After an unbelievable family vacation in the Norwegian fjords, I was anxious to get back to Norway. In particular, I wanted to visit Oslo, which our cruise journey did not pass through. Thankfully, we managed to book 2 last minute round trip tickets for a mere 30,000 Avios miles and a £70 fee via British Airways. As I've said many times before, the best part of living in London is getting out of London. There are so many amazing, world-class destinations a quick flight or train ride away. It's the perfect hub for easy weekend getaways.
If you're contemplating a visit, don't be scared off by Oslo's reputation as one of the most expensive cities in the world. If you're smart, you can easily have an amazing and fairly inexpensive time. There are tons of boutique "hostels" around the city. In reality, these are more like self-service hotels. You still get your own room that is cleaned every single day. We stayed at Citybox, which is a 5 minute walk from the train station. I would also recommend getting an Oslo Pass. I'm typically not a fan of city passes. They usually guide unknowing visitors to tourist traps. However, this one is extremely comprehensive. The pass offers free public transportation and admission to the city's best museums and attractions.
Below is our weekend itinerary in the Norwegian capital.
We arrived in Oslo late Friday evening, but you would never know it considering the bright and blue sky. The sun never fully sets in the summer this far north. After a quick 20 minute train ride into Oslo City Center via Flytoget, we dropped our stuff off at the hotel and walked over to the famous Oslo Opera House. Arguably the city's most famous architectural landmark, the opera house is built entirely of white granite to resemble a glacier jutting from the ocean. Visitors can freely scale its angular surface and climb to the roof. Don't let the sun fool you. The photos below were taken around 11:00 PM.
To kickstart the weekend, we went for a short morning run around the city. Our 3 mile path took us around the Royal Palace before stopping at Kaffebrenneriet for some morning coffee. There are dozens of locations of this popular coffee joint throughout the city. It's basically like Norway's version of Starbucks...but actually good.
After returning to the hotel for a quick shower, we made our way back out just in time for many of the city's top attractions to open for the day. Our first stop was Akershus Fortress. While not jawdroppingly impressive, the castle in the center of the complex provided a nice lesson in Norwegian history. We then continued further west to the Nobel Peace Center. This compact museum has some awesome interactive exhibits featuring current and past winners of the Noble Peace Prize - awarded every year in Oslo. We ended the morning in the revitalized Aker Brygge neighborhood. The highlight here is the Astrup Fearnley Museum at the southernmost tip of the docks. The building itself is pretty remarkable without overshadowing the awesome collection of modern art inside. Right outside the museum is a tiny beach where many families come to sunbathe and relax throughout the city.
Following a busy morning, we darted across town to the neighborhood of Grünerløkka (or what my friend, Anabelle, might call the "Williamsburg" of Oslo). This vibrant neighborhood is home to many of Oslo's best restaurants, cafes and boutiques. We stopped for lunch at Mathallen food hall right alongside Akerselva River. It's a great place to get your fill of both traditional Norwegian and international fare. We walked off our lunch by heading to Tim Wendelboe for an afternoon coffee. This famous coffee roaster whipped up the best coffee (both filter and iced latte) we had in Oslo.
After a bit of shopping in Grünerløkka, we visited the Munch Museum to see the Van Gogh + Munch exhibit. It was awesome seeing the works of these two great artists side by side and comparing how their styles progressed over time. We ended the busy day with dinner at Kolonihagen in Grünerløkka followed by late night, outdoor drinks at Sukkerbiten.
Our flight back to London wasn't until late in the evening, so we had all day to further explore the city. After a pretty packed Saturday, we slowed things down considerably on Sunday. We spent the morning island hopping around Oslofjord. There are a handful of small islands right off the shore of the city that are easily accessible by ferry. Most of them are no more than 15 minutes away. The ferry ride itself is pretty fun, offering some beautiful views of the fjord. We spent an hour or so exploring Hovedøya, the largest and what many consider the most beautiful island in Oslofjord. Many of the islands have tiny beaches and areas for visitors to set-up camp. Its a great way to get away from the "hustle" of the city, although hardly anything in Oslo qualifies as "hustle".
Once we returned to the city, we walked to the imposing Oslo City Hall. This giant red, bricked building stands out in a city of low-slung structures. While many may disagree, I think the city hall is one of the most beautiful buildings in Oslo, inside and out. From far away, there doesn't seem to be anything remarkable about the plain red exterior. However, when you get up close, you will notice the tiny intricate details and geometrical patterns that line the building. The interiors are even more remarkable with its soaring ceilings and wall to wall murals.
We then headed back to the Oslo Opera House to join a guided "behind the scenes" tour. It was cool getting a glimpse of how complex production gets for the dozens of operas and ballets they hold every year. After the tour, we had lunch in the opera house's outdoor restaurant.
To cap off our "architectural tour", the last stop for the day (and the trip) was the Vigeland Park and Museum. This sprawling park is home to hundreds of works by the famous Norwegian sculptor, Gustav Vigeland. If you have the time, pack a blanket and some food. The park is a great place to relax and people watch.