The history of Oslo goes back to around 1000 CE. Since the Middle Ages Oslo has gone though great changes, even the name of the town has been changed a few times, before it became the city it is today.

The town was originally called Oslo. In the Middle Ages it was located on the east side of the Bjørvika inlet. After a dramatic fire in 1624, king Christian IV decided that the town be rebuilt in the area below the Akershus Fortress, and he changed its name to Christiania. From 1877 the name was spelled Kristiania, and in 1925 it was changed back to the original name, Oslo. 

Medieval Oslo

Oslo's history begins in the Middle Ages. The first town settlement probably appeared around the year 1000 CE. The medieval town of Oslo was located below the Ekeberg hills, on the east side of the Bjørvika inlet.

During the reign of Olaf III, Oslo grew to be an important cultural centre for the East of Norway. In 1174 a Cistercian monastery was built on the island of Hovedoya in the Oslofjord. The remains of which can still be visited today. Much of the city was owned by the church.

Christianity was a strong influence in building the city and its importance. In 1299, when King Haakon V came to the throne, he chose to reside in the city. Haakon had previously been Duke of Norway and the city formed his power base. So Oslo succeeded Bergen as the capital of the country.

The King started the construction of the Akershus Fortress across the fjord to the north-west of the city. This was to fortify the city against invasion by Swedes from the North-East.

Tragedy struck the city in 1349 when plague in the form of the Black Death arrived. Half of the city's 3,000 residents died. The church, suffering a loss of income, started to decline. The Hanseatic traders who had started to arrive in the 12th century grew in importance.

In the Old Town called Gamlebyen, you will find remains of medieval Oslo in the form of ruins, parts of building and cultural layers. You will also find Oslo Ladegård, with a medieval hall in the cellar. Nearby lies the memorial park with ruins of the St. Hallvard cathedral, from the 12th century, and the St. Olav convent.

The renaissance period

From 1536 Norway was in a union with Denmark. After a dramatic fire in 1624, the Danish King Christian IV decided that the town be rebuilt below Akersus, so the fortress could function as a defence for the town. The town was named Christiania, after the king himself.

This part of Oslo's centre between the Akershus Fortress and Oslo Cathedral, Øvre Vollgate and Skippergata is today known as Kvadraturen, because of the rectangular street pattern of Christian IV’s renaissance town. Several well preserved buildings from the 17th century can be seen here. In Kvadraturen you can see the building that housed Oslo's first town hall, and the city's oldest restaurant, Café Engebret.

A capital is built

As a consequence of the Napoleonic Wars, Denmark in 1814 had to cede the territory of Norway to the Swedish king, Karl Johan. It was also during this year Norway got its own constitution, on 17 May 1814, and Christiania got its official status as the capital of Norway. King Karl Johan initiated the building of the Royal Palace in 1825. The palace was completed in 1848 under King Oscar I. In 1866 the Parliament building in Karl Johans gate was finished.

The industrial era started along the river Akerselva around 1850. In the years between 1850 and 1900 the population of Kristiania increased from about 30,000 to 230,000 mainly due to an influx of workers from rural areas.

Historical Oslo

As most older cities Oslo has gone through big character changes as a result of fires and redevelopment. Most of the original town is lost, but in some neighbourhoods you can still get a feel of the past.

The more than 700 year old Akershus Fortress is an important cultural monument. Here the memories of World War II are also prominent. Many Norwegian patriots were executed on this site, and Akershus was surrendered to the Norwegian resistance movement in the last hours of the war. After the war Vidkun Quisling was held in prison here. Vidkun Quisling was a Norwegian army officer whose collaboration with the Germans in their occupation of Norway during World War II and was considered as a traitor. Thus it is natural that Norway's Resistance Museum is located at Akershus. 

The river Akerselva was the cradle of industrialism in Norway. A walk along the river is a pleasant experience and offers interesting meetings with living cultural memories. Cascades and old wooden houses provide a contrast to the enormous industrial buildings. 

Oslo is the capital city of Norway situated on the 62 mile Oslofjord. For a capital city, it certainly feels different to most others in Europe. It is much smaller, surrounded by beautiful nature and has an abundance of parks and green spaces.

Oslo is known as the city of museums, with over 50 of them sprawled across the city, including art, history and sculpture museums.

Each year the city hosts the Nobel peace prize award ceremony and is famous around the world for Ski jumping, being home to Holmenkollen Ski Jump, one of the most famous sporting arenas in the world.

Oslo is the 4th most expensive city in the world, tied with Sydney Australia according to the EIU Worldwide cost of living study. Yet, despite the high cost of visiting Norway, Oslo tourism numbers are booming. The country is benefiting from the popularity of winter landscapes and the draw of the Northern Lights.

For the best weather in Oslo, visit between late April to early September. Remember that July and August are peak times in Europe so you may wish to avoid these two months if you’re looking to avoid the crowds. As with all Scandinavian countries, there are plenty of attractions throughout the year, including lots of winter festivities.

1. Vigeland Sculptures

Situated in Frogner Park, the Vigeland sculpture installation is the largest collection of sculptures by one artist. Gustav Vigeland created over 200 sculptures in the park between 1924 and 1943, all of them are naked except for one. The theme of the park is the circle of life. The sculptures are designed to show the emotions that human experiences at different points in their lives. At the centre of the park is a huge monolith that took 14 years to carve, it features 121 humans figures but was actually carved from a single piece of stone.

2. Viking Ship Museum

No trip to Norway would be complete without visiting at least one of the many museums and exhibits dedicated to the country's Viking past. One of the best is the Viking Ships Museum, home to three historic 9th century vessels, the best preserved being the 21 meter long Oseberg Ship. The largest surviving pre Christian artifact in Scandinavia, this impressively decorated vessel was built around AD 800 and was used for the burial of a chieftain's wife and two other women. They were buried with a large selection of items, including furniture, clothing, and personal items, which provide a great deal of insight into Viking life. The other vessels on display include the 23 meter long Gokstad Ship, a seagoing vessel designed for use under sail or with oars, and the less intact Tune Ship. The museum's film Vikings Alive provides a fascinating look at these artifacts and demonstrates the long process of Viking shipbuilding by use of CGI animation. The museum is also home to several additional exhibits and films, which explore Viking life on the seas.

3. Fram Museum

Also on the Bygdøy peninsular and within walking distance of the Viking ship museum is one of Oslo’s most popular attractions; The Fram museum. This museum is dedicated to telling the story of Norways polar exploration. The main exhibit in the museum is Norway’s original and most famous polar exploration ship, The Fram. This ship was used on three polar expeditions and is now housed in the museum where visitors can board the ship and explore the decks, the cabins and engine room. You will also find clothing and equipment used on the expedititions and learn about the treacherous conditions the teams faced. Look out for the fake ice cave on the first floor too.

4. Opera House

Frequently cited as one of the best things to do in Oslo, the opera house has been uniquely designed allowing you to walk on the roof. The design was the result of a competition held by the Norwegian government in which anyone could submit their ideas. Over 350 were put forward, but the winning design is based on an ice berg. The artists vision was that the humans strolling around on the roof would represent the penguins that would stroll around an ice berg. You can get a great view from the rooftop, but if this is not for you, the view is just as good from the inside.

5. City Hall

Each year on 10th December the Nobel peace prize is awarded in Oslo. The ceremony takes place at Oslo city hall, attendees include the Norweigian royal family and prime minister. When it is not being used to present the peace prize, it is fully functional as a city hall and open for the public to explore. Inside you will discover art portraying Norwegian history and culture. Entrance is free and you will find guided tours year round. Like many city halls, it has a large astronomical clock however this one is a little different as it is set of 49 bells allow it to blast different melodies every hour from 7am until midnight. Sometimes these are traditional Norweigan songs, but other times you will find video game theme tunes such as Mario or Minecraft, film scores such as Jurrasic Park or popular music by the likes of Status Quo and Ed Sheeran. This spotify playlist features the current selection of songs.

6. Akersus Fortress

Another notable attraction in Oslo is Akersus, a medieval castle/fortress situated within the city. Former uses include a military base and a prison. The Norwegian Ministry of Defence remains located here but the attraction is still open for the public to explore during week days. On a clear day you will discover great views across the harbour. You will find guided tours on offer during peak periods.

7. Explore Oslofjord by ferry

When visiting Oslo, try to find time to see the city from the huge fjord that it sits alongside. Using a regular public transport ticket or an Oslo pass if you have invested in one, you can hop on and off the ferries for a very cheap day. Take a ferry from Aker Brygge and spend a day exploring the islands and peninsulas across the fjord or simply enjoy a cruise aboard a ferry for a few hours. Some of the ferries do not run year round so be sure to check timetables before you go.

8. The Royal Palace

Built in 1849, the royal palace near at the northwest end of the main street (Karl Johan’s Gatis) is still home today to Norway’s monarchy. It may be a lot smaller than other royal residences across Europe, but it is just as magnificent. During summer months the palace is open to the public for guided tours allowing you to marvel at the interior. For the months when it is not open, you can still wonder around the gardens and catch changing of the guard everyday at 1.30pm.

9. Holmenkollen Ski Jump and Museum

Located at the base of Holmenkollen Ski Jump, the Ski Museum is the oldest of its kind in the world, open since 1923. Here, ski enthusiasts will find exhibits and artifacts chronicling nearly 4,000 years of ski history and exploring various related topics, including weather and polar exploration. The oldest ski on display here dates back to AD 600, and there are several other examples, including skis from the 8th, 10th, and 12th centuries. Other skis in the collection represent a wide variety of terrain and uses, from mountain skis to fast skis, and even the longest skis. The museum also has a "Hall of Fame" dedicated to great Norwegian skiers, interactive exhibits about modern skiing and snowboarding, and information about Fridtjof Nansen's polar explorations on the ship Fram. Guided tours include the Ski Jump and its Jump Tower Observation Deck, which has excellent views over the city.

10. Oslo Cathedral

Although consecrated in 1697, Oslo's Cathedral has been rebuilt and renovated numerous times. Its tower was rebuilt in 1850, while its interior was renovated soon after the end of WWII. Notable features include the main doorway with its decorated bronze doors, as well as the ceiling paintings by H. L. Mohr, the Baroque pulpit and altar (1699), and the stained glass by Emanuel Vigeland. Afterwards, be sure to visit the Oslo Bazaar along the old church walls. Dating back to 1841, these fascinating halls are now occupied by galleries, cafés and antique dealers.

11. Aker Brygge

Built around an abandoned shipyard, Oslo'a Aker Brygge area is the heart and soul of the city. Bustling and vibrant day and night, its stunning architecture, that magnificent blend of new and old that perfectly compliments Norway's stunning natural beauty, is everywhere on display, and everywhere breathtaking. It is estimated that 12 million visitors find their way to Aker Brygge every year, drawn by its sea front boardwalk, fine shopping, great restaurants, and cozy year round patio bars with their snug rugs and fireplaces. While visiting, be sure to pop into the newly opened Astrup Fearnley Museum of Modern Art. The museum consists of two buildings: one for its own collection of works by such greats as Andy Warhol, Damien Hirst, and Jeff Koons, the other for rotating exhibitions.

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