Far too many travelers think of Oslo as a stopover on their journeys west or north, but the picturesque port city is more than a transit point. Take a few days to explore and you’ll find it’s the perfect mix of traditional and trendy, old-fashioned and hip. Who knows? You may even find yourself falling in love with Norway’s capital. Follow these tips to experience the best of Oslo in one perfect day.

Overview

View of Oslo Opera House with people walking in front
The Stunning Oslo Opera House is a waterfront architectural gem

Like its Scandinavian neighbors, Oslo is bursting with grand palaces, genteel parks, striking contemporary architecture, world-class museums, and innovative restaurants.

A fierce, sometimes gritty urban energy radiates from Oslo’s bustling center, which contains City Hall, the 19th-century Royal Palace (official residence of Norway's monarchy) and elegant shopping streets like pedestrian-only Karl Johans Gate. On the outskirts of the city, colorful cottages are surrounded by serene green spaces, giving a relaxed, old-timey feel. Take the T-bane subway to the last stop, and you’ll even find yourself in the mountains.

This may seem like too much to do in just one day, but the city is compact and easily navigable. So if you only have 24 hours, you’ll still be able to see quite a lot.

Practical Tips for a Perfect Day in Oslo

Colorful cottages with flowers out front
Oslo is full of quaint neighborhoods with colorful cottages adorned with flowerbeds

Oslo is one of the world’s friendliest and most accessible capitals, but it won’t go easy on your wallet. Budget twice as much as you normally would for daily expenses: even a bottle of water can set you back $6.

If you’re planning on crisscrossing the city, you can save money by opting for a 24-hour ticket, which is valid on all forms of public transportation. It goes for 105 NOK ($13.50), whereas a single ride will set you back 35 NOK ($4.50). For even bigger discounts, the OsloPass offers you unlimited transportation along with reduced fares to over 30 museums. You can choose from 24, 48, or 72-hour passes, perfect for a culture-heavy weekend in the capital.

Oslo is an extremely safe city, but as always, it's better to keep your belongings in sight and your valuables concealed, especially at busy public squares and well-known tourist locations. Pickpockets can strike, but no more than in any other big city.

Wake Up in Oslo

Graffiti on industrial buildings along the Akerselva river in the hip Grünerløkka district
Graffiti decorates industrial buildings along the Akerselva river in the hip Grünerløkka district

9:00 am: There’s no better place to spend a leisurely Oslo morning than in hipster Grünerløkka. Home to revitalized industrial buildings, prewar apartment blocks, and the city's most spectacular waterfall, the trendy district manages to be both peaceful and buzzing.

For a quick pick-me-up, you can pop into the vintage cafes around leafy Olaf Ryes Plass and Birkelunden Park, or into any of the new, sleekly designed coffee bars. If you can hold out another hour, then treat yourself to an indulgent breakfast at Mathallen Oslo. The modern market hall is located in an old brick factory building that includes food stalls, shops, and restaurants.

Then, walk south along the Akerselva river for about twenty minutes. You'll pass by picnickers sprawled on the grass, children clambering up innovative playgrounds, and fishermen setting up shop for the day.  From Grønland metro station, where the river disappears underground, it's another short walk to one of the city's main marvels: the gleaming, newly-built Oslo Opera House, with its sloping roof and waterfront walkway.

Or, you can hop on the T-bane and travel two stops to Stortinget. You're then a short stroll away from Oslo's standout historic sights,  including the Royal Palace, the National Theater, and the 13th-century Akershus Fortress

If the weather has you wanting to head inside, there are plenty of museums to shelter you from the elements. In Tøyen, the Munch Museum houses an impressive collection of the works of Edvard Munch, Norway’s most famous artist, while the downtown National Museum holds the best-known version of his iconic masterpiece, “The Scream.”

Kids will love exploring the Natural History Museum, home of the world's oldest primate skeleton, or rambling through the surrounding family-friendly Botanical Gardens. Fans of modern art and cutting-edge architecture should check out the Astrup Fearnley Museum, a Renzo Piano-designed contemporary art mecca located on Tjuvholmen, or Thief Island. Once an 18th-century execution site, the area has shed its unsavory past and is now at the center of Oslo’s waterfront revitalization efforts.

An Afternoon Jaunt

Vigelandsparken obelisk
The obelisk at Vigeland Park is a perfect example of Gustav Vigeland's bizarre, delightful sculptural aesthetic

1:00 pm: By now, you’ve surely worked up an appetite, so it’s time to sample Norway’s greatest export: seafood. Steps away from Oslo Cathedral, Fiskeriet is a playful, updated take on a classic lunch hall, where you can chow down on fish and chips, oysters, mussels, or fish soup at a counter accented with maritime décor. Head to the overflowing fish counter to buy something fresh to cook for dinner.

If you'd prefer to enjoy your meal in view of the sea, then check out harborside restaurants like Solsiden, Lofoten Fiskerestaurant, or Tjuvholmen Sjømagasin, which serve up the freshest catches of the day.

Once you've refueled, it's time to see how easily you can escape the city, with packed streets soon giving way to mountainous landscapes or breezy fjord islands. To head to the hills, take the T-bane up to Holmenkollen, where an elegant ski jump offers epic views over the forested valleys, down to the city and beyond.

If you’re itching to get out on the water, hop a ferry from Aker Brygge terminal over to Bygdøy, a large island offering sandy beaches, windswept trails, and several incredible museums, all related to ships and seafaring: the Viking Ship Museum, where three ninth-century wooden ships are housed, the Fram Museum, home to a 19th-century polar ship, and the Kon-Tiki Museum, where adventurer Thor Heyerdahl’s boats sit proudly on display. Nearby, the open-air Norwegian Museum of Cultural History features reconstructed buildings from several centuries of Norwegian history.

If you want to spend the afternoon a bit closer to the city center, take the T-bane to Majorstuen and walk to Vigeland Park, a sculpture garden featuring the bizarre but delightful works of Gustav Vigeland, where you'll also be treated to panoramic city views.

Drinks and Dinner

Instagramming a bowl of soup
It will be hard to resist Instagramming your meal at one of Oslo's many excellent New Nordic restaurants

7:00 pm: By now, you’re probably eager to sit down to dinner, or at least to rest your feet over a good drink. Oslo is dotted with upscale cocktail bars, and they offer drinks that are as innovative, colorful and tasty as any Michelin-starred dish.

Try Torggata Botaniske, where bartenders whip up concoctions using their own homegrown herbs, Abelone, offering a twist on classic sodas and slushes, or Himkok, where traditional spirits like aquavit are distilled in-house. You can read our article on Norwegian delicacies to learn more about the powerful flavored liquor—once swilled by Vikings—and other staples of the city's food and drink scene.

When it comes to New Nordic cuisine, there are plenty of world-class restaurants that pull out all the stops, like the long-praised Maaemo or the newer Kontrast. But other restaurants are equally willing to wow you without breaking the bank.

Try Hanami, a sleek Asian-fusion joint by the harbor that transforms Norwegian seafood into innovative Japanese dishes. There’s also Bokbacka in the upscale Uranienborg neighborhood, whose playful dishes recall Copenhagen’s Noma on a smaller scale. À L’aise excels in French luxury, and the on-site restaurant at the recently opened Thief Hotel offers a bounty of seafood-focused shared plates in a sleek setting.

With just one day in Oslo, you’ve managed to cover food and drink, nature and culture. Where you go from here is up to you: check out these extended itineraries to see how Oslo can be a jumping-off point for experiencing other regions of Norway.