9 Things to Do in Oslo: Opera House, Akershus, Munch Museum
Ainnelise Niyvold Liundbye UPDATED: 26 SEP 2020
Things to Do in Oslo: Opera House, Akershus, Munch Museum
Oslo is a modern, Scandinavian capital with trendy boutiques, hip cafés and fine dining options. It is also the epitome of exceptional design and world-class architecture. Within a short time in the Norwegian capital, you will have to agree that the city has its own unique character and definitely worthy of a visit.
What is a more festive occasion than the Norwegians celebrating their national day, when the city is a whirl of activity? For the culturally interested there is indeed a plethora of enjoyable things to do in Oslo, including visiting the spectacular Akershus Fortress, shopping Norwegian local products at Karl Johans gate, discovering polar expedition history in Fram Museum on Bygdøy, gaining insight into the unparalleled Munch Museum, as well as dancing on the eye-catching roof of the Opera House.
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Start the day with a stroll at Aker Brygge at the Oslo waterfront, and be inspired to dive into the subtleties of art, design and culture in the Norwegian metropolis, not omitting a visit to the wondrous Vigeland Sculpture Park with its striking art works.
Below, we come up with 9 proposals on how to explore Norway’s cultural heritage in Oslo – beyond Constitution Day! Let yourself be guided by these and combine them with your own sightseeing wishes, peculiar shopping desires and bright ideas of Norwegian gastronomic experiences to get the perfect stay in Oslo!
Walk on the roof of the Opera House.
Oslo Opera House is a spectacular construction perfectly integrated into the cityscape. The streets most strikingly rise, transforming into the sloping roof of the Opera House. Back in 2008 the ingenious structure opened as an innovative approach to a new music hall in the Norwegian capital. It had then been on its way since 1999 after a national decision to call for submissions for design projects.
Among the 350 submitted contributions the Norwegian architectural firm Snøhetta was chosen.
Italian marble and granite are the exterior materials used to create the effect of the sea rising into a white snowcapped mountain-like building. The comparison to Norwegian mountains is obvious, although here incorporated in the city and harbour environments.
Just like setting out on a hike in the mountains in nature, you can also get your scenic adventure in Oslo by climbing the roof here. The inclining roof provides you with magnificent views of the city and a highly unusual cultural experience! Due to the large glass facades, you can enjoy amazing views of Oslo even from the lobby!
Right from the beginning the construction gained tremendous popularity among citizens and visitors alike.
The building is home of both the Norwegian National Opera and Ballet, and the National Opera Theatre in Norway. Impressive as it is, you will find as many as 1100 rooms inside! It is actually the largest cultural construction in Norway, since Nidaros Cathedral in Trondheim saw the light of day centuries ago.
Also the interior design is absolutely fascinating. A wall panel in the lobby has been designed by Olafur Eliasson, constructed in a way such that it creates the illusion of melting ice. The main auditorium is illuminated by an oval chandelier made up of 5,800 decorative crystals.
The Opera House has won an award at the World Architecture Festival in Barcelona in 2008, as well as the 2009 European Union Prize for Contemporary Architecture.
Explore Oslo’s enticing old fortress.
Akershus Fortress is Oslo’s solid medieval fortress erected in the 12th – 14th century to defend the city. The first fortress construction is believed to have been built by King Haakon V.
With time Akershus got to play a significant role in Norway due to its strategical location, and that probably contributed to Oslo taking the capital status from Bergen.
After a great fire in Oslo in 1624, the city’s infrastructure was changed, and the fortress was then remodeled into a renaissance castle by King Christian IV.
Throughout history Akershus has successfully withstood all Swedish sieges, including an attempt by Charles XII in 1716.
In the 17th and 18th century, the fortress also had another use, namely serving as a prison.
Much later, in 1940, during World War II, Akershus eventually surrendered to the Nazis, who used the fortress as both a military camp, a prison and an executive site for prisoners and captives.
At the end of the war, the Germans finally handed over the fortress to the Norwegian resistance movement, and soon hereafter a number of Norwegian traitors were executed on site.
Today, Akershus Fortress is a popular venue for concerts and other cultural events, and in summer guided tours are available.
Behold the unusual sculptures in Vigeland Sculpture Park.
Vigeland Sculpture Park, or Vigelandsparken, is an installation in Frogner Park, historically a baroque park belonging to Frogner Manor. In 1896 the park was bought by the municipality and turned into a public park. Some years later, in 1914, it was the site of the Jubilee Exhibition, and shortly, the Vigeland installation was initiated.
It is a park with quirky touches dominated by the 200 bronze, cast iron and granite sculptures by Gustav Vigeland (1869–1943), including some true masterpieces such as the famous Angry Boy and The Monolith. Another crowd-puller is The Wheel of Life, which is one of the top art works, attracting more than a million annual visitors to the sculptural park.
What characterises the Vigeland installation with its fountain and statues is that the monuments all involve people, human activities, their interactions and interrelationship.
Vigeland Sculpture Park is actually the most popular tourist attraction in Norway, and the world’s largest sculpture park designed by only one artist. The park is open to the public all year round – and it is free to visit.
Learn about The Scream painted by the world-famous Edvard Munch.
The Munch Museum, which from spring 2021 is in Bjørvika in a brand new museum construction, manages the world’s most significant collection of Edvard Munch’s works. The site at the waterfront in Bjørvika is a new urban development area, where also Oslo Opera House is located.
In the Munch Museum you can explore Edvard Munch’s life (1863-1944) and get insight into his great works, such as his unarguably most famous piece of art, The Scream, and its various versions, both real paintings and a number of lithographs, as well as its symbols and interpretations.
In 2004, The Scream, together with the painting Madonna, was stolen from the Munch Museum by masked robbers. It was only recovered 2 years later!
The Munch Museum in Oslo contains 1,200 paintings and 18,000 prints by the renowned Norwegian artist!
As an interesting fact the old museum site at Tøyen was also the filming location of the Olsenbanden film from 1984!
Gain insight into the rare and extreme vessels used by Norwegian explorers.
Bygdøy is Oslo’s museum peninsula or ‘island’ featuring a number of heritage museums: the Viking Ship Museum with awesome Viking ships and Viking tombs, the Norwegian Museum of Cultural History, the Norwegian Maritime Museum, and several more, not forgetting the outstanding Fram Museum and phenomenal Kon-Tiki Museum.
The Kontiki Museum features Thor Heyerdahl’s (1914-2002) world-famous raft Kon-Tiki on which he crossed the Pacific Ocean. Later, he went on expeditions on the reed boats Ra and Tigris. In the museum you can experience his original vessels and follow his expeditions to remote places such as Easter Island and the Galapagos Islands.
Fram Museum features a prime wooden ship, Fram, which extraordinarily managed to access the coldest and most extreme places in the world, the Arctic and the Antarctic. It is a fascinating introduction to polar expeditions over 100 years ago, as well as to some of the brave polar explorers such as Fridtjof Nansen and Roald Amundsen.
Imagine that you jump out from Holmekollen!
Another piece of cultural heritage is the world-class ski jumping hill Holmekollen located in northwestern Oslo. The view is amazing when you approach the iconic hill from the city side. It is at the same time the gateway to Nordmarka, the forests just off Oslo with lots of options for cross-country skiing in winter and hiking in summer. You can enter the vast area from Tryvann or Frognerseteren.
Ski jumping competitions have taken place here every year since 1892. Holmenkollen Day, is an annual event considered Norway’s ‘second’ national day.
The current ski jump is among the most modern in the world – dating from only 2010, designed by the JDS Architects. It opened for the World Championships in 2011. With an inrun length of 96.95 metres, the massive 1,000-ton steel construction enables the perfect jump towards the downhill slope.
To get more insight into the ski jumping history, you may visit Holmekollen Ski Museum, also located here. Ascending the tower, you will be able to enjoy panoramic views of Oslo and the surrounding landscape – and imagine that you are going to jump out from the ramp here!
Walk on the Acrobat Bridge.
The Acrobat Bridge is a newer pedestrian bridge connecting the neighbourhoods Grønland and Bjørvika across the train tracks. It is part of the urban development plan for the area, also including Oslo Opera House and the new Munch Museum.
Designed by the Norwegian L2 Architects, the structure is a state-of-the-art construction featuring an ingenious architectural design.
The spectacular bridge is today a favourite tourist spot in Oslo, both in daylight and by night! It has four 7-shaped pillars and a hanging gangway – and is absolutely unique in the world.
The construction is made of steel and glass, with a cutting-edge architecture that has made it a popular spot for photo and film shoots. The bridge offers great views of Oslo’s new row of high-rise buildings.
In 2012 the bridge was awarded the Certificate of Excellence in ECCS, European Award for Steel Bridges.
Visit Oslo City Hall from 1950 – there is free entry!
Its characteristic two red fortress-like brick towers are today a landmark in Oslo. Housing the city council and administration of Oslo, the City Hall is an impressive official building in the city centre, designed in a functionalist style. Not only does it contain the administrative tasks, but it is also the honourable site where the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony takes place every year.
Already in the 1920s the neighbourhood Pipervika, where the City Hall today stands, was renovated. Nevertheless, it took thirty years to come up with a plan for the construction and realise it. In 1950, the Oslo City Hall was finally completed and officially inaugurated.
The City Hall building has been decorated by great Norwegian artists from 1900-1950, such as Per Krohg, Axel Revold, and Dagfin Werenskiold, and is full of hidden treasures. Inside it is a real gem featuring beautiful galleries of paintings and wooden tables with motifs from Norse mythology, and outside you can follow the stunning fables of Odin and Thor surrounding the building. Fascinating murals illustrate Norway’s rich history right from the explorer Fridtjof Nansen and playwright Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson, to Edvard Munch’s magnificent works in the Munch room.
Watch the changing of the guards in front of The Royal Palace.
At the end of Oslo’s main street, Karl Johans gate, you will spot The Royal Palace from 1849, built in a neoclassical style. Originally, it was the residence of King Charles III John of Norway, who reigned over both Norway and Sweden.
Today, it is the official residence of the Norwegian monarch.
Designed by the Danish architect Hans Linstow, it was a comprehensive project which was interrupted because of financial issues during the construction phase. However, it was resumed in a slightly altered design without the originally projected wings, but topped with a third floor instead. This stretched the construction period from 1824 until the late 1940s, the interior design included!
Because of the delay King Charles John never got the chance to reside in his palace before he died in 1844, and his son Oscar I was the first king to move into the remarkable place. Many years later, King Haakon VII became the first monarch to use the building as his permanent residence!
Today, The Royal Palace is guarded by His Majesty The King’s Guard, the Royal Guards. Come here to watch the changing of the guards!
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