If you want a very self-contained holiday to an interesting city, then an Oslo city break might be the trip for you. To help you decide, here is some information about Oslo and some tips for the trip. Be aware that Oslo is not a budget destination but you can minimise the cost with a bit of pre-planning. The Oslo pass (mentioned later) is an example of this.
Oslo is the capital of Norway and its largest city (population 1m). Located on the country’s southern coast, it is a charming city situated on a fjord with a backdrop of forested hills. English is widely spoken here.
Oslo is easily accessed by regular airline flights to two airports. The main airport is Gardermoen Airport located some 29 miles from Oslo city centre. This airport is the main international airport and is serviced by an express train to and from Oslo Central Station. The second airport is Torp Airport which is 70 miles from Oslo City centre. Torp is used by the budget airlines such as Ryanair.
There are also daily ferry services to Oslo from Copenhagen and Frederikshavn in Denmark and from Kiel in Germany. If you are commencing your journey from neighbouring Sweden, there are regular train services from Stockholm and Gothenburg.
The climate in Oslo is Baltic semi-continental, so it is very cold in winter, about -15 Fahrenheit or -25 Celsius but much warmer in summer. May to September is usually milder. But if you like snow sports of want to see Oslo in the snow, then February is an ideal time to visit.
Just make sure you bring plenty of layers. The city is well prepared for the cold and snow and all the hotels, restaurants and shopping centres are heated to take account of the weather. Taking layers of clothes allows you to wrap up outdoors but remove layers when you enter the hot cafes and restaurants.
It’s quite typical for hotels in Nordic countries such as Norway to have no external facing windows. This allows the heat to be trapped in the building. Often you will have a window that overlooks an internal courtyard, usually housing the dining area.
Also, be aware of the huge swing in daylight hours throughout the year. Due to its latitude, Oslo can have 18 hours of full sunlight in summer and around 6 hours of sunlight mid-winter. Winter visits do reduce your opportunity for sightseeing.
Norwegian food is quite traditional and largely based on local ingredients. Fresh, pickled and fermented fish are local favourites featured on the menu. Cured and fresh meats such as hotdog and meatballs are also popular.
Breakfast in Oslo will likely be a selection of cold meats, cheeses and cured fish such as smoked salmon. At most hotels there will be a good selection of muesli, fresh fruit and yogurt. It’s unlikely that there will be much in the way of hot breakfast such as sausage and bacon as this is not usual for their culture. What you do get will be local and fresh and I encourage you to try as many different things as you can.
Sometimes trying a new taste is not always a conscious decision. At one breakfast sitting early in my visit, I accidentally had cornflakes with yogurt on top. The carton had a picture of a cow, so I assumed it was milk… obviously I went back to my table as if I had always meant to do that!!! It did not taste awful anyway.
Getting around the city
The compact nature of Oslo helps with getting to the various attractions. The city is well served by an outstanding tramway and rail services supplemented by a city bus network. If you are feeling energetic, then there are rental bicycles freely available around the city. This ability to move quickly and freely adds to the attraction of an Oslo city break.
Make sure to buy an Oslo Pass as this gives you free public transport within defined zones and free entry to museums and so on. There are single day, two day and three day passes. Also note that the shops are closed on Sundays in Oslo but there is still plenty to do.
Oslo Royal Palace
oslo royal palace
Take a walk along Karl Johans Gate, the pedestrianised main street in Oslo. Apart from the interesting shops and restaurants, you will pass the Norwegian Parliament building and complete your journey at the Royal Palace. Aim to be there at 1.30 pm if you can.
As in the UK with the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace, the Oslo Royal Palace has a ceremonial changing of the guard. It takes place at 1.30pm daily come rain or shine and takes approximately 40 minutes. As with all these types of events, it pays to arrive a little ahead of the scheduled start time to secure a good viewing spot. Be assured it is nowhere near as crowded as the Buckingham Palace event.
The Royal Palace building is in neo-classical style with a facade of stuccoed brick and was completed in 1849. Guided tours of palace take place every day in the summer, go online to book tickets in advance. Only left-over tickets are sold on the door just before the tour starts, so you aren’t guaranteed to get a place if you don’t pre-book.
The Royal Palace park surrounds the Palace and was built during the 1840’s. It’s over 50 acres of well-kept lawns, flower beds, majestic trees and three beautiful ponds. The Park is a much loved and popular recreational area for locals and tourists alike. On a hot summer day, you can relax in the shade of the trees and take in the beauty of the Park. This Oslo city break seems like a good idea.
The Queen’s Park was originally created in 1751 as a private rococo garden. Since 1840, it has been part of the Palace Park. The Queen’s Park is open to the public from 18 May to 1 October every year.
Holmenkollen ski jump
One of the most famous attractions in Oslo is the Olympic ski jump Holmenkollen. To get to Holmenkollen, you can either take the metro (T-bane) from Oslo Central Station- Westbound Line 1 to Holmenkollen and walk up hill from there. Or go by the Oslo Sightseeing Bus.
The venue has hosted the 1952 Winter Olympics and a succession of World Championships. The jump is very impressive at about 60 meters high and has a capacity for 70,000 spectators. If you can, make your way to the observation deck at the top of the ski jump. The views over Oslo and the surrounding hills will have you reaching for the camera.
Depending on when you visit, you may be lucky enough to see practice or competitions happening on the jump. It’s quite scary to see the speed at which they rush down the slope and through the air after leaving the take-off area. Whilst there I watched young teenagers calmly hurtling down the jump and expertly landing safely.
If the ski slope sparks your enthusiasm for high octane excitement, why not book yourself onto a sledding experience whilst you are in Holmenkollen. For roughly £68 or 88USD, you can experience 3 hours of winter fun whizzing downhill along a 2 km track. Its good fun!
Viking Ship Museum
No trip to Oslo would be complete without a visit to the Viking museum, after all it’s one of the things Norway is most famous for. Situated on the Bygdoy peninsula, you can get there by bus or ferry. It is open daily from 10-4pm, 6pm in the summer months.
The museum is not the biggest you will ever visit but it has three of the most well-preserved Viking boats and a large selection of interesting artefacts. Allow about 1-2 hours to explore. If you buy an Oslo Pass, this museum is free to enter.
Other Museums nearby
The Bygdoy peninsula is also known as the Museum peninsula due to the five museums situated there. In addition to the Viking Ship Museum, you have your choice of:
The Kon-Tiki Museum – artefacts from the voyages of Thor Heyerdahl
Museum of Cultural History – open air museum with historic buildings
Maritime Museum – Norwegian maritime history
Fram Museum – site of famous South Pole exploration ship
I was fascinated to discover the Kon-Tiki Museum so I have made a special mention. I have known of the exploits of Thor Heyerdahl since my childhood. There was a film on the exploits of Heyerdahl and the Kon-Tiki that I saw at the cinema when I was quite young. Heyerdahl and five crew crossed the Pacific Ocean 4300 miles on the Kon-Tiki in 1947. The voyage was an attempt to prove that the Pacific Islands could have been populated from South America.
Kon-Tiki was constructed out of material that would have been available pre-Columbian and is on display in the Museum. There are also replicas of three rafts that Heyerdahl used in later cross-Atlantic and Indian Ocean expeditions.
If you buy an Oslo Pass, this museum is free to enter.
Vigeland Park sculpture
This is the largest sculpture park in the world by a single artist. The Vigeland Park has over 200 of the Norwegian sculptor Gustave Vineland’s works constructed from bronze and granite. Spread over an 850-meter area, the park is set along a boulevard in Oslo’s Frogner Park. It is a short walk from the city centre.
Built between 1939 and 1949, artist Gustav Vigeland did not live to see the park’s completion, dying in 1943. Vigeland’s vision was to create a true public space, for the people of Oslo and beyond and the fact that over a million people visit every year means his legacy lives on.
Not all of the sculptures are to everyone’s taste in my view. To be honest it was a bit too strange for my taste. However, do not be put off by my comment. The setting alone is worth the visit. One of the best things about travel and seeing different cultures is stretching your mind and trying to understand different ways of life and of thinking. Vigeland’s work certainly tested my imagination.
Oslo fjord cruise
Oslo fjord cruise
I love local cruises wherever I go as the city and the countryside look so different from the water. Where else can you get such great skyline shots of cities but out to sea. The city of Oslo is situated on a fjord with many small islands and bays. The photographic opportunities are almost endless. So why not take a fjord cruise to get that unique perspective on the city and its surroundings.
Each May to August, you can enjoy a 2-hour cruise along the Oslo fjords. Take in the scenery whilst enjoying a buffet of local shrimps and a hot or cold drink. Cruises depart from the City pier twice a day.
As with all water activities, wrap up very warm. Whatever the temperature on land, it will always be at least a couple of degrees cooler when you factor in the sea breeze. If you visit in summer make sure to apply sun cream, the reflection off the water amplifies the sun’s rays and you will burn before you know it.
Will you visit Oslo?
This article is here to give you a quick taste of Oslo and all the activities there are to do and places to see. My view is that an Oslo city break is a great way to spend a few days. I hope this article persuades you to go.
We are the authors of our travel blog. Wayne is semi-retired and travelled quite extensively during his working years. Cally is a freelance business consultant who has also travelled widely. Both of us love to travel and we get away as often as our finances will allow us.
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