You may expect the capital of Norway to have lots of old buildings and narrow streets, but Oslo is not like that anymore. It’s a contemporary city with modern architecture and very convenient public transportation.
We arrived to Oslo after “Norway in a nutshell” tour late in the evening and thick fog outside wasn’t very helpful. Fortunately, the hotel we stayed at, CityBox Oslo, is just few blocks away from Oslo Central Station and they have self check-in/check-out terminals working 24/7. Rather typical for a city that is as advanced as Oslo. Just before going to bed I purchased Oslo Pass cards using their mobile application for the next day as it was the last day in 2016 when the museums were opened.
TIP: Oslo Pass is similar to Bergen Card but it actually saves you a lot. With a price of kr395 (€45) it gives you full access to all Oslo museums, free public transport use (including ferries and boats) and other discounts for local activities.
Five national museums are located in Bygdøy (a peninsula near city centre). Visiting just them is pretty much enough for anyone’s museum appetite and they altogether perfectly fit into winter working hours (10:00-15:00). They are the following:
- Viking Ship Museum. A home to three viking burial ships found in 19th century. The exhibition includes also all the goods found around the ships that were meant to support wealthy shipowners on their way to Valhalla.
- Norwegian Museum of Cultural History. The museum building itself has a few expositions but the most of the museum is located outside where you have an opportunity to walk around Norwegian settlements and farms built during previous millennium. Another stave church, Gol stavkyrkje, is also a part of exposition.
- Norwegian Maritime Museum. Museum’s expositions tell about seafaring culture and traditions since the very beginning until our days.
- Fram Museum. Site of the ship Fram used by Roald Amundsen for his expeditions to far North and far South.
- Kon-Tiki Museum. Museum dedicated to the adventures of famous Norwegian ethnographer Thor Heyerdahl who showed that people from ancient Egypt could reach North America.
While the most of the day is spent in the museums, there is a few other “exhibits” that needed to be “studied”. I’m talking about Norwegian beer and Oslo microbreweries. Norwegian beer has very long history going back at least 1000 years. Until early 20th century there was a law forcing every farmer to brew special Christmas beer – juleøl – and those who didn’t comply with it had to pay fines. After 3 years of not complying with a law a farmer could lose his farming license. Because of that, no farm was complete without a brewhouse back in the days. A century ago home brewing was outlawed and long tradition has converted into modern concept of microbreweries. Oslo is home to many of them, including the oldest Scandinavian microbrewery Oslo Mikrobryggeri AS. Notable microbreweries list also includes Schouskjelleren Mikrobryggeri and Amundsen Bryggeri & Spiseri. A decent pint can also be found in Crowbar & Bryggeri pouring good beer from Crow Brewery.
TIP: Norwegian laws are very strict when it comes to alcohol consumption. Supermarkets are allowed to sell alcohol no stronger than 4.75% and Norwegian breweries intentionally brew most of their beer with only 4.7% of alcohol. If you want to buy something stronger, you have to visit government-owned store Vinmonopolet (Wine Monopoly). Vinmonopolet working hours are not very convenient – it closes at 6 PM Monday to Friday, 3 PM on Saturday and is completely shut on Sunday. That’s why we had to do our usual New Year Prosecco shopping one day before the end of the year. I’m sure locals are used to these rules, but it feels quite frustrating for tourists.
We’ve spent two remaining days wandering around the city. As in many big cities, you can see a lot of things by just covering kilometres around the city centre. And not only in a daylight, but also in the night. You can climb on top of Oslo Opera House and have a look on illuminated Oslofjord or pop in Oslo Cathedral which is opened overnight. When the sun is high, there’s many other options. Walking around Akershus Fortress or Aker Brygge pier, watching on how the Royal Guards change in front of The Royal Palace or ice-skating. Options are available for everyone.
TIP: We were already tired of water, but we decided to take one last boat trip around Oslofjord. It is operated by Ruter, Oslo public transport company, so you can use regular single or daily tickets. Single ticket costs kr24 (€3) and you can break your trip on one of the islands, have a walk in a park and continue to the city. Norwegians don’t usually check the tickets in transport and opportunity to have a free trip is very tempting, but when they do it’s practically impossible to avoid a huge fine and lose the mood for the whole day.
On the New Year’s Eve people in Oslo (both tourists and locals) get together around Aker Brygge and watch the fireworks, drink champagne (however illegal it is) and wish all the best in the New Year to each other. Unfortunately, just an hour before midnight a very thick fog visited the city so we could only see the colours of the fireworks around. Disregarding this fact, we celebrated the beginning of 2017 and after a few more walks around the city we said goodbye to Norway and promised to come back soon.
How to get there?
Oslo international airport is located within 30 minutes from the city centre by train. It has flights to and from any major European and North American city with numerous low-cost options available. Oslo has railway connection with all major cities of southern Norway.
Where to stay?
We went for a cheaper option costing just around €80 per night at CityBox Oslo. It is probably the cheapest option if you don’t want to stay in the hostel.
What to eat?
Oslo has various eating options for anyone including Italian, American and traditional Norwegian restaurants. You may try just wandering around city centre and choosing your favourite option. Craft beer lovers may get excited by the number of micro breweries within the city.
What to do?
Oslo offers classic city tourism with several interesting museums located within 5 minutes walking from each other. You can hop on the boat near the old castle and travel to one of the islands in Oslo fjord for a relaxed walk. Oslo may also be interesting for shopping lovers.
How to get around?
Oslo is much larger than Bergen and, although you can walk to anywhere, public transport may be more handy. The prices are obviously high, but Oslo Pass are entitled to free transportation within central zones including boat trips.