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The city of Oslo, Norway is set in a exceptionally beautiful part of the world. Located at the base of the Oslo Fjord, the city extends up the mountains that surround it on three sides. The city's cultural center is downtown, right on the water,...

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Oslo, Norway’s capital and largest city, is encircled by wooded hills and snowcapped peaks. The city displays a mixture of several architectural styles. A full range of activities includes art galleries, museums, restaurants, theaters and nightclubs. Other points of interest include Royal Palace; Frogner Park, known for its famous Vigeland sculptures; Holmenkollen, where international skiing events take place; imposing Åkershus Castle; and Bygdøy Peninsula, home to some of Oslo’s most important museums. Many attractions can be explored on foot. Oslo's City Hall ranks as the most distinctive part of Oslo’s waterfront. The art portrays the country's different historical and domestic phases. Munch Museum, which is dedicated to the life work of Norway’s famous painter, contains more than 5,000 drawings and paintings. National Gallery has the nation’s largest collection of Norwegian art and some of Munch’s best-known works. Åkershus Fortress & Castle, transformed into a Renaissance palace in the 17th century, houses Norway’s Resistance Museum.
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One of the best features of Oslo, Norway, is its setting. Located at the base of the Oslo Fjord, the city extends up the mountains that surround it on three sides. The city's cultural center is downtown, right on the water. Oslo is easy to navigate and so compact that you can walk almost everywhere.

Oslo was once considered the sleepy cousin of Stockholm and Copenhagen, but it has finally come into its own, with cultural and entertainment possibilities that rival those of cities many times its size. An opera house has opened on reclaimed land in the fjord, and Oslo's Philharmonic Orchestra is world-class. A giant sports stadium was built to replace the original stadium at Bislett, where dozens of speed-skating and track records were set.

For those who love the outdoors, Oslo has more than 1,550 mi/2,500 km of hiking and skiing trails within the city limits, and there's a good view at almost every turn. Don't let the climate scare you: It's not as cold as you might expect. Norway's coast is bathed in warm water thanks to the Gulf Stream. Although winter temperatures can be chilly, summers bring pleasantly warm days (up to 75 degrees F/24 degrees C), cool evenings and a sun that doesn't set until around 11 pm—giving visitors even more time to spend outdoors.

According to the United Nations, Oslo enjoys one of the highest standards of living in the world, partly because of the discovery of substantial oil and gas deposits in the late 1960s. The United Nations has consistently named Norway the best place in the world to live. The capital city's public transport, clean water, access to nature, low crime rate and superb medical service in no small way contribute to this. Oslo also regularly tops the list of the most expensive cities in the world.

Must See or Do

Sights—The supreme city view from the marble-slated roof of the Den Norske Opera; people-watching at Aker Brygge; the scenic grounds of Akershus Slott; the art-deco murals at Oslo Raadhus; the more than 200 unique sculptures in the Vigelandsparken.

Museums—A version of Edvard Munch's The Scream at the Nasjonalgalleriet; burial ships at the Vikingskipshuset; the fabulous Kon-Tiki Museet, which contains Thor Heyerdahl's famous vessel; impressive contemporary art at the Oslo's Astrup Fearnley Museet, located in a landmark building on the edge of the fjord.

Memorable Meals—A traditional Norwegian lunch buffet at De Fem Stuer; soaking up the atmosphere at Theatercafeen; amazing cakes at Pascal; a giant sweet roll at Apent Bakeri; choosing from an array of Norwegian specialities and gourmet snacks at Mathallen, Oslo's indoor food market.

Late Night—Clubbing at Blaa; a performance at Nationaltheatret; bar-hopping in the hip Grunerlokka district.

Walks—A wander along Akerselva, the city's historic river; exploring Oslomarka; strolling down Karl Johans gate, Oslo's Champs-Elysee; exploring the Ekeberg Parken Sculpture Park and finishing with a glass of white wine on the terrace of the Ekeberg Restaurant, taking in the wonderful views of Oslo and the fjord.

Especially for Kids—Summer and weekend activities at the Norsk Folkemuseum; TusenFryd amusement park; ice skating at Spikersuppa Kunstisbane, the seasonal skating rink by Karl Johans gate; the beaches of the Oslofjord islands.


Oslo curves around the innermost shore of the Oslo Fjord. It is surrounded by forests to the west, north and east and covers approximately 175 sq mi/450 sq km.

Oslo's center is compact, with the main railway station (Sentralstasjon) serving as its eastern edge and the royal palace as its western. The main street, Karl Johans gate, connects the two. Other popular sights are on the Bygdoy Peninsula, which juts out into the fjord, southwest of the city center.


Oslo was first settled around AD 900 by Vikings who built small wooden houses at the foot of a hill in what is now called Gamlebyen (Old Town). Viking King Harald Hardraade's castle was there, and the remains of two churches and a bishop's residence from that time can still be seen. At the end of the 13th century, King Haakon V Magnusson started work on Akershus Castle at the base of the Oslo Fjord.

When and how Oslo got its name is uncertain, and the meaning is ambiguous, as well. "Os" refers either to a long, narrow hill or to a Norse god, and "lo" translates as field. So, Oslo means either "the field below the hill" or "the field of a god."

After a fire destroyed the city in 1624, Danish-Norwegian King Christian IV ordered the town rebuilt in brick and stone behind Akershus Castle. He renamed the city Christiania, after himself, and oversaw construction of many buildings in what is still the cultural center of the city—called Kvadraturen (the grid).

After a short period of independence from Denmark in the early 1800s, Norway entered into a union with Sweden that lasted until 1905. The city was named the capital of newly independent Norway, and its name was changed back to Oslo in 1925.

During World War II, Germans occupied the city for five years. After the war, Oslo expanded on a small scale. The city's economy did not take off until the late 1960s, when oil was discovered in the North Sea. Although the main oil town is Stavanger, on the west coast, many oil and construction companies have their main offices in Oslo. More than 40 years after the discovery of North Sea oil, Oslo has become a wealthy city with all the advantages and occasional problems that involves. Oil still drives the Norwegian economy.


The Norwegian government is very protective of its citizens. This manifests itself in a number of ways, but the strict alcohol-purchasing laws stand out the most. Supermarkets may not sell beverages with an alcohol content that exceeds 4.75% by volume. Anything stronger is sold at state-run stores (called Vinmonopolet). Liquor is heavily taxed, and the government only imports wines of a certain standard. This means that there is no cheap "plonk" on the shelves. Beer in supermarkets can be purchased 8 am-8 pm Monday-Saturday. No sales on Sunday.

Norway is a casual country, and people respect the privacy of the royal family. King Harald's sisters stand in line at the fishmonger with everyone else, and Crown Prince Haakon is frequently seen in restaurants and at rock concerts. Former King Olav often spoke with the children at The International School, located one block from the palace.

Norway, Iceland and Switzerland are the only western European countries that have not joined the European Union. Norway has held two referenda on the matter (in 1972 and 1994).

Norway may be a big oil producer, but that doesn't mean that gas is inexpensive. Statoil, the Norwegian state oil company, doesn't give price breaks at its pumps.

Have you noticed that many of the blonde wait staff in the capital speak a slightly different accent? That's because they are Swedish. Considerably better wages and a good job market attract a large number of Swedes across the border.


Cruise ships dock in four different quays, all close to the city center. Sondre Akershus kai (near Akershus Castle, a short walk from city hall) is used if there is only one cruise ship in port. It is the only one with facilities. Oslo Cruise Terminal features different Norwegian souvenir shops, restrooms and a money-exchange facility.

There is no permanent taxi stand, but taxies do drive by. Nearby are the terminals for the ferries serving Denmark and Germany. Stena Line and DFDS (ferries to Denmark) share a terminal at Revier quay on the other side of Akershus Castle, and the Colorline terminal (ferries to Germany) is located at Hjortnes quay near Aker Brygge.

Shore Excursions

A popular excursion is a bus tour to Bygdoy, the peninsula opposite city hall and home to some interesting sites: the Norwegian Maritime Museum, the Viking Ship Museum and the Kon-Tiki Museum.

Another popular excursion is a tour of Akershus Castle, which dates from the 13th century. The castle is also home to the Norwegian Resistance Museum, which documents Norway's resistance activities during World War II.

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