Last updated on May 8, 2023 by Wandering our World
The Scandinavian capitals of Oslo and Stockholm are some of the best places to visit if you’re looking to experience Nordic lifestyles, cooking, and culture, and both of these cities stand out for their rich histories and inimitable beauty.
Flawlessly clean, filled with museums and cultural activities, and perfect for all sorts of vacations, from family adventures to romantic retreats, the capitals of Norway and Sweden easily rank among the top travel destinations in Northern Europe.
Ideally, it’s best to see both of these cities, as they each have their own distinctive charms and unique features, with Oslo offering the very best of Norwegian cuisine and culture, while Stockholm provides the ultimate Swedish experience.
However, due to time issues, budgetary constraints, or other reasons, you might not be able to see both of these cities on the same trip. In that case, which one should you choose between Oslo and Stockholm?
This guide has the answer!
Below, we’ll take an in-depth look at both of these Nordic capitals, comparing their attractions, activities, surrounding areas, general vibes, average costs, and other key factors to give you all the information you need to choose your ideal destination!
- A Quick Overview
- Which Is Best For Activities?
- Which Is Better For Day Trips?
- Which Is Better For Nightlife?
- Which Is Best For Shopping?
- Which Has The Best Food?
- Which Is Better For A Family Trip?
- Which Is Better For Couples?
- Which Is Better For Backpackers?
- Which Is Cheaper?
- Where To Stay According To Your Budget
- Which Is Easier To Get To?
- Which Is Easier To Get Around?
- Which Is The Better Choice?
A Quick Overview: Oslo vs Stockholm
Oslo: A Quick Overview
Oslo is the capital city of Norway, and it’s also the country’s largest city, with a population of just over 700,000 people in the city itself, and more than 1.5 million in the full metropolitan area. The city is located in the southeast part of the country, not too far from the border with Sweden.
The history of Oslo goes all the way back to the days of the Vikings, and it is believed to have been founded around the year 1040, when it was originally called Anslo.
The city grew and changed a lot over the centuries, even being destroyed by a fire in the 17th century, but it has always been quite a significant and influential part of the Norwegian nation.
Nowadays, Oslo is the beating heart of Norway’s economy. It’s the political, trade, and transport center, and it’s been ranked as one of the best cities in the world in terms of quality of life.
The people who live there are some of the healthiest in the world, but you also have to be quite wealthy to call Oslo home, as it ranks among the most expensive cities in Europe.
Surrounded by Norway’s majestic mountains and lakes, Oslo offers a great mix of inner city excitement, culture, and nightlife, along with beautiful natural spaces to explore and enjoy, making it equally appealing to big city lovers and outdoor enthusiasts – whether you want to walk around museums or hit up the ski slopes, you can do it all here.
Stockholm: A Quick Overview
Stockholm is the capital city of Sweden, as well as being the nation’s most populous city, with around a million people Stockholm home, and over 2.4 million individuals in the full metropolitan area.
Sweden’s capital is therefore a slightly busier and livelier city than Oslo. It’s located in the southeast part of the nation, on the coast of the Baltic Sea.
The history of Stockholm goes back to around 1252, when the city was officially founded, although people had been living in the area well before that.
The city was constructed in a strategic coastal location to allow for strong trade connections with various other places, and this allowed Stockholm to grow and prosper over the ages.
Nowadays, Stockholm is just as important for Sweden as Oslo is to Norway. It accounts for around a third of the nation’s entire GDP, as well as serving as its main cultural, economic, transport, and touristic center, drawing in many travelers from around the globe who are eager to see its famous Gamla Stan (Old Town) landmarks.
Like Oslo, Stockholm is also well-situated for outdoor adventures, given that it’s built on a large archipelago, with lots of little islands to explore and uncover in the surrounding area.
The city itself is also famed for its beauty, often ranking among the prettiest places in Europe, and it’s a very green, progressive, and sustainable place, with low pollution and great quality of life.
Which Is Best For Activities?
When it comes to deciding between Oslo and Stockholm, perhaps the most important factor to think about is what you can hope to see and do in these two cities.
And, even though the Nordic capitals can seem pretty similar from the outside, there are some pretty sizable differences when it comes to their most popular landmarks and touristic activities.
Stockholm, for example, boasts a greater number of museums than almost any other city on Earth! It’s also got lots of well-preserved historic buildings and pretty palaces.
Palaces are present in Oslo, too, but the city has fewer man-made attractions than Stockholm; instead, Oslo is amazing for nature activities, with super scenic landscapes just beyond the city’s boundaries.
When you take a close look at the key attractions and activities in Oslo and Stockholm, you might start to see that one of these cities is much more aligned with your own tastes and lifestyle than the other.
Oslo: The Activities
Like most capital cities all over the globe, Oslo has an impressive list of significant sights to see, and most visitors will want to check out the main landmarks, like the extraordinary 13th century Akershus Fortress.
This place has been used as a military base and even a prison, but was originally a royal residence – and the iconic Oslo Opera House.
Oslo’s Royal Palace is another must-see – this place is the official residence of the country’s royal family, and it’s open for guided tours during the summer months.
For another unique attraction and an experience you won’t find anywhere else on Earth, head to the Nobel Peace Center – here, you can learn all about the historic prize and the iconic figures who won it.
For culture and history, travelers can head to Oslo’s many museums – it might not have quite as many as Stockholm, but it still has some of the best in Scandinavia, like the Munch Museum, which houses one of the best-known artworks in the world, The Scream, as well as the Viking Ship Museum, housing three separate Viking ships.
We can’t talk about things to do in Oslo without mentioning nature and outdoor activities; this city is in one of the prettiest parts of Norway, with ideal conditions for everything from skiing in winter to sunbathing in summer.
You can take boat rides around the Oslo Fjord, hike beside the Akerselva River, or snowboard at SNO, the country’s only indoor winter sports center.
Stockholm: The Activities
The Swedish capital has a long list of landmarks to visit, and the Old Town area, or Gamla Stan, is the best place to get started.
It’s here that you can see the famous Royal Palace – official home of the Swedish royals, although they actually spend most of their time outside the city – and the Stortorget square, surrounded by colorful old merchant buildings.
There’s some amazing architecture to be found around this city, from the stunning Stockholm Public Library to the baroque German Church.
And, since Stockholm is spread across a bunch of islands, there are also lots of lovely, decorative bridges, like Djurgårdsbron. The city’s metro stations are also a joy to behold, nicknamed the “world’s longest art museum”.
Stockholm is also famed for its museums, and there are so many to check out.
The Vasa is the most famous, with its prize possession being a fabulously-preserved 17th century ship, but the ABBA Museum, Nationalmuseum, Moderna Museet, and Swedish Army Museum are absolutely worth checking out, among many others to suit a range of interests.
For outdoor activities, Stockholm isn’t quite as convenient as Oslo, but it still has quite a lot to offer. You can take boat tours around the archipelago and visit some surrounding islands, for example, and there are even beaches for sunbathing and swimming.
Around 30% of the city is made up of parks and green spaces, too, with lots of play areas and walking trails for families.
With more attractions and landmarks, you may need more time in Stockholm to experience all that the city has to offer, and it’s better-suited to long trips.
Oslo is still an exciting and fun place to be, but you may be able to see most of the inner city attractions pretty quickly, which is why it’s recommended to plan at least a day or two in the surrounding natural spaces.
Which Is Better For Day Trips?
While Oslo and Stockholm are both beautiful and vibrant cities to visit, you might like to leave them behind for a day or two in order to experience some other areas of either Norway or Sweden.
But which one is best for day trips?
Well, Oslo has a lot of terrific day trip opportunities only short rides away. The nearby amusement park of TusenFryd in Vinterbro is perfect for families, with the Bygdoy Peninsula, to the west, is a great place to learn more about the maritime culture and heritage of Norway.
The ski resort town of Lillehammer is also a fabulous place to visit, home to the fascinating Maihaugen open-air museum and Norwegian Olympic Museum, while history lovers will want to head to Tonsberg, the oldest city in the country.
You could even potentially head over the border into Sweden to visit a city like Karlstad, which has a terrific military museum.
Stockholm also has some super day trip destinations right beside the city itself, like Drottningholm Palace, which is the main residence for the country’s royal family.
The surrounding archipelago is also awesome for exploration, with lots of charming islands to check out, like Sandhamn, which has some super white sand beaches.
The towns of Sigtuna and Uppsala are also ideal to see if you’re spending more than a few nights in the Stockholm area.
Sigtuna is the oldest town in all of Sweden, with history dating back to 980, while Uppsala has the nation’s oldest university and a gorgeous medieval cathedral.
Overall, it’s tough to say which city is best for day trips, as they both have lots of pretty places within easy reach.
Stockholm is great for seeing archipelago islands and small towns, while Oslo has more diversity, with everything from ski resorts to lakeside villages.
Which Is Better For Nightlife?
How about the nightlife scenes in Oslo and Stockholm? Well, since both of these cities have pretty big populations, they’re pretty impressive when it comes to evening entertainment, with a myriad of bars and nightlife hotspots to choose from.
Oslo has an impressive array of funky bars and pumping nightclubs blasting out a wide range of different musical genres to suit all tastes.
You can also find some cozy, homely bars dotted across the city, mainly in the center or the trendy Grünerlokka area, and many of them will stay open until the early hours.
The summer is a particularly good time for evening entertainment in Oslo, as the city hosts various festivals and concerts, many of which are free to attend.
Unfortunately, the regular pubs and clubs in Oslo are not at all free and actually rank some of the most expensive in Europe!
When it comes to nightlife costs, Stockholm is also pretty pricey, so you may need to manage your budget pretty carefully in both of these cities.
But just like Oslo, Stockholm has a good range of pubs and bars, particularly in the Södermalm and Östermalm areas.
Clubs are less common in Stockholm, but the city still has a lot of decent evening entertainment venues, with concerts, opera, theater shows, jazz bars, and other fun places to check out – there’s even a bar made entirely out of ice, if you’re looking for something totally unique.
Overall, it’s Oslo that just about has the edge in this area, with many people calling the Norwegian capital one of the liveliest nightlife locations in all of Scandinavia.
Which Is Best For Shopping?
Whether you want to snap up some Scandi souvenirs or shop around for the latest Nordic fashions and interior design elements, shopping in Oslo and Stockholm can be a great way to spend some of your time.
In Oslo, there are many large shopping centers to explore, like Oslo City and Gunerius, which both boast dozens of stores selling a mixture of food, fashion, footwear, and accessories.
The city’s most luxurious shops can be found along Stortingsgaten, while Paradegaten is great for quirky finds, and the Steen & Strom department store is also worth checking out.
Over in Stockholm, you can find a much deeper and more diverse shopping scene, including massive malls.
The Mall of Scandinavia is the region’s ‘Mall of America’ equivalent, with 220+ stores – as well as fun flea markets and dozens of streets lined with a mixture of fancy boutiques, antique emporiums, bookshops, and more.
With a wider range of shopping experiences compared to Oslo’s mountain of malls, Stockholm is definitely the more enjoyable place to shop.
Which Has The Best Food?
Next, we come to one of the more subjective categories on this list: food.
Oslo has some of the very best Norwegian cuisine in the world, while Stockholm is home to some of Sweden’s finest restaurants and chefs. So, the best option for you may depend on which country’s cuisine you like the most.
Over in Oslo, you can find a lot of the traditional foods that have formed the foundations of Norwegian meals for centuries, like cured meats, potatoes, smoked salmon, and hearty stews.
However, the city’s culinary scene also includes plenty of other options from around the world, including great pizzerias, taco restaurants, and Asian eateries, too.
In Stockholm, it’s not hard to find the Swedish classics, like tasty meatballs, sausages, and fish.
Seafood is particularly impressive in this city, too, and some would argue that Swedish cuisine is a little more diverse than Norwegian, appealing to a wider range of palates and preferences.
And, even if it’s not for you, Stockholm has burger bars, pizza places, and many other eateries.
It’s a close call in this category, but Stockholm may just have a slight edge, with more options to suit even the pickiest of eaters.
Which Is Better For A Family Trip?
For families, there can be no doubt that Oslo and Stockholm are two of the very best Scandinavian cities to visit. They’re both super safe and very kid-friendly, with plenty of attractions to suit visitors of all ages.
If you’re visiting Oslo with kids, you can take them to admire dinosaur skeletons in the Natural History Museum, learn about the workings of the world in the Museum of Science and Technology, get up-close to snakes at Oslo Reptile Park or ride the rollercoasters of TusenFryd Amusement Park.
There are also so many outdoor activity opportunities across Oslo.
From hikes to horseback rides and winter sports, too, the options simply go on and on, and active families can have the time of their lives in the Norwegian capital.
Stockholm also has a lot to offer for the average family too.
There’s the fabulous Gröna Lund theme park, for example, with dozens of rides and amusements to please little kids and older thrill-seekers alike, as well as the lovely Junibacken – this place has Sweden’s biggest kids’ bookstore, as well as exhibits to teach visitors about popular Swedish authors and characters.
Children of various ages may also enjoy the various museums of Stockholm. They’re sure to marvel at the incredible 17th century ship on display in the Vasa, for instance, and they can also learn a lot at the National Museum of Science and Technology.
The best choice will really depend on your family’s own tastes and needs.
More active families who love nature may prefer Oslo, while those seeking a broader selection of attractions and amusements should probably head to Stockholm.
Which Is Better For Couples?
Whether you’re looking for a romantic city break or simply want to get away from the hustle and bustle of regular life with your partner, Oslo and Stockholm are both idyllic destinations for couples of different ages and backgrounds.
Oslo has some fantastic spas where you and your partner can enjoy soothing treatments and massages, along with a range of museums and other landmarks to see.
Plus, active couples will absolutely appreciate the natural surroundings of Oslo, perfect for hiking, cycling, and so many other activities.
However, Stockholm may be even more romantic! It’s one of the prettiest cities in all of Scandinavia, especially around the Old Town, and there are so many romantic places, from fairy-tale gardens to cobblestone alleys.
The museums, metro stations, parks, and other attractions of this city will provide you and your partner with an exciting travel itinerary.
Overall, it’s Stockholm that wins in this category. Both cities are picturesque and pleasant for couples, but the Swedish capital simply has more to do.
Which Is Better For Backpackers?
Backpacking in Scandinavia isn’t always easy, as it’s one of the most expensive parts of Europe.
Prices can be pretty high, especially in capital cities, like Oslo and Stockholm, but if that doesn’t deter you, it’s still possible to have fun backpacking adventures in both of these locations.
Oslo has several budget-friendly hotels and hostels to choose from. Public transport services are highly reliable, and it’s easy to make your way around and see the sights.
Adventurous backpackers can also enjoy heading out to the surrounding hiking trails or winter sports spots for an escape into nature or adrenaline rush.
Stockholm has a pretty similar range of hostels, so it’s not too difficult to find budget-friendly accommodation.
However, average costs for food and activities in this city are higher than Oslo, so you may have to plan your trip with extra care – fortunately, Stockholm has lots of free things to do, like the City Museum, Medieval Museum, and National Sports Museum.
Overall, this category is a little too close to call.
Those leaking for the cheapest option should head to Oslo, but backpackers will probably find trips to Stockholm to be more rewarding and fulfilling, with a wider range of activities to enjoy.
Which Is Cheaper?
Finally, we have to talk about cost, as this is one of the most important factors for many people to take into account when deciding between two destinations.
So, which one is cheaper between Oslo and Stockholm?
Well, if we look closely at average prices for both of these cities, it’s Oslo that usually emerges as the slightly cheaper alternative for things like hotel stays, food, and general touristic activities.
However, it’s worth noting that the difference between the two cities’ average costs is not enormous, and they’re both pretty pricey places.
Scandinavia is a relatively expensive region in general, so budget-conscious travelers will need to plan their trips with care.
Where To Stay According To Your Budget
Budget: Situated right in the heart of Stockholm’s medieval Gamla Stan quarter is Residence Perseus, a selection of well-decorated and budget-friendly apartments that are perfect for a city break. See photos and rates!
Luxury: The five-star elegant Hotel Bristol is situated in the heart of Oslo and is as photogenic as it is convenient. Expect great facilities, world-class service and classy surroundings. See photos and rates!
Which Is Easier To Get To?
Getting to capital cities in Europe usually isn’t too difficult, and you shouldn’t have a hard time accessing either Oslo or Stockholm, as both of these cities have international airports with direct flights around the globe.
Oslo Airport, also sometimes known as Gardermoen, is located around 29 miles from the city center – travelers can hop on the Airport Express Train and get to the center of Oslo in about 20 minutes.
It has direct flights all over Europe, as well as with parts of Africa and several cities in the US, like Los Angeles, Fort Lauderdale, and New York.
Stockholm’s main airport is Arlanda, which is about 23 miles outside the city center – like Oslo, there’s a rapid train service to take you into the city in approximately 20 minutes.
This airport arguably has better connections than Oslo, with dozens of direct flights all over Europe, as well as connections with the US, Canada, Africa, and China.
Overall, both cities are pretty easy to access, with Stockholm being the easier option for most people, but it will mostly depend on where you want to fly from.
Which Is Easier To Get Around?
In terms of getting around, Scandinavian cities are famed for their impeccable public transit systems, and Oslo and Stockholm are perfect examples of this.
Both cities have terrific bus, tram, and underground metro services, as well as boats and rail connections with surrounding areas.
Both of these Nordic capitals are also highly walkable places, with lots of landmarks located nice and close to one another, right in the center.
However, some of Stockholm’s most popular attractions are spread out a little further apart, so you may have to rely on the local metro service to see all the sights.
Overall, it’s Oslo that takes the win in this category. Both cities have great public transport services, but you probably won’t need to use Oslo’s as often as Stockholm’s, and the Norwegian capital is just a little easier to explore on foot.
Oslo vs Stockholm: Which Is The Better Choice?
So, what’s the final verdict? Which city should you visit for the very best Scandinavian experience?
Well, the truth of the matter is that it depends. Some people will prefer the history and museums of Stockholm, while others may favor the fun nightlife and amazing natural surroundings of Oslo.
It’s up to you to weigh up the features and advantages of each destination to decide on the right one for you.
With that said, Stockholm probably has more universal appeal, due to its bigger and broader range of activities. There are simply more things to do within this city, from shopping and dining to losing yourself in one museum after another.
Oslo doesn’t have quite as much in its inner city, but it’s still got super nightlife, an emerging culinary scene, and majestic natural spaces all around, perfect for travelers who are happy to leave the city behind and enjoy memorable hikes, mountain climbs, bike rides, and similar activities.