Norway’s capital offers a bit for everyone. Most likely the safest capital city in the world, Oslo is located both on the seashore and on the edge of mountains and forests. No matter whether you’re interested in culture, museums, traditions, sports or fine dining – this is one of the wealthiest spots in Scandinavia.
In spite of their protestant heritage, Norwegians know how to party. Midsummer nights are used for endless partying on the fjord islands, while the city’s parks are filled with the smell of grilled sausage. The town’s party districts, Grünerløkka and Majorstuen, are buzzing with city people roaming the bars, and taxi squadrons packed with people go wherever mobile messaging tells people to go. Summer time is open air festival time, while during fall and winter, music and film festivals line up in the calendar.
Oslo represents to some extend what the rest of Norway isn’t: Urbanism, coffe house culture, cosmopolitan atmosphere, forein languages and foods in the streets, multiculturalism, job hopping, and modernism. It stands out as a modern capital city in a country obsessed with the preservation of nature, old cultural artefacts, and old ways of life.
Besides being the city that has the Holmenkollen ski jump, Oslo will certainly be remembered for the Nobel Peace Price to Barack Obama, and as the location of the 2010 European Song Contest.
What to do
You won’t get bored in a few days in Oslo. The city’s parks, museums, bars, forests and marinas will keep you busy. In addition, the city library, galleries and concerts are worth a visit.
In particular, you could try:
- Oslo has a lively music scene. In summer, the area buzzes in open air festivals, for example on the islands in the fjord. During winter time, jazz festivals, modern music, and bar and club concerts fill the event calendars. In addition, bands usually release new albums on release parties. Check the underground event calendar Underskog and the official Oslo event listings to see what’s on during your stay!
- Go to the National Museum! Free admission. You’ll go through Norwegian painters, watching amazing landscape paintings as well as Munch’s Madonna and The Scream (yep, the two paintings that frequently get stolen from the museum).
- Take the subway line 1 to the Holmenkollen station, and go to the ski jump. The base building hosts the Norwegian Ski Museum.
- Get a feeling for Norwegian prohibition, and visit the Vinmonopolet in Grünerløkka. This monopoly alcohol outlet provides the interior of a pharmacy, where customers line up to a counter, while the employees take orders, and fetch your prescription of Bordeaux from the shelves. You’ll find it in Nordre gate 16, on the corner with Markveien.
- Visit the Opera building and walk on its roof.
- From Aker Brygge & the town hall landing, take the ferry over to the Bygdøy peninsula. The ferry landing (valid with a publoic transport ticket) is located next to the Fram museum (contains Fridjof Nansen’s and Roald Amundsen’s polar exploration vessel Fram that crossed the northwestern passage, and staged the conquest to the south pole) and the Kon-Tiki museum (with Thor Heyerdal’s experimental boat). You can move on to the Museum of Norwegian Traditions, which houses a collection of farm houses, city houses, traditions, and a stave church. During the summer the island also offers a nice beach to go to (yes!!! there is a beach in Oslo…and it is actually quite nice).
- Take the last beer of the day at Herr Nielsen – Oslo’s Jazz and Blues bar known for late-night live music.
- While there is snow on Holmenkollen, take the subway to the end of line 1 – Frognerseteren. There, rent a sleigh and drive it down Holmenkollen back to the subway line’s Midtstuen station on Korketrekkeren (corkscrew), the 1955 world championship sleigh race track. Wait for the next train up – and repeat.
- During summer, you might enjoy to take your fishing rods along – to enjoy the many lakes in Oslo’s forests. Fishing in the fjord is free of charge, permits for the lakes are explained at the Fisheries administration.
Where to stay
Hotels are legendary – expensive. Use your favorite booking web page to find them. Among the cheapest alternatives are the Bogstad campground, the youth hostel ‘Haraldsheim’, the the Frogner B & B.
However, our favorites are:
- The theater and café boat MS Innvik lies on the landing across the opera house, south of the main railway station. They offer Bed & Breakfast on the boat, for a mere 500 NOK per night.
- Book yourself into Oslo’s Grand Hotel, where Barak Obama stayed during his Peace Nobel Price stay. Central location on Karl Johans boulevard, next to the Norwegian parliament and the National Theater.
Getting around Oslo is easy. The center is small enough to walk, and the outskirts are within bike range. In addition, public transport, taxi and city bike are available.
Some detail information:
- Getting to Oslo: Fly to Oslo to Oslo-Gardermoen (Lufthansa, for the boss, near the city) or to Moss/Rygge and Torp/Sandefjord with the usual suspects in the cheap airline business, bus ride to Oslo ca. 1.5 hours included (for the lesser employees & PhD students). From Gardermoen, you can take the SAS Flybus (bus station,ca. 1450NOK), the Flybusekpressen bus (ca. 170 NOK), the fast and costly Flytoget speed train (orange ticket machines, ca. 180 NOK per ride), or the much cheaper national railway’s NSB commuter train (grey vending machines, ca. 105 NOK per ride)). Or take a taxi at ca. 1000 NOK. In addition, trains from Stockholm, and numerous ferry boats from Danmark are going right into Oslo. On occasion, conferences are held as a mini cruise on the cruise ferries from Kiel (Germany) to Oslo.
- In the city, use the public transport network, which will transport you anywhere from the eastern fjord islands around Malmøya and Ulvøya up to Holmenkollen or the trailheads of Nordmarka with just a single city zone ticket. You get a discount if you buy a “Flexikort”, which offers 8 rides at nearly 30% reduction over single rides.
- During the summer, you can use the city bikes. Go the the tourist information office in front of the railway station, where you can rent a chipcard for a week for a mere 80 NOK (credit card and ID required). The bikes are free of charge for usage up to 3 hours in a row (you can drop the bike off and check out the next one right after). Tehre is a large network of automated bike racks all over town.
- Walk like many Norwegians.
Where to eat
Your wallet is the limit. You will find all levels of gastronomy, from hot dog or kebab booths up to 10-course fancy dining with a very wine-literate personal waiter.
Some suggestions are:
- The Akersberget restaurant is situated on the side of Aker hill, which is topped by Oslo’s oldest building – Aker church, dating back to the 1100s. Excellent cusine composed of Norwegian ingredients. Anything from three to seven courses, with a matching wine menu.
- Delicatessen is Oslo’s hippest Tapas bar, situated at the southern edge of the Grünerløkka party and restaurant district. Get a reservation early, and plan for a long night in Grünerløkka’s pubs, where the Dj’s take over at 23:00 on weekends.
- Anywhere you can afford to do so.
- Norway offers a lot of food “specialities” you won’t find anywhere else in the world. One example is the Rakfisk, which is a fish speciality for the truely fearless ones of us.
- If you go out drinking, make sure you properly protect your drink. Alcohol is very expensive in Norway, so a beer is a reasonable large investment. Make sure to protect it properly, because there will be vultures who crave for the cool and refreshing taste.
What to bring home
Souvenirs, Souvenirs! There is choice:
- Check the airport duty-free shop on the way out. It’s the Norwegian’s main supply for affordable spirits, and due to Norway’s non-membership in the EU toll union, you might find Aquavit, Japanese Whisky or Cognac at competitive prices. Or a Norwegian vodka, such as Vikingfjord, available in strengsths of 40%, 50% and 60% (the latter called 60% ot Seksti).
- Check a sports shop in case yo are interested in angling, hunting or hiking. Typical shops are XXL, Intersport and G-Sport. Norway is a country of outdoor activity, where you find more interesting things in such shops than in most other places in Europe.
- Try some Norwegian cuisine: Sausage or air-dried ham made of elk or reindeer. Smoked or frozen whale chateaubriand. Bacalau. Or just your dose of smoked salmon, trout or hailbut from the larger grocery stores.
- Bring home a rakfisk! There is nothing more shocking than the smell of a recently opened package of rakfisk. Make sure to invite your whole family for the opening ceremony. It will be a blast. But make sure that it is safely stored in your luggage during your flight. You wouldn’t want to have an incident involving a leak in a pack of rakfisk!
Maps & Links
- Oslo map provided by Gulesider.no.
- Oslo’s underground event calendar is Underskog.
- Oslo’s official event and tourist information system is VisitOslo.