While many travelers visit Norway for its stunning fjords and majestic mountains, Oslo is well worth a visit even if you only have 48 hours to spend on a layover or on your way elsewhere. No matter what the season you’ll find something fun to do here, with everything from harbor cruises to fascinating museums, parks, a palace and even a castle to explore. In between, there are plenty of interesting shops and enticing dining options to enjoy. These are some of the top picks to enjoy during your limited time in this gorgeous capital city.
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The Viking Ship Museum
If you’re fascinated by Viking history, don’t miss the Viking Ship Museum as there is no place in the world like it. It features two of the world’s most well-preserved Viking ships, the Oseberg and Gokstad, along with a third lesser-preserved ship and a light show that’s hosted every 15 minutes. All of the ships sailed through the seas before they were hauled on land for use in burial rituals for their wealthy owners. In the burial mounds, archaeologists have unearthed gorgeous wood carvings, skeletons, and a wide range of Viking artifacts. It’s a great place to learn more about Viking culture, their voyages, trade networks and burial process.
The Norsk Folk Museum
The Norsk Folk Museum is located very close to the Viking Ship Museum making it easy to squeeze in the same day. It’s a must for any visitor to Oslo, housing the Stave Church while bringing Nordic history to life as the very first open-air museum to open in the world. There are over 150 buildings here that were relocated from the country to represent homes, from the early 16th-century to the present. There are in-door exhibits too, featuring folk art, Sami culture, church art and Norwegian folk costumes, as well as temporary exhibits, special programs and children’s activities throughout the year.
Vigeland Sculpture Park
Just a couple of miles north of the Norsk Folk Museum, you’ll find Vigeland Sculpture Park, the largest sculpture park in the world, spread across 80 acres in the heart of Frogner Park. All created by artist Gustav Vigeland, the 212 sculptures represent his life’s work from 1907 through 1942. Made of bronze, granite and wrought iron, the centerpiece is a famous monolith, made from a single piece of granite that took three masons 14 years to make. It stands 46 feet tall and features 100 human figures that are climbing over one another, desperate to reach the top.
An Oslo landmark, Akershus Castle is a medieval fortress that was constructed back in the late 13th-century under the bequest of King Håkon V at a strategic location at the very end of a headland. Its managed to withstand multiple sieges throughout the centuries and was transformed into a royal residence and Renaissance castle by King Christian IV (1588-1648). Visitors can tour the castle and the grounds, which offer beautiful views of the city and fjord. While you’re here, visit the Resistance Museum which is located within the castle grounds, chronicling the country’s resistance to the Nazis during the Second World War and subsequent prosecution of Nazi collaborators.
The Oslo fjord is absolutely breathtaking and while it can be viewed from the castle grounds, the best way to experience it is by taking a two-hour cruise. It travels deep within the harbor providing magnificent views of the fjord and the city, sailing past many islands, including Hovedøya and the Dyna Lighthouse, into narrow inlets and sheltered bays. lt also passes Oslo’s beautiful Opera House, home to the Norwegian National Opera & Ballet ensemble. There are seven departure times throughout the day to make it easy to fit into even a limited 48-hour trip.
The Royal Palace and Palace Park
The Royal Palace is located in the center of the city, if you walk down Karl Johans Gate, Oslo’s main drag, a tree-lined promenade with lots of cafes, restaurants and high-end stores, you’ll find yourself face-to-face with the residence of the royal family. Go in the morning and you can watch the changing of the guards. In the summer months, parts of the castle are open to the public which includes a short version of Norwegian history an a picturesque view of the city from windows that open to the royal balcony. Located in Palace Park, it’s a great place to enjoy some people watching too.
Located just outside the Palace Park, the Ibsen Museum includes a comprehensive exhibit that includes the private home of the famous playwright Henrik Ibsen and his wife Suzannah, where he spent the last 11 years of his life. Suzannah was said to have ordered her elderly husband to his desk for every morning demanding him to work until they’d eventually escape for lunch. You’ll learn about this and much more from the entertaining guides, relieving an in-depth look at Ibsen’s life and work. The library, dining room and parlors are all open to the public during the guided tour, with the rooms restored and refurnished in a way that’s very genuine of the era.
The National Gallery
Just a short walk from the Palace Park and Ibsen Museum is The National Gallery, a must-visit, particularly to view Edvard Munch’s famous masterwork “The Scream.” First exhibited in Berlin at a solo exhibition in 1893, it’s the most well-known and most frequently reproduced of all the artist’s motifs, featuring expressive colors and flowing lines with a very striking effect. Other lesser-known works are worth viewing too, such as the painting duo of Adolph Tidemand and Hans Gude. The “Bridal Voyage on the Hardanger Fjord” has been called one of the most important works in Norwegian art. While Munch and other Norwegian artists from the late-19th and early-20th centuries are the main attractions here, the museum covers European art from the antiquities to the 1950s in finely curated exhibitions spread throughout 25 rooms.