Akershus Slott & Festning
This medieval castle and fortress were built in 1300 and reconstructed
several times after many attacks (including the 1563-70 War of the North).
As you wander around the castle you'll find tiny rooms where outcast nobles
were kept, in stark contrast to the far more elaborate dining halls and
staterooms on the upper floors.
Akershus was one of the sturdiest castles in northern Europe. Its unique
layout, as well as the difficult terrain, made it almost impregnable.
At the fortress you can see the changing of the guard each afternoon.
Nowadays, the fortress grounds play host to concerts and theatre productions.
This fascinating open-air museum contains around 150 buildings from different
regions, mostly dating from the 17th and 18th centuries, including one
of Norway's oldest structures, the Gol Stave Church, built early in the
13th century in Gol and moved to its present location in 1885.
You'll wander past old banks, pharmacies, post offices, barns and farmhouses
and see folk dancing and weaving and people dressed in festive costumes.
The Old Town section reproduces an early 20th-century town and contains
a petrol station and a general store, and the first thing you'll come
across as you step through the main entrance is a huge display of old
toys, costumes, tools and appliances from around the country. The museum
is on the Bygdøy peninsula, a 10-minute ferry trip from central
This is Norway's most popular attraction, with more than one million visitors
each year. Here you can spend hours wandering around and seeing 192 sculptures
made by Gustav Vigeland. Vigeland's pieces are out there: sculptures of
entwined lovers, tranquil elderly couples and downtrodden beggars dot
this beautiful park. It's just about impossible to remain impassive to
the humanity that suffuses Vigeland's work.
The park is situated in the middle of Frognerparken, a leafy, green park,
perfect for lazing about on a sunny day. The park's highest point, a 14m
(46ft) monolith carved out of a single block of stone, consists of 121
writhing human figures.
After passing the Parliament, Karl Johans runs alongside pretty Studenterlunden
Park. This small park is a main gathering place in fair weather, serving
as an outdoor living room. The busy garden cafe at its center is an excellent
place to stop for drinks and a light meal, or just sit on a bench and
watch entertainers who often show up in front of the Parliament. A long
fountain runs through another park section, and the whole area is circled
with tall trees and beautiful landscaping.
Oslo's three main shopping streets, Karl Johans, Rosenkrantz and Stortingsgata,
surround this popular patch of greenery, so be sure to wander the full
length of each one to squeeze the most out of Oslo's best neighborhood.
Shops along the main stretch of Karl Johans served as private townhouses
a hundred years ago. In those days, people did not want anyone living
across the street from them looking into their windows, so they purchased
the land facing them and turned it into the park.
The Grand Hotel faces the park in prime position along Karl Johans Gate
and makes an excellent place to stay. The hotel is renowned for its Grand
Cafe, open from 11 a.m. to midnight with a varied international menu.
For a nice view across the heart of town, go up to their rooftop terrace
bar, next to the swimming pool.
In the next block there is an excellent small shopping mall called Paleet,
which you could miss if you didn't realize the doorway at No. 37 Karl
Johan leads to an inner world with three levels containing 42 stores and
an excellent food court. The mall's sleek, modern design is artfully composed
of colorful marble, glass and bronze, enhanced by bubbling fountains and
potted palms. If you crave more than a food court can offer, the mall's
ground level leads to one of Oslo's better restaurants, Blom, serving
traditional Scandinavian dishes in a dark, wood-paneled room.
At the next block along Karl Johans, you find the oldest university buildings
in Oslo, which were opened in 1854, a few decades after the University
of Oslo was founded in 1811. These buildings are used for administration
rather than classes because the main part of campus, which accommodates
about 30,000 students, is outside the city center.
The three attractive university buildings are in the Neoclassical style
with impressive columns and pediments, set back in a one-block campus
of green lawns and tall trees. Peek inside the central building to appreciate
the beautiful entrance hall, lined with tall columns and coffered ceiling,
like a Greek temple, and then proceed into the auditorium where you will
find three walls covered with large murals by Edvard Munch, Norway's most
Karl Johans Gate ends just beyond the university at the lush garden surrounding
the Royal Palace, built by King Karl Johan, a French general placed on
the Swedish and Norwegian thrones by Napoleon. The king never got to live
in his palace, however, because he died four years before its completion.
His son, Oscar I, moved in after ascending the throne. Norway today is
a constitutional monarchy whose king works in the palace but resides elsewhere.
The gardens are always open to the public and are a popular jogging route,
though the palace is not open to visitors.
In front of the palace you will find the most important stage in Norway.
The building dates from 1899 and is quite beautiful inside and out with
a mix of baroque and rococo elements. The statue fronting the theater
is of Henrik Ibsen, considered to be the father of modern theater and
probably the most famous Norwegian.
From the theater it is an easy two-block walk toward the waterfront to
see the impressive Oslo of the city government. City Hall was a built
between 1931 and 1950 in what was then the very modern style of Functionalism,
with a plain brick design that looks like three large, plain boxes. At
first the public did not care for this structure, which clashed with the
rest of Oslo's more sophisticated design, but over time it has been accepted
and stands as one of the city's most recognizable symbols.
Most famously, the Nobel Peace Prize is awarded here each December. Underneath
the exterior arcades you will notice scenes carved in wood depicting Norse
City Hall faces the harbor, where there is a large restaurant mall, historic
sights and excursion boat services. Here you will find Aker Brygge, where
a shipyard that stood until the 1970s has now been transformed into a
wonderful place to have a meal, do a little shopping and take a stroll
along the waterfront.
Oslo's oldest buildings cover several blocks between the fortress and
the Parliament. This part of town offers a pleasant place for a stroll,
with shops, restaurants, a couple of modern art museums and historic buildings.
Oslo was destroyed by a fire in 1624 that burned the wooden village to
the ground in a single day. King Christian IV required all new houses
be built with stone or brick to make them fireproof. The king also decided
to rebuild the town closer to the fortress.
The king personally designed the new town's layout, with wide streets
that follow the same grid pattern we see today -- when he wasn't busy
fathering 23 children and ruling Denmark. A defensive wall was built around
the city, but the initial population of 3,000 grew so quickly that after
70 years the wall had to be removed to make room for expansion. The king
renamed the city after himself, and it was known as Christiania for 300
years until it was renamed Oslo in 1925.
Follow the main street of this neighborhood, Radhusgata, to find several
of Oslo's oldest existing structures, including Radmannsgarden, the town's
earliest house, built in 1626, and adjacent to it, the Anatomigarden,
a half-timbered building that was part of the early university. They are
now the site of a cafe and art gallery. Across the street is Garmannsgarden,
which was built in 1641 and served as City Hall from 1733 to 1843. Today
it houses the Theater Museum. Two blocks down Radhusgata at No. 11 is
the well-preserved Vice Regent's Manor, now one of the town's most deluxe
When finished with this old section, walk a couple of blocks inland to
the Oslo Cathedral, the Domkirche, built in 1697. Today it sits along
Karl Johan Gate, two blocks from the train station.
Stortorvet Square in front often hosts a colorful flower market, and
across the street is Oslo's best department store, Glas Magasinet, noted
for high-quality glass works.
Stables that once circled this square have been converted into attractive
shops and cafes. Another pedestrian mall, Torggata, extends three blocks
into another nice shopping area.
Art lovers would thoroughly enjoy a pilgrimage to this museum, which has
about 1,000 of the artist's paintings displayed in rotation in a large,
modern building that opened in 1963. It is beyond walking distance but
easily reached by Bus 20 or metro to Toyen. If you are just getting off
the ferry at City Hall, take the tram from there to the main train station,
and connect to the bus or subway.
It's ironic that Edvard Munch is best known for just one painting, "The
Scream," and yet the rest of his pictures, laced with existential
anxiety, show the same skilled hand at work.
By now the day is nearly done and you will be looking for dinner and
perhaps a last crack at the shops, so head back to the main stretch along
Karl Johans Gate.
If you want to get a better idea of how the Vikings sailed around the
world then the excellent Viking Ship Museum is your best port of departure.
This museum houses Viking ship discoveries from Gokstad, Oseburg, Tune
and around the Oslo Fjord. Here you will see the world's two best preserved
wooden Viking ships built in the 9th century. The ships were used as tombs
for noble people and they were buried with everything they thought would
be needed in the afterlife - jewels, food, furniture - even servants!
The ships are beautifully preserved, courtesy of the blue clay in which
they were buried. The museum is just west of central Oslo, on the Bygdøy
It's worth spending time checking out each of the three ships. The Oseberg
was found in 1903 and in its heyday required 30 oarsmen. It's magnificently
decorated with dragon and serpent carvings and its burial chamber held
the largest collection of Viking-age artefacts ever uncovered in Scandinavia.
It is thought that this ship was purely a pleasure vessel for sailing
in peaceful waters because the wood used to build its mast was not as
strong as in other ships. The impressive Gokstad was built around 890
AD and it's believed to have been a warship. Although not as elaborately
decorated as the Oseberg, the Gokstad was sturdier and had several smaller
boats measuring from 7m (23ft) to around 10m (33ft) in length. These were
used for ferrying people ashore and for fishing. Only a few boards and
fragments remain of the third ship, the Tune.
Off the Beaten Track
A pleasant day trip from Oslo, this charming town contains numerous clapboard
timber buildings. Santa Claus apparently calls Drøbak home and
has his own post office here. You can send Christmas cards with the official
Santa stamp 365 days of the year from here. The town has a Christmas theme
pretty much all year round. Drøbak is mainly a summer hideaway
for Oslo residents, but there are a few things for tourists to do here.
The Oscarsborg fortress was built in 1845 and sits on a small island in
the fjord. Shots fired from here sunk the German warship Blücher
in 1940. Most of Drøbak overlooks the fortress. Other things to
pass time in Drøbak are a visit to the Saltvannsakvarium aquarium
and a small maritime museum containing a number of boat engines. The town
also claims to have one of the highest proportions of art galleries per
capita in Europe and, if you can't stand the thought of being without
your golf clubs for more than a few days, there's an 18-hole golf course.
Drøbak is an hour's bus ride south of Oslo.
This imposing fortress, located at Halden, southeast of Oslo, was built
in 1661 and has proven enduring ever since, having survived six Swedish
sieges. The first siege, by Swedish king Karl XII in 1716, ended with
the people of Halden setting fire to the town themselves, so that the
Swedish army had to retreat. Exploring the fortress' ramparts and bastions,
storehouses, powderhouses and deep, mysterious passageways is an unforgettable
Inside the fortress walls are several interesting museums. In the old
prison is an exhibition of Halden's history of war from the 17th century
to WWII. In the upper part of the fortress, the exhibition 'The Town's
on Fire' details Halden's history. An Old Pharmacy is found in the Old
Commander's residence. Food and beer lovers won't want to miss the old
bakery and brewery, which in their prime baked enough bread for 5000 people
and produced 3000 litres (over 700 gallons) of beer per day. Soldiers
were allowed a ration of 2.6 litres (half a gallon) each per day! It's
a wonder they were in any state to keep the fortress standing.
The Holmenkollen Ski Museum is a prime attraction in its own right. The
museum depicts 4000 years of nordic and downhill skiing in Norway. There
are many excellent exhibits including Amundsen and Scott's Antarctic expeditions
and Fridtjof Nansen's trek across the Greenland icecap.
Other Norway Attractions
The central part of Norway takes in the country's highest mountains, largest
glacier and most spectacular fjords. Unsurprisingly, this region is the
top destination for almost all travellers to the country.
The historic city of Bergen, with its cultured atmosphere and low skyline
of red-tiled roofs, is the main jumping-off point for journeys into the
western fjords. From here you can visit Sognefjord, Norway's longest (200km)
and deepest (1300m) fjord; the scenic Hardangerfjord; the massive Jostedalsbreen
glacier; spectacular waterfalls at Geirangerfjord; and Trollveggen, a
jagged and often cloud-shrouded summit near Åndalsnes that is considered
the ultimate challenge among Norwegian mountain climbers.
In addition, there are resorts, excellent national parks, and road trips
through some of Norway's most breathtaking scenery. Don't miss the 470km
(291mi) train journey on the Oslo-Bergen railway: this scenic trip is
Norway's finest, and passes through mountain ranges and the windswept
This cluster of historic white houses built around a small fishing harbour
is one of Norway's most picturesque villages. It's popular with artists
and tourists, and is a summer hangout for Norway's yachties. Visits to
nearby islands can be made by inexpensive water taxis. One such island
is Stangholmen, which has an old lighthouse with a restaurant and bar.
Risør is on the curving southern coast, south of Oslo.
The 'Gateway to the Arctic' is a stark contrast to the sober communities
dotting the northern coast of Norway. It's a spirited town with street
music, cultural happenings, more pubs per capita than any other place
in the country and many 'northenmost' claims. Snow-capped mountains provide
the scenic backdrop, the town has a swag of period buildings and the Tromsø
Museum is a good place to learn about Lapp culture. There's also fine
skiing here in winter.
This 10,000-strong fishing town claims to be the northernmost town in
the world. If its name sounds familiar, it's the place Bill Bryson hung
around at the start of Neither Here Nor There waiting to be gobsmacked
by the Northern Lights. While you're waiting for this celestial display
of psychedelia, check out the Royal & Ancient Polar Bear Society and
the reindeer grazing in the Hammerfest graveyard.
Jotunheimen National Park
This national park is one of Norway's best wilderness destinations. It
has a network of hiking trails leading to some 60 glaciers and to the
country's loftiest peaks. The trails pass through ravine-like valleys
and past deep lakes and plunging waterfalls. Huts and private lodgings
are along many of the routes. The park is on the road between Sogndal
and Lom, in central Norway.