I am reading Jo Nesbø’s crime novel “The Snowman” as the bus pulls out of Rygge Airport. I wonder what secrets lie behind the deep dark Norwegian woods we’re passing …
It’s something I will have to discover some other time; the next few days I will spend the weekend in Oslo, the result of a dirt-cheap ticket and a curious attitude.
Today is bank holiday in Norway, the weather is balmy and crowds occupy Oslo’s terraces and beer gardens to soak up the first rays of sun this year. At the Royal Palace, preparations are underway for the Norwegian’s Constitution Day a few days later, on the 17th of May.
I’m looking forward to the next few days, keen to explore the best things to do in Oslo!
The best things to do in Oslo
1. Enjoy the atmosphere at Aker Brygge
On a sunny day like today, locals and tourists alike head for Aker Brygge, a former shipyard in the inner harbour that is nowadays home to a lovely waterfront promenade filled with bars and restaurants. It’s a nice stroll along the water with views over the fjord, the Rådhus and the Akershus fortress.
On either side of Aker Brygge you will find some very prominent buildings: the Nobel Peace Centre and the Town Hall (Rådhus) as you enter the area and the The Astrup Fearnley Museum of Modern Art at the end of Aker Brygge. Have some fresh seafood and enjoy the atmosphere!
2. Stroll around Akershus fortress
Right across from Aker Brygge, overlooking the fjord, lies Akershus fortress, a great place to learn about Oslo’s history! The medieval castle used to double up as a royal residence and later on as a military base. Nowadays the site is open for visitors and home to the office of Norway’s prime minister. It’s a great place to wander around plus the views across the harbour are superb!
3. Discover Oslo’s maritime history
Standing on the ramparts of Akershus fortress, the fjord invites you to discover one of the many surrounding islands. It’s merely a 15 minute ferry ride to the Bygdøy peninsula or “museum island” as it is also called. Between the Viking Ship Museum, the Maritime Museum and the Kon Tiki Museum, there’s no shortage of museums to immerse yourself into Norway’s maritime history! I opt for the Fram-museum, which gives an overview on how Norwegian adventurers managed to sail the treacherous waters of the North and South Poles. An absolute must, seriously one of the best museums I’ve ever been to!
4. Take a walk along the Akerselva
Back to the city and feeling more adventurous than ever, I head for the Akerselva river. It used to be sawmills and factories that lined both banks, but nowadays the river banks have developed into a paradise for dog walkers and nature lovers. There’s even a few bars to quench your thirst! Several waterfalls gush down beside the path and, if that’s not enough to convince you to go for a stroll, a wooden red-painted house is home to a café that serves the best fresh waffles of Oslo! The buzzing city centre is only a few hundred meters away, but the “Hønse Lovisas Hos” is an oasis of peace and quiet!
5. Lie down on the Opera House
Time for a rest! And what better place to lie down than on the roof of the opera house, right? Yes, you read that correctly! In Oslo one of the best places to have a rest, take in the views and get a tan is on the rooftop of the Opera House! The sparkling white building slopes down to the water and is is modelled on an iceberg/glacier sliding into the sea. A magnificent example of modern architectural design!
Inside you can do tours of the theatre and backstage area.
6. Hang out with the hipsters at Grünerløkka
I was told not to miss Grünerløkka, Oslo’s very own “hipster” district! Strolling around on a Friday night, the main thoroughfare is packed with bars and restaurants spilling out onto the pavement! It’s a nice enough area to have a few drinks in, but for some reason it doesn’t really grab me…
7. Discover the multi-cultural side of Oslo in Grønland
I am more charmed by the multi-cultural district of Grønland where between kebab-shops, samosa vendors and chadors, I discover a few really nice bars! Take “Oslo Mekaniske Verksted” for example, which is an old metalworker’s studio converted into a cosy bar, ideal for relaxing and deep conversations.
Grønland has received a fair share of negative publicity in the last few years. Some people find the area unsafe or seedy. There might be a few seedy characters hanging around the Radisson hotel late at night, but that shouldn’t stop you from visiting. With the mix of foreign shops and local bars, I find Grønland one of the most interesting areas to stroll around in!
8. Visit the houses of power : The Royal Palace and the Parliament buildings
Connected by one of the nicest avenues in Oslo, leafy Karl Johansgate, are the Royal Palace and Stortinget, aka the Norwegian Parliament. The first one is a beautiful example of Neo-classical architecture, built in the first half of the 19th century. It is still the official residence of the current Norwegian monarch. The grassy areas in front of the Royal Palace make for an excellent picnic spot!
Guided tours are available only in summer.
Stortinget is the seat of the Norwegian parliament and also dates back to the 19th century. It’s an impressive and imposing building, flanked by 2 stone lions, that are said to have been carved by a convicted prisoner of the Akershurs fortress. As a “thank you”, he got released from prison!
Along the Karl Johansgate, you’ll come across the National Theatre, the University and a pond that is turned into an open-air ice skating rink in winter.
9. Soak up the sun
Summer doesn’t last long in Oslo, so as soon as the sun shares its first rays of heat, the people of Oslo head for the outdoors! Terraces fill up and bars spill out onto the pavement. You’ll come across many squares in Oslo, but I have a soft spot for the beer garden of Stortorvets Gjaestgiveri , one of Oslo’s oldest restaurants!
10. Forage for food at Mathallen
Every major city seems to be into food markets nowadays and Oslo is no exception. Mathallen is an indoor food hall that offers a selection of Norwegian and international food, to be sampled in the central court inside or outside on the terrace. From fish soup to gourmet coffees, from cheeses to Asian cuisine, Mathallen is a great place to pause for a while, sharing a lunch spot with locals and visitors alike.
On my last day, I finally feel ready to tackle Oslo’s number one tourist attraction: Vigelandsparken. Situated within Frogner Park, over 200 sculptures made of bronze, granite and wrought iron attract over a million visitors every year! It’s easy to see why: Vigeland obviously had a real talent for capturing human emotions and expressions!
It’s a vast area, so take your time to stroll around and admire the details. Needless to say that this park is on the itinerary of every tour group, so go early or late in the afternoon to enjoy the peace!
In café Laundromat, I finish “The Snowman”. The book was just as captivating as my long weekend in Oslo itself…
Have you ever been surprised by a city that you didn’t have high expectations of? Where was it? Looking forward to reading it in the comments!