The cool, contemporary city of Oslo lies at the head of its fjord, a calm, clear body of water some 68 miles (107 km) in length that leads out to the Strait of Skagerrak and in turn to the Baltic and North seas. It is a summertime paradise for the lucky inhabitants of Oslo, scattered liberally with islets, isolated coves, and little pockets of beach.
Oslo Fjord is best discovered by boat, and there are many options for day trips from many-sailed clippers to island-hopping ferries. Around a dozen islets fan out into the fjord; pretty little paradises with sandy strands, cycle and hiking routes, and historic lighthouses. There’s a ruined Cistercian monastery on Hovedøya, a smattering of holiday homes and sports facilities on wooded Lindøya, and a nature reserve for wading birds on Bleikøya; most of the islands are accessible in about 20 minutes from Vippetangen on the Oslo waterfront.
Norway’s stylish, innovative new arts center opened in 2008 at Bjørvika, with views stretching out over Oslo Fjord. It is home to the national ballet, opera and orchestral companies but audiences probably come as much for the sublime waterside setting of this gleaming white auditorium as they do for the performances. Designed by Norwegian architect Tarald Lundevall, who also built the National September 11 Memorial Museum & Pavilion in New York, the opera house is constructed of marble, granite and glass and won the prestigious Mies van der Rohe Award for Contemporary Architecture in 2009. Inside there are three main stages, combined able to seat audiences of up to 2,000; all this is supported by a staff of 620 led by artistic director Tom Remlov in a labyrinth of more than 1,000 studios and workshops.
Another of the museums on Bygdøy Peninsula, the Viking Ship Museum displays a surprisingly decorative collection of Viking grave goods discovered around Oslo Fjord but is best known for the Viking ships that are elegantly displayed in pristine white galleries.
Three ninth-century longboats were excavated in southern Norway after centuries of being buried in peat. The wooden ships have been painstakingly reconstructed and – despite their lengthy incarceration – are virtually complete. The finest is the Oseberg boat, which discovered in 1903 after more than a thousand years underground. Due to its rich ornamentation, experts believe it was constructed purposefully for the burial of wealthy Vikings.
A visit to the Viking Ship Museum also includes entrance to the Norwegian ethnographic collection in the Museum of Cultural History, where artifacts include Egyptian mummies and medieval decorative arts.
Fram was veteran of many Arctic voyages when Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen – the first man to reach both North and South Poles – gained worldwide fame by sailing her to Antarctica from 1910 to 1912, where he beat the UK's Robert Scott in a race to the South Pole.
Jutting out into Oslo Fjord, the Bygdøy Peninsula is a one-stop leisure destination just west side of the city center. A clutch of Norway’s most popular museums are found here along with hiking and cycling trails, beautiful – if small – beaches at Huk and Paradisbukta, plus several cafés and seafood restaurants. Come sunny days, the peninsula is full to bursting with Oslo families enjoying the peninsula’s laid-back vibe and the organic farm at the Royal Manor, which is the summer residence of King Harald V.
Altogether Bygdøy is home to the Neo-Gothic castle of Oscarshall, the Holocaust Center in the austere Villa Grande, and no less than five museums. Of these, the Viking Ship, Fram, Maritime and Kon-Tiki museums deal with Norway’s illustrious nautical heritage, while the open-air Norwegian Folk Museum concerns itself with Norway’s cultural past. It displays a colorful collection of Sami national costumes from Lapland alongside 150-odd reconstructed buildings.
Stretching from Oslo Central Station to the Royal Palace, Karl Johans gate is Oslo’s main thoroughfare. Named after King Charles III John (Karl Johan), the street is home to many of the city’s top attractions, including the Royal Palace, Stortinget, National Theatre and Central Station.
During Oslo’s short summer, residents flock to the beer gardens lining the street for al fresco drinks. Come winter, a pond along the street transforms into an ice skating rink. Throughout the year, restaurants, cafes and bars lining the street fill up with both locals and visitors. Much of Oslo’s best shops can be found along the street and the smaller streets branching from it.
Holmenkollen is an Oslo landmark hill north-west of the city center; there has been a ski jump here since 1892 but the present-day ‘S’-shaped jump at Kongeveien was constructed in 2010. The jump is 394 ft (120 m) long and it is 197 ft (60 m) high and it’s one of Norway’s best-loved visitor attractions.
There’s plenty of year-round outdoor and indoor action at Holmenkollen: climb the 250 steps to the viewing platform for vistas across the scenic Nordmarka protected wilderness; visit the world’s oldest ski museum at the foot of the jump; or grab a zip line to whizz 1,180 ft (360 m) down the length of the ski jump – a ride for real adrenaline junkies with a firm head for heights. Somewhat more enjoyable is the simulator ride that gives a bird’s-eye experience of ski-ing down the ski jump. In winter Holmenkollen hosts the World Cup Nordic skiing events and is the springboard for Nordic or downhill ski-ing and skating in Nordmarka, which by summer it is hiking and cycling.
Jutting out into Oslo Fjord, the Bygdøy Peninsula is a one-stop leisure destination just west side of the city center. It is Oslo’s ‘Museum Island’ and hosts several maritime museums as well as the open-air Norwegian Museum of Cultural History (Norsk Folkemuseum). Highlighting Norway’s colorful cultural history from 1500 to present day, this wonderfully family-friendly museum presents an array of more than 150 buildings brought together from all over the country, each representing different regions and eras and including a reconstructed traditional Sami goahti (tent) and the exquisite, 13th-century wooden stave church from Gol, north of Oslo. There are several streets of wooden houses from Oslo and its suburbs, as well as a three-story, 19th-century apartment block, rebuilt here to showcase life in the Norway of the last two centuries, from an elegant Art Nouveau interior to a suitably scruffy 1980s student bedsit.
Run under the management of the Norwegian Folk Museum (Norsk Folkemuseum), Oslo’s homage to the life of Norway’s most famous dramatist is located in the house that was occupied by Hendrik Ibsen (1828–1906) and his wife Suzanne for the last 11 years of his life. Found in a luxurious apartment block in the middle of the city, the story of Ibsen’s life is told in two major exhibitions. As the most renowned playwright in the world after Shakespeare, there’s a comprehensive exhibition focusing on his personal life, featuring his clothes, writing implements and family photographs in the neighboring apartment.
Perhaps more impressive is Ibsen’s own apartment, which was lovingly restored with period furniture and many family possessions before being reopened in 2006 to mark the centenary of his death. Once scattered across Norway, his belongings and furniture have been carefully returned to the library, parlors and study where he wrote his last two plays.
The capital of Norway, Oslo is the second busiest port in the country, ranking behind only Bergen. It is one of the world’s largest capital cities, but also one of the least densely populated.
Your cruise ship will dock in Oslo within easy walking distance of many major sights. Trams and water taxis are available to take you to further into the city or to the several museums located across the harbor on Bygdoy Peninsula.
Start your visit with a stop at the must-see Nobel Peace Center on the waterfront and then head over to City Hall, where the Nobel Peace Prize ceremonies take place each year. If you want to explore Norway’s maritime history, take a water taxi or ferry across the harbor to Bygdoy Peninsula, where you will find the Kon Tiki Museum. Finally, get a taste of Norwegian art at the National Gallery, Munch Museum or the Vigeland Sculpture Park, an outdoor sculpture garden on the outskirts of Oslo.