Can’t decide between traveling to Oslo or Stockholm for your next trip? We’ve got you covered!
The capitals of Norway and Sweden, have been appealing destinations for decades. These two Scandinavian countries may seem similar, but there are lots of differences that make each unique and special for a European vacation.
Stockholm offers the most comprehensive experiences in metropolitan culture, food, sights and activity, while Oslo can be a good choice for travelers looking for outdoorsy activities and venturing further out from the city. Both cities have impeccable weather, clean environments, tons of attractions, and accommodations to fit any budget.
That’s the way-too-short answer, so we’ve put together a full, in-depth comparison to to help you determine which city best fits into your travel plans.
Oslo was first founded in 1040 during the Viking Age and originally called Anslo. This trade port and capital city changed names and hands over centuries, but the most recent update was made in 1948 when Oslo merged with the city of Aker to create the giant municipality we know today.
Stockholm is the most populous city in all of Scandinavia. It was established in 1252, but people have resided in this archipelago since the Stone Age. The city is comprised of a chain of fourteen islands along the Baltic Sea.
Oslo residents are some of Norway’s healthiest people. And that’s a pretty big accomplishment considering that most of Norway’s residents live very healthy lifestyles. Walking, biking and hiking are all very common activities in Norway with an emphasis on outdoor activities to get your blood pumping. Oslo is compact and easily maneuverable, and is also one of the greenest cities in Europe, featuring forests and coastal shores.
If you’re looking to blend in with the natives, expect to walk most places, along with taking part in cardio activities like skiing, snowshoeing, swimming and hiking in the surrounding natural habitat of the city. Dark colored clothing, no matter the season, is always fashionable here.
Since Oslo is a coastal city, a lot of the food you’ll eat on your trip will involve fresh seafood and local sustainable produce, breads and cheeses. Coffee is also a big staple here, with lots of coffee shops and cafes available for your daily (or twice daily) caffeine fix. Popular meals in Oslo include beef hot dogs, lamb and cabbage stew, and large meatballs.
Stockholm is deemed Europe’s Capital of Culture and is home to many international demographics from the Middle East and Eastern Europe. Stockholm is also one of the greenest cities in the world, taking home the “European Green Capital Award” before any other European city. Residents take all matters of earth preservation and pollution prevention seriously.
This is extremely apparent in the heart of the city, known as the Royal National City Park. This area is comprised of town houses, four palaces, many museums and entertainment venues, and home to Stockholm University. Stockholm is also a dedicated bike city, where nearly 70,000 residents hit the streets in designated bike lanes commuting back and forth to work.
Swedish cuisine has changed over the years, and Stockholm sees new international restaurants open up regularly. But nothing beats comforting Swedish meatballs in cream sauce with potato puree and lingonberry jam on a cold day. Another great traditional meal is pyttipanna, minced meat, onion and potato topped with a fried egg.
Things to Do
Oslo has so many things you can do to occupy your time that we can’t list them all. But some of the most notable and best ways to experience Oslo is to go on a tour of the city or take a fjord cruise. These yacht charters and guided boat tours often last for 1.5 – 3 hours and include food and beverage as part of the trip.
Another great option all year round is Oslo’s SNO – an indoor winter sports facility. The arena is equipped with downhill ski slopes, a ski park with jumps and stunts, cross-country track and ice climbing wall. For those not interested in skiing, there are restaurants, shops and a gym available, too.
The Oslo Pass is a cool perk offered to guests visiting the city. The small fee for the pass is worth the great benefits you’ll get for having it while traveling in Oslo. You’ll get deals on tours, restaurants and sightseeing, plus you can get free admission to most museums, attractions, and transportation.
Stockholm has 57 bridges connecting all of it’s waterways. Because the city is so focused on the water, we highly recommend touring it on an archipelago cruise. These tours will open your eyes to the world of Stockholm while traveling seaside and can last anywhere from one to two hours.
Children will especially have fun in Stockholm, with it’s many different adventuring and entertainment establishments meant specifically for kids. Lots of these attractions, city parks like Humlegarden and museums like the National History Museum, have many educational opportunities under the disguise of fun playgrounds and interactive stations.
The coastal city takes pride in it’s clean and pure water and most free activities will involve dipping your toes in the cool waterways. Hellasgarden is great for swimming and fishing, but you can also jump in the water right in the middle of town. Kayaking tours and exploration is also encouraged along Stockholm archipelago.
Oslo is home to the royal family of Norway who reside in the Royal Palace at one end of Karl Johans gate. The Palace is open to visitors in the summer where you can see parts of the castle and the “Where Queens Meet” exhibit. Oscarshall Summer Palace outside Oslo city center is also available to tour in the summer. The Palace Park which surrounds the castle is always open to guests.
Akershus Fortress is the historic home of Norway’s royalty, now serving as the office of the Prime Minister. This historic fortress dates back to the late 1200s and currently allows tourists to visit it’s storied halls during the summer. The museum teaches guests about Norway’s military and religious history with Akershus as the base.
Holmenkollen is the destination for avid skiers and those seeking to learn more about Norway’s 4000 year history of snow sports. The ski jump on property is one of the most famous in the world and is home to the Winter Cup Biathlon. Holmenkollen’s tower also allows visitors to get a unique view of Oslo’s city skyline.
Stockholm‘s royal family presides in the Royal Palace in Drottningholm, which is Europe’s largest castle with a total of 600 rooms. The tours are extravagant, allowing visitors to see five museums in total, including the Treasury, the Armory and the Royal Stable.
Stockholm’s City Hall is one of the most recognizable buildings in Sweden, featuring three distinct golden crowns atop three spires. The location is significant, known as the site for the annual Nobel Prize ball and banquet. It’s open for tours while also operating as an office for local politicians and government officials.
The Stockholm Pass is similar to Oslo’s city pass, allowing you free admission to most museum and attractions throughout the city. Included is the new The Viking World exhibit inside the Swedish History Museum, which showcases the largest historical collection of Viking relics and artifacts.
Museums and Cultural Exhibits
Oslo has almost the most museums of any European city, so it’s difficult to focus on just one. But perhaps the best to visit in a short trip are the Munch Museum and Museum of Oslo. Munch Museum is a celebration of art with a focus on Edvard Munch, creator of the famous Scream painting. The Museum of Oslo contains a 1,000 year history of Oslo in 10 different settings.
Vigeland Sculpture Park is the world’s largest sculpture collection. Each of the sculptures are naked human forms with varying expressions to promote deep thought and inner reflection. Vigeland Museum is an extension of the sculpture park, showcasing Gustav Vigeland’s own sculptures, artworks and working process.
The Viking Ship Museum is one of Oslo’s most famous museums which houses ancient Viking artifacts and original in-tact ships. These displays are comprised of relics from the Oslo fjord and surrounding Norwegian coastline. A great perk for purchasing a ticket to the Viking Ship Museum is that you can also get free admission to the Historical Museum in the same day.
Stockholm has nearly 100 museums, ranking it at the top for most museums in one city. Skansen, the first open-air museum, is considered a must-see. It’s located in the Royal Djurgarden and is the celebration spot of Sweden’s biggest festivals. There’s also a zoo inside the property, making this a great family attraction.
Vasa Museum is by far the most visited non-art museum in Scandinavia, featuring the Vasa ship as it’s prized attraction. The Vasa is the world’s only preserved 17th-century ship and is in impeccable condition for it’s age. In addition to the ship in all it’s restored glory, the museum has many other artifacts from that time period and a restaurant for guests.
ABBA Museum is beloved by many fans and contains every possible item of memorabilia from the 1970’s pop band. Everything from costumes and instruments to concert tickets and magazine stories is on display here. You can even record your own performance, virtually try on stage costumes and mix your own music in a fun environment.
Events and Festivals
Oslo is home to the Nobel Peace Prize which awards one deserving individual annually on December 10. The Nobel Peace Center is the location for this annual award, while the Grand Hotel Oslo is the party venue and selected accommodation for all in attendance.
Consitution Day is Norway’s annual independence day celebration and the capital city of Oslo hosts some of the biggest events. It takes place on May 17 each year and is celebrated with an enormous parade and concert.
Christmas or “Jul” is a huge festive season in Norway with an annual Christmas market held in Oslo’s city square. Restaurants will celebrate with special meals and drinks. Easter is also widely celebrated for more than a week in Norway. Children will exchange eggs and candy and adults will plan long vacations during this time.
Stockholm celebrates Midsummer’s Eve (National Day) in late June in every park and garden across Sweden. Families gather from lunchtime till midnight to sing, dance and raise maypoles in the air to recognize the Summer Solstice – the longest day of the year. Flower crowns are worn by many and the festivities usually last through the weekend.
Midwinter is also celebrated on Lucia Day December 13, when children will dress in white robes and sing songs of St. Lucia, the bearer of light and warmth during cold Winter days. Walpurgisnacht is the celebration of the Spring season, dating back to the Viking Age. Giant bonfires are built to ward off evil spirits and welcome the season of life and growth.
ASICS Stockholm Marathon is said to be one of the biggest and most famous marathons in the world. Runners from all over the globe gather to race every June in Stockholm and have been doing so since 1979. The track takes runners around the city twice on a fairly flat surface.
Oslo has varying architectural styles, ranging from German influence and Neoclassism to Functionalist or Modernist design. One of the most beautiful and notable hotels in the center of town is Grand Hotel Oslo.
This 145 year old building is the annual venue of the Nobel Peace Prize banquet, located on Karl Johans Gate between the Parliament building and the Royal Palace. This gorgeously grandiose hotel is intricately decorated with richly detailed fabrics and averages $250 up to $450++ per night.
Other hotels in the area range in price and grandeur. The Thief is located right on the water and has very modernized amenities and design. Each room has it’s own private balcony and the lobby has a bar and nightclub, charging guests about $375 per night. Cheaper yet charming hotels, like Hotel Christiania and Frogner House Apartments go for around $175 per night.
Stockholm has many unique accommodations available to guests at all price points. Some cheaper options may be located farther outside the city, but transportation is so efficient here, you won’t mind the distance. Everything from modern luxuries to rickety house boats are options for visitors – and we suggest trying something unusual for your stay in “the Venice of the north”.
Grand Hotel Stockholm is a popular site for celebrities and high profile officials, situated across from the Royal Palace. If you prefer an historical building in the center of town, try the Miss Clara by Nobis. Both have their own restaurants and bars open to guests and cost about $200 – $400 per night.
More unique accommodations like the Af Chapman & Skeppsholmen Hostel are right on the water (right in the water, we should say). This fully functional and well-stocked boat sits in the channel off of Old Town and runs $50 – $75 per night. While more luxurious vacations can be had on castle property, such as the Akeshofs Slott. This gorgeous location is extremely close to the city center and Bromma airport.
Weather & Seasons
Both Oslo and Sweden are coastal cities and have similar weather and environment. They fall under the same climate category called “humid continental climate”, which means that summers are warm and winters are cold. Though winters can be less cold than other continental cities due to the humid ocean air influencing the coastline.
You can expect to experience the seasons in all their splendor in both locations. Spring will be rainy and warm, Summer will be hot, Fall will be colorful and cool and Winter will be mostly snowy and cold. The biggest similarity is the sunshine – both will have nearly 18 hours of sunlight in the Summer and will have only around 4 hours of sunlight in the Winter.
One unique tidbit about both of these cities is that nearly every inhabitant in Oslo and Stockholm knows English. English speakers will almost never have trouble asking for directions or ordering their food at a restaurant in these cities, as most residents know English just as well as their native language.
Oslo is considered the “Beta World City”, as it’s residents have some of the best quality of life in the world. But a healthy lifestyle and happiness comes with a price – Oslo is also the fourth most expensive city in the world. The housing market is fairly standard compared to other European countries, but goods and services are far more expensive.
Oslo City Government is run on a parliamentary system where representatives are elected by popular vote every four years. The Prime Minister serves as the head, while the Mayor of Oslo is seen as a more ceremonial position. The most widely represented parties in Oslo are the Conservative (liberal-conservative) and Labour (social democratic) parties.
Oslo has 15 different boroughs that residents call home; each with their own amenities and style. The 2021 census determined that Oslo currently has nearly 700,000 residents. This capital city is the maritime center for Norway and also has a thriving business culture and economy.
Stockholm is home to over 1 million residents and the layout of the city is approximately 60% waterways and green areas. The city is divided into different districts, with each district council responsible for it’s own schools and government services. The Norrmalm district in Stockholm City Center is Sweden’s largest business and shopping district.
Stockholm’s Municipal Council is made up of 101 elected officials that work together with a Mayor and 12 Vice Mayors, which are each responsible for a different department within the city. The Council also elects 13 chairs to the City Executive Board, which makes final decisions on matters presented by the Council.
With the decline in heavy industrial work, Stockholm is one of the world’s cleanest cities. Residents typically work in the service industry and more recently in the high technology industry. Stockholm is also Sweden’s financial center and is home to the world’s largest fiber-optic network.
There are so many similarities between these two Scandinavian cities that it’s easy to find yourself in a battle of choices. Both offer impeccable weather throughout the seasons, have very clean and health-conscious environments, have dozens of museums and loads of accommodations to fit any budget. If you need to make a final decision, we’d categorize them this way:
CHOOSE OSLO: If you’re into skiing, winter sports or hiking. The surrounding forests and many winter parks and skiing locations make this a great place for not only sightseeing, but also exercise and activity. We’d also suggest choosing Oslo for the magnificent landscape of fjords and waterways, or for celebrating the Christian holidays of Christmas or Easter.
CHOOSE STOCKHOLM: If you enjoy swimming, fishing and boating. The archipelago and winding waterways through the city make for a beautiful oceanic setting, where you can just dip your toes or dive in head first. We’d also suggest choosing Stockholm for the delicious plethora of food choices and to visit the brilliantly appointed Royal Palace.