First Time In Oslo? Here Are Top 5 Must-Do’s

Vigeland’s sculptures, museums galore, and the opera house’s rooftop is a must for an epic view of Norway’s cutting edge capital. 

In recent years, Oslo has become a rising destination for cultivated creatives, Vikings inquisitors, fjords chasers, not to mention, hardcore salmon lovers. Even for a few days in Oslo, it’s easy to fall in love with soaring neighborhoods like Thief Island – a stylish nook expanding rapidly with million-dollar condos and hipster-like bars making shuffleboards just as cool as old-school Pac-Man arcade machines. For far more adventurous travelers, a profound conversation with Brazilian immigrants in Hausmania cooperative community might take you back to the grungy atmosphere of Berlin. But for first-timers ready to check off a must-see list, here are top five things to kick off your Oslo getaway:

1. Discover the Vigeland installation at Frogner Park.

One of the most renowned parks in the world has to be Oslo’s Frogner Park where 212 bronze sculptures illuminate Gustav Vigeland’s (1869–1943) philosophy on the “Wheel of Life.” In 1921, an agreement between Vigeland and the City of Oslo provided a place for the Norwegian sculptor to work as long as he donated all of his original and future pieces to the city. The park encompasses his expansive vision and sculptures over the course of forty years.

In addition to his Rodin-inspired sculptures, Vigeland also designed the park’s 80-acre architectural layout, categorized in five sections: the main entrance, the bridge, the fountain, the monolith plateau, and the Wheel of Life. A long stroll through the park’s main avenue, you’ll encounter The Fountain detailing 20 statues that symbolize a particular stage in life, from birth to death. Its plaster model was originally intended for Norway’s Parliament, but has since become one of the park’s most notable landmarks.

An afternoon in the park is an eye-opening wander through 600 full-size human figures in granite and bronze that depict life in its sequential journey, as well as human relationships especially between men and women, children and elders emitting joy, sadness, anger, suffering, and empathy. Several celebrated sculptures can leave a lasting imprint in any traveler’s mind, including: the famous Angry Boy which interprets a toddler crying and stomping his foot.

Vigeland was never interested in disclosing the meaning behind his sculptures, but rather, he preferred the viewer to subjectively grasp themes within his form of expressionism. Hence, he rarely provided titles. The 100-meter bridge’s railings are embellished with lanterns and 58 bronze sculptures that explore the human form and stages of life in pure reminiscence. Look over to the other side of the bridge, and you’ll come across six giants encircled by twenty tree trunks that appear as human bodies progressing through the circle of life. From the first tree group which exemplifies young children to the last tree trunk that depicts human skeletons, the entirety of the tree groups envelops the fountain signifying the idea that after death there comes birth, and that life indeed carries on.

Such continuous theme of death as another beginning is evermore apparent in the park’s iconic monolith which Vigeland describes as “his religion.” Located on a plateau overlooking the park, The Monolith features 121 figures striving upward on a 46-foot granite column. As every figure fights its way to the top, each conveys a  different phase in life, from a young girl transitioning from childhood to adolescence in Young Girl Levitating in a Tree, to an affectionate couple in Sitting Man and Woman to Heap of Dead Bodies. Although open for interpretation, The Monolith seems to remind visitors that despite our fight to the top, there remains a sense of togetherness as figures appear to elevate one another.

The park is open 24 hours, every day of the week. It’s free to enter, making it an inspiring yet a relaxing way to spend a few hours in Oslo.

2. Admire contemporary art at Astrup Museum.

Officially referred to as The Astrup Fearnley Museum of Modern Art, the popular art museum was opened in 1993 and highlights works from artists including: Jeff Koons, Tom Sachs, Cai Guo-Qing, Richard Prince…and many more. Funded by the descendants of the Fearnley shipping family, Astrup made its groundbreaking buzz within the international art scene by purchasing Jeff Koons’ porcelain sculpture of Michael Jackson and Bubbles in 2002 for USD $5.1 million. Since the museum is situated on the sophisticated Thief Island, there’s no better way to end a museum tour with a glass of cocktail at THE THIEF’s hotel cocktail lounge.

3. Do the Parliament buildingCity Hall and the Opera House all in one day.

Since Oslo’s city center isn’t too big, it’s easy to check off major landmarks all in one day, if not in a few hours. The Norwegian Parliament, or Stortinget Building, is a beautiful yellow brick building inspired by French and Italian designs. Free guide tours are available in English, each last for 60 minutes and is open for everyone. Afterwards, head over to Oslo City Hall (Rådhuset) and snap a photo in front of the site where the Nobel Peace Prize is held every year. Not to be mistaken with the Swedish City Hall where the Nobel Prizes are distributed, solely the Peace Prize is awarded in Oslo. If taking a photo from the outside isn’t enough of an experience, then take a tour of the Oslo City Hall. Ticket costs NOK 2500, check the website for available times of this 45-minute tour.

Oslo Opera House is an architectural wonder. Home of the Norwegian National Opera and Ballet is located in central Oslo, just a few steps away from Central Train Station. The exterior design is covered with La Facciata white marble from Carrara, Italy, creating the visual effect of the building rising above water. Completed in 2007, the opera house’s highlight is arguably its rooftop which angles to ground floor where travelers can enjoy panoramic views of the city, not to be disturbed by the roof’s support from refined sharp angled columns. Designed by Løvaas & Wagle, the stage tower in ivory aluminum symbolizes ancient weaving textiles.

4. Enter the Munch Museum and explore The Scream.

Dedicated to the life and works of Norwegian artist Edvard Munch, the Munch Museum requires a few hours out of your day to enjoy since it’s located outside of the city center. Much of the collection that you’ll see were given by Munch to the city of Oslo upon his death, along with other works and duplicated prints donated by Munch’s sister, Inger. Two out of 1,200 paintings in the museum were stolen in 2004: The Scream, and Madonna. Both were recovered by the Oslo police two years later. As one of the most iconic images from Expressionism, The Scream depicts human experiences of anxiety triggered by nature or a psychological reaction to trauma.

5. Check out the Viking Ship Museum.

A trip to Scandinavia wouldn’t be complete without a proper lesson on Vikings. Oslo’s Viking Ship Museum is a popular destination since it features three burial ships. Among them, Oseberg ship is spotlighted as completely whole and excavated rare find from the world’s biggest ship burial. In addition to Viking ships, you’ll see Viking Age displays of sledges, beds, wood carvings…and many more. The Oslo region played an imperative role during the Viking Age (800 to 1050 AD) as the city claimed to be founded by Vikings.

Wendy spent 5 days in Oslo in 2020.
Wendy Hung

CEO, FOUNDER, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF

As the founder of Jetset Times, Wendy is an avid traveler and fluent in five languages. When she's not traveling, Wendy calls Paris and Taipei home. Her favorite countries so far from her travels have been: Bhutan, Iran, and St. Bart's because they were all so different!

Jetset Times in your inbox

Sign-up for our newsletter

By signing up, you agree to our Privacy Policy and European users agree to the data transfer policy.