The Norwegian capital is full of endearingly distinctive attractions and museums, and it doesn’t have to cost you a fortune, as David Whitley finds out.
OSLO SIGHTS AND ATTRACTIONS
Holmenkollen is possibly the world’s most famous ski jump, and it’s something of a Norwegian national treasure. It’s home to the Ski Museum and a particularly terrifying ski jumping simulator. Two of Oslo’s other big draws are on the Bygdoy Peninsula, and both are vessels used in legendary expeditions. The Fram (36 Bygdoynesveien, 00 11 47 2328 2955) was the enormous brute of a ship that sailed Roald Amundsen to the Antarctic – you can hop on board and learn about the South Pole adventure. The Kon-Tiki Museum (36 Bygdoynesveien, 00 11 47 2308 6767) is the home of the Kon-Tiki raft that Thor Heyerdahl sailed across the Pacific in 1947.
Oslo’s shiny new Opera House (1 Kirsten Flagstads Plass, 00 11 47 2142 2100) has quickly become a big tourist attraction – although most visitors are more interested in clambering all over the glacier-inspired roof than attending the high class productions put on inside. Museums-wise, the Nobel Peace Center (Radhusplassen , 00 11 47 4830 1000) offers a high tech, absorbing and occasionally rather surreal insight into the history of the prize that all politicians aspire to, plus detailed displays on the Nobel Peace laureates. And if you want to test your boundaries of what is or isn’t art, the Astrup Fearnley Museum (4 Dronningens gate, 00 11 47 2293 6060) features some seriously weird stuff.
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BOOK YOUR OWN ADVENTUREThe following sites are usually my first port of call when booking a trip - so I recommend them as somewhere to start when booking your own holiday.
HOTELS: Hotels.com (£) or Agoda (£)
FLIGHTS: Skyscanner (£) Kayak or Roundtheworldflights.com
CAR HIRE: Car Rentals (£)
GUIDE BOOKS: Amazon (£)
TOURS AND ACTIVITIES: Viator (£)
Given the faintest glimmer of decent weather, and much of Oslo will empty out into the surrounding forests. Norwegians, as a rule, love the great outdoors, and more than 1,000km worth of walking trails can be found inland from the capital. A good route served by public transport at either end is from the Frogneseteren train station to the Sognsvann lake – although the hour-long stroll around the lake itself is enough for many. In the city itself, Vigeland Park is the place to head to – a gentle amble around Gustav Vigeland’s weird, often-disturbing statues and sculptures is something of an Oslo tradition.
If you’re wanting to splash out with a one-on-one service, Oslo Guidebureau (00 11 47 2242 2818) offers three hour, personalised walking tours in Oslo that can be tailored to the tastes of the customer for from NOK1,690. Batservice Sightseeing’s (00 11 47 2335 6890) NOK170 mini-cruises really aren’t much kop, but the musical evening cruises with prawn buffets during the summer months offer something more. It’s jazz on Wednesdays, opera on Fridays and blues on Saturdays and NOK395 per person. The best guides are arguably non-human, though. Audiotor (00 11 47 9882 9323) rents out iPods crammed with great, quirky info that you can self-guide yourself round the city with.
Budget accommodation in Oslo
The cheapest sleeps in town are generally in private houses. The Use It young people’s tourist information service (00 11 47 2414 9820)) can tee such beds up for from NOK200 a night. Otherwise try bbnorway.com for often inconveniently-located guesthouses. The newly revamped Anker (55 Storgata, 00 11 47 2299 7200) is the best of the hostels, with dorm beds for from NOK200 and twins from NOK560, but Ellingsen’s Pensjonat (25 Holtegata, 00 11 47 2260 0359) is the best budget bet. Rooms have a fridge, TV and typically Scandinavian wooden floors. Doubles with shared bathrooms start at NOK580.
Mid-range hotels in Oslo
The rooms at the Hotel G20 (1 Europaradets Plass, 00 11 47 2201 6400, from NOK905) are pretty small, but the big ceiling-to-floor windows, glass print art and techy additions give it a sense of character that’s lacking elsewhere. The Hotel Bastion (7 Skippergaten, 00 11 47 2247 7700, from NOK980) also has personality, albeit one borrowed almost wholesale from an English country mansion – it has a dark wood, classic furniture and fireplace look. Cochs Pensjonat (25 Parkveien, 00 11 47 2333 2400, from NOK780) isn’t particularly sexy, but the price is right and the spotlessly-clean rooms have just about everything you’ll need even if they’re a little Spartan.
Luxury hotels in Oslo
The Thon Panorama (7b Radhusgaten, 00 11 47 2231 0800, doubles from NOK1,145) offers something a little different in a sea of standard chain hotels – make sure you ask for the apartment-style rooms on the upper floors, preferably with the balcony and proper kitchen. The Bristol (7 Kristian IV’s gate, 00 11 47 2282 6000, doubles from NOK1,195), meanwhile, is a good bet for old school chandeliers, a piano player in the lobby and elegantly restrained furnishings.
The Hotel Folketeateret (Storgaten 21, 00 11 47 2200 5700, doubles from NOK1,420) is arguably the most striking in town though, with flames roaring in the sleek lobby, and cleverly-designed rooms where everything seems to pull out of the same cabinet.
The Grand (31 Karl Johans gate, 00 11 47 2321 2000)is the most prestigious joint in town. It’s where the Nobel Peace Prize is handed out and the junior suites offer chandeliers, tapestries, plus settees and marble overdose bathrooms for from NOK3,633 a night. Grims Grenka (5 Kongens gate 00 11 47 2310 7200) bills itself as Oslo’s first design hotel, but it’s not as remarkable as it thinks it is. Still, the intricate lighting system, roll top bathtubs and felt chairs in the NOK2,900-plus suites add individuality.
The newly-renovated junior suites at the Continental (24 Stortingsgata, 00 11 47 2282 4000, from NOK2,680) are the best top end bet, however. The silvery colour scheme, views from the balconies and arty influence work a treat.
Café Sorgenfri (4 Bryggetorget, 00 11 47 2150 1090) has faux gas lanterns and big fur blankets outside, and all manner of olde worlde clutter hanging from the roof. Expect traditional Norwegian dishes to go with the dangling prams and tea chests. New Grunerlokka spot, The Nighthawk Diner (15a Seilduksgata, 9662 7327) does all day breakfasts, cool décor with fab attention to detail and friendly service. The Kafe Oslo Litteraturhuset (29 Wergelandsveien, 00 11 47 2295 5530) is a good spot for a coffee and a meal amongst the book cases with writers, intellectuals and powerbrokers.
If you want to sample some classic Norwegian cuisine on the cheap and in a hurry, then the canteen-style Kaffistova (8 Rosenkrantz gate, 00 11 47 2321 4100) is the favourite spot for dumplings, salted cod and the like. For a pretty darned tasty burger that shames the McDonalds and Burger Kings of this world, accompanied by very more-ish wedges, Grill’s Ville (7B Frogner Terrasse, 00 11 47 2243 7744) should be target number one. The sweet-toothed should try Pascal (36 Henrik Ibsens gate, 00 11 47 2255 0020), a part brasserie, part patisserie. The painstakingly-presented cake slices, tarts and tiramisus are true drool-inducers.
Top end restaurants in Oslo
Le Canard (4 President Harbitz gate, 00 11 47 2254 3400) serves up Michelin-starred, French-style cuisine and attracts a very loyal clientele. The true speciality – whole roasted Telemark duck – must be ordered 48 hours in advance and will set you back NOK445 per person. Restaurant Oscarsgate (63 Pilestredet, 00 11 47 2246 5906) goes for modern, experimental degustation-style dining and has the hip factor to get away with charging NOK1,150 a head.
Statholdergaarden (11 Radhusgate, 00 11 47 2241 880) is a more formal affair. An enormous wine cellar complements Bent Stiansen’s carefully prepared creations, and the NOK930 tasting menus change depending on what ingredients are fresh and in season.
OSLO ENTERTAINMENT AND NIGHTLIFE
The most interesting bars are to be found in Grunerlokka, and Bar Boca (30 Thorvald Meyers Gate) is arguably the most charming of the lot. It’s a tiny, five table affair that lives by good beers and wines, good chat and an intelligent crowd. West end bubbles bar Champagneria (2 Frognerveien) has a good buzz to go with the fizz – the preeners are outnumbered by those up for a good time and a reasonably-priced cava. For a warm pub feel, The Whisky Bar (12 Radhusgata) is overflowing with weird nick-nacks, and has some great specialist beers and whiskies to enjoy amongst the wood panelling and exposed brickwork.
Live music in Oslo
During the summer months, there will often be live concerts at Vigeland Park, with the range of music tending to span the genres. Otherwise, Bla (9 Brenneriveien, 00 11 47 2220 9181) in Grunerlokka has a global reputation as a live jazz club, even if the concert line-up increasingly features experimental bands and artists that veer away from the traditional sax-heavy stylings. Mono (4 Pløens gate, 00 11 47 2241 4166) is the best spot for catching up-and-coming guitar bands. It gives space to unsigned acts as well as providing a welcoming venue for smaller international indie bands on their first overseas adventures.
Many of Oslo’s bars – particularly those around Youngstorget – tend to morph closer into nightclub territory as the evening draws on. Revolver (32 Mollergata, 00 11 47 2220 2232) is something of a hybrid, where you’re equally likely to find cocktail-sipping groupies at rock gigs as you are sweaty dancers when the DJs take over. Beautiful people congregate around drinks that are expensive even by Oslo standards at the Buddha Lounge Bar (20 Munkedamsveien, 00 11 47 22 83 33 30) while the club-like first floor of the London Pub (5 CJ Hambros Plass, 00 11 47 2270 8700) has the fun factor. It’s Oslo’s major gay venue, but you’ll find a mixed crowd on the dancefloor.
Oslo isn’t much of a market city, although the Sunday designer’s market at Bla in Grunerlokka is worth a look if you’re on the hunt for second hand nick-nacks, handicrafts and cutesy beauty products that might make for a nice gift. Otherwise, there’s the weekly farmers’ market on Bogstadveien which sells fresh produce direct, but it’s more of interest for locals than it is for visitors.
If you’re really wanting the market experience in Oslo, however, you should turn up in December. The annual Christmas Market in the square outside the City Hall has all the festive treats, naughty snacks and pressie ideas you’d expect from a Euro yuletide market.
Shopping in Oslo
It’s fairly obvious that Oslo is a rich city – despite being relatively small, it is brimming with shops. Akersgata in the city centre is home to many of the big name designer stores. These include the Moods Of Norway outlet at number 18 – the perfect spot to stock up on woolly jumpers and cold weather gear, and sniff out traditional-but-contemporary gifts for the folks back home. Meanwhile, hip enclave Grunerlokka to the north-east is the best spot for finding the sort of indie stores that make shopping interesting. Most of the best options line Thorvald Meyers gate. Bogstadveien in the well-to-do west of Oslo has a mixture of the mainstream, designer and offbeat.
OSLO TRAVEL INFORMATION
Oslo Hot tip
There’s a real art to getting the best hotel room deals in Oslo. Most accommodation is aimed at business travellers, so it’s often considerably cheaper at weekends and during the prime leisure tourism months of July and August. There’s also something of an upgrade culture – book the cheapest standard room and there’s a good chance that you’ll be put in something better if the hotel’s not full. Either that, or you’ll be given the chance to upgrade for a small sum on check in. It’s usually not worth booking the top end rooms in advance. A word of warning, too: Oslo hotels often tend to favour the two beds pushed together approach – make sure you specifically book a queen or king-size bed when booking, or you may end up with the miserable passion-killing set-up.
Disclosure:was a guest of Visit Oslo. All information correct as of November 2010, when this guide was researched.