Last weekend I visited Oslo, the capital of Norway. I was there for less than 48 hours, but the trip was utterly relaxing. The crisp Spring air, the glistening sunlight and the wilderness of the forests and fjord – always nearby, whichever part of town you’re in – seemed to cast an air of calm over the biggest metropolis in this part of Scandinavia.
Oslo is a small city, with only 600k inhabitants. Although it has a good public transport infrastructure, it’s possible to cover a great of it on foot, even the places that are outside the central areas. Here are my recommendations for seven things to do if you have little time to spare and want to experience the best of Oslo’s treasures, but would still like to move at Oslo’s relaxed pace.
Walk on the roof of the Oslo Opera House
Oslo’s new Opera House, built in 2007, is only a few minutes away from the central station, on the edge of the Oslofjord. It’s designed to look as though it’s rising out of the water.
The home of the Norwegian National Opera and Ballet is eye-catching both inside and out. If you walk up its clean-cut lines to the roof, you can see across to the forest, the fortress castle, and look out onto the construction work that will bring other cultural hotspots to this central part of town. On a bright day you can even do a spot of sunbathing.
Stroll past Picasso’s The Fisherman
In the late 1950s and the early 1970s the Spanish artist Pablo Picasso designed five murals for the Regjeringskvartalet (‘Government quarter’) buildings in the centre of Oslo. The Fisherman was created in 1970. It sits on the end of a building damaged in the 2011 bomb attack by Anders Breivik, and there is talk of the mural being taken down and reconstructed elsewhere. So if you want to take in this commanding artwork while strolling through a quiet area of town, now is your opportunity.
Visit some celebrity graves
When I say ‘celebrity’, I mean the long-dead, artistic variety. Henrik Ibsen, Norway’s most celebrated playwright, and Edvard Munch, the painter genius behind ‘the Scream’, are both buried in the Var Frelsers cemetery, in the Gamle Aker district.
The cemetery is in a tranquil spot, and if you visit on a winter’s evening you’ll see the graves lit up by candles.
Walk down an olde-worlde street
In the area close to the Royal Palace, there are many historic streets that are worth exploring. They do tend to get crowded, though, especially in the summer.
An alternative is to explore the areas where most Oslo-dwellers live, before you hit the suburbs and the charming rusty-red wooden houses. These streets tend to be made up of utilitarian-looking blocks of flats, but there are still some olde-worlde treasures to be found, like Damstredet, a 19th-century cobbled street just a stone’s throw away from Var Frelser cemetery.
Have coffee at Supreme Roastworks
Norwegians take their coffee drinking very seriously. At Supreme Roastworks, a micro roastery on Thorvald Meyers gate, I was treated to a delectable latte, and my friend let me try a sip of his colombian roast, the day’s speciality which was made on the premises. I’d never tasted anything quite like it: a bitter, smooth coffee with strong undertones of honey. Yum. And our round of three gourmet drinks came to just over £10, which is hardly more expensive than regular London prices.
Visit the Munch Museum
The Munch Museum is set to relocate to a plot on the waterfront, which is currently being built next to the Oslo Opera House. The museum is home to over half of Munch’s artworks and if you hold an Oslo Pass, which allows you unlimited travel on the city’s public transport, entry is free. It’s located at Toyen, a subway stop five minutes from the centre, or twenty minutes away on foot. There’s plenty on offer to family visitors, including ‘BabyScream’, guided tours for those on parental leave (these are in Norwegian so perhaps aren’t suitable for overseas visitors, but I wanted to mention it as I love the idea of tours to help stave off baby-brain….)
Take a walk in the forest
Although it’s not a regular feature of a city break, I don’t think you can have the complete Oslo experience without a trip to the Nordmarka forest. It’s only twenty minutes away from the centre, accessible by public transport, with a train ride taking you through the picturesque Oslo suburbs to one of the stops with forest access: Frognerseteren and Sognsvann are popular places to start.
The forest trails are well-signposted, and there are always plenty of other people enjoying the forest, but as the trees extend for hundreds of kilometres it’s worth getting hold of a map from the Oslo Visitor Centre. The forest is full of sights and sounds: termite mounds, colossal funghi, Norwegians ranging in age from tiny babies in slings, to couples in their nineties; you might even catch a rare sight of a moose, if you walk quietly and peer in between the trees. You can stop for lunch or coffee and cake in one of the forest cabin cafes, or even stay the night in a cabin if you want the genuine Norwegian experience. I’ve posted more about our walk in the forest here.
Oslo seems to have the best of both worlds: it’s a modern city with plenty to keep culture enthusiasts happy. But it also has a glorious wilderness around it, which the city-dwellers take advantage of in all weathers. Have you visited the Norwegian capital? What did you like best?
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