A first-time guide to Oslo

Never been to Oslo before? Now is the perfect time. Norway’s premier city has always had grand architecture, a subversive artistic undercurrent and unfettered access to pristine nature. But a two-decade-long harborfront glow-up has catapulted Oslo from under-the-radar Scandi city to certified culture capital.

Exceptional museums covering art, maritime exploration and ancient and modern history are complemented by award-winning architecture, sprawling sculpture parks and intriguing islands that are all completely free to explore. Add to that a packed cultural calendar and a varied culinary scene, and you’ve settled on a city break that has it all.

Here’s how to make the most of your first trip to Oslo.

When should I go to Oslo?

June, July and August are the peak months for domestic and international travelers. Daylight lingers well into the evenings and temperatures are reliably pleasant, hovering around 20°C (68°F), but don’t be surprised by a run of days exceeding 30°C (86°F). Expect the harbor baths and city beaches to be packed with locals making the most of every last ray of sunshine, and prepare to get to museums early to avoid the worst of the high-season crowds. Summer also sees major festivals and events across the city, including OverOslo and Pride in June, Øya Festival in July and By:Larm in August. Room rates soar as high as Oslo’s vibes over festival dates, so book as far in advance as possible. 

Though slightly cooler, the weather is usually still good during May and September and these shoulder months are ideal if you want to snag lower room rates and avoid the masses. The exception to this is May 17, when the whole city turns out in national dress to celebrate Constitution Day, with huge parades, marching bands and bucketloads of ice cream. It’s an especially joyful time to be in Oslo, but attractions and almost all shops will be closed on the day, and dinner reservations are essential. 

Days grow short and cold during autumn and winter – commonly -5 to 0°C (23 to 32°F) in January and February – but you’ll find ice-skating rinks in the city center and have the chance to ski the runs at Skimore Oslo, reachable on the T-Bane. Prefer to watch the pros? Visit in March to see elite ski jumpers, biathletes and cross-country skiers competing during the Holmenkollen Ski Festival.

Make time to explore the cafes, shops and back streets of the alternative Grunerlokka district © Ilona Bradacova / Shutterstock

How much time should I spend in Oslo?

With two days, you can comfortably cover some big hitters. Factor in time to see the National Museum for a whistle-stop tour of Norway’s finest artistic treasures; the Munch Museum to understand the man behind The Scream; the Royal Palace to tour the home of the Norwegian Royals; and Vigelandsparken to see Gustav Vigeland’s expressive sculptures. And don’t miss a stroll on top of the Oslo Opera House. Between the culture, squeeze in some time for vintage shopping in Grünerløkka and to peruse the food vendors at Mathallen Oslo, the city’s original and best food hall, then wind up at Blå for live music.

With four days you can see more of the city’s nature. One day might involve taking the Bygdøy ferry (or the number 30 bus) to the Bygdøy peninsula. You could drop into any of the museums here (Norsk Folkemuseum, Polarship Fram Museum, Kon-Tiki Museum, and Norwegian Maritime Museum), or ignore them completely and make a beeline for Huk or Paradisbukta beaches, tucked away along forested trails beyond the neighborhood’s attractive villas. Another day, pack a picnic and take the B1 or B2 public ferry out to discover a few of the islands in the Oslofjord – Hovedøya has a ruined Cistercian monastery, Gressholmen has a nature preserve and rustic cafe, and Langøyene has a beach and campground. 

How do I get to Oslo?

Oslo Gardermoen Airport, around 50km north of the city, is served by all major airlines and many budget operators too, including EasyJet and Norwegian. Getting into the city center couldn’t be easier: trains run direct to Oslo S – the city’s main train station – from right outside Gardermoen’s arrivals hall. Choose between the more expensive Flytoget airport express train, which costs 240kr and runs every 10 minutes, or the regular Vy public trains – there are only three an hour but tickets are far cheaper at 124kr. Flytoget is marginally faster, but both options take around 20 minutes. Some budget airlines fly to Torp Sandefjord Airport, over 100km southwest of Oslo, but the slightly lower airfares are rarely worth the inconvenience. 

If you want to avoid flying, you can also reach Oslo by DFDS ferry from Copenhagen and Fredrikshavn in Denmark, and by train from Gothenburg in Sweden.

A woman heading to catch a tram in Oslo, the capital of Norway;
Oslo’s extensive tram network is easy to navigate with the Ruter app © Anton_Ivanov / Shutterstock

Is it easy to get around Oslo?

Oslo is a compact city and many of its biggest attractions are all within easy walking distance of each other. To get from A to B more quickly, there’s an extensive, easy-to-navigate public transport system with trams, buses, a metro and ferries. The six-line tram service runs from around 5.30am to 1am; tram 12 is especially useful as it stops very close to many major sights, including Vigelandsparken, the National Museum, Rådhus, Akershus Festning and the Oslo Opera House, before gliding on up to ever-popular neighborhood Grünerløkka.

The city’s buses fill in the gaps not covered by trams, and they run 24 hours a day, though there are fewer services overnight. The T-Bane, Oslo’s metro system, has five lines that snake out to the suburbs, and all serve Jernbanetorget (for Oslo S) and Nationaltheatret. A fleet of electric ferries zip from Aker Brygge/Rådhusbrygge to the islands in the Oslofjord and beyond; services are most frequent in summertime.

The whole network is operated by Ruter and tickets are valid across all services. Oslo city is covered by a Zone 1 ticket (single/24-hour/seven-day 42/127/352kr). The easiest way to plan your journey and buy tickets is via the Ruter app, but you can buy paper tickets at T-Bane ticket machines, 7-Elevens and Narvesen stores or from the Ruter Customer Service Centre on Jernbanetorget. Note that Ruter tickets aren’t valid on the Bydgøy ferry.

Top things to do in Oslo

The Oslo Opera House is the home of The Norwegian National Opera and Ballet, and the national opera theatre in Norway in Oslo, Norway
The Oslo Opera House rooftop affords excellent (free) views of the waterfront © S-F / Shutterstock

See the views from Oslo Opera House

Yes, everyone does it, but climbing up the sloping, iceberg-like Oslo Opera House to gaze across the fjord at sundown is an Oslo rite of passage. Designed by homegrown architects Snøhetta, the white-marble marvel was inaugurated in 2008 and has invited people to stand atop its gleaming roof ever since.

Sweat in a floating sauna

No matter if you’re visiting in the height of summer or the depths of winter, a session in one of Oslo’s floating saunas – including a plunge in the Oslofjord to cool off – is an exhilarating way to spend an hour or so. You’ll see them at Aker Brygge and on Langkaia near the Opera House, but the ones run by Oslo Badstuforening at Sukkerbiten (close to the Munch Museum) are the most secluded.

Sculptures at the Vigeland Park, Oslo
Walk or tram up to Vigeland Park to enjoy the landscaped gardens and playful sculptures © PlusONE / Shutterstock

See larger-than-life sculptures at Vigelandsparken

Hundreds of figurative works by the renowned Norwegian sculptor Gustav Vigeland are laid out in this beautifully landscaped sculpture park inside Frognerparken, on Oslo’s upmarket west side. All works lead towards the 17m-high Monolitten (Monolith), a granite tower of writhing bodies surrounded by 36 clusters of poignantly posed figures.  

Walk the Akerselva

This river literally powered Oslo’s textile factories in the 19th century, and strolling along at least some of its 9km-long course will give you an insight into the city’s industrial heritage. Join the river at Grønland and you’ll pass landmarks including a former indigo factory that now hosts the music venue Blå and a makers’ market on Sundays, a one-time sail factory that’s been converted into the Oslo National Academy of the Arts (KHiO) and the Labour Museum, which tells the story of the factory workers.

Read more: The best things to do in Oslo

My favorite thing to do in Oslo

When the sun is shining there’s nothing better than taking the T-Bane line 1 all the way to Frognerseteren and heading out on the well-marked trails through the Nordmarka forest. It’s so close to the city center, yet it’s still mostly locals who head up here to hike; a brisk walk while breathing in the spruce-scented air is the perfect way to relax. Before returning to the center, I’ll stop in at Kafe Seterstua, located inside Frognerseteren (the 19th-century wooden chalet after which the T-Bane stop is named), for a coffee and a wedge of apple cake.

Bars and restaurants near the National Theatre in Oslo.
Dining and drinking out is expensive in Oslo: budget accordingly © Maremagnum / Getty Images

How much money do I need for Oslo?

There are countless reasons to get excited about your trip to Oslo, but one factor could make or break your vacation: the cost. Norway is an expensive country – even compared to its Nordic neighbours – and its capital is no exception. While the standard of accommodations in the city is generally high, be aware that you won’t get as much hotel-room for your money as in other European countries. Aside from accommodations, your greatest expense is likely to be eating out and, if you drink alcohol, the cost of your favorite tipple (yes, it really does cost as much as you’ve heard).

Consider having your main meal at lunchtime – restaurants often offer good-value lunch specials – and, if you want to have a big night out, do as the locals do and stock up at the nearest Vinmonopolet (government-run alcohol store) for forspill (pre-drinks). 

If you’re a museum lover and plan to max out on culture during your visit, an Oslo Pass could save you serious cash. As well as giving you free entry to almost every attraction in the city, all public transport is also included for the duration of the pass (including the ferry to the Bygdøy museums). Tally the figures for your itinerary, though – you’d typically have to visit three attractions and make three public transport journeys to make a 24-hour pass (520kr) cost effective; the 72-hour pass offers the greatest value, working out at just under 300kr per day. 

But you can actually experience Oslo’s charms without spending any money at all: catch the daily Changing of the Guard outside the Royal Palace; meander along the Harbor Promenade (Havnepromenaden); walk the length of the Akerselva; hike in the forest; swim in the harbor baths; and take yourself on an art trail through one of the city’s world-class sculpture parks, all for free. 

Average costs:

Dorm bed: 450kr
Midrange hotel room: from 1500kr
Self-catering apartment (including Airbnb): from 1300kr
Public transport ticket (24 hour): 127kr
Museum entry: 150kr
Oslo Pass (24/48/72 hours): 520/750/895kr
Filter coffee/cafe latte: 40kr/50kr
Sandwich: 100–150kr
Two-course dinner for two: 1000kr
Draft beer at the bar (0.25L/0.5L): 75kr/115kr
Harbor sauna session: from 165kr

Read more: A budget-friendly break in (notoriously expensive) Oslo

Is it better to pay by cash or card?

Cash is still widely accepted in Oslo, but shops, restaurants, bars and cafes generally prefer debit or credit card payments, even for small transactions. Paying by card is sometimes the only option: some casual restaurants take a “scan-the-barcode-to-order-and-pay” approach, convenient transport apps will require a payment card, and a small number of places don’t accept cash at all.

You’ll also see some market vendors (and even some vending machines) requesting payment by Vipps, a peer-to-peer payment app. Unfortunately it only works with a Norwegian bank account so, before you buy, you’ll need to ask if they’ll accept an alternative payment method, such as PayPal.

How much should I tip?

Tips will be gratefully accepted, but there isn’t a huge culture of tipping in Norway and it’s never expected. If you’ve received great service in a restaurant or bar and you’d like to show your appreciation, a tip of 5% to 15% is appropriate.

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