Perched at the top of the icy Oslofjord, the Norwegian capital is one of those rare cities that combines cutting-edge architecture with breathtaking natural beauty. For all that, it also manages to be a cosmopolitan place, replete with interesting museums, chic boutiques, quirky locals and charming kerbside cafés.
Taxis are expensive, while cars - although easily hired - are rendered largely unnecessary by Oslo’s small size. Instead, do what the locals do and make the most of the city’s comprehensive public transport network which includes buses, the T-Bane metro system, trams, trains and ferries. Cycling and walking are also popular in the summer.
While most head straight for Oslo’s magnificent Tarald Lundevall-designed opera house, a good starting point for first-timers is the lovely Akershus Slott castle, a towering medieval fortress that has glowered out over the Oslofjord since 1299. Despite a 17th-century renovation, it’s not hard to imagine Vikings lining its friable stone parapets, while part of the interior has been turned over to a museum charting the exploits of another band of brave Norwegians: the heroes of the city’s WWII resistance movement.
Away from the water, Oslo’s central district is home to a panoply of interesting museums, including the Nasjonalgalleriet which is home to a version of Edvard Munch’s The Scream, as well as a small collection of works by Picasso and Cézanne among others. The nearby Oslo Domkirke cathedral is also worth a look – if only to marvel at the spectacular stained-glass windows created by local sculptor Gustav Vigeland.
Vigeland is also celebrated in a sculpture park located in the forested Frogner district, which contains 200 bronze, granite and cast iron examples of his work. Next door is the famous Frognerbadet, an open-air swimming complex that tends to be packed to the rafters on sunny summer weekends.
Unpleasant in winter, the Oslofjord comes into its own in the summer and is the place to go for kayak and boat expeditions that venture south and to some of the many islands dotted along its length. The fjord is also home to Bygdøy – a peninsula that juts out into its depths and is the site of the excellent Vikingskipshuset, which contains not one but two perfectly preserved Viking ships.
Just as interesting is the northern Nordmarka wilderness area; a 430-square-km stretch crisscrossed with skiing and walking trails. Don’t forget to stop at Holmenkollen, which is home to an Olympic-standard ski jump as well as a quirky museum dedicated to the sport.
Eating out in Oslo doesn’t come cheap but while prices are high, there’s no shortage of bang for your buck – particularly if you plump for local eats. If you’re happy to go all out, the distinguished – and Michelin-starred - Spisestedet Feinschmecker in Frogner is a tasty place to splash the cash, while Südøst is slightly cheaper and marries Scandinavian seasonal eating with Asian flavours.
Hos Thea is another gem that combines fresh produce with creative thinking, while Smia Galleri is a favourite with well-heeled locals. For post-dinner drinks, try hipster bar Summit which has views over the Oslofjord that are second to none.