cathedral was built, though it too succumbed to flames just 50 years after construction, after which the building of the modern cathedral began. The tower of the cathedral was rebuilt in 1850, which has seen a number of repairs over the years. The interior of the Oslo Cathedral is absolutely enchanting, with ornate bronze doors, ceiling decorations and an elegantly decorated 1699 Baroque pulpit and altarpiece. The stained glass windows designed by famous Norwegian artist Emanuel Vigeland are also wonderful. Behind the cathedral is a market place designed between 1841 and 1858 by famous Norwegian architect Christian Heinrich Grosch. The market itself is well worth a visit for its antiques and handcrafts.
Oslo City Hall
Construction began in 1931, but due to the outbreak of World War II, City Hall (Oslo rådhus) wasn’t officially opened until 1950, but it’s unquestionably Oslo’s largest building. It was designed by the famous architects Arnstein Arneberg and Magnus Poulsson. The building’s massive exterior is mostly made of brick with magnificent square towers. One of the towers displays the time and at the entrance of the building there’s an astronomical clock. Just as striking as the towers is the sound of the 38 bells located to the east of the towers. When the bells begin to chime, the sound echoes through all of Oslo’s city center and harbor. The gorgeous halls in the building are full of works of Norwegian painters and designers. The Great Hall, famous for its walls decorated by Henrik Sørensen, was designed between 1938 and 1950, and features intricate murals depicting Norwegian history and mythology.
Frogner Park houses the famous Vigeland installation (Vigelandsanlegget) and is the largest park of its kind in the world. The sculptures are all the work of Norwegian sculptor Gustav Vigeland (1869-1943), and there are over two hundred of bronze, granite and wrought iron. The sculptures are designed in the park to be part of five themes, named the Main Gate, Bridge, Fountain, Monolith and the Wheel of Life. Starting from both the park’s main entrance and the main gate, which is a work of art in itself, it’s impossible not to be totally enraptured by the 850 meter long walkway through the park and its incredible works of art. Along with its pedestal, the Monolith measures 17 meters tall and has 121 human figures intertwined into an incredible totem. The sculptures in the park really are worth examining one by one, with some looking as if they were floating between the branches of trees and others as if they were connected by strands of thread.
What to eat
Making Eggs Norwegian is incredibly simple. First you poach two eggs and put them on a plate. Meanwhile, heat up a muffin and cook some spinach until it’s tender. The muffins are then cut lengthwise into two halves, with spinach, smoked salmon, and then cooked eggs put between them with Hollandaise sauce heaped generously on top. And with that, this Norwegian favorite is ready to be served.
Salmon can be prepared in a number of different ways, and it’s one of the most popular foods in Norway. In Oslo, as with everywhere else in the country, salmon is either grilled, smoked, or steamed. There are many different salmon recipes which will be used in each restaurant you’ll come across. Fish soup is typically made using salmon, though it’s also common to make it with sea bass or sea bream. Salmon tends to be a central feature of both local Norwegian restaurants and also those featuring more international cuisine. Norwegian salmon is always as fresh as can be, so be sure to try it while you’re in the city.