Things to do in Oslo

Viking heritage meets cool modern design in Norway’s capital, Oslo

Oslo is one of Europe’s most amenable capitals. A self-confident city with a relaxed and easy-going air, its handsome centre set between the rippling waters of the Oslofjord and green, forested hills.

  1. Viking treasures at the Historical Museum
  2. Get up-close to Viking longships
  3. Scandi art at the National Museum
  4. The new Munch Museum
  5. Enchanting Vigeland sculpture park
  6. Take a ferry to Hovedøya

But Norway’s only major metropolis has a cutting-edge side; booming with innovative architecture and thrilling art and design. The biggest single draw is its museums, which range from the fabulous Viking Ship Museum to the Munch Museum, which showcases the paintings of Oslo’s legendary master of melancholy, Edvard Munch

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1. Viking treasures at the Historical Museum

Seeing Viking treasures up-close has to be one of the best things to do in Oslo. The Historisk Museum (Historical Museum) has plenty of ways to get to know those hardy ancestors. As legend has it, Vikings are fearless warriors. However, they were farmers, craftsmen and traders, too. Here you’ll see artefacts arranged in three important aspects of the Viking Age: journeys, warriors and a changing society - including coins, jewellery and the only complete Viking helmet ever found. Don’t miss the Langeid Sword, which was discovered by archaeologists on a dig at Setesdalen in 2011. It bears an inscription in unusual letters that have yet to be translated, although one theory is that the warrior to whom it belonged may have used the sword in battles waged by the Vikings on English soil.

Tip: Use your ticket (around £10) to get free entry to the Viking Ship Museum (see below) within 48 hours.

2. Get up-close to Viking longships

Nothing quite brings Viking history to life than the world-famous Vikingskipshuset (Viking Ship Museum). Here you can get up-close to three real Viking longships. These oak vessels were retrieved from ritual burial mounds, each embalmed in a subsoil of clay, which is how they’re so brilliantly preserved. In a domed, cross-shaped hall specially constructed to house these ninth-century longships, viewing platforms enable you to see inside the hulls. It’s easy to imagine the buzz when these grand specimens were hauled from the earth. The Oseberg and Gokstad longships were named after the places on the west side of the Oslofjord where they were discovered in 1904 and 1880 respectively.

Tip: Download the museum’s app on iTunes or GooglePlay for a free audio guide.

3. Scandi art at the National Museum

When it opens, the Nasjonalmuseet(National Museum ) will be the biggest art museum in the Nordics and top of everyone’s wish list of what to do in Oslo. It’s where the impressive collections from the now-closed Nasjonalgalleriet, Samtidskunst and Kunstindustrimuseet will end up, to form a huge showcase of Scandi fine art, design and architecture. It has a bit of everything, from illustrations of traditional Norwegian fairy tales to luminous landscape paintings. And of course, artworks by Munch, with a version of his Scream on display. A cool modern building centrally located on Oslo’s Rådhusplassen (city hall square), the gallery is part of a major project to develop Oslo, reinvigorating the city where it meets the fjord.

Tip:The children’s workshop, with its art materials, makes a perfect break for tired little legs.

4. The new Munch Museum

You wish-list of things to do in Oslo has to include seeing work of its legendary artist, Edvard Munch - a pioneer of expressionism and the creator of The Scream, of which several versions can be seen here. Munchmuseet(Munch museum) is home to more than half of Edvard Munch's paintings and most of his print motifs, making it one of the world's largest museums dedicated to a single artist. Rising in striations of glass on the next pier along from the Operahuset, this quirky purpose-built gallery creates an illusion that it’s bending over the waterfront.

Tip: During summer, an introduction to the exhibition is delivered in English every Sunday at 1 pm.

5. Enchanting Vigeland sculpture park

Incredible art is a big part of an Oslo holiday; but it’s not all about paintings hung in galleries. Take a stroll round the fantastical creations of Gustav Vigeland in this wonderful open-air sculpture park. Vigeland started work on the Vigelandsparken (Vigeland Park) in 1924, and was still working on it when he died almost 20 years later. The central path takes you to the footbridge over the river and a world of frowning, fighting and posturing bronze figures. Vigeland has let his imagination run riot with his surreal creations, from a woman embracing a giant lizard fits right in, to a naked man fighting off flying babies.

Tip: The clay sculptures within the park museum are a fantastic insight into the sculptures’ design process.

6. Take a ferry to Hovedøya

After a few days of sightseeing, you might decide it’s time to experience Noway’s rural magic. It’s easy to do this on a daytrip - just to the south of the city centre, around the inner Oslo Fjord, is a necklace low-lying, lightly forested islands. Conveniently, Hovedøya, the nearest island to the city, is both the most interesting and the prettiest. Its rocky, rolling hills are decorated with woods and pastures, pocket-sized beaches meeting the shore. Pockets of history add to this little island’s charm. Seek out the substantial ruins of a Cistercian monastery (open access; free), built by English monks in the 12th century, and incidental military remains, reminders of the time when the island was garrisoned and armed to protect Oslo’s harbour.

Tip: Brought your bathing suit? The best places for swimming are the two beaches on the west of the island.

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