Located at the head of the Oslofjord inlet and hemmed in by miles of woodland, Oslo is the only European capital that offers hiking, kayaking, sailing and skiing within its city limits. It’s no cultural slouch either, with a vibrant café and bar scene and world-class museums showcasing local talents such as the artist Munch.

Designed by Oslo architectural firm Snøhetta, the Opera House resembles a floating glacier. It’s at its most magical in the winter. In summer, you can sunbathe on the roof (00 47 2142 2121; operaen.no; Kirsten Flagstads plass 1; 10am-11pm Mon-Fri, 11am-11pm Sat, noon-10pm Sun; tours £11).

Dominating the harbour front is Akershus Castle. Built in the 13th century, it was transformed into a Renaissance palace in the 17th century. University students in period dress lead guided tours (00 47 2309 3553; visitoslo.com; 10am-4pm Mon-Sat, 12.30pm- 4pm Sun May-Aug; £8).

The 18th-century Telthusbakken and Damstredet districts were once shanty towns. Now chic residential neighbourhoods for artists, they’re great to explore. Reach them by walking north past the Vår Frelsers graveyard where the playwrights Bjørnson and Ibsen, and artist Munch are buried.

Launched in 1892, the Polarship Fram was the strongest ship of its time and spent much of its life stuck in ice in the race to reach the North Pole. You’re allowed to explore the ship and imagine life at sea (00 47 2328 2950; frammuseum.no; Bygdøynesveien 36; 9am-6pm Jun-Aug; £7).

The Munch Museum has over 1,100 paintings, including The Scream, 4,500 watercolours and 18,000 prints bequeathed by Munch himself. It is a landmark collection (00 47 2349 3500; munch.museum.no; Tøyengata 53; 10am-9pm Jun-Aug; £11).

Eat and drink
At 11am, Ibsen would leave his apartment on Drammensveien and walk to Grand Café for a lunch of herring, beer and one shot of aquavit. His table is still here. Don’t worry, though, there’s more than herring on the menu. Pick from reindeer, Arctic char and mussels (00 47 2321 2018; grand.no; Karl Johans gate 31; lunch and dinner; mains from £14).

Popular with Norwegian families at Christmas, the Theatercafeen  presents classic dishes, such as reindeer steak, in Viennese-style surroundings (00 47 2282 4050; hotelcontinental.no; Stortingsgata 24; lunch and dinner Mon-Sat, dinner Sun; mains from £17).

Smia Galleri is one of those restaurants Oslo residents are so fond of they almost hate to share it. The leafy patio is perfect on summer afternoons. If they have it, try the rhubarb crumble with wild strawberry sorbet (00 47 2219 5920; smiagalleri.no, in Norwegian; Opplandsgata 19; closed Mon; mains from £27).

Located on Aker Brygge beside the harbour, Solsiden is great on summer evenings. The menu only features fish; the speciality is a towering platter of shellfish (00 47 2233 3630; solsiden.no; Søndre Akershus Kai 34; dinner May-Aug; mains from £30).

Feinschmecker  has made a name for itself with its innovative modern take on traditional Norwegian food. Dishes such as sautéed crayfish tails in apple cider are immaculately presented (00 47 2212 9380; feinschmecker.no; Balchens gate 5; dinner Mon-Sat; mains from £41).

Located in a quiet neighbourhood, the Ellingsens Pensjonat  offers one of the best deals in the capital. The building dates from 1890 and many of the original features remain. Rooms are simply decorated with pine furnishings, and there’s a small garden for sunny days (00 47 2260 0359; ellingsenspensjonat.no; Holtegata 25; from £75).

 Founded in 1891 as a sanatorium by Dr Ingebrigt Christian Lund, the castle-like Holmenkollen Park Hotel Rica offers great views and good-value luxury accommodation. The hotel also puts on an enormous breakfast buffet (00 47 2292 2000; holmenkollenparkhotel.no; Kongeveien 26; from £95).

The Thon Hotel Astoria  might be marketed as a ‘budget’ hotel, but if it weren’t for the slightly small bathrooms and lack of a minibar, there would be nothing to distinguish it from some much more expensive options. Rooms are comfortable and the location is central (00 47 2414 5550; thonhotels.com; Dronningens gate 21; from £105).

Sleep Grims Grenka has modern, minimalist rooms, with semitransparent bathroom cubicles, artfully placed lighting and designer furnishings. In addition, there’s a stylish rooftop bar and an excellent Asian-fusion restaurant (00 47 2310 7200; grimsgrenka.no; Kongens gate 5; from £150).

Brimming with history and period character, the regal Grand Hotel has long been considered the benchmark of true elegance in Oslo. The rooms are beautifully appointed and there is an on-site spa. If you book early, some good bargains are available (00 47 2321 2000; grand.no; Karl Johans gate 31; from £190).

When to go
Oslo winters are long and harsh, with temperatures dropping to -25°C and less than two hours of sunlight in December and January. May, June and July see the most sunlight and some of the city’s best festivals. They are the best months for many outdoor activities.

Getting around
Oslo has a network of buses, trams, T-bane trains and ferries. The Oslo Pass, valid for 24, 48 or 72 hours, can be used on all public transport and gives access to many museums (from £25; visitoslo.com). You can hail taxis, or contact Oslo Taxi (oslotaxi.no).

Getting there
Oslo has two airports: Gardermoen, served by SAS from London Heathrow (£135; flysas.com); and Torp, served by Ryanair from Liverpool and Edinburgh (£95; ryanair.com). Airport shuttles run from both airports into Oslo (£15-£20). A taxi from Gardermoen costs £55 (oslotaxi.no).

Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated the name of the statue in the photo caption. This has been fixed. 

The article 'Mini guide to Oslo, Norway' was published in partnership with Lonely Planet Magazine.