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Oslo in Winter? 12 of the Best Things to Do When Visiting the Capital of Norway


Discover Oslo's winter magic with our guide to the top 12 activities in Norway's capital. From snowy adventures to cozy cultural experiences, embrace the enchanting atmosphere of Oslo during the colder months.

 

It's no secret — I absolutely adore winter. Not the usual dreary and rainy weather we get in The Netherlands, but the magical snow-covered scenes straight out of Christmas movies. Even though Thomas gets a bit annoyed when I drag him outside to experience my own version of Narnia every time it snows, I've managed to convince him to make winter vacations a yearly thing. For the winter of 2018/2019, we picked Oslo, Norway's capital, known for its modern Nordic vibe.

 

As we planned our weekend trip to Oslo, we looked forward to cool buildings, lively culture, and winter magic. Little did we know, our trip turned out even better than expected. Come with us as we explore Oslo, sharing what makes this city special. Our journey goes beyond just seeing things, revealing the connections and discoveries that made this winter adventure unforgettable!





GENERAL INFORMATION

While winter might not be the top choice for some to explore Oslo, we were pleasantly surprised by how well the city thrives during this season. Our visit coincided with a weekend of constant snowfall, a charming backdrop that added to the city's allure. Contrary to expectations, the snow heightened Oslo's beauty, with its mountainous backdrop and coastal setting, accentuating the vibrant architecture along certain streets.

 

Certainly, packing warm clothes is a must, given that winter temperatures typically hover around the freezing point and can drop to approximately -10°C. Nevertheless, there's no need to worry about the cold impeding your exploration of this lively European capital. Oslo boasts numerous places where you can take a warming break while discovering its charm. Thanks to the Norwegians' familiarity with harsh winters, every building is equipped with a heating system. Hence, there's no excuse not to experience Oslo's winter charm!


HISTORY - FROM KRISTIANIA TO OSLO

Though there are many evidences of the presence of Vikings in the Oslo fjord (a long narrow inlet formation in the southeast of Norway), the story of Oslo officially begins in 1049 with Norway's Christian Era, when King Harald Hardråde (Hard-Ruler) ordered the building of a cathedral (and a corresponding bishopric) in the city.

 

However, it was not before King Haakon V decided to reside permanently in Oslo in 1299 that it became the capital city of the country. At this moment, he commanded the start of the construction of the famous Akershus Fortress as the Royal residence. Unfortunately for Oslo, as there was an alliance between Norway and Denmark, Copenhagen became the monarch residing city while Oslo had more of a provincial administrative center role.

 

This status would begin to change under the reign of Christian IV of Denmark who decided in 1624, after big fires destroyed the city's major wooden buildings many times, that the old town should not be once again rebuilt. Instead, he ordered all citizens to move their shops and workplaces to a newly built city which was then called Kristiania as an homage to the King. During the 18th and 19th centuries, the importance of the city slowly grew driven by the port's shipbuilding and trade activities and especially after the 1814 with the independence of the Kingdom of Norway, when Kristiania became the capital of the kingdom. From this point on, many state institutions had to be established to expand the administration and the capital witnessed a period of fast growth.

 

The name Kristiania lasted until 1925 when it was decided to name the city Oslo after an eastern suburb that had actually been the site of the city center before the devastating fire of 1624. This was decided after the Norwegians thought it would be inappropriate to have their capital city named after a Danish King. Nowadays, the city is still a flourishing European capital city attracting many business (maritime and oil related specially), visitors as well as immigrants looking for a better quality of life.

Nice perspective in Karl Johans Street Oslo

12 THINGS YOU CAN'T MISS IN OSLO

1. BARCODE PROJECT

If you are a fan of modern architecture and the many perspectives it offers for photographs, you can't miss our starting point! Located just a few minutes walking from Central Station, on a former dock and industrial region in central Oslo, the Barcode Project consists of a row of modern high-rise buildings, each one a creation of a different European architecture company. While each building may not be outstanding on its own, the combination they form offers a superb composition due to their alignment and the almost even gap between them. The result, when observed from afar, creates remarkably the impression of a barcode, hence the nickname given.

Barcode Project, Oslo, Architecture, Modern
Barcode Project, Oslo, Architecture, Modern
Barcode Project, Oslo, Architecture, Modern

2. OSLO OPERA HOUSE

Continuing the modern architecture quest, we get to the treasure of Oslo: the Opera House. This piece of architecture was inaugurated in 2008. With its angled roofs covered with Carrara marble and white granite, the building seems like a glacier rising from the waters of the Bjørvika inlet, especially during winter when it is covered in snow (though you have to be careful while climbing up for the amazing view on Oslo from the top).

 

Stepping into the Oslo Opera House interior offers a welcome break from the winter chill, presenting a captivating blend of modern design and functional elegance. The main foyer, bathed in natural light from 15-meter-high windows, exudes a vast and inviting atmosphere. The focal point, however, is the golden wooden "wave wall," a visually striking and intricate feature that serves as both a pathway to the upper level and a testament to the opera house's artistic sophistication. The play of light and the seamless integration of design elements make the interior a warm and enchanting space, providing a perfect backdrop for cultural exploration.

 

Opening hours - from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. |

Admission - free of charge

(120 NOK (12 EUR): guided 50-minute tour) |

Oslo, Opera House, Outside, View, Architecture, Snow, Winter
Oslo, Opera House, Inside
Oslo, Opera House, Seagull, View, Rooftop
Oslo, Opera House, Inside

She Lies, Monica Bonvicini, Sculpture, Oslo
Oslo, Opera House, Portrait, View

3. OSLO DOMKIRKE (OSLO CATHEDRAL)

Still in downtown Oslo, another historical site not to be missed is the Oslo Dom Kirke, the city's cathedral. This is Oslo's third cathedral: the first one, built in the 12th century and located just 1.5 km away, was abandoned after King Christian IV moved the city a few kilometers to the west. The second one was built in 1639 but burnt down after only 50 years and the current cathedral was built to replace it. Consecrated in 1697, it underwent restoration in the 1950's but the pulpit, altar piece and the organ are all originals. This can also be a nice opportunity to warm up a bit before checking the next tip.


4. STORTING BUILDING (NORWEGIAN PARLIAMENT)

At the opposite corner of Studenterlunden Park lays the most important Norwegian political center: the Parliament building (Storting). The yellow-bricks facade and the mixed architectural influences of this XIX building give a unique and impressive feeling which is only enhanced by the lion statues guarding the rampage of access. A nice detail of the Norwegian Parliament is that not only the building is highly symmetrical and designed as an H shape with two semicircles on the cross-axis, but the semi-circular plenary chamber is located in the front of the building, where we can see from the street, as opposed to the building's center where it is usually located. 

5. CHRISTIANIA NEIGHBOURHOOD

Nestled between the Oslo Opera and the Akershus Fortress lies the revitalized Christiania, which emerged from the ashes of the town of Oslo after a series of devastating fires in 1624. This reconstructed town, mandated by King Christian IV, showcases a deliberate urban planning strategy that transformed the cityscape and laid the foundation for the contemporary charm we find in this neighborhood today.

 

Following the destructive fires, King Christian IV ordered the relocation of the town westward, closer to the protective Akershus Fortress. This marked the birth of Christiania, a new town designed with wide streets intersecting at right angles. The strategic layout aimed to mitigate the risk of fires spreading, and building regulations dictated the use of stone or brick instead of traditional log structures.

 

Christiania, characterized by 330 properties showcasing a mix of stone, brick, half-timbering, and logs, became a quintessential Northern European town. The transformation not only reshaped the physical landscape but also influenced the character of the neighborhood, creating a vibrant and diverse atmosphere that echoes the historical roots of the city. As you wander through Christiania today, you'll discover remnants of this rich history, from its reconstructed structures to the defensive ramparts that once encircled its periphery, offering a captivating glimpse into the resilience and evolution of Oslo's urban landscape.

Oslo, Old Town, Café Skansen
Oslo, Old Town
Oslo, Old Town, Theater Museet

6. AKERSHUS FORTRESS

The crowning jewel of medieval Oslo undeniably lies in the formidable Akershus Festning (Fortress). Initiated by King Håkon V in 1299, its construction aimed not only to establish a royal residence for the capital but also to fortify it against frequent assaults from adversaries. Positioned strategically at the tip of the headland, the fortress not only withstood numerous siege attempts over the years but also served diverse roles, functioning as a military stronghold, a prison, and even briefly as the temporary office of the Prime Minister of Norway.

 

In the present day, the Fortress complex invites visitors to embark on a journey through time, strolling along its imposing walls and walkways. The King's Guard, ever vigilant, provides a captivating display of guarding routines, adding to the historical ambiance. Moreover, the fortress offers a captivating vantage point for witnessing the mesmerizing sunset over the fjord. Exploring the Akershus Fortress provides not just a glimpse into medieval history but also a serene and picturesque experience that transcends time.

 

Opening hours - from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. |

Admission - free of charge |

Akershus Castle, Oslo
Akershus Castle, Oslo, Gate

Akershus Fortress, Aker Brygge, Oslo, View

7. RADHUSET (CITY HALL)

Perhaps one of the most iconic building of Oslo, the City Hall is a red brick building with two towers more than 60 meters high. Inaugurated in 1950 as part of the 900-year celebration of Oslo, it hosts the city council, the city's administration and other municipal organizations. While the industrial style of the exterior of the building may seem somber and austere, the interior of the building is a showcase of Norway's history and culture told along the decorated corridors and rooms. To start it with, the main hall (where the Nobel Prize is awarded every December 10th) contains frescoes by the famous Norwegian artists Henrik Sørensen and Alf Rolfsen depicting the pillars of the country's identity: fishing, forestry and industry. Other rooms have equally terrific murals of various artists with historical, natural or cultural motifs.

 

Opening hours - from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. |

Admission - free of charge |

8. NOBEL PEACE CENTER

A few meters away from the City Hall, you can see the beautiful building hosting the Nobel Peace Center. As the Norwegians are proud of their role in the maintenance of international peace, they offer yearly since 1901 the Nobel Peace Prize to those who remarkably contributed to "fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses" as states the will of its creator, Alfred Nobel. The Nobel Peace Center is a museum presenting the story and the work of the Peace Prize winners throughout the years as well as the story of Alfred Nobel and the prize itself.

 

Opening hours - from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. |

Admission - 120 NOK (12 EUR) |

Rådhusplassen, City Hall Square, Oslo, Snow
Oslo, Snow, Pipervika, Ships, Boats

Nobel Peace Center, Oslo
Henrik Sørensen, City Hall, Art, Fresco

Henrik Sørensen, City Hall, Art, Fresco

9. AKER BRYGGE

This modern neighbourhood located just beside the wharf area in central Oslo is the epithet of the modern Scandinavian architecture. Once an industrial region with many shipyards and engineering enterprises, the area started changing in the 1980's when some of the big workshops halls were transformed in large shopping areas and many other constructions were demolished to make space for restaurants, museums, office space, cinemas and high-end residencial buildings. Though an expensive area, you can wander around it for free to admire the modern architecture and escape from the cold wind of the bay area.

Aker Brygge, Oslo, Modern, Architecture
Aker Brygge, Oslo, Modern, Architecture

Aker Brygge, Oslo, Modern, Architecture

10. NATIONAL THEATER

Across the street from the Royal Palace lays another important and imposing building: the Oslo National Theatre. Inaugurated in 1899, this remarkable neo-classical yellow building is the most traditional venue for the performance of dramatic arts in Norway.


11. ROYAL PALACE

To get back to town, you can take the subway until Nationaltheatret station and check the Royal Palace of Norway. As the independence of Norway arrived in the 19th century and Oslo became the capital city, the magnificent townhouse that served as royal residence was no longer fit and a new palace was commissioned by King Charles III John. Although it was completed in 1849, it was not before 1905 that it became the permanent Royal Residence. With a neo-classical style and a facade of stuccoed brick, the Royal Palace of Norway is surrounded by a charming park and reign over the urban landscape of Oslo


12. FROGNER PARK & VIGELAND INSTALLATION

One thing we remarked about Oslo (and maybe Norway) is that they LOVE statues. We don't recall having seen so many before in a single city and surely the Vigeland Installation – located in the Frogner Park – is the climax of this statuemania of Oslo. With over 200 bronze, granite and cast iron statues by artist Gustav Vigeland, the park is open 24 hours everyday of the year with no admission fee to fulfill the vision of the artist to be a true public space open to people from Oslo and beyond.

 

Opening hours - everyday 24h/24h |

Admission - free of charge |

Monolitten, Vigeland Park, Oslo, Sculptures
Monolitten, Vigeland Park, Oslo, Sculptures
Monolitten, Vigeland Park, Oslo, Sculptures

Monolitten, Vigeland Park, Oslo, Sculptures, View
Monolitten, Vigeland Park, Oslo, Sculptures, Gate

The whole park is an ode to the human body and to human emotions, relationships and hopes. Make sure no to miss:

  •  The Bridge - With its 58 sculptures, the bridge was the first installation open to public. Throughout its 100 meters length, you can admire sculptures depicting not only babies and children (including the iconic Sinnataggen which depicts a toddler in the middle of a tantrum) but also women and men figures of different ages with themes like play, lust, energy and vitalism.
  • The Fountain - After the bridge, the path goes on through a rose garden that take us to the Fountain, one of the most emblematic sights of the park. While six giant statues depicting men with different ages hold the main vessel with the water spring, there are 20 statues around it with tree groups representing the "tree of life". These trees shelter groups of human figures which are a romantic expression of Man's relationship to nature through different stages of human life as you go around it, from the childhood and teenage phase through adulthood, elderly ages and death. 
  • The Monolith - Standing at the highest point of the park and measuring 17 meters, this sculpture is carved out from a single gigantic granite block and depicts 121 figures climbing on one another as if fighting or supporting their way to the top. It was interpreted as a kind of vision of resurrection and of the spiritual evolution of human being through the ages. The plateau where it is located can be accessed by eight wrought iron gates also depicting human figures and there are 36 statues around it representing different stages of live still in the "circle of life" theme: from a loving young couple to a pile of dead bodies.

OUR FINAL THOUGHTS

As we conclude our exploration of Oslo's winter wonderland, we are left captivated by the city's charm and the myriad of experiences it offers during the colder months. From the breathtaking snowy landscapes to the warmth of its cultural offerings, Oslo truly shines in winter. Whether you're a fan of outdoor adventures or prefer cozying up indoors, Oslo has something for everyone to enjoy during this magical season. Embrace the beauty of Oslo in winter and create unforgettable memories in Norway's captivating capital. Stay tuned for the second part of this trip, where we uncover some lesser-known but utterly worthwhile spots to visit. Check out our post here for more hidden gems to explore in Oslo.


TRAVEL ESSENTIALS

GETTING THERE

Oslo, the vibrant capital of Norway, welcomes travelers from around the globe with its diverse transportation options:

  • By plane: Arriving at Oslo is convenient with two main airports. Oslo Gardermoen Airport (OSL), located 50 kilometers northeast of the city, serves as the primary international hub, offering direct flights from various destinations. Travelers can reach the city center from Gardermoen via the Airport Express Train (Flytoget), completing the journey in 20-30 minutes. Additionally, Oslo Torp Airport (TRF), situated about 115 kilometers south of Oslo, caters mainly to low-cost carriers and charter flights.
  • By train: Norway's extensive rail network connects Oslo to major European cities. Oslo Central Station (Oslo Sentralstasjon) acts as a pivotal transportation hub, providing domestic and international train services. From neighboring Scandinavian countries like Sweden and Denmark, travelers can enjoy seamless train journeys to Oslo. Notably, from Bergen, renowned for its fjords, travelers can embark on a scenic train ride to Oslo, taking approximately 6-7 hours.
  • By bus: Long-distance bus services offer convenient travel options to Oslo from neighboring countries such as Sweden and Denmark. The Oslo Bus Terminal (Oslo Bussterminal) serves as the city's main bus station, conveniently located adjacent to Oslo Central Station.
  • By car: Accessing Oslo by car is feasible via well-maintained highways like the E6 and E18, connecting the city to regions in the south and east. However, travelers should anticipate toll roads and parking fees within the city center.

Regardless of your chosen mode of transportation, reaching Oslo is a seamless journey, ensuring you commence your Norwegian adventure with ease.

STAYING THERE

In Oslo, where the cost of living is high, finding a comfortable yet reasonably priced accommodation is essential. During our visit, we enjoyed our stay at the Forenom Serviced Apartments Oslo Royal Park. Priced at 123 EUR per night, the apartments offered clean and comfortable rooms, along with a prime location just a 5-minute walk from the Royal Palace and main attractions. Another excellent choice is the Scandic Oslo Hotel, known for its pleasant ambiance and convenient location near the train station. Guests can enjoy a delicious breakfast buffet included in the price, making it a great value option. For those seeking a more local experience, neighborhoods like Grünerløkka and Frogner offer a vibrant atmosphere with plenty of cafes, restaurants, and boutique shops. Grünerløkka is particularly known for its trendy vibe and artistic flair, while Frogner boasts upscale boutiques and green spaces.

EATING THERE

Oslo's culinary scene boasts a variety of dining options, but it's important to be mindful that eating out in Norway tends to be quite expensive. Here are some noteworthy eateries to consider, along with price indications:

  • Fiskeriet Youngstorget: A popular spot for seafood enthusiasts, Fiskeriet Youngstorget offers a selection of fresh fish dishes, such as fish and chips or seafood platters. Expect to pay between 20 and 30 EUR for main courses, reflecting the quality and freshness of the seafood.
  • Restaurant Dovrehallen: Immerse yourself in Norwegian culinary traditions at Restaurant Dovrehallen, known for its hearty and traditional Norwegian fare. Main courses, including classic dishes like kjøttkaker (meatballs) and lutefisk (dried fish), typically range from 25 to 35 EUR.
  • Mathallen Oslo: For a diverse dining experience, head to Mathallen Oslo, a bustling food hall featuring a wide array of vendors offering everything from artisan cheeses to gourmet chocolates. Prices vary depending on the vendor, but meals generally range from 10 to 20 EUR per person.
  • Mamma Pizza: Craving Italian cuisine? Mamma Pizza serves up delicious wood-fired pizzas made with fresh, quality ingredients. Individual pizzas are priced around 15-20 EUR, making it a reasonable option for a satisfying meal.
  • Illegal Burger: Indulge in gourmet burgers at Illegal Burger, where creative toppings and juicy patties are the norm. Burger meals typically range from 15 to 20 EUR, reflecting the quality of the ingredients and the unique flavor combinations.
  • United Bakeries: Kickstart your day with breakfast or a light lunch at United Bakeries, known for its freshly baked bread, pastries, and sandwiches. Prices for sandwiches and pastries range from 5 to 10 EUR, offering a more budget-friendly option.

While dining out in Oslo may require a bit of budgeting, these establishments offer quality food and memorable dining experiences worth the investment.


Now it's your turn to let us know what you think of visiting Norway in winter. Have you already done it? Did you like it? Let us know! We look forward to reading your comments in the section below.


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