History - Viking & Early Medieval
Ancient rock carvings have been found in Oslo indicating that the area was settled over 5000 years ago. The first Christian Danish king, Harald Blåtann (-bluetooth, after whom the famous communication protocol is named, with a rune letter as its logo!) probably established a trading port here late 900. The city of Oslo itself was founded around 1050 by King Harald Hardråde (-hard ruler)
The name “Oslo” derives from the word “Os” meaning river delta and “lo” meaning field. Oslo was originally a Catholic city with five churches and four monasteries. You can explore the ruins of these in the medieval quarter in the eastern part of town.
The city was initially constructed entirely in wood with thatched roofs, which led to 14 major city fires. At the end of the thirteenth century, King Håkon V Magnusson built the impressive Akershus fortress, which you can still visit today. Read more of traces from the vikings in Norway.
Note: The Viking Ship Museum (Closed 2022 – 2025 (-26?) for rebuilding)
History – Renaissance City of Christiania
After the fourteenth major city fire in 1624, the Danish-Norwegian King Christian IV finally decreed that the city was to be rebuilt with bricks and mortar. The city was moved to the other side of the bay near the fortress. The fortress itself was modernised and changed into bastion fortress and a defensive wall was constructed around the city.
King Christian IV decided to rename the city Christiania after himself. The renaissance fortress and many of the renaissance buildings from 1625 are still in use today, such as the old city hall “Gamle Raadhus” which is now a restaurant. The old city wall was eventually torn down as the city expanded. In 1925, the city’s name was changed back to Oslo.
The city’s patron saint is St Hallvard, who is depicted on the city’s emblem, and who died while trying to rescue a young woman.
History – Building the Capital
From 1400 until 1814 Norway was under Danish control. However, Denmark sided with Napoleon during the Napoleonic wars and after Napoleon’s defeat in 1814 had to give Norway up to Sweden under the terms of surrender. Norwegian dignitaries began to lobby for Norwegian independence and held a constitutional convention where they adopted a constitution modelled on the French and US constitutions. In the end, Norway was forced to accept a union with Sweden and rule by the Swedish king, but was granted constitutional autonomy.
Christiania became the capital city of Norway. Important and symbolic buildings such as the city’s Royal Palace, Parliament, University, National Bank, National Gallery, the National Gallery and the parade street Karl Johan were all constructed during the 1800s to consolidate Christiania’s status as the nation’s capital.
History – Modern Architecture
Due to the Industrial Revolution and Christiania’s new status as the nation’s capital, the city’s population grew from 10,000 in 1814 to 220,000 in 1899. Today Oslo is Norway’s largest city with a population of 670,000. Construction of new housing has therefore been essential to the city’s growth.
In recent years, due to increased standards of living and government revenue from the national oil industry, efforts have also been made to develop Oslo’s city centre. A new city hall was built in 1950. The old shipping docks from Aker to Aker Brygge and Tjuvholmen today feature impressive modern architecture, such as the Astrup Fearnley Museum of Modern Art.
In the old medieval quarter, Bjørvika (-bishops bay) you will find the modern Barcode offices, our new Opera House, the Munch Museum and Oslo’s new public library.
Living in Oslo – The Fjord City
Oslo is situated at the end of the 100 km (59 miles) long Oslo Fjord. There are a number of beautiful small islands in the Oslo harbor, perfect for swimming and picnics. The islands can be reached by fjord boats using commuting tickets, or by hiring a private boat.
A promenade runs along the entire Oslo seafront, featuring a number of excellent seafood restaurants. There are designated bathing and swimming areas on both ends of the promenade.
Living in Oslo – Recreation in Marka
Two thirds of Oslo’s territory consists of Marka, a natural reserve surrounding the city. The area is protected and open to everyone, and features marked summer trails for hiking or off-road biking. There are also car-free rural roads for walking and biking, and in winter there are more than 2,000 km / 1,243 miles of cross-country skiing tracks, 90 km of which are lit at night. Oslo Winter Park also offers downhill skiing and ski rental services. There are also twenty beautifully situated cafes and restaurants in the Marka area.
Marka’s most famous attraction is the Holmenkollen Ski jump hill and Cross Country Arena, easily accessible with our limousine. We suggest a stop for lunch at the traditional, wooden-beamed Frognerseteren Restaurant, with its incredible views of the city.
Living – Urban Oslo
Like most other cities, Oslo also has edgier, up-and-coming areas. The area of Grünerløkka was developed as a working class neighbourhood towards the end of the nineteenth century, and is today an interesting, vibrant residential area with numerous cafes and restaurants. Connected to the city centre by a short tram journey, it is especially popular with students and young professionals.
One of the residents’ favourite haunts is Blå nightclub and restaurant, where you can attend indie, rock and jazz concerts surrounded by edgy street art.
Living – Akers river From Industrial Revolution to green park
During the Industrial Revolution, the city of Oslo expanded along the Akerselva (-river), which runs through the city from Maridalen lake down to the fjord. Factories were built here so that machines could exploit energy produced by the river’s twenty waterfalls.
Unfortunately, the river became completely destroyed by pollutants such as textile dyes. After electricity was introduced, the major factories gradually moved away, and during the past 50 years, the river has been cleaned and the area of Akerselva Park has been redeveloped. Many of the traditional mills and factories have been preserved and are now used as office space, shops and cafes.
We offer a fascinating guided walk on the tree-lined footpath along the river with its waterfalls and old industrial buildings, including, if you wish, a stop at one of the many riverside restaurants.
Living in Oslo – Food and Drink
In addition to the high-end restaurants presented in our Gourmet and Dining section, there are numerous Oslo restaurants featuring excellent food using local ingredients. The most famous venue for local food is Mathallen Vulkan near Akerselva Park, which features a large indoor market and food hall with cafes and restaurants where you can sample food directly from local producers.
There are also a number of microbreweries in Oslo with gourmet pubs attached, where excellent food can be enjoyed with local beer.
Living in Oslo – Concerts and Culture
There are always a number of concerts on in Oslo, both in the city’s large concert arenas such as Oslo Spectrum, and in small clubs featuring indie, jazz and pop performers.
Or why not attend one of the many International opera performances at our impressive Opera house? Classical music concerts are also held at the Oslo Concert hall, home to the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra.
The National Theatre and the city’s other theatres offer everything from musicals to classic Ibsen plays such as Hedda Gabler and a Doll’s House.
Throughout the year, there are also a number of jazz, pop and classical music festivals on in Oslo. We will let you know what cultural events are on in Oslo on your preferred dates!
Playwright Henrik Ibsen
The playwright Henrik Ibsen (1828 – 1906) wrote and lived in Oslo during large parts of his life. After living in Italy for 27 years, Ibsen and his wife moved back to Oslo in 1885 and lived a few hundred meters from the Royal Palace in what is today called Henrik Ibsens gate (-street), where he died in 1906.
Ibsen’s old apartment is today the Henrik Ibsen museum, where you can see his original living quarters, as well as an interesting exhibition on his life and work, including “greetings” from famous people such as John Lennon, who was inspired by his play A Doll’s House. Both “A Doll’s House” and “Hedda Gabler” were groundbreaking plays raising questions about the status of women in society.
Ibsen was preoccupied with deep psychological questions, exemplified by his exploration of the opposite characters of the protagonists in “Peer Gynt” and “Brand”. Henrik Ibsen was a contemporary of Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg, and Grieg famously composed the accompanying music for Ibsen’s play Peer Gynt, most notably the piece “In the Hall of the Mountain King”.
In the last years of his life, Ibsen would walk every day, at the exact same time, from his apartment down to Grand Cafe for his afternoon meal. His timing was so precise that his neighbours would set their watch by him! On our tour we follow in his footsteps.
Painter Edvard Munch
The famous expressionist painter Edvard Munch (1863 – 1944) lived and painted in Oslo most of his life. Before Munch, Norwegian painters had been mainly influenced by national romanticism and the realist school of painting. Inspired by contemporary European painters, Munch developed his own form of expressionist painting.
On the left hand side are three of Munch’s most famous paintings, Det Syke Barn (the Sick Child), Skrik (the Scream) and Madonna.
In his will, Munch donated all his paintings and other works to the city of Oslo. His works are on display in the Munch Museum and in the National Gallery.
Sculptor Gustav Vigeland
The sculptor Gustav Vigeland (1869 – 1943) spent 40 years of his life working on sculptures for what today is known as Vigeland Sculpture Park. He presented a large plan for the park in the Frogner area to the City of Oslo, who agreed to build him a studio and pay his assistants.
This resulted in the Vigeland Sculpture Park, one of Norway’s biggest attractions, with free entry for the public at all times. There are 214 sculptures in the park portraying 600 human beings in various stages from birth to death. The message portrayed is one of autonomy and pursuit of the good life.
What is particularly impressive is the fact that Vigeland personally designed and moulded all his sculptures in clay before his assistants made the sculptures in bronze or granite. A massive endeavour considering the scale of the park and the size of some of the sculptures!
Figure Skater Sonja Henie
The great figure skater Sonja Henie (1912 – 1969) was born in and grew up in Oslo. She won three Olympic Medals, 10 World Championships and 6 European Championships in a row. She eventually moved to Hollywood and become a professional film actress. After the movies “One in a Million” and “Thin Ice” she became the world’s most highly paid actress at the time.
She later toured the world with her Ice Shows, and with her third husband Niels Onstad she established the Henie-Onstad Art Centre near Oslo.
Unfortunately, Sonja Henie died of Leukemia during a flight in 1969. We can take you to the famous statue of Sonja Henie right next to the skating rink where she practised as a child. If you wish, we can also take you to the Henie-Onstad Art Centre.
Nansen, Amundsen and Thor Heyerdal
Towards the end of the nineteenth century, little exploration had been done of the North and South Poles, due to the severe cold and unpredictable ice in the polar areas. Norwegian scientist Fridtjof Nansen (1861 – 1930) was a pioneer polar explorer who let his ship Fram freeze into the polar ice in the hope that it would drift across the north pole. The journey took three years, though he missed the actual pole by about 4 degrees!
Roald Amundsen (1872 – 1928) was the first man to reach the South Pole in 1911, winning the race with Sir Robert Scott, who reached the pole a few weeks later but unfortunately died on his return journey.
Thor Heyerdal (1914 – 2002) is most famous for his 101-day journey across the sea on his raft Kon-Tiki, undertaken to prove there had been early contact between South America and the Polynesian islands. We will show you around the fascinating Fram and Kon-Tiki museums at Bygdø, Oslo’s “museum peninsula”.
Alfred Nobel (1833 – 1896) was never an Oslo resident – in fact, he was Swedish – but he is a prominent Oslo figure nonetheless, due to Oslo’s role in awarding the Nobel Peace Prize. Alfred Nobel became wealthy through his invention and production of dynamite, an invention which has been both a blessing and a curse for humanity. In his will, he established the annual Nobel Prizes for scientific achievements as well as a Peace Prize. He decided that the Peace Prize was to be awarded in Oslo by a separate Norwegian Committee.
The Nobel Peace Prize ceremony takes place every year in the Oslo City Hall. A torched procession down Karl Johan and past the Grand Hotel (where the winner is accommodated) is held during the evening of the ceremony, and the next night a televised concert takes place.
We will take you to Oslo City Hall and the nearby Nobel Peace Centre.