Oslo is the capital of Norway, a country that is part of the Schengen and Scandinavia but technically not part of the European Union customs. This means travellers can get duty free shopping when travelling between Oslo and the EU. As Norway’s largest city, Oslo is the the gateway and cultural heart of the country, and arriving to Norway via the international airport at Gardermoen definitely shows the modern and progressive outlook with a rapid train service bringing visitors to the city centre in under 20 minutes.
Around the Cental Station visitors can spot a complex of office towers, commercial malls and the largest hotel chains in Scandinavia like Radisson and Scandic. This makes it a convenient base for first time travellers. The Central Station itself is home to convenience stores, fast food chains, restaurants and several shops that open even on the weekends. Visitors can also enjoy various different cuisines in the mall adjacent to the station from sushi to salmon sandwiches, so perhaps they could grab a bit for lunch first before exploring the rest of the town.
A short walk from the station, visitors can find the Oslo Cathedral which has a different architectural style from the Roman cathedrals. Opposite from the cathedral is the Stortovet square that hosts sunday markets in the summer time and diagonally across is one of Oslo’s main shopping malls – the GlasMagasinet. It can be worth it to spend some time admiring Scandinavian home furnishings and design items at the Illum Bolighus store inside the mall.
While in the city, travellers can satisfy their shopping needs by walking along Karl Johans gate which is south of Stortovet. Part of this street is for pedestrian only with many stores and restaurants lined up on both sides where tourists can buy Nordic adventure gear to souvenirs or just have a pint of beer.
This street also links the Central Station directly to the Royal Palace or the Slottsplasen, the residence of the Royal Family. The palace is open to the public with a guided tour during the summer for a fee. For those not intending to enter the palace, the park surrounding the palace makes a nice space within the city for a stroll and with its convenient location, it is one of Oslo’s most accessible attraction.
An extension of the park surrounding the palace brings visitors to several other landmarks befitting a capital city such as the National Theatre and the Government Offices of Norway (Stortinget). This part of town is also home to some of the heritage grand hotels like the Hotel Continental, Hotel Cristiania Teater and Grand Hotel Oslo along with numerous restaurants catering to diners looking to grab dinner before attending the performance at the National Theatre. As such, it makes a great spot to end the evening at with a nice dinner before retiring to your hotel for the day.
The next morning, have breakfast at one of the oldest bakery in Norway, W.B. Samson, that was opened in 1871. This neat bakery offers a range of sweet pastries in addition to an aromatic cup of coffee or freshly squeezed orange juice that will certainly perk up your morning. With its first store conveniently located at Egertorget along the Karl Johans gate behind the Government Offices, it is easily accessible for visitors staying in the city. From there it is a short walk to Akershus Fortress which is a 13th century medieval castle where visitors can learn more about the history of Norway.
Aside from being a history museum, the lush surroundings of the fortress is open to the public as a park with the Festningen restaurant located at the edge overlooking the city’s bay. The grounds around the fortress provides a vantage point for visitors as it overlooks Aker Brygge and is a popular spot to enjoy the sunset. The large park around Akershus Fortress is popular in the summer when the daylight is long and it is common to see locals hanging out here just to enjoy the outdoors.
Breaking for lunch, I can certainly recommend having it at Cafe Skansen which offers reasonable prices for classic Norwegian seafood dishes like shrimps and mussels. With its long fjords coastline, seafood is Norway’s second largest export and that means it is even more enjoyable to have some of the freshest seafood from the source.
A short walk from Cafe Skansen along the waterfront leads visitors to the City Hall which is instantly identifiable by its two towers. Facing the bay, the pier located across from the city hall is the departure point for fjord cruises or dinner cruises around Oslo. The public square across also frequently hosts buskers and food trucks in the summer.
Another reason to visit this area is for the Nobel Peace Center and as the name goes, it is a venue to promote the recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize and highlight their contributions to solving conflicts around the world. The Nobel Peace Center also marks the edge of the Aker Brygge neighbourhood which comprises of a series of old warehouses and industrial areas being converted to modern residential apartments with a ground floor retail and restaurant space.
The ground floor has been landscaped so that it is easy for pedestrians to walk across the canals in the Aker Brygge area and visitors can take a break in one of the cafes or drop by the Paradis Gelateria which probably serves up one of Oslo’s best gelato. And while strolling around Aker Brygge, enjoy the modern glass architecture of a rejuvenated waterfront neighbourhood.
On summer weekends, the boardwalk along Aker Brygge is a hive of activity with sun-seekers enjoying the sunshine with many revellers cooling off in the water beside. There is even a landscaped beach with the Astrup Fearnley Museum of Modern Art located at the end beside it. This modern museum in a cool neighbourhood is perhaps a highlight for those keen on contemporary art in Norway.
If you would rather chill out on a nice summer day, just sit down by the boardwalk and enjoy the sunset along the bay. While you are in the area, a row of Scandinavian restaurants and French bistros along the boardwalk makes for a fine spot for dinner as the sun sets. A waterfront spot with a relaxed atmosphere makes for a nearly perfect venue for a romantic dinner too!
After dinner if you still have the energy why not explore the nightlife in the city. While Scandinavian cities might be relatively small and not famous for their clubs, there are still places to unwind and have drinks, with dance clubs and bars located around Aker Brygge and Christiania Torv.
Locals here in Norway tend to be formal and keep to themselves with service in restaurants professional and effective, making the city services and public transport to be useful for the travellers. As a relatively small city, it is also one that is easy to walk around with many of the city sights within a 15 minute walk from each other. Spending 2 days in Oslo is a great way to experience the relaxed Scandinavian lifestyle and really find out that city life need not be crowded and bustling and yet still enriching.
Where to Stay
Like the other Scandinavian cities, travellers should not expect over the top luxury stays in Oslo. Instead there are many stellar 4-star hotels managed by chains like Scandic, Radisson, Thon and Clarion with several within walking distance from the Central Station. Otherwise the most iconic hotel in Oslo has got to be the Grand Hotel Oslo located along Karl Johans gate with its location near the Royal Palace, Government Offices and National Theater reflecting the gilded facade of the hotel.
For a more modern luxury alternative, check out The Thief boutique hotel located in Aker Brygge. This newly built hotel has a beautiful lobby that exudes style and its location near the waterfront means it is suitable for those seeking to do some cycling or kayaking by the bay in the day and partying in one of the dance clubs around the area in the night.
Where to Eat and Drink
Aside from the classic cafes like W.B. Samson, there are a bunch of other cafes around the city centre and Fuglen located along Universitetsgata near St. Olavs gate have excellent coffee roasts and beverages with a vintage cafe decor. For a taste of local food with good coffee, check out Sentralen located at the corner of Øvre Slottsgate and Torbugatta which serves modern Norwegian dishes in addition to simple favourites like pizza. A more traditional Norwegian restaurant with classic dishes like seafood stews would be Cafe Skansen located near Akershus Fortress.
Being Norway’s largest city, this is one place where it is easy to find other cuisines. From Chinese food to American burgers, there are plenty of choices around the National Theatre and the waterfront along Aker Brygge. Since I recommend the seafood while in Norway, another of my favourite food is Moules Frites and Albert Bistro which serves French cuisine provides a tasty rendition of this dish. Best of all there are even choices in the way your mussels would be prepared from classic Mariniere to a ‘Smoking Gun’ version.
Where to Shop
As a part of Scandinavia, visitors to Oslo can certainly find products with that touch of Nordic designs that is modern and yet cool at the same time. One such spot to shop for Nordic products is at the GlasMagasinet beside Stortorvet square. Another recommended shopping mall to visit is Paleet located beside the Grand Hotel Oslo along Karl Johans gate which has a very nice atrium filled with Scandinavian furniture for lounging.
Otherwise, people in Norway still read their books and visitors who enjoy reading should check out Tanum inside the Paleet Mall or Tronsmo beside the National Gallery along Universitetsgata. Both bookstores have a wide range of English books and some very interesting books that are worth buying! And these are just 2 of the book stores located in the compact city centre, so there are certainly other opportunities for travellers to discover other favourite places to get a book here！
When to Visit
Oslo is generally open to visitors all year round though visitors have to be prepared with very little sunlight in the winter months from December to February. Expect snow in these months with temperatures ranging from -8 to 2 degree celcius and many attractions to be closed during the winter season. However the city will be less crowded and hotel prices are generally lower in the winter months. The best time to visit the city is probably in the months of May, June and July when the hours are long with all the attractions open and ferries plying the fjords running at full schedule. It is also during this time that visitors can enjoy the ‘midnight sun’ of Oslo!