Exploring Oslo

Posted by Adam YWW on July 23, 2017 in Trip Reports

This is part 4 in a series about my summer 2017 trip, which took me to Norway, the Netherlands, and Malta.  You can read an overview of the trip here.

Despite having spent months in Copenhagen, and having visited Stockholm and Helsinki, I somehow had never been to Oslo (or anywhere else in Norway) until this trip.  I’m glad I made it and definitely would go back.  The city and its immediate environs are beautiful, and the people are friendly.  It helped that I had really good weather and the whole city seemed to be out enjoying it. It definitely was one of the most expensive places I’ve ever been – up there with Zurich where I only spent a day, though.  Given my job change, this did add a little anxiety and no doubt impacted some of my activity decisions, but if you have money, I recommend Oslo!

I was in Oslo for four days, and didn’t get to see everything – particularly because of Oslo Pride activities (and of course, there ae some winter-only activities). But I’ll cover my Oslo stay in three parts.  This post will cover my explorations of the city in general.  I’ll do a second post on Oslo Pride (spoiler alert: one of my favorite Prides yet).  Finally, I’ll do a post on my stay at the Radisson Blu Scandinavia Hotel.

On my first day, I actually saw very little, as I didn’t get to my hotel until about 2pm.  There is a range of public transit options from Oslo-Gardermoen airport into the city. Technically the fastest is the high-speed train, the Flytoget which gets to Central Station in 22 minutes and runs every 20 minutes – but it’s also the most expensive at 180 Norwegian kroner (NOK) (~22 USD) one way into the center of town.  You can also take a local train, which is cheapest at 92 NOK (~11 USD) but least frequent (though it doesn’t take much longer).  I settled on a third option, the Flybussen, which is in the middle pricewise, but had the advantage of going right to the front door of my hotel, taking about 50 minutes right to the hotel for 150 NOK (~18 USD) when purchased online in advance.  The most bus was immaculate and new, with wifi, and seatbelts the driver insisted you wear.

Oslo Flybussen

My first full day was a Friday, and I got up bright and early — leaving the hotel around 9am.  The weather was beautiful, so rather than spend it at museums, I decided to hit some of the outdoor sights of the city.  One thing I loved about Oslo was how easily accessible everything was via public transit.  The center city itself is pretty walkable, but the trams, buses, and subways cover the whole metro area very comprehensively.  I recommend taking advantage of the 24-hour pass on a sightseeing day, where you can get unlimited rides for 90 NOK (~11 USD).  The machines accepted my standard Chip-and-sign credit cards, though you have to make sure the machine you’re at has paper cards to sell, as a few I ran into were out and thus were only available to reload Ruter travelcards.

Slottsparken, Oslo

With weather in the high 50s and going up to 75, and bright sunshine, I made the short walk from the Radisson Blu Scandinavia through Slottsparken –  the park surrounding the Royal Palace grounds – to the Nationaltheatret station, which is both a rail and metro station.  It was only 9am but there already was a good amount of people enjoying the beautiful day in Slottsparken – something I’d see throughout my stay.  (You can take tours of the Palace, but I didn’t.)  I had only a 5-minute wait for the metro, and then a really stunning 25-minute ride up into the hills above the city to the Holmenkollen T stop.  From the train, it was a bit of a schlep uphill- about a 10-minute walk – to the ski jump area itself.

Oslo Metro

Holmenkollen has been the site of Oslo’s main ski jump hill since the late 19th century, and hosted several major events, including the 1952 Olympics. The hill has been rebuilt many times, since, including most recently for the 2011 World Championships. You can see the hill from the city and it is a gleaming metal and glass structure with a distinctive shape. When you arrive at the complex (in summer at least), you can wander around for free, looking down into the bowl below.  There’s also a simulator you can pay to ride in, which I heard often leads to vomit.  I just paid the 130 NOK (~16 USD) to go into the Holmenkollen Ski Museum, which includes some interesting exhibits on the history of skiing and of the Holmenkollen hill, plus some cool temporary interactive exhibits including one on snowboarding and other “extreme” winter sports, and, since, Norway, on climate change.

Approaching Holmenkollen

Looking down at the bowl of Holmenkollen

Holmenkollen was absolutely swamped with tour groups.  The highlight of the visit is an elevator ride up to the top of the hill, but there’s a significant line, because there’s only one elevator for both up and down, and it has a max of 13 passengers.  I got online right behind a group from somewhere in Northern Europe, and in front of a very loud cruise group of mostly Americans, probably from Trump country. There’s no attendant at the elevator, so there’s a degree of self-enforcing the number of people in the elevator. I was the third or fourth in, but my compatriots shoved as many as they could in – which was 16.  The elevator buzzed and wouldn’t go, and they actually argued as to whether someone would get off.  So, after an argument, we headed up – with 15 adults.

So crowded

Well, we started our trip up the steep elevator (more of a small funicular) and suddenly the machine stopped.  It then reversed and went back down.  Again, there was an argument about whether and who would get off, wasting everyone’s time, before an attendant came and forced one person off.  We then made it back up with 14 people.   There was a great 360-degree view from a platform atop the jump, and you could see all of Oslo.  (You can also do a zipline down, but, no.) Below is a little video of the ride up the elevator and the views atop (bring a sweatshirt!).

Views atop Holmenkollen

More Holmenkollen

By 11:25am I was back on the metro for a 15-minute ride and a 10-minute walk to Vigelandparken (which is officially known as Frogner Park).  This is the largest park in Oslo – about 110 acres – and is absolutely beautiful on a sunny day.  It’s most known for its 212 bronze and granite sculptures by Gustav Vigeland, made in the first half of the 20th century. It’s kind of amazing to see just how many sculptures they are, leading to a massive monolith. While the sculptures themselves are cool and were what most tourists were focused on, the rest of the park is equally beautiful – and was filled with Oslo’s residents (I checked, there’s no good demonym) – enjoying a summer Friday afternoon.   I sat on a bench for a bit with an ice cream and my Kindle, just relaxing.

Frogner Park / Vigelandsparken

Tourists galore at Vigeland Sculpture Park

Locals enjoying Frogner Park

Inside the park is also the Oslo City Museum.  It’s not a huge museum, but it’s free and has some interesting history of the city, and also has a nice courtyard café.

Courtyard, Oslo City Museum

From Frognerparken I took a tram to Radhusplassen, not quite sure what I wanted to do. It seemed too nice to hit the Nobel Peace Museum or the Astrup Fearnley Museum of Modern Art, so I just walked in search of cheapish lunch.  Unfortunately, the way I walked did not yield much that way and was kind of a dull business area, but I came out near the Oslo Opera House (Operahuset Oslo), which is an incredible white marble and glass structure, completed in 2007 and home to the Norwegian National Opera and Ballet.  It’s right on the Oslo fjord and you can walk up the slanted roof structures.  The inside is supposed to be really cool as well, but I didn’t get in, because I was just hungry.

Radhusplassen ready for Pride

Oslo Opera House

I ended up finding some food trucks by Central Station and got an acceptable 90 NOK (~11 USD) Pad Thai, before making my way through the shopping district and past the Oslo Domkirke (cathedral) and back to the Radisson Blu, before a nap and gym before hitting the evening’s Pride activities.

Saturday was the Pride Parade, but even though I was out until 2am I was able to motivate myself to get up and out for a morning of sightseeing.  I had totally forgotten that I needed to pick up my Norway in a Nutshell tickets for Monday the day before, since the ticket office wouldn’t be open when I was leaving at the crack of dawn (not literally, since dawn is 3am in Norway in the summer).  I took the tram over to the train station, and then walked over to Akershus – the medieval fortress/castle that sits on the fjord.  It’s really cool to walk around, also very pretty on a nice sunny day, with tons of green space and little nooks to explore.  The King’s Guard patrols the grounds, so you can see them around as well.

Scenes from Akershus Fortress

The site hosts the Norwegian Armed Forces Museum and the Norwegian Resistance Museum.  I went into the latter, and it was pretty small and boring, and I wouldn’t recommend spending the time or money (60 NOK = ~7.50 USD) unless you’re a WWII buff – I think I was in and out in 10 minutes. From there I grabbed a gyro at a food truck near Radhusplassen before preparing for the Pride Parade.

On Sunday, I had thought I might hit a bunch of museums – including those on the Bygdoy peninsula which are supposed to be very cool (including the Kon-Tiki Museum, the Folk Museum, and the Viking Ship Museum).  But I ended up just allowing myself a lazy day, before meeting up with a new friend on one of the beaches of Huk, also on the Bygdoy peninsula and an easy bus ride from the center of town.  Unfortunately, it was the least beach-weather of my time in Oslo, but it was still a pleasant, relaxing place to take in the view and wind down my time in Oslo.

On the beach at Huk

On the way back from Bygdoy, I decided to explore Aker Brygge a bit.  Aker Brygge is a redeveloped wharf area, and had been flagged as a “top sight” in Oslo, but I’m not really sure why.  It’s really just a bunch of tourist-oriented restaurants on a strip of waterfront, with some retail and residential mixed in, and the Astrup Fearnley Museum on one end.  It was pretty crowded, and lots of folks were at both the restaurants and ice cream kiosks.  I was pretty overwhelmed with the restaurant options, and ended up fairly randomly selecting one, Olivia, for what was a bit of a splurge meal.  I had a really delicious fish soup, followed by beef cheeks.   The most notable part of the meal though was a drunk man on a bicycle who tried to ride his bike right onto the patio and into the restaurant.  Thankfully the maître d’ was able to stop him before he plowed into anyone.

Aker Brygge

Dinner at Olivia, Aker Brygge

Drunk Norwegian on bicycle

In all, I had a great time in Oslo.  It’s a stunning place – at least in the summer – and 4 days is probably a good length of time to spend in the city.  I didn’t do everything on my list, but probably would have had I not had Pride activities.  The people are friendly and welcoming, and the infrastructure is easy to navigate.  But man is it expensive (the whole country really).  (When you tell people this, they’ll say, yeah, I was in Copenhagen and it’s really expensive – but this is a lot more than Copenhagen.)  I’d go back!  Stay tuned for posts about the Radisson Blu Scandinavia and the Pride experience.

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3 comments for “Exploring Oslo”

  1. Brandon says:

    I’d love to visit Oslo one day, but the prices (and lack of flights) is the main deterrent. Why spend $16 for entrance to a museum and $40 for dinner when that amount will last for two days in someplace like Croatia? Nice write-up!

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