I’ve decided to make international birthdays “a thing”.
How on earth my thirtieth in Hamburg was an entire year ago, I have no idea but somehow September rolled around again and I decided to head off to Oslo, Norway.
Oslo is an expensive city. I’m sure you already knew that but I’m talking £4 for a small coffee expensive. Thankfully, I stayed with a friend and we ate in a lot so in terms of long weekends away, it didn’t hit to bank account too hard.
I wasn’t particularly lucky with the weather but it was mostly overcast rather than rainy, so wasn’t much of an issue except in terms of flat photographs. Sorry about those.
Anyway, here are my highlights from my weekend away and my recommendations of what to see and do:
Akerselva Torchlight River Walk
It was pure happenstance that I was in Oslo for the night of the annual Akerselva Torchlight River Walk, which is held to mark the autumnal equinox. Organised by local authorities, cultural institutions and volunteers, the event sees thousands of candles light up the banks of the river from north to south, guiding your journey through art installations, light sculptures and musical performances.
Around 40 000 people attend the three-hour event each year, so you really are swept along with constant heaving crowds. The excited atmosphere and crowd interest was almost as entertaining as the event itself.
Oslo Opera House
Home of the Norwegian National Opera & Ballet, and Norway’s national theatre, the Oslo Opera House is a pretty amazing building.
Situated on the waterfront in central Oslo’s Bjørvika, the angled white marble exterior is reminiscent of a floating iceberg. The floor to ceiling windows not only allow visitors a unique view to the interior studios and workshops but they catch the light and the reflections add to the art of the building.
It really is an imposing but beautiful structure. The best part is that you can walk right up onto the roof of the building for stunning views over the city and the Oslofjord.
Probably one of the most famous of Oslo’s attractions, The Vigeland Park is the largest sculpture park in the world made by a single artist; it features more than 200 bronze, granite and cast iron sculptures by Gustav Vigeland.
Vigeland’s theme was “The circle of life”. His figures are all naked as he wanted them to be timeless, rather than age with fashion – genius. This does make some of the sculptures appear somewhat confronting but for the most part they are entertaining or thought-provoking.
Vigeland designed the entire layout and architecture of the park so it’s definitely worth exploring more than just the famous bridge and central sculptures. I wandered around for hours and still feel like there was plenty more to be seen.
I headed in around 10am, which I highly recommend as the park gets busier and busier as the coach tours start to unload.
Båtservice Fjord Sightseeing
It may not be the epic fjords of Norway’s west coast but the Oslofjord is still beautiful in its own right.
The best way to see the fjord is by boat – we took a two-hour guided cruise with Båtservice Fjord Sightseeing.
It rained the whole time but that lent itself to eerie and atmospheric landscapes. The boat was covered, so we didn’t get too wet!
The boat was on the smaller side so we managed to get quite close to shore to gawk at the locals’ summer houses in secluded bays or on small islands.
I am officially in love with Scandi design and architecture.
Aker Brygge (New Harbour) and Tjuvholmen
The Aker Brygge area was formerly a shipyard but has been completely overhauled and turned into an a modern, upmarket area with trendy bars and restaurants, several shopping centres, office buildings and apartments.
The open-air areas are often host to exhibitions and pop-up art and culture displays and events.
Jutting out from Aker Brygge into the Oslofjord is Tjuvholmen, one of the newest boroughs in Oslo. The area buzzes with restaurants, expensive housing and new office buildings, and is home to the Astrup Fearnley Museum.
I had the best veggie burger of my life at Døgnvill, along the Tjuvholmen waterfront!
The Royal Palace
The Norwegians are a pretty relaxed bunch. Not only are there no massive gates surrounding their Royal Palace but you can actually walk right up to the building and through the palace gardens!
Situated at the top of Oslo’s main drag Karl Johans Gate, the building was completed in 1849 and is now the official residence of HM King Harald V and HM Queen Sonja.
I didn’t see any royals but I did have a lovely walk through their gardens, which are full of rose beds, ponds and statues. There’s even a really cute little library hut and a bunch of “bug hotels”.
Bygdøy (Museum Island)
A visit to Oslo is not complete without a trip to the city’s “Museum Island” – Bygdøy. Not technically an island, the Bygdøy peninsula is to the west of the city centre. It’s easily accessible by both bus and boat.
The area is home to many of the city’s most popular museums including Fram Museum, Norwegian Maritime Museum, Norwegian Folk Museum, The Kon-Tiki Museum, The Viking Ship Museum, and The Holocaust Center.
I narrowed my selection down to three – Maritime, Fram and Kon-Tiki. I visited first thing (they open at 10am) before the hoards of tour buses came in.
I highly recommend purchasing an Oslo Pass rather than buying individual entry. The pass covers all major museums as well as public transport.
Norwegian Maritime Museum
Home to Norway’s oldest boat (2200 years young!), the Maritime Museum is a must-see for any shipbuilding, shipping, fishing, or marine archaeology enthusiasts. Though to be fair, I’m not any of those things and I still found the museum really interesting.
There are model boats, relics from old ships, maritime paintings, films, and tonnes of interactive exhibits so this museum would be one for the whole family to enjoy. Wandering around on your own is okay too…
The Kon-Tiki Museum
The Kon-Tiki Museum is a celebration of the expeditions of Thor Heyerdahl who crossed the Pacific Ocean in a balsa wood raft (Kon-Tiki) then followed this up with two expeditions on home-made reed boats.
The museum is home to two of the boats and features exhibits on the different expeditions, as well as a cave tour, an “underwater” exhibit, and a daily documentary film.
It’s a fairly small museum but really interesting.
If you only have time to visit one museum, make it the Fram Museum; it was by far my favourite of the three.
On entering the museum lobby, you’re dwarfed by the looming hull of MS Fram, the strongest wooden ship ever built. Fram journeyed to both Arctic and Antarctic waters, with explorers Fridtjof Nansen, Otto Sverdrup and Roald Amundsen leading her different expeditions.
The Fram exhibit runs all the way around the ship but you can also go on board and explore not just the deck but the interior too.
Don’t miss the polar simulator, a tunnel pumped with air the temperature of the polar regions, filled with dangers of the region. It’s freezing but fun!
The museum also includes the Gjøa building which is home to Gjøa, the first ship to sail to entire Northwest Passage. Again, you can go on board and explore the deck and the interior.
Make sure you start your visit with the short film about the polar expeditions of over 100 years ago before exploring the ships and surrounding exhibits. It runs on a continuous loop so the wait is never longer than 15 minutes or so.
Holmenkollen Ski Museum & Tower
As a skier, I was super-exited to visit the ski museum which is built into the mountain under the Holmenkollen ski jump. This ski jump was used in the 1952 Winter Olympics and is still used for World Cup events today.
The museum features over 4000 years of skiing history including exhibitions on the development of skiing (featuring the world’s oldest skis, dating from around 600 AD), Polar explorers past and present, the evolution of snowboarding and it’s impact on skiing, and the newest exhibit, which is on weather and climate change in snowy regions.
You can climb to the top of the ski jump (don’t worry, there’s a lift most of the way up!) to the viewing platform for panoramic views of Oslo and the surrounding fjords. Even on a dark, drizzly day it’s pretty darn spectacular.
It was at the top of the ski jump that I happened to meet a guy who grew up in the same Sydney suburb as me… small, small world.
Finally, one of my favourite things to do in Oslo was just wandering the streets. Oslo may not have the old-world charm of many European cities but it still has its pretty neighbourhoods, quirky street art, and fun little shops to discover.
Have you been to Oslo? Did I miss anything? Let me know in the comments!