Oslo is known worldwide as a capital of culture, with enough cutting-edge arts, cuisine, architecture and design to keep even the pickiest traveller enthralled.
But what about visiting Oslo with kids? Will it also please those smaller, notoriously fussy travellers? With parks everywhere you look, waffles in all directions, and a public transport system that is easy (and fun) to navigate, the answer is an enthusiastic 'Ja!'
Experimental New Nordic cuisine. Modern architecture. World-class cultural institutions. Oslo has so many grown-up delights that it’s easy to wonder if Norway’s capital city simply forgot about kids. But a quick jaunt around the city will dash such notions: kids are everywhere, and parks and playgrounds abound – Oslo is a city where kids are seamlessly integrated into all aspects of life.
A grown-up good time
Other than TusenFryd, the popular amusement park 10km south of the city, Oslo has relatively few places aimed specifically at children, but the city more than makes up for it by having kid-focused activities at nearly every other attraction.
A visit to the iconic Oslo Opera House, just across the street from Oslo Sentralstasjon (Central Station), is a surprise win for adults and kids alike. You don’t have to convince your kids to sit through all five acts of Peer Gynt, you just have to get them onto the roof. Emerging from the dark blue waters of the fjord like an artsy iceberg, it climbs skyward via a wide ramp. Clambering up the roof to see the views over the waterfront will make even the most jaded traveller feel like a kid again. For children who love music and dance, there’s fun to be had inside as well, through the Opera House’s 'Mini' program. Kids aged 4–7 can play along with songs and take on the role of their favourite character, be it a sorcerer or a swan.
The Norsk Folkemuseum, Norway's largest open-air museum, includes more than 140 buildings from around the country, which have been rebuilt and are ready to explore. For the little ones, there are farm animals, horse and cart rides, plus other activities to keep them occupied. Getting there involves taking a lovely 15-minute ferry ride to the quaint Bygdøy Peninsula, followed by a stroll along the shore. With such a delightful journey, you may find that you never quite make it to the museum – and no one would blame you.
Science is fun
If your kids like science, maths, plants and animals, they’re in for a nerdy good time. At the popular Norwegian Science & Technology Museum near Lake Maridal, kids will want to head downstairs to the museum’s vast gallery of interactive exhibits that turn science into playtime (if they can make it past the captivating shop at the front of the museum).
For fans of creepy creatures, Oslo Reptilpark is a great option for a rainy day in central Oslo. Although it's small, the indoor Reptilpark is home to a variety of snakes, lizards, big hairy spiders, and a few marmosets just for kicks.
Much larger and considerably more extinct lizards are lurking in the Natural History Museum inside the Botanical Garden, with dinosaurs invading the library (which has quite an extensive kids section). Around the garden, there are numerous free glass houses, outdoor art exhibitions, and a family-friendly cafe.
Norway is an expensive country, and Oslo is its most expensive city, so costs can add up quickly with a family in tow. Luckily, many of Oslo’s best activities for kids are completely free, and there are some simple ways to cut costs without cutting down on fun.
Small parks and playgrounds pepper Oslo’s residential neighborhoods; you will be hard-pressed to find any city in the world with more parkland. If you’re travelling with younger kids, the sheer abundance of parks will be a wonderful diversion (and possibly a potential frustration if you’re trying to get somewhere). The massive Frognerparken may require repeat visits. One of Oslo’s largest playgrounds is just to the left of the main gates, and the Frognerbadet pool (complete with diving tower for the brave) is a big draw on warm summer days. The towering Monolith of Vigeland Park will draw you like a magnet: let it pull you. Gustav Vigeland’s sculptures abound with children – your kids will certainly have a better time exploring than the child depicted in Vigeland’s famed Angry Boy.
Self-catering from food markets is the simplest way to avoid Oslo’s costly restaurant scene, though totally bypassing the city's restaurants would be a shame, because there’s such a variety of quality eats to be found. Like most major world cities, Oslo’s restaurants span the globe, making it easy to cater to your family’s tastes. The popular cuisines of Europe (read: pizza) are in abundance at restaurants like the bustling Villa Paradiso; plus American, Mexican, Japanese, middle eastern and north African cuisines are readily available across the city, in addition to traditional Norwegian fare.
Norwegians have a serious sweet tooth, so you will have no trouble tracking down all variety of cakes, pastries and candies (assuming your kids enjoy such things). Waffles are a common snack sold at cafes, typically with jam and sour cream. Risgrøt (rice pudding) is a beloved Norwegian tradition, served warm with generous amounts of cinnamon and sugar on top, and a knob of butter. Meanwhile, a visit to Frognerseteren Restaurant for its apple cake is only enhanced by one of Oslo’s best views and the Viking revival architecture, complete with dragon heads.
Oslo’s public transport system is a snap to navigate. With buses, streetcars, subway trains, commuter trains, and ferries all on one system, you never need a car in the city. The Oslo Pass (visitoslo.com/en/activities-and-attractions/oslo-pass) is a great way to save money if you’re planning on using public transport frequently, and it also gives you free entry to most museums. Do the maths before you buy, though – for shorter visits, it can be cheaper to pay as you go or use 24hr tickets. Staff at ticket kiosks can guide you to the best solution for the length of your stay, and the Ruter website (ruter.no/en) can help plan routes. Oslo is a very bike-friendly city, so families with older kids should consider renting bikes from one of the many convenient Oslo Citybike (bysykler.no/en-oslo) stands around the city.
Make it happen
Oslo’s low season runs from roughly October–April, and, apart from snow-related fun, most outdoor activities don’t start up until mid- to late May. The Oslo Pass covers all public transport needs within central Oslo, but transport from Oslo Gardermoen Airport is separate. All children under the age of 16 travel free on the Flytoget Airport Express train. The Oslo City Train is squarely aimed at families, and it's a great way to take in a lot of Oslo quickly.
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