Norway’s capital, Oslo, is a city with understated appeal. Organised, clean and winter-quiet on first impression, Oslo’s small city centre offers a relaxed atmosphere and a humble blend of historic, retro and ultra modern buildings.
Admittedly, before being invited to my friend’s wedding just outside of the city, I had not considered Oslo as one of my top holiday destinations. I had heard of Norway’s fjords, natural beauty, and of course, the northern lights, but I knew very little about its capital before I flipped open my guide book on the plane over.
I discovered a city that has got itself together. With widespread construction upgrading the inner districts, efficient tram services, a well coordinated tourism authority, mostly bi/multi-lingual locals, lots of cosy cafes and a rich selection of cultural attractions, Oslo was a pleasure to explore.
With about seven days to see Oslo (between side trips), a group of friends and some very helpful local knowledge, I found my time there was spent in equal parts sightseeing and socialising. Although a pretty pricey place, with most museums asking entry fees, coffees costing around AUD$5-8 per cup and basic accommodation ranging between AUD$50-$150 per person per night, I enjoyed Oslo and am glad for the chance to visit.
6 Fun things to do in Oslo during winter
- National Museum – This beautiful building in the heart of Oslo is home to an impressive collection of modern and contemporary art works, including the The Scream by Edvard Munch, which was cheekily stolen before being reinstated years later. I was surprised by the big names hanging bare and free on the busy walls. Pieces are arranged by period and artist for a pretty thorough snapshot of the art in time. Although a small gallery by global city standards, this is a great way to escape the darker, colder afternoons and take in a bit of culture. Entry is 50NOK.
- Oslo Opera House – Sleek and grey, reflecting the fjord, this unique structure is worth a squiz, even if you’re not planning to take in a show. You can walk onto the roof of the building for a great view of Oslo harbour and go inside for a warm contrast to the cold exterior.
- The Palace – A sometimes-house for the King and Queen of Norway, the palace is a must-see attraction in Oslo. Although not the most impressive of royal residences, (especially at the moment, with upgrades underway) the walk from the city centre (OsloS) to the palace and through the palace garden is a great way to orientate yourself and get a glimpse at Oslo’s inner district. You can watch the guards change at noon, or just observe their resilience as they stand like stones in the cold. Apparently, if royalty is in, the flag is up.
- Vigeland Park in Frognerparken – This extraordinary outdoor space hosts a stunning collection of human-form sculptures within a well groomed parkland. It’s free, unlike anything I’ve ever seen before and, in my book, well worth the tram ride.
- Kaffeflugen (The Bird)– This delightfully retro cafe makes really good coffee. It is also cozy, warm, packed with interesting people and in close proximity to Oslo’s central attractions. Offering specialty blends and serving as a bar by night, I am listing this as the no.1 cafe in Oslo to check out.
- Ice skating in the city – Although not comparable to the larger outdoor ice rinks in other world capitals, this little patch of ice near the National Theatre is a great source of entertainment. Whether you wish to hire a pair of skates from the nearby stand or just watch the first dates and cocky teens spin around the rink, I recommend a visit. Grab a coffee and warm bun from the bakery across the road to make it a real event.
Other tips for Oslo, Norway:
- For a really good source of local info, check out the local tourism site, www.visitoslo.com
- Trams are the easiest way to get from the suburbs and the city, with one ride costing about AU$5 using a trik card bought and topped up at OsloS or at any Narvesen or 7 Eleven store. Keep in mind though that the centre of Oslo is pretty compact and can be walked easily (with a few stops in cafes along the way to keep warm).
- If you’re on a tight budget (and most are when they visit Oslo) avoid eating out and instead, explore the supermarket delights. Local foods to try include: ‘brown cheese’ on toast with jam for breakfast, Smash (corn chip cones covered in chocolate – salty, sweet confusion), and fermented fish, such as salmon, wrapped in potato bread.
- There are also new fancy ski jumps and tobogganing on the mountain near Oslo (you’ll see them lit up at night from the city). I didn’t try it myself but am told by friends that it’s worth a go.