Oslo: A city review

Oslo is the somewhat overlooked capital city of Norway. Nestled at the top of the Oslofjord and surrounded by lush forest, it’s a wonder more people haven’t tapped into a spectacular natural beauty of the area, or more importantly, the fact that it appears to be the most chilled out capital in the world. I certainly didn’t expect to arrive in a European capital in August to find such a sedate, quiet atmosphere. Not that this is any bad thing. ‘Quiet’ needn’t necessarily mean ‘boring’; in fact, Oslo is far from it.

We stayed at P-Hotels Oslo, which is in a pretty central location, and only a 5 minute walk from Oslo Cathedral. Not much to complain about regarding the hotel really; perhaps the only drawback is the breakfast bags. Every morning at 6.30, you receive a bag containing sandwiches, a piece of fruit and a carton of juice. I received a pear every single morning. Pears are pretty much the only fruit I don’t eat. Boo.

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Fountains in downtown Oslo

We spent the first afternoon roaming around Oslo, trying to get our bearings and generally exploring the area. Downtown Oslo is very attractive, with lots of fountains, sculptures and flowers. The two most striking buildings are Stortinget, Oslo’s Parliament building, and the National Theatre. These can be found either side of the fountains pictured above.

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Stortinget, Oslo’s Parliament building
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The National Theatre in Oslo

The harbour front is a particularly pleasant part of Oslo, with wooden ships flanking the prongs of the piers, and a couple more impressive fountains. There are lots of pansies, petunias and snapdragons in the flowerbeds, making for some colourful, cheery displays.

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Wooden ships at Oslo’s harbour

We started the second day with a mini-cruise, included in the price of our 72-hour Oslo Pass. The Oslo Pass will be invaluable if you plan to use public transport or visit the museums, as it allows you free use of buses, trains, trams and ferries up to zone 2, and free (or discounted) entry to the majority of museums, so it’ll save you a small fortune in what has been deemed the most expensive city in the world in 2010. The boat trip, which takes a hop-on hop-off format, takes you around the top of the Oslofjord between the City Hall (Rådhuset), the Opera House and Bygdøy, a peninsula housing six of Oslo’s big museums.

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A small island on the Oslofjord seen from boat

The boat trip was a real highlight of the trip. Photos really don’t do the view justice; sweeping swathes of rippling sea surrounded the boat, with tiny tree-laden islands in the distance. We were very fortunate with the weather too, which reached around 24 degrees.

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A boat in the Kon-Tiki Museum

The Bygdøy museums didn’t disappoint. We didn’t have time to see all six (the Oslo Pass allows you free entry to all the Bygdøy museums), but we managed four:

  • Fram Museum, dedicated to the Fram ship on its polar voyages
  • Kon-Tiki Museum, about raft- and reed boat-based explorations (make sure to watch some of the Kon-Tiki video playing downstairs near the underwater exhibition)
  • Viking Ship Museum, displaying three Viking ships and various items recovered from others
  • Norsk Folkemuseet, a ‘working’ museum showing Norway as it used to be, including a stave church, herb garden and indoor exhibitions
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One of the gardens at the Norsk Folkemuseet

The next day was spent mostly in Drøbak, a small town further down the Oslofjord. The bus journey was glorious, as we meandered through thick forest and golden fields, overlooking the fjord, and the hour roared by. Traditional Norwegian houses can be seen throughout the journey, and to be honest, I was tempted to bring my suitcase and beg one of the locals to let me move in. Probably the most famous thing in Drøbak is the Julehus, i.e. the Christmas House. Here, your festive cards and postcards can receive a Christmas stamp in the post office, and you can buy all number of traditional Norwegian Christmas decorations.

Inside Julehus in Norway’s Drøbak

My favourite thing about Drøbak was undoubtedly the harbour, with its bright array of colourful boats and yachts. I was incredibly envious of all the lucky people in their speedboats whizzing across the fjord.

Drøbak Harbour

In the evening we went roaming around Oslo’s huge stretch of harbour front, with its ample ice cream stands and restaurants. There were some really cool-looking bars sticking out onto the water, but we’re not millionaires, so we didn’t dare check out the drink prices. As a warning: a normal pint can be up to £10, so don’t go to Oslo unless you have some serious money under your belt, if you’re planning on drinking.

The next day, we ventured slightly further north, to visit the Munch Museum, displaying the works of Edvard Munch, including The Scream, and the nearby Botanical Gardens and Natural History Museum. I personally find Munch a little hit-and-miss, but there were certainly some interesting works to be looking at. I’d recommend visiting the film room, to catch one of the short videos about Munch’s life. The Botanical Gardens were very pretty, with labelled trees and flowerbeds, and we had lunch at a café in the centre, serving up relatively reasonably priced food; at least compared to the extortionate Munch Museum café.

The Zoology and Geology Museums in the Botanical Garden

The Zoology Museum, as part of the University of Oslo’s Natural History Museum, was well worth a visit, with well-put-together displays of animals. The Geology Museum is a little less impressive, as most exhibitions are in Norwegian only, making it tricky for the majority of visitors to understand what’s going on, but if fossils and skulls are your sort of thing, you’ll love this, with its huge scale replicas of dinosaurs and precious gems.

On the last evening, we ventured down to the Oslo Cathedral, in the first drops of rain of the trip. It’s not a particularly astonishing building from the outside, but the inside is typically Scandinavian – opulent without being ostentatious, and decorated without being extravagant.

Oslo Cathedral
Candles in Oslo Cathedral

So, there you have it! My top recommendations for Oslo would be to get the Oslo Pass to allow you to take advantage of the free mini-cruise, to visit the Munch Museum (whether you like Munch or not, his work is enough to provoke debate, which is the most important thing), and to make the effort to visit Drøbak, where you’ll inevitably fall in love with the tiny wooden houses and neat rose gardens.

Do you have any suggestions for a trip to Oslo?

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4 Comments Add yours

  1. Paul Cahill says:

    Looks like a fantastic trip. I have yet to make it to Norway but it seems like a nice change of pace.

    1. It was great! It’s amazing how different Norway’s capital is to England’s… and only two hours away!

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