Oslo, the largest city in Norway, is compact and walkable in the city center and has an excellent tram, subway and bus system. It’s considered one of the largest capital cities in the world and covers over 175 square miles, mixing city life with mountains, fjords and forests. Oslo’s port is about a five-minute walk from the city center and the City Hall Wharf, making it easy for city lovers, nature enthusiasts and history fans to get out and explore this Scandinavian city on their own.
Here’s what you should do when you cruise to Oslo.
From 800-1050 A.D., fierce Vikings raided, traded with and settled all over Scandinavia and the British Isles. Powerful Vikings were buried in their ships with objects useful for the afterlife. The Viking Ship Museum has three well-preserved Viking ships dating back to the ninth century, plus well-crafted metal and wooden weapons, jewelry, chests and armor (found in burial mounds in the Oslo Fjord).
How to get there: The Viking Ship Museum is on the Bygdoy Peninsula on Oslo’s western edge, a seven-minute ferry ride from City Hall Wharf (the Dronningen stop).
More than 150 traditional houses and barns from rural and urban Norway (even a wooden stave church whose interior is circa 1200, half-timbered and brick buildings from Oslo’s Old Town and grass-roofed farmhouses) are at the Norwegian Folk Museum.
View the fascinating folk costume collection, folk art, handicrafts, old-fashioned toys and exhibit on Sami culture (the Lapps, the native semi-nomadic reindeer-herding people of northern Scandinavia) displayed indoors. In summer, especially on Sundays, daily activities range from horse-and-carriage rides to folk dancing to handicraft demos.
How to get there: The Norwegian Folk Museum is located on the Bygdoy Peninsula and can be reached by ferry from City Hall Wharf (the Dronningen stop).
The Oslo Fjords are one of the most popular attractions, but some cruisers will get to witness the fjords from the comfort of their cruise ship as they cruise into port, opening up time to check out a wide range of other must-see attractions. If you want to see those majestic inlets with cliffs buffering their sides up close, book a sightseeing tour once you get to port. Sightseeing tours around Oslo Fjord run daily, some year-round and some only in the summer. Several companies allow guests to hop on and off at their leisure while others are cruises that include meals.
Norwegian explorer Thor Heyerdahl’s delicate-looking balsa log raft, Kon-Tiki, which he sailed across the Pacific Ocean in 1947, is at the Kon-Tiki Museum. Heyerdahl sailed on a 101-day, 4,970-mile journey from Peru to French Polynesia’s Tuamoto islands to prove his theory that Polynesia’s first settlers could have successfully sailed across the Pacific from South America.
Heyerdahl also believed that ancient Mediterranean peoples might have had contact with Central and South Americas, due to cultural similarities like pyramid building. So in 1970, he made the 4,000-mile trip on his papyrus raft, Ra II, from Morocco to Barbados to see if it could be done. The replica of this raft is also at the museum.
How to get there: The Kon-Tiki Museum is just a half-mile walk from the Viking Ship Museum on the Bygdoy Peninsula. Take the ferry from City Hall Wharf and get off at the Bygdoynes stop.
Can you imagine trekking to the South Pole in the early 1900s, when the gear was much heavier, GPS technology was not a thing and it was uncharted territory? Some of the world’s best (and most secretive) polar explorers came from Norway, including Roald Amundsen, the first person to reach the South Pole. The Fram Museum houses the well-built ship that took him and his crew on the 1912 expedition to the South Pole, as well as other artifacts from that famous exploration. You can see lantern slides that Amundsen used in public lectures about his expeditions to the North and South Poles. There’s also a polar simulation and detailed exhibits that bring to life the dangerous conditions the explorers and their sled dogs faced on their expeditions.
Another main attraction of the museum is the Gjøa, the first ship to navigate the whole of the Northwest Passage.
How to get there: The museum is located across from the Kon-Tiki Museum on the Bygdoy Peninsula. Take the ferry from City Hall Wharf to the Bygdoynes stop.
Dragon Style (dragestil) is a popular architectural and decorative arts style in Norway. It borrows design motifs from ancient stave churches and medieval art and incorporates features resembling full-bodied dragons to gaping dragon jaws. A great example is the Scandic Holmenkollen Park Hotel, which resembles a fairy-tale wooden castle, located on a hilltop 1,000 feet above Oslo in the Holmenkollen district, with a panoramic view of Oslo Fjord. Built in 1894, the hotel is richly ornamented with colorfully painted carved wood posts and dragon-design textiles inside the house. And come hungry, because De Fem Stuer (The Five Rooms) is the perfect place for a gourmet lunch of fish or game amid original log walls, paintings of Norwegian landscapes and ornate wainscoting.
How to get there: Scandic Holmenkollen Park Hotel is a scenic half-hour subway ride northwest of city center from the National Theater stop (near the theater where Henrik Ibsen’s first play opened).
In Oslo’s Holmenkollen district, northwest of city center, you’ll find the site where ski jumping competitions were held from 1892 to 2008, and where the Holmenkollen Ski Jump structure was built and remains. While you can’t technically ski down the 1,180-foot ski jump, you can zip line down it or simply head to the top for panoramic views of the awe-inspiring Oslo Fjord.
But if skiing is what you are after, they do have a ski simulator that will show you what it’s like to head down the world’s toughest downhill ski slopes alongside the world’s best performers on two skis. Yes, it’s all virtual, but it feels so realistic.
And there’s also the oldest ski museum in the world on the same site, right below the ski jump, that depicts over 4,000 years of exciting skiing history, plus exhibits on modern skiing and snowboarding.
How to get there: From Oslo Central Station, a 15-to-20-minute walk from the cruise terminal, take subway line 1 toward Frognerseteren to the Holmenkollen stop.
A quaint small town filled with 18th-century wooden houses, arts and crafts shops, and cobblestone streets on the narrowest part of Oslo Fjord. Drobak is a terrific place for families to spend a few hours or the day.
- Spend time with the sharks, lobsters, mussels, even a green sea porcupine at the Drobak Aquarium, the only aquarium in greater Oslo.
- Relax on beaches that are a far cry from anything in the Caribbean but unique in themselves.
- Get letters officially stamped by Santa’s Post Office at the Christmas House, open year-round for Christmas gifts and souvenirs.
- Visit the Cartoonists’ House in the red wooden former home of Fredrik Stabel, a well-known satiric newspaper cartoonist. The house displays cartoons, posters and books about the art of political cartooning (and even offers refuge and work space to persecuted cartoonists worldwide).
How to get there: Most cruise lines offer a shore excursion to Drobak, but you can also take a 40-minute express bus from the Oslo Bus Terminal to Drobak if you want to explore on your own.
It is impossible to explore this place without smiling due to the locals and visitors picnicking with families, children laughing, beautiful grassy areas … oh, and more than 200 life-sized sculptures. Frogner (Vigeland) Park is the world’s largest sculpture park, featuring sculptures in granite, bronze and iron by Norwegian sculptor Gustav Vigeland. It includes a 53-foot-high granite monolith of 121 naked humans. There are fountains to sit near, shaded spots to relax under and even markets on your way to the park if you wanted to pick up something for lunch to enjoy at the park.
How to get there: It’s located in Majorstua, a trendy part of Oslo. Take the subway and get off at the Majorstuen stop, just one stop from the National Theater subway stop.
The Scream, Norwegian artist Edvard Munch’s famous painting of a howling, head-grabbing man, is the most famous work at the National Museum. But there’s plenty more to see, such as an impressive collection of paintings, sculptures and drawings. Though its focus is art from Norway, you can see work created by renowned artists such as Gauguin, Manet, Degas, Cezanne and Renoir.
How to get there: Take the subway to the National Theater subway stop.
From Nelson Mandela and the Dalai Lama to Martin Luther King Jr. and Malala Yousafzai, this museum honors the life’s work of Nobel Peace Prize winners since 1901 through inspiring imagery, moving videos and descriptive text. The Nobel Peace Center has achieved international recognition for the use of documentary photography and interactive technology and focuses its temporary exhibits on topics of war, conflict and resolution.
How to get there: A few minutes’ walk from the cruise terminal, it’s between City Hall (the site of the peace prize awards each December) and Aker Brygge, a restaurant, bar and shopping complex in a former shipyard.
I.M. Pei, who? Enter Italian Renzo Piano, once voted one of Time magazine’s most influential people and with his design of the recently reopened Astrup Fearnley Museum of Modern Art in the buzzed about Tjuvholmen neighborhood, we can see why he is one of the hottest architects in the world. The two building structure features sail-formed glass roofs that enhance each exhibition space. The museum honors individual artists from Bjarne Melgaard to Matthew Barney rather than periods. Oslo's socialites head here to see-and-be-seen. So should you.