My boyfriend gave me a trip to Oslo when I turned 30. Closing in on 32 we finally found a weekend for our inter-Scandinavian getaway.
Oslo is connected to Copenhagen by boat and many Danes as well as Norwegians go on a so-called mini cruise with two nights at sea and eight hours in the foreign capital. We call it Oslobåden. In Norway they are equally original – naming it Danskerbåten.
While cruises have never been my thing the sailing on the Oslo fjord should be an absolutely brautiful journey.
But sailing too and from Oslo seemed a bit too much cruise fun for us and my boyfriend, who has visited Oslo before, really wanted to show me the city. And eight hours is not enough to really get to know Oslo.
So we decided to fly to Oslo with Norwegian on Friday afternoon and sailing from Oslo on Monday afternoon landing us at the Amerikakaj (America dock) in Copenhagen a quarter to 10 the next morning.
It was a perfect amount of time to discover the small yet pleasant capital of Norway.
We’d booked a hotel close to Stortinget and Karl Johan Gatan, which is the main thoroughfare of central Oslo.
Arriving at Centralstasjonen which lie at the one end of Karl Johan Gatan, I was somewhat surprised at the number of beggars. Mainly gypsies. The street was otherwise quiet with only a few shoppers and tourists in comparison to the central street in Copenhagen – Strøget, which is smack full of people during most days, particularly in summer time.
At the other end of Karl Johan Gatan lies the Royal Palace and if we’d only had eight hours they would have been spent with a walk up and down from Centralstasjonen to the palace. However, we were strolling along with our carry-ons looking out for our hotel. And managed to get lost – that is – have a pleasant walk down a few sidestreets before finding the one on which HTL Karl Johan lay.
After checking in at our hotel and finding our very small but very comfortable room we went out to enjoy the summernight in Oslo.
We made our way towards one of Oslo’s most magnificent buildings and a beautiful addition to the harbour front – The Oslo Operahouse. Coming from Copenhagen where a rich man has donated a monstrosity of an opera to the city, it was a pleasant surprise to marvel at the operahouse slash skiing slope in Oslo. And as everyone else we decided to take a walk up the roof to the very top and to gaze out over Oslo centre and the connecting harbour and fjord. The sun was stil hanging in the sky giving a wonderful light in the late evening.
We promenaded from the opera bypassing Akershus Castle but finding a small green terrace with a few benches which offered a marvellous view of the busy harbour and cityhall as well as the modern Aker Brygge.
So this was where all the people hung out. Particularly the dockside of Aker Brygge was full of people enjoying the warm summer night.
Not to be outdone by everyone else we decided to promenade the length of the dock.
The buildings are as many modern glass and brick buildings not very pretty but the way they stood side by side creating a vista of change was very pleasant. Moreover there are several beautifiul and interesting buildings on the dock. One of them was Restaurant Onda on Tingvalla Pier, which I found extremely beautiful.
Further down, the path led trough the Astrup Fearnley Museum of Modern Art with its beautifully curved angles.
The dock ended in a harbour swim with a magnificent view of Oslo fjord. I have rarely had the feeling of standing at the edge of the world. But standing there with Oslo behind me and the large expansive sea surrounded by far away shores made me feel as if I had reached the very edge. That should I sail out of the fjord I would fall from the earth.
I wonder if ever in times past others have felt as well gazing out onto the sea from Oslo. Off course my thoughts were nonsense. The fjord itself would take hours to sail and the open sea would be very limited and land you on the northern tip of the Danish coast rather than into nothingness. But for several days I would engage the feeling of being at the very edge of the world in a land of great explorations into the unknown.
We ended our night stroll attempting to find a place to get a drink, but I must admit that while the average prices are only slightly higher than at home, the price for alcohol is frighteningly extreme. Thus, I was not too enthusiastic about getting a pint somewhere, and with no luck on our walk back we decided instead to call it a night.
Sightseeing in Oslo
We’d booked breakfast at the hotel. For an extra 75 NOK a day we figured it was likely our cheapest option. It also proved out to be an extreme tasty one and with a possibility of loading up on free café latte before stepping onto the streets of Oslo – and Latte is not cheap in Oslo.
My boyfriend had planned for quite the walk on our first full day in Oslo. As always we’d incidently planned it so that we would do the great sightseeing tour on the first day.
We began the day by taking a bus out to the romantic St. Hanshaugen Park, strolling up to the beautiful building Tårnhuset and looking out over the city of Oslo. We walked down through pleasant streets to Gamle Aker kirke (Old Aker Church) which is the eldest church and even building in Oslo reaching back to the 11th century. The church was named the first time in the 1180 Law of the Borgarting as one of six public churches.
It is a charming church with a beautiful old graveyard surrounding it and once again with great views of the surrounding areas. After a refreshing break under the shade of the trees we continued through Vår Frelsers gravlund, where many of Norway’s most central historical figures are buried. In our attempt to find Henrik Ibsen we got severely lost and though we found many other famous graves and were equipped with a map, we never managed to find his.
From there we made our descend downhill walking through the picturesque Damstredet, with old houses and cobble stones. Crossing Akerselva we found ourselves in the hipster neighbourhood in Oslo, Grünerløkka where we enjoyed a fancy burger at one of the countless hip cafés. It seemed the perfect day to sit outside one of the countless fancy burger houses lining the main street.
We wanted to make our way to the Grønland neighbourhood by way of the University’s Botanical Garden, but we were incapable of finding our way out the other end and with a few drops of rain promising a heavier rainfall to follow, we decided to check out the Edvard Munch Museum.
I was not overly pleased with the museum and don’t really understand the hype. The fact that his most well-known piece is on exhibition at the National Museum of Oslo indicates the low priority of this museum.
We ended our sightseeing tour by taking the subway to the National Museum, which though being small in comparison to other museums of the same kind, was nonetheless a pleasant experience.
We not only got to see the infamous The Scream as well as a very interesting temporary exhibition Japanomania in the North 1875–1918, which showed the Japanese influence in Norwegian, Danish and Swedish paintings.
After a final walk around the area of the National Museum we found our way to the excellent Elias Mat & Sant to get a taste of the Norwegian kitchen and try out their reindeer dish.
Nordmarka and Bygdøy
On our second day in Oslo my boyfriend had decided that we should get out and enjoy nature while I was dead set on seeing Bygdøy and its many museums.
We began by heading off towards Nordmarka – a name that brings associations to Rohan in Lord of the Rings, but simply means North forest. Our trip went by train northwards (funny enough) and into the surrounding hills. We got off at … as a light trickle of rain began. Worried that we’d get caught in the rain in the middle of nowhere and with my feet hurting, we were close to turning back, but as so many times before the wish to explore won out.
And thank goodness for that since the rain soon stopped and I forgot all about my hurt foot because of the peaceful quietness of the forest. What is so amazing about Nordmarka unlike a Danish forest is that the roots lie bare on the forest floor which is mainly rocks.
The trails were well marked and after a few hours we managed to return to civilisation. It was a very pleasant and close by break from city life and perhaps the true explanation to why Oslo is so dead even in the weekends. While Copenhagen and Stockholm, which I have yet to visit, are grand cultural cities, the Norwegians always prioritised their amazing nature and recreational possibilities. Thus, while Oslo is small sized and can seem dead, the Norwegian mountainside and recreational areas are full of Norwegians skiing, hiking and enjoying that one thing which makes Norway absolutely unique – the Norwegian nature.
In a whirlwind we passed through the city in order to reach the bus from the harbour taking us out to Bygdøy. Here we began at the Viking Ship Museum gazing at the beautifully crafted ships. So detailed and yet so light, the ships were well positioned in the beautiful halls of the museum which was built back in 1926. But it is a small museum with little to explore beyond the ships themselves.
Fortunately there are plans to expand the museum. In fact it is not many months ago that it was announced that Danish architectural firm AART Architects won the competition to build an extension to the current museum. A project which will commence in 2020 and seems extremely promising.
Next up we visited Norsk Folkemuseum (the Norwegian Museum of Cultural History) taking a pleasurable walk through the open air parts of the museum. Here we looked into some of the more than 150 buildings, which have been relocated from towns and rural districts all over Norway.
The main attraction here is without a doubt the Gol Stave Church which is originally from Gol in Hallingdal, Norway where it was built after 1216 though some parts reach back as far as 1157. I’d honestly imagined it to be bigger than it was, and in some way it reminded me of a child’s play house. But it is impossible to deny that it is a marvellous piece of cultural history. We ended up sitting in the clearing gazing at the beautiful structure for nearly an hour before turning our attention to the rest of the houses all representing different time periods and regions of Norway.
After our visit we walked towards the boat through a lovely and very wealthy neighbourhood on Bygdøy where all the villas were white giving it a romantic feel.
Vigeland, Akershus and Oslobåden
There is one tourist attraction which stands out in Oslo and which has people coming from all over – the Vigeland Sculpture Park.
The Vigeland Sculpture Park
On the day we were leaving, we started out at this massive and in many ways weird place with hundreds of statues of naked men, women and children. It is an odd place and I am sure that artistic minds can draw loads of philosophical ideas from whatever the sculptor Gustav Vigeland might have thought when constructing it between the 1920s and his death in 1943. But to me it seemed an overabundance of human sculptures in all kinds of poses from gymnastics to sports to what I can only assume would be not very comfortable positions to take.
One million people visit the sculpture park every year, and I can’t help wonder what draws them. Yes, the sculptures are fascinating, but I found the park itself far more pleasing.
We ended up walking all the way from the park and through the well-off neighbourhoods Majorstuen and Uranienborg to the Royal Palace before getting our luggage from the hotel.
But don’t worry. The ship was not leaving until 4 pm and along with our carry-ons we made our way from the hotel and up to Akershus castle, where I was having a war with crossing the many cobblestoned streets.
The castle and fortress was constructed around 1300 in order to protect Oslo from attacks, which it did successfully for centuries. Particularly the Swedes have been unfortunate in their attempt to besiege the castle, though the Danes have also had their attempts.
Today it is used when foreign dignitaries visit the government and royal family as well as a burial site for the latter. It is a very beautiful building and I was extremely saddened to see how a massive cruise ship lay anchored in front and on level with Akersnæs the hills on which Akershus stands. It completely obscured the view to and from Akershus and most of the otherwise magnificent Oslo harbour front.
Newlyweds and nearly deads
Personally, I hate cruise ships. They destroy the environment and anchor in places which are not at all geared to them. We used to say in the airport in Copenhagen that they were meant for the newlyweds and the nearly deads because of the large amount of retired people and honeymooners choosing this form of holidaying. I hope that Oslo will find a way to accommodate these massive and in my opinion ugly boats further away from the centre.
And yes I might be a hypocrite since I was on my way towards Oslobåden, which by definition is a mini cruise. But this is a well maintained route which has existed as a link between Oslo and Copenhagen since 1866 and anchors away from the historical centres of both cities. This is not to mention that it is a minion compared to the new mastodons sailing around Scandinavia and the Baltic Sea.
What Oslobåden does best is offering an amazing journey through Oslofjord, which we enjoyed to the full as we stood at the back of the ship leaving behind the Norwegian capital and tipping over the edge of the world.
This good-bye to Norway is followed by a beautiful morning hello to the Danish and Southern Swedish coasts as the ship makes it way into the Øresund strait which is the main highway to the Baltic Sea. Watching the Danish coasts as Kronborg comes into view makes that tiny voice inside yourself feel a bit pleased to call these coasts home.
It felt so good to return after such an amazing weekend in sunny Oslo.