Isn't it funny how life has a way of over delivering when we go into something with low expectations. We experienced exactly that in our two days in Oslo. Family members who visited Oslo before us had not been overly impressed by it and advised us not to plan too much time there. We took their advice and tagged our visit to Oslo onto the end of our recent trip to Norway.
We arrived in Oslo late at night via the Bergen to Oslo train (an experience not to be missed). Late arrivals in foreign cities are always discombobulating.Add in a very unfriendly taxi driver and a high rise hotel, and things were not looking promising.
The redeeming factor was that we had booked a bicycle tour of Oslo before we left home. We had to be at Viking Biking at 10 the next morning and so began a fabulous 36 hours in Oslo
We saw Oslo from an insiders point of view - got a good overview of the city and found places we wanted to return to later in the day. All in all it turned what could have been 2 very dreary, rambling days into 2 days of sunshine, laughter, enjoyment and discovery.
These were the highlights for us and the 5 things you must do if you ever have the good fortune to find yourself in Oslo:
1. Sign up with Viking Biking for a bicycle tour of Oslo.
This has to be my favourite way of exploring a new city and this tour didn't disappoint. Josh, our guide was informative and amusing and gave us great tips on where to eat, drink and generally enjoy our time in Oslo. He also gave us a real sense of what everyday life is like in Oslo and in Norway in general.
We had opted for the Rivers & Waterfall Tour which was all about street art, hip and trendy neighbourhoods and delicious food and coffee. It was great. A second tour that they were running that day was a more traditional sightseeing tour of the major sites and monuments in Oslo. In Summer they have a selection of biking, hiking and kayaking tours to choose from. I highly recommend checking them out if you are looking for an active, entertaining introduction to Oslo
2. Visit the Mathallen food hall and eat King Crab
After a morning of cycling, you will definitely be in the market for lunch. The food hall was one of the finds of the bicycle tour. Here you will find food of irresistible quality from all over the world, comfy spots to relax and the lively buzz of people enjoying good food and wine. What's not to love about this spot?
After wandering around the food hall and eyeing out delicious offerings from Japan, Italy, Spain, France and many other countries we settled on the Norwegian fish and seafood option. We were in Norway, after all. One of the specials of the day was peppered king crab. Our boys used to watch a TV series called "Deadliest Catch" which was a drama filled reality series about catching king crabs. Seeing the crabs in the tanks at the food stall and recalling the drama of catching them, we just had to know how they tasted. After a quick call to the bank to take out a large loan, we ordered two portions.
They were worth it: delicious, sweet meat in a peppery soy and honey sauce. It was the novelty of tasting them that drew us but the crabs didn't disappoint. The cherry on the top of this eating experience was being congratulated for choosing to eat king crab by a Norwegian man sitting at a neighboring table. Apparently they are a pest species destroying the natural fish species. By eating them we were doing our bit for the ecology of the Norwegian waters. Do your bit next time you're in Oslo. It's delicious and decadent.
3. Tour the Oslo Opera House - home of the Norwegian National Opera and Ballet.
Forget all thoughts of a boring, stuffy historical monument. This stunning, contemporary building designed to represent a glacier floating in the waters of the Oslofjord, was built to be used and enjoyed by people from all over the world all of the time.
Norway has a rather fabulous policy called, "allemannsretten" - the right to roam. It is a traditional right from ancient times, which gives anybody and everybody the right to put up a tent, or sleep under the stars, anywhere in the countryside.
The Oslo Opera House, is an extension of this idea with people encouraged to walk onto the top of the roof to enjoy magnificent views of the city. The interior, which is open to the public throughout the day everyday of the week, is spectacular. Had we had time, I would definitely have booked a guided tour of the Opera House - available everyday at lunch time. The ultimate would obviously be to attend a performance at the opera house. Clearly, I am going to need a return visit to Oslo
4. Spend an afternoon at the Fram museum.
We hadn't planned on doing this and it turned into a real highlight. Topping Clive's must see list was a visit to the Viking Museum. One of the great things about Oslo is that many of the museums and places of interest are all located within easy walking distance of each other in the borough of Bygdoy. The best way to get there is to take the boat which leaves from behind the City Hall.
We were a little disappointed with the Viking museum. At the recommendation of the curator, we walked down to the Kontiki museum. Sadly it was closed so we found ourselves at the neighbouring Fram museum. What a find!
The Fram is the world's largest wooden ship ever built. Fridtjof Nansen, Otto Sverdrup and Roald Amundsen took turns in exploring new areas in both the Arctic and Antarctic on the Fram so the museum is the story of Norway's significant contribution to polar exploration. The Fram has been beautifully restored and preserved.
Visitors are encouraged to board the ship to get an insight into the lives of these intrepid explorers of long ago. The Museum also has a polar simulator where you can experience both the cold and the dangers of polar expeditions. There was so much to explore and learn. We could have spent hours there.
5. Stay Near the Royal Palace
Because it's cool to look down from your hotel window onto the Palace Park but really because it is so central. A hotel in that area will be a few minutes walk from the Historic Museum, the National Art Gallery, the National Theatre, the Palace Park and the Royal Palace. More importantly, the main shopping street with all the busy vibrancy of coffee shops and pavement cafes is also just a short walk away.
Walk a little further on to the harbour where you will find Aker Brygge, a popular regenerated wharf. Here you find restaurants and open-air areas which are often used for photo exhibitions, concerts and pop-up events. Pull up a chair at a pavement cafe and enjoy an hour or two of beautiful, tall people watching .
To top it all, the Nationaltheatret train station is a few steps away from the hotels in this area so when all is said and done in Oslo, you can walk down to the station and catch the FlytoGet Airport Express train that runs every 10 minutes and takes a mere 22 minutes to get to the airport.
These are just 5 things that were real highlights for us while staying in Oslo. Oslo has so much more to offer. We missed out on Edvard Munch's "The Scream", the world’s largest sculpture park and a skiing museum, exhibiting the history of more than a century of skiing, to name just a few. But the little we did manage to see and do left us with a desire to return one day to a city that was as beautiful as it was fascinating.