One day in Oslo isn’t nearly enough, but isn’t that the case for most cities? Don’t worry, spending one day in Oslo is better than not going there at all. You can actually see quite a few Oslo tourist attractions, even with only 24 hours in the city.
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In our case, we visited Oslo for the first time from a cruise ship. Our sailing aboard Holland America Line’s Nieuw Statendam stopped for a day at the Oslo cruise port. This meant that we didn’t even have the opportunity to spend one day in Oslo – we actually only had about nine hours!
Whether you’re taking a day trip to Oslo, stopping in Oslo from a cruise ship, or you get to spend the night in the city, there are plenty of things to see and do there. With a short period of time, you won’t be an expert in the city by any stretch of the imagination, but you’ll get a good taste for it. I’m sure you’ll be left wanting more, just like we were.
I wasn’t even expecting to like Oslo as much as I did. I figured that I’d like the smaller towns in Norway better than the bigger cities. However, Oslo was such a lovely surprise. The city was very quiet at the end of July, especially for the height of the tourist season. Perhaps many locals were on holidays at this time. Even if you visit during high season, don’t expect any major crowds. That can’t be said for most cities in Europe! Next, Oslo is such a clean city. I didn’t see any garbage around, and most properties and gardens were perfectly groomed.
The Best Things to Do in Oslo in a Day
Now, let’s get to all of the things to do in Oslo. If you’re looking for what to do in Oslo in a day, this is the article for you. Even though I’ll be writing from the perspective of someone traveling from a cruise ship, this can be applied to anyone visiting the city. Justin and I participated in one cruise ship excursion that you can easily book through the cruise ship. Otherwise, I’ll provide the details for you to plan this sort this tour activity independently.
In addition, I’ll write about Oslo attractions, ideas for coffee and lunch, Oslo sightseeing opportunities, and everything else that you can easily do within eight hours. Lastly, I’ll provide some alternative activities if you have 24 hours in Oslo (or 2 days in Oslo, or 3 days in Oslo). These are the things we’d like to do when we return someday.
Take an Oslo Bike Tour
If you only have one day in Oslo (and it’s your first time in the city), you’ll want to check out the best of the best. There won’t nearly be enough time for everything, but it’s a great opportunity to see the highlights and leave you longing to return. Justin and I embarked on an Oslo bike tour right from our cruise ship, Holland America Line’s Nieuw Statendam. We booked the tour, “Biking in Oslo – 3 Hours.” Here’s the official tour description:
Bike along car-free paths, parks, hidden back streets and the fjord. Discover the major sites in a fun and relaxed manner. Enjoy stops for pictures. The guides reveal the stories behind the monuments, such as the medieval castle, the Royal Palace and the world famous Frogner Sculpture Park. Note: Minimum age is 12.
Not traveling from a cruise ship? Of course, you can still take a bike tour in Oslo. You can book the exact same bike tour in Oslo that we took on your own. You won’t need to bring anything on the tour, other than a rain jacket, proper footwear (regular running shoes will do), and your smartphone or DSLR camera to take photos at each stop.
Your tour guide will provide you with a bicycle, fitted properly to your height, as well as a helmet, if you choose to wear one. Many of the bicycles have baskets in the back to store your belongings.
Here are the stops on our Oslo bike tour, which you’re welcome to visit on your own. I do recommend having a guide so you can learn about the history and present day happenings in Oslo. If biking is not your style, you should take a small group walking tour in Oslo, or even consider booking the hop-on hop-off sightseeing bus to get around town.
Our verandah cabin on the Nieuw Statendam faced the Akershus Fortress, so we had a perfect view of this structure right from the cruise ship. Once we met our tour guide at the dock, we walked through the Akershus Fortress (also known as Akershus Castle) on the way to the bike shop. Anyone can visit this historic site as it’s free and open to the public from 06:00 – 21:00 every day.
The Akershus Fortress is a medieval castle built in 1299 under King Håkon V. It was a residence for the royal family, and it also protected them. The castle sits in a strategic spot high up on a hill, and it’s withstood a number of sieges over the years. Over time, the fortress was used as a military base, a prison, and today it is a museum. Feel free to wander around the castle grounds or visit the Fortress Visitor Centre to inquire about guided tours in the summer.
Christiania Torv is a historic city square in the old city center of Oslo. The square is most famous for its fountain with the statue of a hand pointing to the ground. This is the birthplace of modern Oslo. After a fire destroyed most of the city in 1624, the Danish-Norwegian King Christian IV rebuilt the city and named it after himself. The statue signifies that he pointed to this spot and declared that the new city would exist there.
When Norway gained independence in 1814, the city of Christiania became its capital. In 1925, it was renamed back to Oslo. Today, this historic square is a wonderful gathering place with shops and patios. It wasn’t busy or bustling when we visited on a rainy weekday morning, but I can imagine that this town square is very popular on sunny weekends.
Next, we rode our bikes to Rådhusplassen, a town square between City Hall and the Oslofjord. It used to be a road, but it’s now a pedestrian zone and recreational space. You’ll find several classic sculptures in Rådhusplassen that were designed to contrast the modern buildings around it. There are also many flower beds and scenery of the waterfront to admire.
The National Theatre of Oslo, designed by architect Henrik Bull, has showcased stage productions and performances since 1899. There are statues of Henrik Ibsen and Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson, two famous Norwegian writers, on either side of its entrance. The theatre has featured Ibsen’s plays every year since its opening, and also hosts the International Ibsen Festival.
The Royal Palace (Det Kongelige Slott)
At the end of Karl Johans Gate and on a hill overlooking the city, you’ll find the Royal Palace (known in Norwegian as Det Kongelige Slott or Slottet). It’s a very large and stately building surrounded by the Palace Park and the Palace Square out front. The palace was completed in 1849 and was the residence of King Charles III, the ruler of Norway and Sweden. It is currently the official residence of the Norwegian monarch, HM King Harald V and HM Queen Sonja.
You can take public tours of the Royal Palace and there are guided tours in the summer. The palace is protected by Hans Majestet Kongens Garde (His Majesty The King’s Guard, or the Royal Guards). You can watch the changing of the guards ceremony daily at 1:30pm. We learned a little bit about the history of Norway and its monarchy from our informative guide on our Oslo bike tour. While we didn’t go inside the palace this time around, I’d like to do that upon our return to Oslo in the future.
Frogner Park and Vigeland Sculptures
Frogner Park is most famous for its sculpture installation by Gustav Vigeland, and it’s one of the most popular Oslo tourist attractions. The Vigeland sculpture park is free and open to the public (24 hours a day, 365 days a year), and it tops the list of things to do in Oslo. Even if you only have one day in Oslo, you must make the trip to Frogner Park to see Vigeland’s statues and sculptures.
Vigeland Park is the largest sculpture park in the world where a single artist created every single work of art. Gustav Vigeland made over 200 bronze, granite and cast iron sculptures for this permanent art installation. He also designed the architectural layout of the park itself.
The sculptures are naked human figures, depicting a variety of poses, emotions, and situations that range from realistic to completely surreal. Not only is it one of the top Oslo attractions, but it’s one of the most popular in all of Norway. If you’re seeking what to do in Oslo, you won’t be disappointed by the Vigeland sculpture installation in Frogner Park.
When you enter Frogner Park, you’ll see bright and beautiful flower beds all around, including roses and other colorful flowering plants. When we visited at the end of July, the flowers were all in bloom. Then, you’ll discover Vigeland’s statues, his life’s work. If you’re looking for what to see in Oslo, this is one of the highlights of the city.
Vigeland Park: The Bridge
The Bridge at Vigeland Park has 58 bronze sculptures dating back to 1925-1933. These are some of the first sculptures mounted at the park back in the 1940s. There are women, men, and children of all ages, playing on energetic themes. “The Angry Boy” is one of the most famous statues within the park, and you’ll find him on the bridge.
Vigeland Sculpture Park: The Fountain
Beyond a rose garden, you’ll reach The Fountain, one of Vigeland’s earliest sculptures and a focal point of the park. In the middle, giant men hold a saucer as water cascades all around them. There are also people intertwined with trees, representing the relationship between humans and nature.
Vigeland Park: The Monolith
Next, you’ll reach another primary focus of Vigeland sculpture park, The Monolith. It’s at the highest point of the park, and it’s carved out of one solid stone block. It stands 17 meters tall and features 121 human figures intertwined and spiraling upwards. There are men, women, and children at the top. This sculpture could represent our longing for spirituality or a portrayal of resurrection.
Tjuvholmen & Aker Brygge
We rode our bikes through quiet city streets to the neighborhoods of Tjuvholmen and Aker Brygge. Our small group stopped first in Tjuvholmen, breezing past several art galleries and unique architectural spaces. You could spend all day in Tjuvholmen discovering art at the Astrup Fearnley Museet, the Tjuvholmen sculpture park, and even its parking garage (there’s a giant decoration of a foot stomping through the ceiling called “One foot in the grave”).
We stopped at the end of the pier where we learned that many locals like to swim in the waters there. In fact, we saw a man strip down to his swimsuit and dive in the water, even though it was a rainy and cool day. Our guide explained that the water is often much warmer than the air temperature.
Aker Brygge is a region by the waterfront with many restaurants stretching along a large boardwalk. You can enjoy a meal or a glass of wine on one of many patios with beautiful scenery all around. There’s always lots of activity in this space with many tourists and locals going for a stroll by the water.
Rådhuset (City Hall)
Oslo’s City Hall building was built in the stark, Brutalist architectural style. On December 10th each year, the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony is hosted at Oslo City Hall (December 10th is the anniversary of Alfred Nobel’s death).
Lunch and Coffee Options
At this point, our Oslo bike tour came to an end. After taking the tour, it remains my top choice for Oslo excursions from a cruise ship or otherwise. By riding bikes around the city, we were able to explore what to do in Oslo efficiently by covering a lot of ground.
Also, the tour was only three hours long, which left us with lots of time to keep exploring. You can see a lot in Oslo in one day! I also recommend breaking up your activities with a meal in the middle. Take a bike ride in the morning, stop for lunch, and head back out in the afternoon before the cruise ship departs.
Back on the Cruise Ship
The most cost effective lunch option if you’re visiting Oslo on a cruise is to dine back on the ship. It’s all included in the cost of the cruise. Justin and I went back on board the Nieuw Statendam for a quick bite at the Lido Market. Everything tastes so fresh and delicious, and the meals are prepared to order before your eyes. There are so many delicious vegan meals on Holland America Line, too.
The Fragrance of the Heart
If you’re looking for dining options near the Oslo cruise port, my top choice is the vegetarian cafe, The Fragrance of the Heart. I stopped there for coffee, but wished that I had more room in my stomach for a meal or a dessert. There are many vegan and gluten-free options at The Fragrance of the Heart. The man working there was so nice and welcoming, and I was surprised to learn that he recently visited Toronto and Justin’s home city, Etobicoke. It’s a small world!
Exploring Oslo on Foot
For the rest of the afternoon, I set out to explore Oslo on foot. There are many attractions and sights near the Oslo cruise ship terminal. It’s easy to walk all over Oslo within a couple of hours. If there’s somewhere you’d like to visit that isn’t within walking distance, their public transit system and buses are quite good and easy to navigate. Here is some Oslo sightseeing and things to do in Oslo that you can see simply by walking around.
Karl Johans Gate
Karl Johans Gate is the main city street in Oslo, named after King Charles III John (King Charles XIV John in Sweden). The Royal Palace sits at one end of King Johans Gate, and there are many other attractions and shops all along this street. You can see unique fountains, buildings, Oslo Central Station, the National Theater building, and more. There are also many restaurants, clubs, bars, and cafes in this lively area of the city.
Palace Park (Slottsparken)
Since we only briefly stopped at the Royal Palace on our bike tour, I decided to walk back up to the Royal Palace to visit the Palace Park. If you visit around 1:30pm, you can watch the changing of the guards ceremony, too.
The Palace Park is a very green area of the city. I also admired a public art installation within the park itself, too. If you’re a fan of sculptures and public art, you’ll love to visit Oslo as there are so many all over the city. Even with only one day in Oslo, I recommend exploring the Royal Palace and the Palace Park as much as you can.
Quiet Neighborhoods and City Streets
If you have the chance, wander down the quiet side streets in Oslo. Observe the intricate details on the colorful homes in local neighborhoods. There really weren’t any other people around in the middle of the day, and it felt very safe to me. We caught some glimpses of these houses and streets on our bike tour, but I wanted to wander down some more streets after walking through the Palace Park. It’s a great little detour if you have the chance.
Street Art at the Oslo Cruise Ship Terminal
I’m always on the lookout for street art on my travels. There’s actually quite a bit of street art and murals right at the Oslo cruise ship terminal. If you take a walk along the pier and keep walking by the water near the Akershus Fortress, you’ll see lots of colorful art on the walls and buildings. It’s nice that there’s such a great collection all in one place.
2 or 3 Days in Oslo? Here are More Attractions
All of the activities, attractions, and tours that I listed above will surely keep you busy throughout your stay in Oslo, whether you have one day in Oslo or even only a handful of hours. If you have 2 days in Oslo or even 3 days in Oslo, there’s plenty more to see and do. Here are some things to do in Oslo if you have more time. They’re definitely on our list for when we return.
Viking Ship Museum
Oslo’s Viking Ship Museum contains well preserved Viking ships that date back to the 9th century. You can see some of the world’s best preserved Viking ships. These ships also served as parts of burial mounds for their wealthy owners. Uncovering these ships has revealed skeletons and artifacts from the past.
The Fram Museum
The Fram Museum displays the world’s strongest wooden vessel, the polar ship called Fram. Visitors can go on board the ship for a tour to its various rooms, including cabins and the engine room. It’s a great way to explore Norway’s history of polar explorers and expeditions.
Nobel Peace Center
The Noble Peace Center is a space dedicated to winners of the Nobel Peace Prize. There’s a permanent display with details of Peace Prize laureates’ work and lives. There are also several other rotating exhibitions revolving around themes of people, nature, war, and climate.
Holmenkollen Ski Museum
If you love everything relating to skiing, the Holmenkollen Ski Museum will top this list of things to do in Oslo. You can learn about 4000 years of skiing history through the museum’s exhibitions and displays. Beyond the ski museum, the main attraction here is the Holmenkollen ski jump tower.
University Botanical Garden
Part of the Natural History Museum of the University of Oslo, the Botanical Garden is a peaceful and beautiful space within the city. Since 1814, the Botanical Garden showcases plant diversity and conservation through several different garden displays and greenhouses. There’s the Rock Garden, the Herb Garden, the Aromatic Garden, The Arboretum, and even a Viking Garden.
Where to Stay in Oslo
While we didn’t spend the night in Oslo as we visited from a cruise ship, there are lots of excellent choices for accommodations near the city center. Check out prices for hotels in Oslo that fit your budget.
The Radisson Blu Plaza Hotel offers a luxurious stay in an excellent location, just steps from Oslo Central Station. If you’re traveling on a budget, the Citybox Oslo provides a comfortable stay in a fantastic location (minus a few of the frills).
Oslo is a city that’s easy to fall in love with: it’s clean, quiet, and there are lots of opportunities for sightseeing. There are still lots of museums and attractions on my bucket list, so I know that we’ll be back to Oslo in the future.