When Lonely Planet named Oslo one of the top cities to visit in 2018, I knew that I needed to do an itinerary post and that I needed to do it soon. Truth be told, Norway was never very high on my travel bucket list—but it is an amazing country. And not just for living, although there is a reason why it is the happiest country in the world. There’s actually a ton to see here, much more than I ever gave it credit for.
Of course, traveling with little kids, while rewarding, brings some challenges. Most prominent among them? You can’t explore at night, all-day strolls through museums are probably a bit much for your companion, and naptime can really throw a wrench in the schedule. Regarding the last one, if your kiddo will take them, stroller naps are great when you’re traveling. But even if she won’t, these itineraries are designed to allow you to go back to your hotel or apartment most days so that you don’t have an (overly) irritable child messing with your flow.
With two days
A.M.: Start your day with a boat cruise on the Oslofjord.**
Nature is what makes Norway amazing (even for those of us who aren’t that outdoorsy) and the best way to experience that in a short period is by getting on a boat. Plus, most kids love them, so you don’t have to worry about the little one getting too bored. Afterwards, grab some lunch from the Aker Brygge food trucks before heading back for a nap.
Practical tips: There are a number of different options for fjord cruises, but for little kids, I recommend the 2-hour fjord sightseeing tour with Båtservice Sightseeing. It runs year-round (with frequency varying based on the season), isn’t too long for the little ones, and you hear about the history of Oslo while taking in the view. (One of my favorite sights and stories? There’s an island with swimming cabins that not only enabled the owners to enjoy their neighbors’ company without being seen in a swimsuit, but also served to smuggle alcohol in and out of the city during Prohibition.) Båtservice Sightseeing departs from Pier 3, right in front of City Hall (Rådhuset).
There are several food truck options, but my favorite thing to get is a chicken rosemary sausage from Haute Dog and some sweet potato fries from Go’Grilla.
P.M.: Wander through 200+ sculptures by Norway’s second most famous artist, Gustav Vigeland.*
After lunch, you can head back to your hotel or apartment for a nap or (if your LO doesn’t nap or is good at stroller naps) go for a stroll up Karl Johans Gate, Oslo’s “main drag.” Don’t forget to stop by the Oslo Domkirke (Cathedral). It only takes a couple of minutes, but it is lovely inside (and not as minimalistic as you might expect). Then, head on over to Vigelandsparken* and explore the more than 200 sculptures, including everyone’s favorite tantruming toddler.
Practical tips: From Aker Brygge or Sentrum, take the number 12 tram towards Majorstuen and get off at Vigelandsparken.(Alternatively, you can take the T-bane to Majorstuen.) Vigelandsparken is part of Frognerparken (so you might hear both names) and there is a nice, large playground near the entrance to the sculpture area. If you are in Oslo during the week, try to go while everyone else is at work (or barnehage) so you can play in (relative) peace.
A.M.: Check out the National Gallery.*
As much as I love art museums, we don’t visit them very often anymore because they can be hard for toddlers. But sometimes they shouldn’t be skipped and this is one of those times. Unless you are really into landscapes, you might be inclined to skip over large parts of the National Gallery, but there is one thing that you definitely don’t want to miss: Edvard Munch’s The Scream. Norway’s most significant artistic export, it’s hard to say you’ve been to Norway if you don’t see a little Munch. And while there is an entire museum dedicated to him in Tøyen, the National Gallery is where you’ll find his most famous work.
Practical tips: I’ve scheduled this for the morning because L can be incredibly cranky when he wakes up from his afternoon nap. If your child is more pleasant in the afternoon, tackle this potentially challenging activity in the afternoon instead. The National Gallery is closed on Mondays. Admission is 100 NOK for adults and free for children under the age of 18. Adults enter free on Thursdays.
P.M.: Museum hopping on Bygdøy.*
After lunch (and possibly nap), head over to Bygdøy, Oslo’s “museum island” (which is actually a peninsula). Which museum(s) you choose will depend on your interests, but for a first-time visit with little kids, I’d probably choose the Folk Museum. There you can see 160 old buildings from all over Norway, including a Stave Church from the 13th century. Plus, since it is all outside, the littles are less likely to get antsy.
Practical tips: You can get to Bygdøy by ferry or bus from Rådhuset. I recommend the boat if you are going to the Fram, Kon Tiki, or Maritime museum in the summer, or bus 30 (direction Bygdøy via Bygdøynes) if you are going to the Viking Ship and/or Folk Museum (or if you are in Oslo in winter). The ferry leaves from Pier 3 and runs March to October. It costs 40-60 NOK depending on whether you buy your ticket at the ticket office or on the boat. Oslo Pass provides free transport on the ferry, but Ruter tickets are not accepted.
Have three days? Add:
A.M.: Visit Holmenkollen.
This isn’t something we’ve done—yet. But the famous ski jump is apparently the most popular tourist attraction in Norway according to the little activity book my toddler picked up on the Flytoget. In addition to fabulous views of the city, you can learn about the history of skiing at the on-site museum and go ziplining.
Practical Tips: Take the metro line 1 (direction Frognerseteren) to Holmenkollen station and then walk about 10 minutes. Admission to the ski museum and jump tower is free with Oslo Pass; otherwise it is 140 NOK for adults, and free for children under six. Ziplining is 740 NOK per person and is an option for those three or older.
P.M.: Wander along the Aker River admiring the waterfalls and eat at Mathallen.
Waterfalls in the middle of the city? That’s right! After nap, take the tram to Grünerløkka and go exploring. But don’t spend too much time in the hipster neighborhood. Fun as it might be, to get to the real gem, walk down the hill to the river. Let your little one play on the climbing structures and then wander through the forest up to the waterfall at Mølla.
After your ramble through the woods, head back down and then grab something to eat at Mathallen. In a city that’s not known for its food, Mathallen has coffee shops galore, trendy burger joints, and several reasonably priced (and delicious) choices for cuisine from around the world.
Practical Tips: This is one of the few times that you won’t be able to use your stroller—if your LO can’t be relied on to walk, bring a carrier. We like to go to Mathallen for dinner, but if you come to Oslo in July go for lunch instead. The food hall closes surprisingly early, and you don’t want to be disappointed.
Have four days? Add:
A.M.: Explore Akershus Fortress and walk to the Opera House.
Built in the 1300s and remodeled in the 1500s, Akershus Fortress includes not only a castle (not the monarch’s palace) but also nice green areas for you and your little one to explore. Nearby is the cute little Renaissance town of Kvadraturen. Wander around admiring the buildings and looking for the years when they were built, which can usually be seen near the upper windows. As you come to the end of the old part of the city, you’ll see the Opera House. Go for a walk on the roof for a beautiful view and unique experience. (And yes, you can do it with your stroller, at least in good weather.)
P.M.: Take the ferry out to Hovedøya.
Did you know that you could find medieval ruins in Oslo? I didn’t. Although there certainly is history here, compared to many European cities, Oslo seems quite young. So imagine my surprise when I read about this little gem. Located less than ten minutes by ferry from Rådhuset, this small island’s main attraction is the ruins of a medieval monastery for you to explore. Afterwards, you can walk around the island enjoying nature (L loved all the sheep last time we were there!) or go for a swim at one of the public beaches on the west side of the island.
Practical Tips: If you have a Ruter pass, you can use it to get to Hovedøya. Take ferry B1/B2/B3 from Rådhuset Pier 4. Frequency varies depending on the season.
Although you can go and wander around Hovedøya all year-round, if you go during the off-season (basically, October-Easter although specific seasons might vary) there won’t be any places to eat open so either pack your own food or plan on eating in Oslo.
Want to maximize your learning? Contact the “part-time monk” for a guided tour of the ruins in English, Norwegian, or German. (So far he has been out of town when we’ve tried to hire him, but I’m hoping we’ll be able to do one of his guided tours this year.)
Have five or more days?
If you have five or six days and haven’t already planned a side trip to Bergen, that’s what you should do. Although some guidebooks say that you can visit Bergen as a day trip from Oslo, you really need to stay at least one night—especially if you are traveling with a toddler. Not only is Bergen incredibly charming, the train ride from Oslo is considered one of the best in Europe. To make enough time, cut out the day four itinerary above and spend three days in Oslo and two in (and traveling to/from) Bergen.
If you have even more time, you’ve got a number of options. You could add an extra day to your Bergen trip for a fjord cruise and/or a trip on the Flåm Railway. Or you could check out another Scandinavian capital—we’ve been to both Stockholm and Copenhagen this year and would recommend both of them. Or if you are here at the right time of year, fly north to see the Northern Lights.
Attractions with two stars (**) are on both Heidi and Fernando’s top two lists. Attractions with one star (*) are on either Heidi or Fernando’s top two lists.
Practical Tips for your Oslo Holiday
You will most likely fly in to Oslo Gardermoen Lufthavn. From there you can take the Flytoget express train to Oslo S or Nationaltheatret. The train costs 190 NOK, departs every 10 minutes most days, and takes approximately 20 minutes to arrive at Oslo S (the central train station, where you can transfer to the T bane (a/k/a metro)). Alternatively, you can take the local NSB train, which is a lot less expensive, but not as quick or frequent.
The Aker River divides Oslo between East and West. That said everything in the proposed itineraries, other than Grünerløkka, is on the West side of the city. So for the average visitor, it is most important to know that if you start from Rådhuset/Aker Brygge and walk up a few blocks, you will come to Karl Johans Gate, a (mostly) pedestrian street through the city center with the Royal Palace at the west end and the Freia chocolate sign at the east end. (I’m kidding. It’s not really at the end of the street, but it is the landmark that jumps out at me.) Keep going west past the Royal Palace and you’ll arrive in the posh Frogner neighborhood (home of the recommended Vigelandsparken). Bygdøy is a peninsula slightly west of there and Holmenkollen is north of Bygdøy. You can walk to Frogner from the Royal Palace (though if you have transit pass, I would take a tram) but you can only reach Bygdøy and Holmenkollen by public transit.
Where to Stay:
Radisson Blu Scandinavia Hotel: This is where we always stayed when visiting Oslo from Prague. The rooms are small, but the hotel and staff are nice, and the location is excellent. The Royal Palace, National Gallery, and Nationaltheatret metro station are all less than a ten-minute walk away. An express bus to the airport (Flybussen) also departs from the hotel.
The Thief: If you are looking for a hip hotel in central Oslo, this is it. Located on Tvujholmen (the fjord end of Aker Brygge).
The Parkveien Residence: I am a big fan of Kid & Coe properties, and the location of this one can’t be beat. It also sleeps 7 plus a baby, making it a great option for large and/or multi-generational families. Price is 270 euros per night, plus fees.
This Airbnb: If Kid & Coe is out of your budget, this (1 bedroom + office) flat near the Royal Palace looks like a good option. Price starts at US$117 per night (plus fees) and there is a crib (or travel crib) available.
Where to Eat:
In addition to the places included in the itinerary (the Aker Brygge food trucks and Mathallen), here are a few places you might want to consider checking out while you are here:
Den glade gris: While I wouldn’t necessarily go out of my way to come here, if you are staying at the Radisson Blu Scandinavian Hotel, this little joint downstairs is worth visiting.
Elias Mat & Sant: We stumbled across this place near the National Gallery last year and were extremely pleasantly surprised. If you want to try Norwegian food at a reasonable price (for Norway, anyway) this is your place.
The food court at Steen & Strom: This is a slightly weird addition, but the options here are very good—relatively inexpensive (well, except the sushi) but nicer than most fast food. If you are looking for something to eat near Storinget (Parliament) stop here.
Pro tip: Oslo is a city where ordering off the kids’ menu makes sense. The regular food usually isn’t that much more exciting or flavorful so the savings you get by ordering your little one a special meal is worth it!
Oslo is a walkable city with very reliable (but not necessarily frequent) public transportation that includes a metro (T bane), trams (trikk), buses, and ferries. Unlimited access in zones 1 and 2 is included if you buy an Oslo Pass, or you can buy Ruter tickets at any T bane station or from the ruter.no app. Activate your ticket before first use and be prepared to show a valid ticket if the kontroll (transit police) stops you. Tickets aren’t cheap, but a fine for not having a valid ticket is expensive. (A single zone, single ride ticket is 33 NOK (about US$4); a 24-hour pass good for one-zone is 90 NOK (about US$11). Fines if you are caught without a ticket are 1150 NOK (about US$140) unless you pay on the spot (they carry credit card machines) in which case it is 950 NOK (about US$114).) If you buy a pass, I recommend buying it for a single zone (which allows you to go anywhere in Oslo city limits) and buy a supplement in the unlikely event that you venture into zone 2. Children under 4 ride free and children between 4 and 16 pay a reduced fare.
Have you been to Oslo? What was your favorite sight?