Looking for the ideas of what to do in Oslo, Norway? Here is my itinerary for the perfect first Oslo city break.
I love city breaks. I still find it fascinating how we can just escape Britain and within a couple of hours, everything changes: the language, the people, the food and, of course, the scenery. I have recently visited Oslo, the capital of Norway and loved it. And in the hope that you do too, here are a quick recap of our weekend there and what to do in Oslo.
How to get to Oslo
On this trip, I have travelled as a guest of Classic Collection Holidays, with whom I also visited Florence in Italy and Vienna in Austria. I am testing and showcasing their European city break offer which come packaged in a rather nice way: you pick your hotel and flights, and they will automatically sort your transfers to and from your destination airport. More often than not, their local team will suggest and pre-book you an activity that defines the destination. On this trip, we went on a mini fjord cruise which we could have organised ourselves, but did not have to (which is always a plus).
We flew with British Airways – and our flight to Oslo was 2 hours and 10 minutes. Worth noting that Oslo is a good departure place for those ex-EU BA longhaul destination discounts, so read this article extra carefully as you may be returning to Oslo quite a few more times.
Our private transfer to Oslo took around 35 minutes by car.
Where to stay in Oslo
Our base in Oslo was The Thief Hotel which is ‘the place to stay’ in town (at least for now). It actually put Oslo on the map for many when it opened, and certainly helped position the trendy Tjuvholmen arts district as a new part of Oslo for both visitors and locals to enjoy.
The hotel is located in a peninsula, right on the water. This new neighbourhood is home to very modern residential buildings, with a good mix of offices, shops and many restaurants, which we got to try and enjoy too. The hotel is a 10-15 minute walk to the city centre.
We had a deluxe view which came with some rather lovely views. We were treated to the standard single duvet scenario – which I rather like and very comfortable beds.
What to do in Oslo on a Friday
We got to the hotel at around 11am, so that early morning start meant we had quite a bit of the day to explore. Our room was available, which was handy, so we were able to check in and adjust our clothing as it the 5 degrees celsius were a bit different to the 30c I had left in California just a week earlier.
First things first – explore the immediate vicinity and the day light pointed us towards the water.
Next to the hotel is the Renzo Piano-designed Astrup Fearnley Museum of Modern Art, which we visited on our last day. I must confess that the exhibits were a bit too modern for my liking, but the building and the views were excellent. Guests of The Thief need only to show their room keys for free access.
We walked along the water towards the city center – which really was 15 minutes and quite pleasant ones and made our way towards the Theatercafeen, which is quite a grand and very popular cafe. We loved it for people watching alone – we saw 3 or more generations of Osloans (?) and was a great introduction to see what locals looked like, what they were wearing etc. Sounds a bit silly, but we did enjoy it.
For lunch, we had 3 half open faced sandwiches between us (pictured below), as well as 2 slices of cake, 1 espresso and a half a litre bottle of San Pellegrino. Ours for a mere 754 Norwegian Krone, or £64 or 75 US dollars Or Euros.
We had obviously been warned by the higher costs in Norway – and this meal (which wasn’t even a full meal) was where we noticed it the most. The dinners seemed a lot more reasonable (bearing in mind they were all seafood-based and with alcohol). But more on that later.
The restaurant’s location was bang on Stortingata, which is the main street (I dare say) in Oslo, home to quite a few landmark buildings.
In order to understand a bit more about Oslo, Norway and its history, we had booked a private walking tour with Chris, a fellow Brit married to a Norwegian who spent the next 2 hours with us giving us a mini crash course.
I found it fascinating as I didn’t know much about the historical issues with Denmark and Sweden and how approachable the Royal Palace was – barely any security. We saw the National Theatre, the University, the Royal Palace and the Parliament – all very conveniently located whilst being fed some snippets of Norwegian life.
This is where we learned that alcohol can only be bought at Government owned stores and with very restricting licensing laws. So if I called you to get me a bottle of gin for a dinner party at 8pm on Saturday, you would come empty handed. It is what it is – I just had no idea.
Worth noting how gorgeous the city’s plants were – everywhere we went there were beautiful flowers everywhere (and flower shops, but again, more on that later).
We had a bit of ground to cover before it became dark, so after the Parliament and the Grand Hotel – whose balcony is famous for being where the Nobel Peace Prize Winner stays, we walked towards Oslo’s City Hall, where the Nobel Prize Ceremony actually takes place. From there, we walked towards the Akershus Fortress and Castle, which were looking beautiful at that time of the day and year. It came with beautiful views of the harbour and the city.
From here, we continued our walk with Chris and ended our tour at what must be Oslo’s most photographed building: the Opera House, home of the Norwegian National Opera and Ballet, and the national opera theatre in Norway. Our tour cost £175 for both of us for about 2 hours ($195).
Visitors can walk up to its roof and enjoy stunning views of the city. Whilst it was a tad fresh (i.e. cold), it was beautiful and totally worth it. The light was stunning and I think we took some very decent photos of it – and this was my ‘Oslo moment’, without a doubt.
From here, we were running kind of late for dinner, but I wasn’t going to walk or run anywhere. Getting a taxi was not easy but we managed to get an Uber to the hotel (which was only 2km away). Best £17 I spent all day over 6 minutes.
We had big plans for dinner – and a table booked at Bokbacka, which was highly recommended, but we did not have it in us. We barely slept that night and having been on the go all day, we wanted something simpler so we asked the hotel concierge to cancel our booking and pick somewhere we could walk to from the hotel and he chose Lofoten, a fish restaurant 3 minutes away from the hotel.
We had a lovely and more casual seafood dinner (and the prawns were amazing, by the way), which was really what we wanted. Dinner for 2, including one bottle of wine was 1600 NOK (£145, $160), which we found really reasonable (and less expensive for example than any meal in the USA). Interesting, huh?
We ended our night at The Thief hotel’s bar, which was very very lively from both hotel guests and visitors. We discovered a great new gin, called Bareksten, which was divine (and obviously we brought some home from the airport).
And notice those bar stall essentials – coat and handbag hanger, USB and power socket. Anything else you’d like with your martini?
What to do in Oslo on a Saturday
We woke up not too early, went down for breakfast (which is included in all room rates and really good), and slowly started to walk towards the centre.
Our first stop was the Nobel Peace Centre, which is a museum about the Nobel Peace Prize. The building overlooks the harbour and located close to the Oslo City Hall where the Nobel Peace Prize Award Ceremony takes place every 10 December.
Since 1901, the Nobel Prizes have been presented to the Laureates at ceremonies on 10 December, the anniversary of Alfred Nobel’s death. As stipulated in the will of the Swedish-born inventor and international industrialist Alfred Nobel, which was opened after his death in 1896, the Nobel Prizes in Physics, Chemistry, Physiology or Medicine and Literature are awarded in Stockholm, Sweden, while the Nobel Peace Prize is awarded in Oslo, Norway.
We found the exhibit incredibly moving and absolutely worth a visit.
Admitance costs 160 NOK (£15/$16) for adults.
After this experience, I had some investigative work to do – around flowers and alcohol. Flowers first because it was around noon and having seen a beautiful shop next to the place where we had lunch the day before, I just wanted to go back.
For some reason, I went in Shishi, the flower shop next to the Hotel Continental on Stortingsgata and found 2 bowls which I was eyeing up online just a week before which would go perfect on my dressing table at home. I sent the photo to our interior designer back home and she couldn’t quite believe it either as they looked the same but the price was much lower than online. They had these in various colours and I had to ask one of the ladies working there – turned out that they were designed by the owner and they then had some selected stockists, but one wouldn’t have guessed that. So I have a piece of Oslo in my bedroom.
The second stop was to Vinmonopolet, which is one of the places where you can buy alcohol. Obviously we didn’t buy anything – but I was curious to see what it looked like and what sort of choices people had (quite basic gin as you can see above) but some interesting wines. We visited the one at Paleet, a shopping mall on that main street.
And finally, at 1pm, we met for our small group food tour, which we had booked very last minute the day we arrived. I quite liked that it started at 1pm, unlike most tours, so we were able to have a proper breakfast, enjoy the morning and then tuck in.
Our group was of 5, and the guide was a very interesting Croatian lady (married to a Norwegian), who again provided some good commentary about Norwegian life, from a foreigners’ eyes.
We tried some classics – obviously reindeer and herring (which wasn’t as bad as I thought). We quite liked the Norwegian waffles too – even with the brown cheese.
We walked quite a bit during the tour – so it added a bit of culture too. Our final stop was at Mathallen Oslo, an indoor food market where we spent a fair bit of time and recommend to any visitor to town. Whale and moose were not my favourite – but the cheese was excellent. Our tour lasted 4 hours and cost £95 per person (around $105).
I managed to squeeze in a teeny tiny bit of shopping whilst my husband carried on with his conference calls (why wouldn’t I?) – and we finally found an ATM! We couldn’t find one at all in town (which was very strange) and turns out that they really aren’t necessary anymore. You can find them mostly at 7 Elevens (yes, they do exist in Norway) and other retail locations.
And in case you were wondering, it turns out that cheese slicers are from Norway (or so we have been told). And more beautiful flower shops to enjoy.
With my husband’s call running long, we had actually missed our early sitting at Galt (which was very early at 6.30pm, as the 8.30pm sitting seemed a bit late), and they were full on the second sitting, so we had to come up with a plan B.
To gather our thoughts, we went for a drink at Himkok (one of the World’s Best Bars), which was of course heaving at 6pm.
We then walked back to the hotel and asked the concierge earlier to book us some place else (and cancel the other booking) and we went to Tjuvholmen Sjømagasin, which we had seen earlier that day (as it had a fishmonger next to it and it looked divine), and we continued our mission to indulge in Norwegian seafood. We ordered the seafood tower and had a very enjoyable 2 hours. I liked how they actually split the delivery in 2, with the cold seafood arriving first and only when you told them, the hot items like the lobster. Dinner for 2 including a bottle of wine was 2550 NOK (£240, $255).
What to do in Oslo on a Sunday
Again, after a good night’s sleep, we had only 1 item in our agenda for the Sunday – to go on a little fjord cruise. The local version of a ferry (a bit more chic) and it was actually a great way to spend 2 hours or so – it was nice to get out of the city and see a bit more, but it was VERY cold!
I liked that Classic Collection Holidays organised everything for us and we had the tickets over email before we departed and they came in handy as most people did queue for quite a bit.
After this, we grabbed a quick pizza by the hotel and literally ran to get our transfer which was waiting to take us to the airport.
We really enjoyed our weekend in Oslo – it was the first time for me (but my husband hadn’t been in over 25 years, so it doesn’t really count). My only other Nordic experiences were to Copenhagen and Helsinki (and not that recent either) and Oslo felt very different.
I am very glad we took Classic Collection Holidays’ advice and have really enjoyed our Oslo city break. I felt like I needed another day to master the basics… but there’s always next time.
Factsheet and disclosure: I was a guest of Classic Collection Holidays and opinions are, as always, my own.
Classic Collection Holidays offers 3 nights at The Thief, Oslo from £1549 per person. Price based on 2 adults sharing a deluxe room on a bed & breakfast basis and includes return flights from London Heathrow to Oslo, private assisted transfers and a pre-booked Geiranger Fjord Cruise.