Oslo Travel Guide


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.

Norsk Folkemuseum
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 Oslo.

Vigeland Park
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 famous artist.

Royal Palace
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.

National Theater
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.

City Hall
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 mythology.

The Harbor
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.

Old Town
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 restaurants, Stattholdergarden.

Cathedral Square
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.

Munch Museum
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 peninsula.

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.

Fredriksten Festning
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 experience.

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.

Ski Museum
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

Central Norway
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 Hardanger plateau.

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.

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