The Oslo Opera House by night

Oslo – the third largest city in Scandinavia – is the political, economic and demographic center of Norway. This city, often overlooked by travelers, or used as a short stopover when flying in, has a lot to offer.

It may not have the spectacular nature of “Fjord Norway“, the northern lights, or the midnight sun, but spend a day or three here at the beginning or end of your trip and you’ll see it’s draw.

This is where you find the Oslo Opera House, the Munch museum, the Royal Castle, the Medieval castle of Akershus Festning, and the Vigeland sculpture park – to name a few. Oslo offers a great number of festivals throughout the year, and is the best place in Norway for shopping. It’s proximity to nature and mountains offer great opportunities for day-trips or small getaways — anything from hiking, to sailing to skiing.

A quick look at Oslo

With it’s 650 000 inhabitants (a million if we include the nearby areas such as Bærum and Lørenskog) it is small on an international scale, at least population wise. However, did you know that it’s one of the worlds largest capitals in area?

The center of the city is sitting at the mouth of the Oslo fjord. With it’s vast amount of islands, boat life, and cultural highlights, it’s the place to be in the summertime.

Residential areas are sprouting up on the hillsides around the city, again surrounded by the nature and forest area Marka (loosely translates to ‘The field’). An impressive flora and fauna is found here. It’s not uncommon to spot wildlife such as birds, goats, and moose. The area also includes a wolf reserve (though you won’t see them) — but no polar bears!

Despite being situated far north, the climate is tepid thanks to the gulf stream. It should be a lot colder at this latitude. Summers are mild, and winter temperatures hover around the freezing point, with occasional colder periods. Snow is often plentiful, making the surrounding areas good for winter sports. On a good summer day, the temperatures in Oslo are just as good as any city in southern Europe.

The city is divided into 15 boroughs (‘bydeler’), to some extent self-governing. For us travelers, it’s often more convenient to divide the city into six parts:

  • The central area: (down-town)
  • West: Bygdøy (the posh areas)
  • Inner West: Froger, Majorstua, etc.
  • Outer West: (Holmenkollen, Aker, Ullern)
  • Inner East: (Sagene, Old Oslo, Grünerløkka)
  • Outer East: (Alna, Stovner, Grorud, Nordstrand)

I could have drawn you a map — I like to do that for travelers I meet– but I’ll just upload an image instead:

Oslo map showing the different parts and boroughs
Source: Oslo Muncipality

Going back in time — The history of Oslo

There are a great number of books written on the history of Oslo. We’ll just cover the bigger lines here, but for a more in-depth look, I recommend the book: ‘A History of Scandinavia: Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, and Iceland‘.

The history of Oslo is an interesting one. Founded in 1048, by a king named Harald Hardråde, it was made the capital of Norway in 1300 (the capital prior to this was Bergen). However, for a period of time, during the Danish-Norwegian union between 1348 and 1814, Norway was considered part of Denmark, the Danish capital of Copenhagen also became the Norwegian capital — on paper at least.

A great city fire in 1624 burnt down large parts of the city. After this, old Oslo was mostly abandoned and used as farmlands. Today, some ruins can still be seen around the Ekeberg hill (just across from the Oslo Opera House).

The new capital: Christiania was founded outside the borders of what was then considered the to be Oslo.

The old Oslo, let’s call it ‘the original Oslo’, remained, but was now a small settlement outside of the new capital: Christiania. This new capital expanded rapidly, eventually encompassing the original Oslo (now “Gamlebyen“, “the old town”). Today, you can see the remains of this time through the names of places, and those of old town houses.

In 1859, ‘the original Oslo’ became part of Christiania — and the entire city was renamed to Oslo in 1929. It is commonly known that Oslo is the capital of Norway.

Let’s continue!

This article is a part of a series on Oslo. Instead of giving you a massive chunk of text, we’ve portioned it out a bit. You’ll find links to the other articles below:

As always, we appreciate all feedback and tips you might have. Please let us know in the comments field.

(Opening photo by Howard Ignatius, CC)