Meadow at the Foot of a Hill
One of the major capital cities that was still missing to have here in my travel blog, Oslo, finally written. It is not the first time I visit the city though, but at over 6 years since the previous time, and for what was back then one of those “light-speed day trips” we so often used to do almost every Saturday, travelling at odd unsocial early hours and returning back at even later hours on the same day (well, already Sunday), then was not much point to write the backdated guide as it would have been pretty much incomplete. This time, however, after staying longer and not merely one time, but twice for a weekend at different seasons of the year, I have absolutely everything I need to have a wider view of what this pretty Scandinavian city has to offer.
That we flew here on this day, anyway, came out of sudden at a random. Only 2 weeks before we were about to give up in searching what could we do one of the weekends, pretty much to what happened to us with other trips that we ended up returning to Brussels and visiting Leuven for example. So instead of searching for flights alone, it was well worth looking at the Holiday Finder tool on the British Airways website and there it was this great flight+hotel deal with such unbeatable perfect flying times, great hotel, but what is best, the surprisingly great price! Honestly, if you did not know about this tool they have, you should really give it a try, without giving up if on some precise dates you might be looking at you don’t see any good deal, because there are, yes there are great deals; simply change the dates or look farther ahead in advance in the year.
As a good point in all this, a weekend is more than enough to fully enjoy the city without missing anything. And if you plan or have more than 2 days, then I would advice you to have a look at what else you could do nearby as otherwise you will end up without any further places to visit and wondering what else to do next.
Becoming the capital of Norway in 1814 was back then when the city was in much need of a large and major construction project to accommodate all the governmental institutions. This was the kick that the city needed and why it quickly developed and became so powerful and so well organised. The entire urbanism was laid out and most of the grand buildings you see today are all dating from the 19th century.
It took until the 1930s when the next round of construction boost kicked off, and from this date you can still see today one of the city’s landmark building, the City Hall. For some a brick block, for others an art-deco masterpiece, but surely for everyone it will impress, for the good or for the bad. In my opinion is indeed a very cleverly build construction, impressive and well shaped. It fits perfectly where it’s built at the head of the marina.
And a big difference since my previous visit in 2009 is the unstoppable rush of construction the city is experiencing over the past few years, with shocking projects as the Barcode District right behind the Opera House or the extension around the Aker Brygge old marina. Every building in a totally different style; glass and steel; clearly the city is transforming itself with the 21st Century, yet perfectly blended with the traditional and older areas.
As this time we counted with 2 days, more than enough to explore the entire city at relaxed peace, we decided to pre-booked a 3 hour cruise through the Oslo Fjord. This was the highlight of the trip! Do not hesitate in thinking whether to do it or not, you really should. it includes a typical Norwegian prawn buffet, and that was literally, a feast of proms. As many as you wish, repeating as many times you could. But the views and landscapes you will see are really unique and truly worth. Just have a check over internet and you will find many options, but book it well in advance specially during summer months as it is very popular and on the day those cruises are fully booked.
For more information about Oslo check the Wikipedia and Wikitravel sites. Norway’s currency is the Krone (NOK). Please note that any price reference is true as from when this guide was created, therefore check prices in advance as with the time they change.
What to see and do in Oslo
- Karl Johans Gate Is the main boulevard through the city linking at one end the Royal Palace and at the other with the Central Train Station, where 90% of the city landmarks are located.
-Royal Palace Designed by Hans Linstow and built between 1824 and 1848. During summer months one can get into a guided tour that must be pre-booked beforehand.
-Kunstnernes Hus Is the most prominent functionalist building in the city, built in 1930. The name translates as Artists’ House, is an art gallery located right across the Royal Palace Park.
-Faculty of Law of the University Is an impressive building rivalling those of the Parliament and Royal Palace is beauty and grandeur. Right in front of the National Theatre.
-National Theatre Built in 1899 is the largest in the country. Located in between the Parliament and the Royal Palace.
-Parliament Known as Stortinget is a very beautiful and elegant building where you can get a free guided tour, either in English or Norwegian lasting 45 minutes, but needs to be booked in advance.
-Eidsvolls Plass This small square with nice garden is located at the front of the Parliament and from where you can get the best pictures of the entire building. Not located on Karl Johans but next to it.
-Cathedral Although the building is not anything impressive as the name might suggest, it’s nevertheless a nice construction from the 19th century.
-Bazaar Market Located next to the cathedral it is used by artisans and craftsmen, and nice cafes and bars in the area.
-Stock Exchange Completed in 1828 was the first monumental building in Oslo, located two streets away from the beginning of the Johans boulevard, facing one of its sides to the Opera House.
- Habour Area and sea front Is one of the nicest places to be, with the many fishing boats at one side and the city at the shores. You can get boat tours, generally lasting around 1 hour that will take you around the Oslofjord islands. Totally recommended and to be honest, inexpensive for what you get. If what you are up to is some nice landscapes, sea, islands and hundreds of colourful wooden houses then this is a must!.
-City Hall Considered one of the finest landmark constructions in the city, it took from 1931 to 1950 to be built as the works were halted during the outbreak of the WWII. Tourists can get inside the hall to see the Henrik Sørensen’s large oil painting across one entire wall. This is the place where the Nobel Peace Prize is presented to the winner every year.
-Nobel Peace Centre Opened in 2005 in the former building from 1872 of the Oslo West railway station, is the showcase for the Nobel Peace Prize and the ideals it represents, including a theatre, museum, exhibition halls and everything related to the Nobel.
-Aker Brygge It is an arm of the Oslo Fjord and is the most popular destination to go out for food, dining, drinks or clubbing with an ever growing thriving nightlife; all in a former industrial area where part of the docks were located, hence the historical buildings survive from that era completely refurbished to their new use.
-Akershus Fortress This medieval castle was built in 1299 and houses nowadays the museums of Norwegian Military. The views from the walls and towers over the Oslofjord and city are some of the best.
- Bjørvika District Although it could be said it is part of the Harbour area, it is a separate district, home to the former container docks that are still being transformed into a new residential and office area, and cultural centre to come in the coming years. The highlight and landmark building is the Opera House.
-Opera House An award winner for its striking architecture and perfect blend into the harbour with the rest of the city, becoming since it’s construction in one of the most recognisable landmarks in the city, on a smaller scale but similar to what the Sydney Opera House means to the city and how the world know it.
-Barcode Project is a series of middle rise residential and office buildings of futuristic design that still being built (as of August 2015) though the majority is already done. This area is linked directly to the Central Train Station at one end.
- Jernbanetorget Is the largest square in the city, and as the name translates, is the Train Station Square. It is also the major transit hub with trams, trains, buses and metro interconnecting each other.
-Central Train Station The old beautiful station is now converted into a shopping mall yet still attached to the new terminal building.
- Frogner Park Is the largest and nicer park in the city, famous for the many sculptures by Gustav Vigeland and the overall landscaping. A sight not to be missed while in the city.
- Oslo Fjord Cruise As explained above you should definitely do one. There are short tours of 50 minutes costing £12, but the best option is the 3 hours with prawn buffet included that costs £30. The value for money is incredibly great!.
With three international airports serving the city it is out of question getting to the city by plane is the fastest and better way, not to mention due to the location, it might be the only optimal way of reaching depending from where you will be planning to come.
Gardermoen Airport is the largest of them all, with majority of the international routes including a good amount of inter continental mostly served by SAS and Norwegian Air Shuttle. It is located however, 48 kilometers to the north of Oslo, so not really next door. Connecting the airport and the city centre are trains and buses. Flytoget Express trains run at a frequency of one every 10 minutes and take 20 minutes to reach the Central Train station. A one way ticket is NOK 170 if you buy it at the vending machine, or NOK 200 if bought at the ticket desk, which as you can imagine, is quite pricey for such a short distance, but like anything in Norway, prepare to pay. The cheaper rail alternative are the NSB trains which call at more stops along the way but will save you half the price for taking just 3 minutes longer of the total route, with twice an hour frequencies. Single tickets are NOK 90.
Buses are the next most convenient way to the city, with Flybussen taking around 45 minutes to the central station for NOK 150 per way.
Sandefjord Airport, also shortcut to just Torp is the next major airport, 118 kilometres to the south of the city. NSB trains from the nearby train station accessible via free shuttle buses from the arrivals terminal run towards Drammen and Oslo central station. Torpekspressen buses take 1 hour 45 minutes and costs NOK 240 per way, departing every time there is a flight arrival.
Lastly, Moss Airport, or commonly known as Rygge, is almost entirely used by low cost carriers, being Ryanair the largest base. Located 70 kilometres from Oslo centre, and the transportation to the city centre is the same as for Sandefjord. NSB trains from the nearby train station, with a free shuttle bus from the arrivals terminal, for NOK 147,or Torpekspressen buses for NOK 180 single way with frequencies to accommodate each flight arrival.
While in Oslo, the public transportation is composed of a wide network of commuter trains, trams, buses and metro. It is very easy to move wherever you need to as you are never far from a tram or metro station, while every major sight is easy on foot reach from each other. Only the Frogner Park is farther away but trams head there directly, or nearby metro. The entire transport network uses the same unified ticket and is based on zones. The farther you go the more expensive the ticket is. Usually, as a tourist, all you will need is zone 1 which costs NOK 30 for a single ticket valid for 1 hour so you can interchange as many times on to different transport as long you are within the time. Remember to stamp your ticket as soon as you enter or you will risk a very high fine.
Being a key city within Scandinavia for for tourism and business, the amount of hotels of any kind is pretty much large; and although prices are, yes or yes, high for anything even a low quality one, you can still find great deals even if this means not being right by the city centre but at least near or next to a metro station, as was our experience, on the holiday finder of British Airways Flight+Hotel. This worked better than great! Specially that we only booked this trip with just 2 weeks in advance. This was impossible to beat if booked separately as the hotel would have cost already more on its own.
So on the last 2 times we’ve been to the city we stayed at the Radisson Blue Alna, in Tevlingveien 21, to the east of the city and right by Trosterud metro station which links directly to the city centre of Oslo either at the Central Train Station or anywhere along the Karl Johans Gate. Any of the Gardermoen Airport buses do also call at Trosterud, saving you lots of time than if heading first to downtown Oslo to then change for the metro. It was perfect for us knowing how great deal we got and just 15 minutes metro ride to the centre it can hardly be beaten. The room was very nice and large and so the entire property. Nice friendly and polite stuff, very helpful, with a great breakfast also included with the rate.