Going for a walk is a great way to discover the city, whether you stay within the centre or decide to explore local neighbourhoods. And of course a good vantage point is always a bonus – luckily Oslo boasts a few of those. The grounds of the Akershus Fortress, for example, make for a pleasant wander, blending history with open views over the harbour. Other recommended spots include Ekeberg (the most scenic route is to follow the tram tracks from Gamlebyen up the hill), Frognerseteren (served by the metro, and a good starting point for a foray in the Oslomarka Forest, where dozens of hiking paths await) or if you prefer a more urban environment, the top of the Radisson Plaza near Oslo central station.
A walk down the Akerselva River, with its many waterfalls, iron bridges, little parks and old mills, is another pleasant option. Do make sure you go up Telthusbakken hill and stop at the Old Aker Church, a picturesque church that inspired Edvard Munch among other artists. From there you can rejoin the centre via vibrant Grünerløkka, or cut through the green Our Saviour's Cemetery, where you will find the tombs of illustrious Norwegians such as Munch, Ibsen and Bjørnson, on your way back towards the Royal Palace.
The Palace Park is popular with both locals and tourists - you can see the changing of the guard here every day at 1:30 pm. Or check out the Botanical Garden in Tøyen (next to the Munch Museum in the eastern part of town), which was founded in 1814, and is home to some 7,500 species of plants. Particularly pretty in spring when in full bloom, and in autumn for the colourful foliage. Vigelandsparken Sculpture Park in Frogner is another good option – the park, with its 212 sculptures, is one of Oslo's top attractions, and certainly warrants a visit.
Several of Oslo's museums and galleries have free admission on Sunday. Among them are the National Gallery and the National Museum of Contemporary Art, two of Norway's most important art galleries; the Museum of Architecture, designed by Sverre Fehn himself; the Historical Museum, whose fascinating collection includes artefacts from around the world, as well as Norwegian church objects and coins; and the Museum of Decorative Arts and Design, which displays both Norwegian and international applied art, fashion and design from the 7th century to the present. The Stenersen Museum, which presents an extensive collection of modern Norwegian art, also has free admission on Tuesday.
Other free attractions include Oslo City Hall, whose huge murals, a collaboration between several prominent early 20th century Norwegian artists, is a must-see for any visitor to Oslo; the Opera House, which opened in Bjørvika in April 2008 (it cost a whopping 4.3 billion Norwegian crowns to build) and has since become one of the capital's most visited buildings; and the Parliament - of particular interest is the main hall, where debating sessions take place (guided tours in English every Saturday from October to June, except during Christmas and Easter holidays, other times available for groups).
Swim, ski, skate
If all this sounds a bit too highbrow, what about going for a swim or a spin on the ice, depending on the season? There are many beaches within easy access of central Oslo. Head to Bygdøy for a dip at Huk, the last stop on the 30A line bus, or Paradisbukta (the aptly named Paradise Bay). Or make for one of the many islands in the Oslofjord. Alternatively you can chill out by one of several lakes in Oslomarka Forest (of which Sognsvann is probably the most popular).
Visiting in winter? Then you can look forward to ice-skating and skiing. Oslomarka, the huge forest high up on the hills above the city, offers a vast network of cross-country tracks that are free for all to use, while back in the centre, you will find the Narvisen ice rink, right by Karl Johans gate, open from December to February, and another rink at Frogner Stadium, open from late January to mid-March – both have free entry.
Markets are another good bet if you want to mingle with locals. The second-hand and antique market on Vestkanttorvet takes place on this square in Majorstuen every Saturday between March and December, while in the eastern part of town the Birkelund fleamarket in Grünerløkka attracts its fair share of visitors every Sunday.
Christmas markets are also popular and well worth a visit if you happen to be in Oslo in December - the main two are the one on Rådhusplassen (the big square in front of City Hall), and the one at the Folk Museum on Bygdøy. And if you are interested in food make sure you check out the Matstreif Festival (also on Rådhusplassen) in late September.
Festivals and events
Last, but not least, there are many free festivals and events taking place throughout the year in Oslo. Some of the highlights include the Holmenkollen FIS World Cup Nordic (February-March), when thousands of winter sport enthusiasts gather in Oslomarka for one of the largest events of the year; National Music Day in June, when outdoor stages spring up all over the city and music can be heard on every street corner; the Mela Festival in August, a multicultural festival featuring world music, film screenings and various exhibitions; and Oslo Culture Night in September, which gives free access to all museums in the capital, and to a range of related events.
Another tip is the event Tourist in your own city held by the Oslo tourist office in April or May every year. At this event anyone in Oslo can get a free Oslo Pass for the day, granting free entrance to museums, attractions and public transport. Please note that the free Oslo Pass is printed exclusively for this event – it is only valid on the day of the event and does not include all the advantages of the regular Oslo Pass. More information is available at visitoslo.com.
Remember also 17 May, Norway’s national day, celebrated throughout the city with parades, enthusiastic flag waving, fireworks and generally speaking a great atmosphere – a unique time to visit Oslo.
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