The Norwegian capital city of Oslo is full of art, history, culture and nature. There are over a thousand years of history spread all over the city, and each place speaks of its particular era and its importance in the city’s history in one way or another.
Whether you’re on a long layover in the city or staying a few days as part of a longer trip to Norway, there are a few buildings you must not miss visiting to get a feel of Oslo’s history and its importance for the country and even the world. Here are seven buildings I believe should be on everyone’s agenda when in Oslo.
1. Oslo Museum and First City Hall
This is one of the oldest important buildings in the city. Back in 1624, when a fire destroyed part of the city, King Christian IV commissioned the first official city hall for Oslo. This city hall was built in the old marketplace in Christiania in 1641, an area that was very popular and bohemian at the time.
Since there was no major hall at the time, as soon as the city hall was built, it was not only used as the official office space for the city officials, but also as a gathering space for the bourgeoisie living around the area, for theatrical performances, and parties. As if it wasn’t busy enough, after the great fire in 1686, it was also used as a place of worship.
Today, it houses the Oslo Museum and the Det Gamle Rådhus (Old Town Hall) restaurant, one of Oslo’s oldest restaurants, where you can get plenty of traditional Norwegian dishes in a recreated atmosphere of the era.
2. Holmenkollen Ski Jump
This building might not seem like much more beyond being a ski jump tower, but it might surprise you. In fact, Norway Travel Guide named it as one of the top 10 things to do in Norway. Built in 2010, this is the only designer, steel ski jump in the world and one of the most modern. If you visit at times when there are no competitions being held, you can still go up and see the view of the city from up there as well as visit the Ski Museum which holds over 1,000 years of ski history.
3. Akershus Fortress
This fortress is famous for being one of the few fortresses that were never conquered, thanks to its ingenious design and strategic location. Well, there’s one small exception when the Nazis walked in without a fight during WWII.
The fortress was originally built in 1299 under King Håkon V, but it was later restructured by King Christian IV during the 17th century to look more like a renaissance castle and royal residence. It was subsequently re-modified in the 19th century, giving it an architectural gradient that spans 700 years of designs and military tactics.
Throughout its history, Akershus Fortress has had an age-old role as the seat of kings and the center of government.
Today, it is often used for public events, and it also houses the Royal Mausoleum. The view of the city from this fortress is just as impressive as the structure itself.
4. Edvard Munch Museet
Edvard Munch is Oslo’s most prominent artist. The Edvard Munch Museet houses a large part of Munch’s art, including his best-known masterpiece, the Scream, and it portrays very well the influence Oslo had on Munch as well as how Munch reinterpreted the city through its art. It is interesting to see the Norwegian fjords, and the streets of Oslo abstractly painted a la Munch.
5. Vigeland Sculpture Park
The Vigeland Sculpture Park is the world’s largest sculpture park made by a single artist, and it is one of Oslo’s most important open spaces.
Gustav Vigeland created it, and it can be described as his lifework and masterpiece. Between 1924 and 1943, he designed the architectural layout of the park and populated it with more than 200 of his bronze, granite, and wrought iron sculptures.
The main art piece in the park is the Monolith (Monolitten), with its 121 figures struggling to reach the top of the sculpture. When you look at the base, the figures are dead, and bodies are piled on top of each other. But as the bodies rise, they start gaining life and begin to take action.
Another famous sculpture among tourists is the Angry Boy! Rubbing his hand (apparently) brings good luck. A curious fun fact is that all the sculptures in the park are naked, except for the one depicting Vigeland himself. It’s also important to mention that Vigeland was the designer of the Nobel Prize medal.
6. Oslo’s Opera House
Last but not least, there’s the Norwegian National Opera & Ballet. This is Norway’s largest performing arts institution, and an architectural landmark.
Designed by Norwegian architects Snøhetta, this opera house is the first one in the world that lets visitors walk on the roof. The design is an abstract reinterpretation of an enormous glacier sliding into the fjord. The sloping roofs angle down to the water like a jagged chunk of ice and the white granite combined with the white marble create the illusion of glistening ice. The design connects the land and sea, making the Opera House seem like if it is rising out of the fjord.
Today, the building is an integral part of the city’s urban landscape, since it also serves as an urban plaza where local and tourists congregate to spend some leisure time.
7. Oslo’s City Hall
The current city hall building was designed in the 1930’s, yet it wasn’t finished and inaugurated until 1950 (to celebrate the city’s 900th anniversary) after being delayed by WWII. Its elaborate carvings show the talent of Norway’s finest artists and tell vividly the folk stories that form part of Norway’s culture, especially in literature, as well as other historical scenes.
Beyond being the city hall, this building is where the Nobel Prize ceremony is held every December 10th.