Touring Scandinavia has been on my travel bucket list for years. So this summer, my family and I decided to embrace this travel milestone by taking a trip to Norway. Located in Northern Europe, Norway is part of the Scandinavian peninsula, along with Sweden and Denmark, while other countries in Scandinavia include Finland, Iceland, Greenland, the Faroe Islands and Åland. Although many people associate Scandinavia with snow and cold weather, the summer months are actually quite warm and offer extended sunlight to do and see more during the day.
We started our trip in Oslo, the country’s capital and the largest city in Norway which sits on the southern coast and overlooks the Oslo Fjord. While the city is beautiful and modern, what I really loved about Oslo was its surprisingly chill, laid back vibe. We saw tons of people walking and biking everywhere, while others were simply laying in the sun on the pier or chatting away with friends at a cafe. And because Oslo sits at the tip of the fjord, much of the city’s activities center around the stunning waterfront.
To be honest, we really debated on whether or not to even go to Oslo given there is so much to see and do all across Norway. However, we decided on just a quick stop over in Oslo before we headed off to Bergen directly west, on the opposite coast. And, with just 36 hours over a weekend in the capital, we were able to accomplish quite a bit during the first stop of our Norway adventure.
So if you’re planning a summer weekend in this Scandinavian capital, consider putting these top experiences on your list:
11 Things to Do in Oslo in the Summer
1. Browse for European-esthetic styles on Karl Johans Gate, which is the main shopping street in Oslo where you’ll find high-end designer stores like Louis Vuitton, Gucci and Chanel as well as trendy fashion favorites like H&M and Zara. (Note: if you are in Oslo on a Sunday, you will find most of the shops are closed, but museums and other sites will be open.)
2. If you’re there on a hot day (and it does get hot there in the summer), cool off by taking a dip at the popular Opera Beach or simply walk along the waterfront and catch a salty breeze.
3. And while you’re at the waterfront, grab some gelato at Paradis Gelateria or a latte and school bread at Godt Brod (Good Bread in Norwegian). Take a seat with your sweet treat and watch the loads of sunbathers tanning themselves on the wharf everywhere.
4. Linger in the Aker Brygge neighborhood, a waterfront boardwalk where you’ll find an assortment of Nordic and French restaurants, cafes, food stalls and boutique shops. The neighborhood has an active nightlife and it’s an amazing spot for al fresco dining day or night.
5. Check out the Munch Museum, famous for the Scream painting created by the museum’s Norwegian namesake Edvard Munch. The museum houses many other artist paintings and also has several, very interactive exhibits that are engaging for all ages.
6. Walk up to the roof of the Oslo Opera House which gives you a great view of the city, the harbor and the Oslo Fjord – and entry to the roof is free!
7. Book an Oslo Fjord site-seeing boat tour where you’ll spend 2-3 hours cruising through narrow passageways, around islands and through beautiful bays. Don’t have 2 hours to spend? Take a 15-minute ferry ride to the Bygdoy Peninsula where you’ll find a full day’s worth of activities, from hiking to museums. The journey takes you across the Oslo Fjord for about $10 roundtrip and it’s a very cost-effective way to take in views of the Fjord without committing to the full 2-hour tour.
8. Spend the day wandering around the Norwegian Museum of Cultural History. Located on the Bygdoy Peninsula, this outdoor museum has more than 150 buildings that represent areas all over Norway. You can even go inside the Gol Stave Church which is a restored wooden church from approx 1200. Be sure to notice the detailed wood carvings – they are amazing inside and out!
9. After taking in the historical artifacts of the cultural museum, extend your day on the Bygdoy Peninsula by taking a mild to moderate hike on one of the many trails, some of which will lead you to modest beaches or beachfront picnic areas.
10. Grab a selfie or a tour at the Royal Palace perched at the very end of Karl Johans Gate. The Royal Palace is one of the country’s most important buildings – it is where the daily work of the monarchy is conducted and where the King and Queen live. Guided tours are available in the summer months for less than $20.
11. Reserve a session in one of the many private floating saunas down by the waterfront. The saunas offer warm, wood-fired rooms that float on top of the water, giving you great views and making it perfectly convenient to alternate between sweating your cares away in the dry heat and taking a chilly “bath” in the water.
A day and half ended up being the perfect amount of time in Oslo and it was also a great starting point on our Scandinavian journey.
Next stop – Bergen, Norway! Stay tuned for more details about our amazing Scandinavian adventure!