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Surprising Oslo

Author: Tim Campbell
Date of Trip: October 2013

OSLO NORWAY
Trip review for International Traveler.com
February 2014 – trip taken in October 2013
TITLE: SURPRISING OSLO.
OVERVIEW

Oslo has a reputation: Friendly, clean, orderly and easy to get around, but expensive; and it doesn’t disappoint; but if you know where to go, even the most budget conscious can have a great time and save money. The most northern of the three Scandinavian capitals, this 1000 year old city is filled with museums, shops, cafes, bars and parks. Buildings are colorful and bright and the city is peppered with several pedestrian precincts and wide open people areas. Landmarks are within range of the efficient transportation system, and if you get tired of walking, there are numerous cafes to soothe those aching feet and enjoy a Norwegian’s favorite pastime; Afternoon coffee and cake. Slightly further afield from the centre are the ski jump, boat rides and a peninsula with lots of hiking trails, but if you only have a couple of days there’s plenty to see and do in the middle of town.

Situated at the head of the Oslo Fjord, Norway’s capital is home to the Nobel Peace centre, the Holocaust centre, the Royal palace, Munch museum, Frogner Park, Vigeland Park, the opera house and Akershus fortress. So many attractions, but easy to get around if you purchase the Oslo pass, about 300 krone ($45 or 30 pounds), which affords you free travel on every bus and tram, as well as discounts on most of the museums and sights. If you arrive into Oslo by train the railway station is at the heart of the city centre. However, arrival by air to Gardemoen, Oslo’s newest airport means a 30 minute train ride. There is an express train to the city, which leaves approximately every ten minutes, which costs 400 krone and speeds you into the centre within 15 minutes, but just as comfortable, and costing only 90 krone, is the regular NDB train. This slower 30 minute ride transits the airport from Lillestroem and is every half hour. It’s a little more crowded being on the local commuter, but why pay more when you really don’t need to?

ATTRACTIONS – Trip advisor lists 212 attractions in and around Oslo. These are my top ten.

The Royal Palace
Home to the Norwegian royal family, the palace is situated in the centre of town and a focal point for all other attractions. Guided tours are available when they are not home and there is a changing of the guard every day at 130pm. The historical tour is well worth the visit.

Akershus fortress
Free to walk around the outside with stunning views of the city and Aker Brygge, the harbour area. An audio tour is available and worth seeing the resistance museum within the walls regarding the Nazi occupation, but even if you don’t go inside the walks around the fortress are uplifting. Built on the banks of the fjord the castle has several neat soldier guards placed amongst the buildings. Opposite the fortress is a military museum with cannons from various centuries, plus an armored tank.

Nobel Peace centre
Next to Aker Brygge and a huge pedestrian area the Nobel peace centre has its own tours with exhibits that change on a regular basis. There are interactive displays for the children, and the mission and message clear to all about getting along together.

Aker Brygge
A walk along the docks here is bracing. Full of restaurants and bars it’s easy to see why it is so popular with tourists and locals alike. With views across the Oslo fjord it is entirely possible to spend an entire day here just enjoying a stroll and people watching.

Frogner / Vigeland Park
Named Frogner park but also known as Vigeland park from the sculptor of the same name, this attraction will take you at least half a day to get around. Beautiful in the summer but even more striking in the Autumn / fall when the colours of the park make it come alive. Full of unusual male and female torso statues there are numerous trails that lead off around this recreational area, intermingled with different lakes and seated areas for private reflection. There are over 200 statues to see plus the Vigeland museum within the park.

National Museum
The national museum is a short walk from Karl Johans gate. Full of changing exhibitions, there is plenty to see from the European and Scandinavian art on display, but the one real attraction is the Munch exhibit featuring it’s most famous painting, the Scream. It’s the Norwegian equivalent of the Mona Lisa.

Opera House
The opera House is new by all standards and an architectural masterpiece. Right next to the Railway station this imposing building has an area where you can walk on the rooftop. Tickets for concerts are hard to get so book well in advance but entrance is free to walk on the rooftop and go into the building. Great views of the harbour and an amazing glass sculpture in the water just 100 metres from the shore based on the shape of an iceberg, as is the opera house.

Bygdoy Peninsula
Take the ferry ride to the Bygdoy peninsula, it’s well worth the fare and the time spent looking at the expensive houses, but also checking out the five museums they have there. This is old Norwegian money living in this quiet corner of Oslo. If there are no ferries the number 30 bus goes to Bygdoy. Remember to get the Oslo pass then the bus and many of the museum entrances are free. The ferry leaves from behind city hall.

Fram Polar Ship Museum
The Fram is the famous ship that Raould Amundsen took to the South pole and became the first person to place a flag at that most southerly point, just beating the British explorer Sir Walter Scott by days. Historically it’s one of Norway’s most famous attractions so well worth the visit to see the artifacts brought back from the trips to both the arctic and the Antarctic.

Holmenkollen ski museum and ski jump
The last, but not least, of my top ten attractions to see in Oslo is the Holmenkollen Ski Jump. There’s a tram right from the City centre to Holmenkollen so it’s easy to get to. Breathtaking views of Oslo and the surrounding area from the top are reached by a funicular, and even if you don’t go in the museum the trip to the summit is well worth the visit.

Other Museums and attractions worth going to see are:
Viking ship museum
Ibsen Museum
Kon Tiki museum
Norwegian Folk Museum

HOTELS
Comfort Hotel Express $$
Hotel Bristol $$$
Carlton Oslo $$$$
Grand Hotel $$$$
Thon Hotel oslo $$$
Frogner House Apartments $$
Hostels are cheaper if you’re on a budget, or consider airbnb where you stay with a family who will rent you a room for half the price of a hotel. www.airbnb.com.

DEALS
Flights – Hipmunk, Norwegian Airlines. Expedia, farebuzz.
City- Oslo pass, Viator
Hotels – Expedia, Hotels.com
Alternative accommodation – Airbnb

RESTAURANTS
Hos thea – Scandinavian food and rated number one in Oslo.
Elias Mat and Saant – local Norwegian fare – try the Moose stew.
Café Fedora – Good value – all sorts of Sandwiches and specials.
Ruffino Ristorante italiano – basic Italian menu but worth the visit.
Ra Sushi – Some of the best Sushi in Oslo.
Brasserie France – French brasserie. Quite expensive but good choice of meals and wine.
Dockside café and bar – right on the waterfront ideal for a drink or meal at sunset looking across the Oslo fjord.

SHOPPING
City Centre – All manner of shops and luxuries – the most expensive area.
Karl Johans Gate – Main road leading to the palace with shops and restaurants
Ice bar – unique experience with free drink
Stortorvet – flower market close to Oslo cathedral.
Gronland – Nice neighborhood with some shopping. Just north of the main railway station.
Grunerlokka – Bohemian neighborhood with unique shops.

TRIP REVIEW

Oslo surprised me. I had been there once before, 20 years ago, but didn’t have much time to see the city. I had business then in Bergen so unfortunately departed Oslo soon after arriving. This time I had flown on Norwegian airlines and was on my way to Oslo to see my son who is staying at an adventure school in Elverum, about 30 miles north of the capital city. Norwegian is one of the new budget airlines so it only cost me $60 to fly from London Gatwick to Gardemoen, Oslo’s newest airport. More up market than Ryanair (who fly to Torp airport about 60 miles from Oslo) Norwegian has new aircraft, all leather seats, cheap fees and friendly service. The cheap flight though was 6am from London so I spent half the time asleep in my seat. We arrived well on time though, and after buying a ticket from the airport rail station for 90 kroner (about $15), I was on my way to the city within 30 minutes of landing. There were immigration formalities for non Norwegians but I was waived through when I showed my British passport. I had to ask them for a stamp.

I easily found the Comfort Inn Express I had booked through Expedia, and for $70 per night got a large room with two beds and a spotless bathroom. There was no restaurant or bar at this hotel but it was close enough to the city centre that we could walk to anywhere for food and drink. My son arrived about noon from Elverum, so after a sandwich we set off to explore. He knew Oslo having been here already for three months, but in fairness had only visited twice since his arrival in Norway, so it was as much an adventure for him as it was for me. It was recommended, by both friends and in trip adviser, to buy an Oslo pass for 300 Krone (about $48) to get around for three days. It allows you free rides on any transportation throughout the city, plus discounts on many museums and other attractions. After purchasing one for each of us we set off. As it was we probably didn’t need them because we were able to walk everywhere and didn’t visit that many museums.

First on the list was Akershus fortress, a medieval castle built of stone and once an imposing prison. Close to the City centre it is just ten minutes walk past Oslo cathedral and Stortorvet flower market towards the water. On the way we stopped at the Armed forces museum, but only in the outside grounds to see the old cannons on display and the armored tank in the courtyard. Guarded by modern uniformed military personnel in dark blue uniforms, the fortress is an imposing sight. Originally built in 1290 the castle has a multitude of walkways and jaw dropping views across the Oslo fjord; you’ll need at least of couple of hours to see everything if you visit the museum as well. Entrance to the fortress is free but there is a small charge for the museum. Occupied by the Nazis during World War 2 and stormed by Sweden on several occasions, this imposing fortress was strategically important for Oslo at the entrance to the city from the fjord. Several Norwegian royalty have been buried in the mausoleum under the castle over the centuries, but today it just houses the military museum and part of the modern day armed forces who have offices in the eastern wing.

Walking down to Akers Brygge we took the waterside path along the harbour passing the Nobel peace centre and City hall. The pedestrian area around the famous building was flanked by yachts and tourist boats in the harbour. One captain of which, was selling both prawns and fish to tourists and locals alike straight from the aft end of his schooner. The dockside stroll in the sunshine gave us amazing views across the fjord to the fortress, and further out to the lighthouse at the entrance to the harbour. With the sun shining through the sails of the yachts bobbing on the water they looked like fairies dancing in strobe lights.

Strolling back between the apartments overlooking the sound we marveled at the odd statues strategically placed for the amusement of locals, and walked up to the Royal palace. I say unusual because one was of a man walking down the side of a building, and another was of a woman on stilts next to a weir, nothing really to do with the area, just fun pieces of art.

The Royal palace was closed due to renovation, plus the first family were out of town, so we had to amuse ourselves by enjoying the well kept grounds and taking photos of the kings troops on guard in the sentry boxes outside. A small but appealing citadel built in 1825 by then King Charles III, it has been the seat of the Kings and Queens of Norway for almost two centuries. From this central stronghold it was two minutes to head back up the Karl Johans gate main road and back to the city centre . That first night, due to our early starts that day and little sleep, plus already several kilometers of city walking, we turned in for the night right after a quick pizza and beer from the local kebab restaurant. For 150 Krone for both of us (about $25) it was a less expensive alternative than a full meal.

Day 2 was much of the same, walking and eating and drinking and taking photos, but this time we took a ferry to one of the nearby atolls called Hovedaya, the closest island to the mainland. The ferry circumnavigates this small rock crowded with residential houses in about 45 minutes. Our slow little passenger boat was like taking a shot of scotch sat by a warm fire at your grandma’s house. It wound its way around the island with three stops, people getting on and off with no effort, just pedestrians and bicycles, and the most relaxing thing we had done the whole trip. The sun’s rays beamed down on our faces while we watched the water churned by the motors off the back of the craft. As quickly as it had begun it was all over and we were back at the same dock where we had started our cruise to heaven almost an hour earlier. If you have the desire there are several boats and trips around the fjord, ask at the ticket office and information centre right at the entrance to Aker Brygge.

We decided to go local that evening and eat Norwegian food, but what was real Norwegian fayre? Reindeer, Moose, Lutefisk and Gjeltost cheese all washed down with Aquavit, the Scandinavian water of life? They had all of that at a highly recommended restaurant called Elias Mat and Saant (Elias food and drink) so off we headed into the centre of town to Kristian Augusts gate, just round the corner from the Munch museum which houses the national painting treasure of Norway called “The Scream”. Based on the suggestion to try the restaurant we hadn’t booked, but just showed up. Luckily it was early in the evening so we were seated in about 10 minutes. The bad news was it was right by the kitchen and toilets so plenty of traffic back and forth between courses. If you’re going we suggest you book first and ask for a table by the window and not the bar.

After a shot of aquavit we finally chose the Moose stew, their house specialty, not only because it was reasonably priced (150 Krone each, about $25), but, we were told, the portions were large. Unfortunately a medium sized bowl arrived full of meat, potatoes, carrots and other seasonal winter vegetables. Not big, but not small either. With the bread though it was filling, and utterly delicious.

The restaurant was only a segue to the main evening’s entertainment, as we had already pre-planned to head to a sports bar to watch the international football (Soccer). That evening the world cup qualifiers were playing, so after quizzing a few locals we went to a recommended watering hole/beer Keller called the Bohemian Bar. We weren’t disappointed. Packed with football (soccer) fans we quaffed several (expensive-$9 per pint) beers while watching England beat Montenegro by 4 goals to 1. We could have watched either Sweden or Norway on the other screens as well, but the best alternate pastime was guessing the names of the different global football teams from the flags and scarves pinned to the ceiling. Warm and inviting, the locals were friendly and jovial, asking both my son and I where we were from and which team did we support. It was a place where they showed regular English Premier league soccer on a weekly basis so the place was packed with fans from all over the city plus a bunch of British and Irish ex pats. The Bohemian bar was right off Karl Johans gate, as was most everything, so several hours later we wound our way back to our nearby hotel.

The last day took us on the metro to Frogner Park which incorporates Vigeland Park, named after the sculptor Gustav Vigeland who donated 200 statues to the city as long as they were put all together freely in one park for the city residents to see all at the same time. I like the Oslo Metro, they’re clean, efficient, cheap and run frequently. Like the Swiss the Norwegians are understandably proud of their local transport and they run on time. Ten minutes from the city centre we arrived at the entrance to the park, a wrought iron and granite gate leading into a park full of wondrous autumn colours. With the sun shining the tourists and locals alike were out in force. Well wrapped up on the cold day but enjoying the stroll on the maze of walks through the trees and past the clear lakes, children were laughing as they rolled in the piles of fallen leaves. After several hours of walking, exhausted, we rode that busy metro back to the railway station where my son had to take off back to school in Elverum. I stayed on that evening and enjoyed dinner just down the street from the hotel at a strangely named food bar called “illegal Burger”. Nothing illegal about it and probably the best burger you will have in Oslo, if not anywhere. A huge mound of meat in a toasted bun surrounded by fries and topped with any sauce and topping you desire. You wouldn’t get better in New York, LA or Chicago. I lived in the States for 30 years and maybe only once or twice had a burger this good. The burger is cheap at 90 Krone (about $15), but it will add up to $35 with the fries and a beer so make sure you aren’t on a budget when you go there. If you are then get just the burger to go and save the extra funds for cheaper beer somewhere else. Illegal burger is on Mollergata 23, the same street as a couple of nightclubs (and our hotel) so probably fills up after 10pm like most late night eateries, so get there early.

That was it, three days of fun in a city which, according to most Europeans, is supposed to be stoic and boring, but this visit really changed my mind. I’d definitely go back again, and probably will while my son is still at school there, but next time will take more money with me!

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