Whether you’re making the most of the midnight sun or deep in the dark depths of the northern winter, you’ll find plenty to do in Oslo, Norway’s capital city.
New openings in recent years – the Deichman Library, Munch and the National Museum – reflect the city’s commitment to preserving cultural heritage for centuries to come. And there’s plenty of artistic and literary creativity to celebrate here: Not only did local landscapes inspire artworks by painter Edvard Munch, Oslo was also home to Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen for the last 15 years of his life. If you’re planning to make the most of the city’s many museums, it’s worth buying the Oslo Pass that gives free admission to 30 different sights as well as use of the public transportation system.
The Viking Ship Museum (Vikingskipshuset) remains closed until 2026 while construction of a new state-of-the-art building is ongoing, but there are many other amazing things you can do in Oslo right now. Here are the very best.
Visit the city’s newest attraction, the world-class National Museum
With the largest collection of art and design in Norway, the brand-new National Museum is now the biggest museum in the Nordics. Don’t rush your visit – there are 6500 objects on display across 86 rooms. Follow the chronological route to explore the best art, design, architecture, crafts, and fashions from antiquity to the present day, seeing how they have shaped or reflected society.
There’s a small collection of Munch’s paintings, including The Scream, and you’ll also spot familiar names such as Vincent van Gogh and Georgia O’Keeffe. Learn about Norway’s folk tales and legends in the Fairy Tale Room and be sure to visit the third-floor Light Hall, an unusual gallery space with walls made of a glass-and-marble composite, currently exhibiting works by contemporary Norwegian artists.
Experience a fjord-side sauna
Finnish sauna culture has been adopted by Oslo over the last 10 years or so and has become a popular thing to do on the harborside. Dress in swimwear and take a seat on a bench in a paneled room that’s heated to 80–95°C (176-200°F) by a wood-burning stove. A towel is recommended to stop an uncomfortable burn on your butt.
From private saunas to huge group events with comedy, DJs and theater entertainment, cultural hub SALT has a sauna that holds up to 80 people. With a maximum capacity of 10, KOK’s floating saunas are found at Aker Brygge and Bjørvika. If a slow-cook near the harbor isn’t private enough for you, book yourself on a KOK cruise. The whole unit is a boat that can dock at a more secluded part of the fjord. Be sure to jump in, either from the roof or straight from the deck – it’s cold but exhilarating.
Celebrate Norway’s favorite sculptor, Gustav Vigeland
Vigelandsparken is a free-to-visit sculpture park dominating Frognerparken to the western suburbs of Oslo. More than 200 incredible granite, iron and bronze works here form the life’s work of prolific Norwegian sculptor Gustav Vigeland. He was inspired by the complex nature of humankind, which is reflected in the twisted positions and facial expressions of many of his figures.
Here you’ll see everything from a classic Greek-style fountain made up of muscular men weighed down by a dish, to family-like groups including mid-tantrum children with sulky expressions, and the distinctive bronze Little Hot-head, a child in a rage. The remarkable centerpiece is the 17m-tall (56ft) Monolith, a single piece of granite carved to form a huddle of 121 separate human figures. Nearby, the Vigeland Museum, housed in a Neoclassical building, offers a more in-depth look at the artist’s work.
Learn and create at Deichman Library
When you visit Deichman, throw away any thoughts of a traditional library. This six-floor airy art-filled space – voted Public Library of the Year in 2021 – aims to be not only a lender of books, but a warm and welcoming environment for people who want to learn, create, explore, work, and socialize.
Want to learn how to make clothes? There’s a whole section of sewing machines for you to reserve. Interested in how 3D-printing works? You can give it a go. There are music rooms where you can borrow and practice instruments, games to play, a stage overlooking the fjord, and even cinemas, all free for public use. For those preferring a more conventional library experience, don’t worry: The shelves hold 450,000 books with plenty of quiet seating areas dotted around the building.
Get out on the fjord by catamaran, boat, kayak or SUP
You can happily gaze at Oslo Fjord from the harborside, but it’s so much better to get out on the sparkling water for a closer look. Make a day of it on the impressive all-electric catamaran Legacy of the Fjords, which glides almost silently across the water on its two trips per day (1h 45mins) to the island of Oscarsborg (also served by commuter ferries B21 and B22), where you can explore the historic Oscarsborg Fortress.
For a shorter and cheaper fjord trip, head out on the commuter routes that are included in the Oslo Pass. Route B2 departs from Aker Brygge to nearby Hovedøya, Gressholmen and Langøyene, and B10 heads for Nesoddtangen, which takes around 20 minutes. If you’re looking for something a little more active, Mad Goats rents out kayaks, stand-up paddleboards, and offers guided kayak tours of the fjord.
Delve deep into the works for Edvard Munch
Munch opened on the waterfront in Bjørvika in October 2021 as a new home for the collection that the artist Edvard Munch bequeathed to the city four years before his death in 1944. Across 11 galleries, you can see The Scream (yes, there’s a version here too), as well as paintings, prints and sketches exploring themes of sickness, melancholy, and nature. Changing exhibits with new interpretations of Munch’s art keep the displays fresh and engaging.
Enjoy wonderful fjord views from the higher levels of this glass-and-steel building, with fine dining in 12th-floor Bistro Tolvte and an elegant 13th-floor cocktail bar. Don’t miss The Mother by Tracey Emin. The curves of the new bronze sculpture contrast with all those harborside angles, sitting fjord-facing on the pier outside the museum.
Walk up the angled roof of the opera house
One of Oslo’s waterfront architectural masterpieces is the opera house, home to the Norwegian National Opera and Ballet. The glass-and-marble structure was designed by award-winning architects Snøhetta to resemble a glacier, with the aim of not only creating state-of-the-art rehearsal rooms and performance halls (tours are available), but also to provide a new space for public use. The angled roof is accessed directly from ground level – through walking a series of steps or steep sloped sections you reach the rooftop where there are panoramic views over the harbor and the city.
Hear the good news outside the Nobel Peace Museum
The Nobel Peace Museum changes its display every November to honor the latest winner or winners of the Peace Prize. In 2021-22 the prize went to Russian editor Dmitiri Muratov and Philippine journalist Marisa Ressa who have relentlessly worked for freedom of the press, questioning, challenging and pushing their governments for answers, often in dangerous circumstances.
A hands-on exhibit explores the legacy of the Peace Prize, giving visitors the chance to see what kind of peacemaker they might be. If you’re nearby at midday on a Friday (April to October) listen out for the “good news” announcement, where something positive that has happened in the world is recognized. A dove is symbolically released from a window of the museum to send the good news out into the world.
Claire traveled to Oslo by invitation from Visit Oslo.