An Oslo Overview
Unfortunately, I didn’t have much time when I was in Oslo. We took off from Bergen and then, we arrived at Oslo after our Norway in a Nutshell Tour that covers some of the most beautiful fjords in the country. If you want to know more about how to plan the trip and more travel tips about the tour, check out Making the Most out of Norway in a Nutshell. I have some amazing tips and photos.
So, our stay in Oslo is only a “quick spin” for two days before we continue on. It was okay as Oslo is a small city covering about 400 square kilometers and has a population of less than 1 million (about 1.5 million for the metro area). All main attractions and highlights are located in the city center that is quite accessible by foot, or by local tram; even the Vigeland Park, one of my favorite urban parks, is about 2 kilometers away from the Royal Palace.
The development of Oslo began in 1050 by the last Viking Harald Hardrada. Sadly, he was killed in 1066 during his invasion of England; which marked the end of the 200-year-long Viking Age. Oslo becomes the capital of Norway in 1299, and it was devastated in 1624 by a blaze that burned the city down in three days. Christian IV was determined to rebuild this capital.
Oslo Sightseeing Guide: Explore the city’s outdoor sculptures
How to get around Oslo? One of the easiest ways to get around the city is by tram (especially if you are visiting the Vigelandsparken). The fare is determined by the zones in Oslo, no matter for bus, tram, subway, or ferries. If you are stopping by a few places in one day, consider getting a 24-hour pass which can be purchased at the vending machine at the stations.
Having said that, it’s a pleasure to take a walk and explore the city just because it is so relaxed and beautiful, in fact, it is filled with outdoor sculptures and art pieces – like the “fat lady” in my above picture, just sitting just there by a bench at a tram stop, outside the supermarket. If you want to check out other works around the city, you may find this map helpful:
Karl Johans Gate
We were heading to Oslo by train from Bergen (well, Myrdal to be exact), we had our luggage picked up in Bergen in the morning and they arrived at our hotel, Comfort Hotel Xpress Central Station, in the evening. To make our lives easier, I booked a room at the Comfort Hotel Xpress which is a stone’s throw away from the train station – it is a boutique hotel with clean and soundproof rooms.
As I already described, Oslo is a compact city. Most of the city’s key buildings and sites are lined up along the Karl Johans Gate, connecting the Central Station and the Royal Palace. In fact, most of the shops and restaurants are scattered within a radius of these streets; it is a great area for tourists to stay in close proximity to everything they need. In a nutshell, this is the best area to stay in, and planning your day to explore Oslo! For family travelers, consider taking a Hop-on-Hop-off Bus tour that stops at 17 sightseeing spots in the city.
Oslo Sightseeing Guide: Booking a great hotel in Oslo
Apart from the Comfort Hotel Xpress wonderful location, the other reason that we booked this hotel because it has the option of a triple room – with three single beds. Since it was the three of us on a trip, it’s not easy to find a hotel with a room like this.
Other upscale choices:
- The Thief
- First Hotel Grims Grenka
- Hotel Continental
- Radisson Blu Plaza Hotel Oslo
- Grand Hotel
Other value choices:
- Thon Hotel Terminus
- Scandic Oslo City
- Saga Hotel Oslo Central
- Thon Hotel Astoria
- P-Hotels Oslo
The Royal Palace & changing of the guard
So, after we had a pleasant walk along the main street and had brunch at one of the outdoor’s tables at a local cafe, we headed to the Royal Palace. The Palace is located at the end of Karl Johans Gate and is the official residence of the current Norway monarch while the Crown Prince resides at Skaugum in Asker west of Oslo. Palace Square is a little bit higher and it offers a great view of Oslo’s city center. To me, it’s a great place to kick start the city’s exploration day trip.
Back to the palace, was built in 1825 and completed in 1849; it was later renovated and opened to the public from the year 2002. The palace is still functioning as an official site in the country and it is guarded by His Majesty – The King’s Guard; There are a few attractions around the palace for the public: including the Queen Sonja Art Stable and the Palace Park. The Queen Sonja Art Stable was a former Royal Stable and converted into a multipurpose art venue: Dronning Sonja KunstStall. Today, it is a building used as an art gallery, a museum, and even a concert hall.
Today, the Art Stable operates from March to December annually, and it is used as a venue for art exhibitions, concerts, or presentations on historical and cultural items from the Norwegian Royal Collections. If you want to know more about their events and exhibition, check out their website before your visit for more information.
Oslo Sightseeing Guide: Slottsparken
The Palace Park was designed by the Palace architect H.D.F. Linstow in 1838 and was laid out between 1838 and 1860 by the first gardener at the Royal Palace, Martin Mortensen. Most of the trees in the park, originally numbering more than 2,000, were planted in 1842. Early descriptions refer to the park as lush and abundant with flowers. Over the years, the Palace Park has been steadily simplified to include fewer ponds and plants than previously. Today, the park is characterized by large lawns and voluminous trees, although the number of trees has almost been halved as a result of old age and damage over time. The Garden Section at the Royal Palace is now working to restore elements of the park’s original diversity, with shrubs and flowers planted beneath the trees. The park is a cultural heritage site and is managed by the Palace gardeners in accordance with eco-friendly principles.
While we didn’t exactly enter the Art Stable that day, there’s another event that is worth seeing and it’s free. As we were chilling and hanging on the lawn in the park, we realized the changing of the guard ceremony was about to start. Yes, the event takes place every day at 1:30 pm, regardless of the weather. It started by having the guards marching around the park around the palace, and handing over at the watchman’s lodge on the right side of the front yard of the palace.
More and more people arrived at the palace to see the event, and luckily the yard has enough open space for the crowd. Tourists can get up close without interrupting the guard’s marching path, and appreciate the guard’s beautifully designed uniform. I was also glad that the palace hired many female guards in the mix, which is – I could be wrong – not that common in other palaces.
Stepping into the world of Evard Munch
The National Gallery and Historical Museum are other must-sees. It‘s right on the side of the palace and it is part of the National Museum of Art of Norway since 2003. The gallery showcases pieces of Norwegian artists from sculptor Julius Middelthun, painters Johan Christian Claussen Dahl, Erik Werenskiold, Christian Krohg, and, of course, Edvard Munch. You don’t want to miss The Scream, one of the most recognizable paintings in the world. Other iconic paintings include Madonna, The Sick Child, and Anxiety. But still, I would also recommend everyone, to take a moment and appreciate some impressive artworks – for me, I was drawn by many organic and lively paintings created by Christian Krohg, a Norwegian naturalist painter, who was active at the beginning of the 1900s.
The gallery has a collection of old master European paintings by painters such as Claude Monet, Auguste Renoir, Carl Sohn, Paul Cézanne, and Pablo Picasso. Don’t forget to check out their paintings in the gallery as well.
As many of you would know by now that I am an art enthusiast and so, of course, I would bring my friends to the Munch Museum on the other side of town. The museum is dedicated to the most famous Norwegian artist Edvard Munch.
The museum was opened to the public in 1963 to commemorate the artist’s 100th birthday. The museum has undergone several renovations and movements, and now it’s located nearby the Natural History Museum through the lawn.
For years, Munch was closely compared with Vincent van Gogh, and it was always said that Van Gogh inspired Edvard Munch in contemporary art history. The exhibition in the museum shows the two artists, who never met, share a passionate desire to paint the savage intensity of life. It was interesting to know how the two crossed paths (they both visited Antwerp) during their time and how their works have something in common but are also very unique.
The museum shows many hand drawings and drafts of the two painters that dig deeper into their personal history and style. We saw different versions of Screams (yes, Munch has created more than one).
Explore Oslo’s harbor
The next day we explored the waterfront before our little picnic in Vigeland Park. The urban renewal project for the waterfront of Center Oslo. Don’t get me wrong, the first redevelopment took place in Aker Brygge during the 1980s. Now, the area is already re-developed as an upscale shopping, dining, entertainment, and high-end residential area.
While it’s a great area to enjoy dinner by the water, one important site is located at the corner – the Nobel Peace Center. Many of you know the Nobel Prize is from Sweden and the ceremony takes place in the Stockholm City Hall (I visited the Stockholm City Hall it was impressive); While the literature, physics, chemistry, and economics categories are presented in Stockholm, Nobel Peace Prize Ceremony is held at Oslo City Hall instead. Why? There is no clear answer that the creator of the Nobel Prize, Alfred Nobel, wanted the Peace Prize to be presented in Norway. One likely explanation is that Nobel lived most of his life abroad and who wrote his will at the Swedish-Norwegian Club in Paris, which may have been influenced by the fact that, until 1905, Norway was in union with Sweden. Since the scientific prizes were to be awarded by the most competent, i.e. Swedish, committees at least the remaining prize for peace ought to be awarded by a Norwegian committee. One important thing that you might want to see in the City Hall, is a painting that depicts the scene of Harald Hardrada at the Stanford Bridge, hanging on the second floor.
The Nobel Peace Center is a small building and it’s the venue for exhibitions, meetings, debates, theater, concerts, and conferences, as well as a broad educational program and regular guided tours. While we were there, it has a small Nobel Prize exhibition to showcase a little bit more about the prize, and the history of notable winners. On the first floor, you can see the gold medal that was presented to Nobel Peace Prize winner Christian Lous Lange in 1921.
Another place of interest was the Norway Yacht Charter. You can take a ferry to Bygdøy, where you could visit a list of iconic museums like the Oscarshall, The Norwegian Museum of Cultural History, and the Viking Ship Museum. Museums to see and explore in Bygdøy for another day:
- Norsk Folkemuseum (The Countryside, The old Town, Stavkirke)
- Kon-Tiki Museet
- Norsk Maritimt Museum
Oslo Opera House
The Opera Huset is the national opera theater in Norway, and home to The Norwegian National Opera and Ballet. Interestingly, the opera house is not a classical historic structure, but a modern architecture, designed by Tarald Lundevall, that stood at the seaside of Oslofjord in central Oslo – a mere 5-minute walk from the train station.
We didn’t actually catch a show but we simply admire this giant masterpiece from the outside. The roof of the building is covered in white granite and rises from the ground level, and this slope is a platform that allows visitors to walk up the building and enjoy the panoramic views of the city.
I am glad the city was ‘gutsy’ enough to commission such bold, fashion-forward, and creative architecture instead of yet another ‘classical’ building!
Oslo Sightseeing Guide: Architecture in Oslo
The architecture was also featured in Christopher Nolan’s latest movie blockbuster, Tenet, briefly. While it was not the main site of where the story took place, but the striking shape and color were definitely so memorable that I immediately recognize it even when I watched it in the movie. Have you watched it and discuss with your friends all about the complexity of traveling back in time yet?
The Vigeland Park
Vigelandsparken is a 320,000-square feet urban park with an impressive and extensive open-air showcase of modern sculpture created by Norwegian artist Gustav Vigeland; Make no mistake, this park, or “sparken” in Norwegian, is the masterpiece that Vigeland put his heart and soul in. Gustav was a talented Norwegian sculptor and he was deeply influenced by Rodin.
Gustav Vigeland’s installation was created between 1924 and 1943. The Vigeland Sculpture Park is a park within Frogner Park that displays over 600 pieces of bronze and granite sculptures that depict different faces of human life – focusing on the most talked-about topic in the course of human life – birth, old age, sickness, and death; love and hate; separation and togetherness, and much more. All these emotions are depicted vividly and honestly in the open space and displayed in front of our eyes. The life-like figures could be any one of us, and any visitors could somehow find their own favorite piece.
Oslo Sightseeing Guide: Have a picnic
While I mentioned that we didn’t have much time in Oslo (which I hope there will be much more in the future), I still highly recommend at least spend some time in the Vigeland park (or, any park) and have a picnic (of course, during summer), we got some fruits, cold cuts, and drinks, and there’s nothing better than hanging out on the lawn and soak in the lay-back vibe.
Apart from Vigeland, venture a bit farther to Ekebergparken Sculpture Park, this is another awesome sculpture park opened in 2013, with a great deal of open green space and an impressive body of work. There are 35 pieces of large-scale art pieces scattered in the park, created by a number of internationally renowned artists.
The showcase consists of three areas: The Bridge, the fountain, and the monolith Plateau.
Follow the path and experience Vigeland’s interpretation of life. As we entered the bridge, there was already a lot (really a lot) to see. As the sculptures were erected intensely on both sides of the bridge and each of them is different.
I appreciate the clean lines and simple curves of these sculptures which have a hint of Rodin but are also manifested in the artist’s own way. The life-like figures captured different stages and moments in life. As we were looking at each piece (not trying to mimic the moves of each one), we jogged memories of our lives, recalled some friends and family at home, and tried to interpret what the creator was trying to describe (because some of them are really wild and they’re up to viewers imagination).
Making our way up the stairs there was a beautifully crafted fountain in the center of the square. All sides of the fountain base are engraved with, again, depictions of life; and each of them is different. The fountain is also surrounded by sculptures of trees. Tree of life and cycle of water – to me it sounded like a symbol of the origin and the continuation of life. Like Gaudi, Vigeland created an organic piece of art that celebrates life!
The Monolith Plateau
As we go higher through the gate the 14 feet tall pillar that is chiseled from three granites is called the monolith, and it took 15 years to complete. It was kind of like a grand finale (if not the artist’s intent) of the Vigelandsparken trilogy. The pillar featured 121 humans representing the different perspectives of life – were they all trying to reach the top and grow and find a way to reincarnate from the cycle of life?
Anyway, we loved the park so much we visited the park again the next day, with picnic food in our hands. After all, it’s a nice, spacious, and green city park that opens to all locals and travelers to do all sorts of ‘park-y’ things like jogging, stretching, rolling on the lawns, picnicking, etc.- We did them all!
Maybe, at that moment, just like the sculptures, we were depicting a moment of our lives.
The work of Vigeland is deeply influenced by Robin and it could be seen by the modern and clean surface and vivid manifestation of emotions. While it may not be a big name to the world compared to Central Park or Hyde Park, it is for sure one of my favorite urban parks in an intimate and artistic setting.
Oslo Sightseeing Guide: Food in Oslo.
I was a little bit surprised by the food scene in Oslo since I didn’t expect so many people from around the world to come to Oslo and set up businesses here. We walked past an area with a grocery store that basically sells all kinds of spices and herbs for any Easy Asian cuisines.
We ended up having dinner in an Indian restaurant Jaipur because of reading about some good reviews on the Internet and had a craving for Asian food. Another great place for food lovers is exploring Mathallen Oslo. The food market features over 30 diners and it is one of the hippest and trendiest food halls in Oslo; The range of cuisine covers Spanish, Italian, cafes, and more. Didn’t expect that Oslo offers some interesting and delicious Asian food diner as well – Leave a comment if you have any other recommendations in Oslo!