Oslo, much like Iceland, felt like home. It is probably the city that feels the most like Wellington, my hometown in New Zealand. It’s small and manageable. It’s based on a harbour. It has fantastic food and drink. What it lacks in hills, it makes up for in neat shops, art galleries and cafés. And, like Wellington, its hideously expensive.
We stopped in Oslo for two and a bit days in September. It doesn’t take long before you start to realise just how expensive the city is. For two adults to take the bus into the city, it cost about 135AED. Ouch. However, the bus was comfortable, clean and on time. It was also heavily used – obviously, it is still the cheapest option to get into the city.
When we arrived to our apartment, it wasn’t half as cold as I was expecting. Our apartment was lovely, beautifully designed and very warm and cosy. We were staying near St. Hanshaugen Park, and our host had recommended that we walk down to Mathallen Oslo for some dinner. An indoor food market with more than 30 specialty shops, cafés and eateries offering quality products from Norway and beyond, we ended up eating here a few times during our stay! We enjoyed Asian street food at Noodles, cod at Vulkanfisk, dessert at The Cupcake and Pie Company and pulled chicken burgers at Stangeriet. Okay – it was expensive. But everything in Norway is. Handy hint – if you want to get food from two different places to share, you can go to the bar near the dance theatre out the back. There, as long as you buy a drink, you can bring your own food.
After gorging ourselves on food, we wandered to the Grünerløkka area of the city. Apparently the coolest neighborhood in Oslo, it has seen intense gentrification and now boasts expensive real estate. As with so many equivalent neighborhoods around the world, it was once a haven for artists and creatives, including Oslo’s most famous painter Edvard Munch, but today it hosts a fantastic range of cafés, high fashion and trendy boutiques. We didn’t spend too much time here, but we wandered through the area a few more times during our stay in Oslo.
The city is so compact that we simply walked to the harbour from our apartment. We intended to catch a ferry over to Bygdøy, the peninsula opposite Oslo harbour, where many of its museums are. The boats leave every thirty minutes or so, and it is a quick ride across the harbour. We opted to hop off at the first stop and visit the Viking Museum. It’s not terribly big, and you can get through it in about one hour. But where else are you going to see such incredibly old artifacts? It has the world’s best-preserved Viking ships and finds from Viking tombs around the Oslo Fjord. The three ships – Gokstad, Oseberg and Tune ships – are in varying states of decay, plus it also hosts small boats, sledges, carts, tools, textiles and household utensils. It also has the stylish ornamental decorations as seen in the feature image for the post.
Make sure that you watch the very cool movie projected on the screens near one of the boats – it is well worth waiting for. If it’s not too busy, try to snaffle a viewing spot up in one of the platforms surrounding the boats for the best view.
After this, we decided we would walk around to the Fram museum. On the way, we came across a sign for the The Center for Studies of the Holocaust and Religious Minorities, so decided to take a look. This small but well presented museum had a range of items on display, most related to the expulsion of Norwegian Jews during World War Two. Helpfully, we were given tablets that provided translations of the different exhibitions. My only comment would be to avoid the café if you are not a big fish fan. Pickled herring all the way.
After this, we wandered towards three of the more popular museums on the peninsula – the Fram Museum, Maritime Museum and the Kon Tiki Museum. I would have loved to go to the Kon Tiki Museum, but time was running short, along with money. So we decided to only visit the Fram Museum.
The Fram Museum tells the story of Norwegian polar exploration, particularly focusing on the exploits of famed polar explorer, Roald Amundsen. Due to New Zealand’s colonial routes, you tended to hear more about the expeditions of Robert Falcon Scott growing up, as opposed to Amundsen. It was fascinating to discover the ways which the Norwegians extensively readied for their expeditions, and the horrific conditions they withstood. The museum is also the last resting place of the Fram polar ship, the strongest wooden ship ever built. It still holds the records for sailing farthest north and farthest south. You are actually able to walk on to the boat, to see how the crew and their dogs managed to survive in the coldest and most dangerous places on earth. Hilariously, you can also go into some crappy little freezer closet and see an ‘ice mummy’. It is darn cold in there.
It was starting to cool down a bit, so after admiring the various statues outside we caught the ferry back to the Mainland. We wandered through the trendy Tjuvholmen and Akker Brygge areas, musing that we would love an apartment there… until we googled Norwegian tax rates. The area hosts some quirky art and a range of amazing restaurants and cafés. After a quick tea at Fuglen – the café was nowhere as nice as its Tokyo counterpart – we strolled back to our apartment for the evening.
The next morning, we explored some more of the city on foot. Walking back towards Grünerløkka, we headed towards the waterfront again, only to find that the Oslo Marathon was on! We took a look at the local Parliament buildings, and then settled into Albert Bistro for some serious people watching. As we had booked a boat trip around the fjords at around 1PM, we spent the time before this exploring. We scrambled through the crowds to visit the Akershus Fortress, a beautiful old castle initially built in 1299. Having successfully managed to survive a range of sieges throughout history, it is now home to the army, but areas are still open to the public. It is also home to the Royal Mausoleum, the final resting-place of a number of Norwegian royal figures.
One interesting historical fact about Oslo – it’s had a few names, and locations! In the Middle Ages it was located on the east side of the Bjørvika inlet. After a dramatic fire in 1624, king Christian IV decided that the town be rebuilt in the area below the Akershus Fortress, and he changed its name to Christiania. From 1877 the name was spelled Kristiania, and in 1925 it was changed back to the original name, Oslo.
Our cruise around the harbour – which took two hours – was nice, if a little chilly. It probably would have been more enjoyable if we hadn’t have been seated opposite some cheap Scottish girls that brought their own lunch. They weren’t really annoying, but they were loud, and a little distracting. The views were very pretty, though. We glided past inlets of colored houses and swimming huts. Some people were even using them. Yikes! The trip was also run by Batservice. I’d recommend getting there very early, as there are only a limited number of tables, and seats with reasonable views.
After our cruise, we wandered through the city to the Royal Palace. While a pretty enough building, we didn’t bother going inside. It was a bit disconcerting how close you could get to the actual building. It is still used as the official Royal Residence. Built in a neo-classical style with a façade of stuccoed brick, it was completed in 1849. It looks very similar to a number of the Russian residences in St. Petersburg. We took a stroll through the park and ended up in some very busy markets, before stopping for a quick snack and drink at Heim St.Hanshaugen, where the last of the marathon runners were still lumbering on.
While researching for this post, I came across a quote. “It’s been said that when a man tires of Oslo he’s probably been there for three days.” I found this rather ironic, because Oslo is one of the few cities I have visited where I would happily go back for a week. It’s beautiful, clean, quiet, the food is great and the people are friendly. Visiting in the summer means you can make the most of the absolutely amazing wilderness, and I would happily go back just to spend time in the parks and surrounding fjords. Take the hit to your wallet – it is well worth it. And I promise you – you will never see more electric cars in one place anywhere else!
Eat: Mathallen Oslo, Vulkan 5, 0178 Oslo. Hours vary by restaurant. Albert Bistro, Stranden 3, 0250 Oslo. 7.30AM-11PM weekdays, 9AM – 10PM weekends. Heim Gastropub, Colletts gate 33, 0169 Oslo. 3PM – 12AM weekdays, 12PM – 2AM Saturday, 1PM – 10PM Sunday.
Transport: Airport transfers by Flybussen, around 70AED (160NOK) per person each way. Ferry to Bygdøyfergene– 25AED (60NOK) return, or free with the Oslo Pass. Båtservice Fjord Sightseeing cruise, two hours, 130AED (299NOK per person).
Visit: Viking Ship Museum, Huk Aveny 35, 0287 Oslo. Open 10AM – 4PM daily, 45AED (100NOK) per adult. The Center for Studies of the Holocaust and Religious Minorities, Villa Grande, Huk aveny 56, 0287 Oslo. Hours vary by season, 20AED (50NOK) per adult. Fram Museum, Bygdøynesveien 39, 0286 Oslo. Opens 7 days, 10am – 5pm, 45AED (100NOK) per adult.
- It can be a little confusing finding where to take the Ferry. It departsu every 20/30 minutes from Pier 3 by the City Hall. The first stop is Dronningen (Norwegian Folk Museum, Viking Ship Museum and Oscarshall), and the second stop Bygdøynes (Kon-Tiki, Fram and Norwegian Maritime Museum).
- Take your own drink bottle to fill. The tap water is perfectly fine to drink. Water bottles are expensive – if you do buy one, make sure you recycle it.