Norway’s capital sits quite aptly, at the top of a fjord. It’s located in the south and feels quite compact for a city. That’s not to say there isn’t plenty to see and do. We spent a long weekend in Oslo just before Christmas and packed out the three days with a lot of walking and exploring.
Norway’s outdoors had already won me over from a trip to Bergen a few years ago. If you’ve been to Tromso or Bergen already then reset your expectations because Oslo is vastly different. Firstly, being the most populous city (around 640,000 people), the accent isn’t so much on the astounding outdoors that the rest of Norway has to offer, but on architecture and culture.
We bought the Oslo pass from the Visitor Centre which turned out to be great value because we jammed as much as we could into our two night stay. The pass starts at 395NOK (around £36) and includes travel on the trains and trams as well as entry to museums and galleries.
There are a lot of things to see in Oslo but my handpicked highlights are below:
Viking Ships Museum
This museum blew my mind. Located in an old Church in Bygdøy, it’s a thirty minute bus journey from the city or a fifteen minute walk from the Norwegian museum. There are three old Viking ships from the ninth century and a few artefacts recovered from the excavations. Although it doesn’t feel like there’s much to see, it was very interesting and well presented. In hindsight, what I loved about it was that it created more questions in my mind which it not only answered, but gave more information than I thought it would be possible to uncover. Stick around for the presentation which is very cleverly projected onto the walls and the ceiling, we absolutely loved it. Walking around outside felt a lot like a residential area, which you don’t ordinarily get to see during a city break.
Norsk Folkemuseum – Norwegian Museum of Cultural History
There’s a lot to take in here, much of the museum is outside, but I think it’s completely worth the visit. The winning exhibition, for me, was in an annexe which provided a very graphic insight into the life of Samis (indigenous Norwegians) who lived in the north of the country and had a very distinctive culture. You find yourself wondering how they possibly managed to face the cold in the north, but they lived and thrived around Tromso which is known for the cold, the snow and the northern lights.
Vigeland sculpture park
Gustav Vigeland was a celebrated Norwegian artist who designed the Nobel Peace Prize medal and was commissioned to sculpt a permanent installation in Frogner Park in the northwest of the city. There’s also a museum dedicated to him. There are 212 bronze and granite sculptures in the park, the most thought provoking for us was the monolith and its surrounding sculptures. It’s carved from a single piece and features men women and babies piled on top of each other, which made us think about the sacrifices that previous generations have made for us to be where we are today. Pretty deep for a weekend away!
Of course, my highlights had to include an element of the outdoors. Sognsvann is at the end of the no. 5 metro line and a hot spot for local dog walkers and runners. It was the first time we’d seen a frozen lake, so we spent a lot of time throwing pointy sticks and rocks at the surface in total futility, to the amusement of a few locals. If you can make it around the lake, then I’d recommend it, the path is around 3k and traces past woodland patches and over small brooks trickling into the lake itself.
The gallery contains something for everyone, which is why it was so busy. Oslo is very proud of Edvard Munch and the Scream painting which is housed in the gallery. There is a lot to see, including modern and classical art, I’d recommend checking out Johan Christian Dahl’s landscapes as well as the mystical dark room showcasing fictional creatures from the story books.
Oslo is expensive. The food, drink and travel hits your bank account the hardest. I’d recommend staying somewhere that serves breakfast, and eating well. We stayed at the BestWestern which included a very hearty breakfast, including DIY waffles. No, really.
We decided to go all out at Lofoten Fiskerestaurant one evening, which was worth every penny. The restaurant feels like an aeronautical museum, and the service and food were fantastic. I thought, being a veggie, that they would struggle to cater for me, but the answer was simple “we’ll take care of you”, and they did. Their cheese board won me over, heart and soul, so much so that we went searching for local cheeses at the Christmas markets the following day.
Speaking of Christmas markets, the churros are worth the wait.
We walked along the marina past clumps of Christmas trees and yachts of all sizes. It’s a lovely walk in the daytime or the evening, with plenty of restaurants and bars to drop in on.
A three day weekend is more than enough to see the city, although this involves very little rest and in winter, only a few hours of daylight. The most memorable thing for me was the tap water. Stay with me here. It’s like drinking from a mountain stream and naturally icy cold, very refreshing. Try it once whilst you’re there, and you’ll understand what I mean.
Meandering through the streets, Oslo felt very cosmopolitan. This probably stems from it being a hub for maritime activity (second biggest maritime city in the world, behind Singapore) and the fact that it has benefited from immigration from across the world for quite some time (30% of the population being either first or second generation immigrants). Everybody speaks English and so language wasn’t an issue (our attempts to speak Norwegian were met with furrowed eyebrows and awkward silences). For a compact city, we felt like we saw a lot. Wrap up warm (layers are your friends), try the water, and enjoy exploring.
Food – 1
People – 1.5
Ambience – 1
Sights and activities – 1.5
X-factor – 0.5