The capital city of the Scandinavian country of Norway, Oslo has a certain charm of its own. It covers an area of 453 sq kilometers and is situated at the end of a 110 kilometer long fjord called Oslo Fjord. Forests and fjords dominate the landscape of Oslo. In fact every year in the month of June a music festival called the ‘Norwegian wood festival’ is held in Oslo, at which top bands from all over the world participate.
Oslo is a city whose history can be traced back over centuries. Snorre Sturlason the historian has chronicled that Oslo was founded by King Harald Hardâde in 1048. Oslo was dethroned from it’s status as capital of Norway when Norway became a part of the Danish-Norwegian union from 1348-1814. Norway achieved independence from the Danes on the 17th of May in 1814. This day is celebrated with much pomp and glory all over the country now. Independence Day is a big celebration for the people of Oslo as well. This vibrant and cosmopolitan city is also the locale for the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize every year.
The best time to visit Oslo is from May to September, the day mean temperatures at this time are pleasant and are generally are around 20C(69F) while in Oslo winters the days are short as mean day temperatures dip below 0C(20F) and there is considerable snowfall. All this makes Oslo an attractive winter sports destination. The spectacular Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis), the fire works of the sky are visible during the Oslo winters. Oslo is a popular ski destination during the winter.
Getting to Oslo
The Oslo Airport is situated 45 kilometers away from the city center. Several European as well as other international airlines and domestic carriers such as SAS Braathens call on Oslo’s airport which is situated at Gardermoen. The Airport has modern amenities such as cafes, bars, duty free shops and also a Global Refund desk. In Norway VAT is included in the sale price of an item and a foreigner is entitled to a refund of this VAT if the foreigner has spent a total of 315 kroner ( the Norwegian currency) in a single store and has obtained a Tax refund receipt. Another Airport called Torp airport is located near Sandefjord 115 kilometers from Oslo. Low cost airlines like Ryan Air, Wiz air call at Torp airport.
Transport from the airports to Oslo
A high speed train called Flytoget plies between Oslo’s central station and the Gardermoen airport. The train ride costs 160 Kr and the journey time is 19-20 minutes. This train is the most convenient way for a tourist to get to the heart of the city speedily. There are slower trains which cost 82 Kr which also provide connections to the airport. Flybussen is the name of the bus service to the city center from the airport these travel at a slower rate and take 45 minutes to get to the city from the airport. The Taxi service which is booked from within the airport is astronomically expensive costing from 395 Kr upwards for a journey to downtown Oslo. The Torp airport is connected to Oslo by a bus service called Torpekspressen.
Daily international train services operate from the Oslo Central Station located in the eastern part of the city. The international services operate to cities in Sweden namely Gothenburg and Stockholm. To get to Copenhagen in Denmark from Oslo one has to change trains in Gothenburg. The trains are operated by the state run NSB train company which also operates on domestic routes to neighboring cities such as Bergen and Trondheim.
The City of Oslo is served by a network of Highways. The Highway E6 is an international highway from Malmö and Gothenberg in Sweden which runs north south through Norway connecting cities. Another International Highway serving the city is E18 it links Oslo with St Petersburg, Helsinki and Stockholm. The use of these highways invites a toll of 20 kr which is used for the upkeep of the roads and highways.
Several European bus services traverse these highways to link Oslo to neighboring cities in Sweden and Denmark. Swedish companies such as Safflebussen, Lavprisekexpresen and Swebus provide inexpensive and efficient bus service to other Scandinavian cities. Euroline is another international bus service connecting Oslo to other cities in Southern Europe while Moravia Express links Oslo to cities such as Prague.
One can access Oslo by car ferry as well. The car ferry services are operated by various companies such as Color line, DFDS and Stena Line. Oslo is connected by car ferry to cities in Denmark, Sweden and Germany.
Getting around the city
Several car rental companies such as Avis, Hertz, Europcar are available at the Oslo airport but since Oslo is a small city finding parking can be a nightmare. Parking is expensive as well.
Oslo has an extremely efficient public transport system and information about the various modes of transport available to a tourist can be had from the Trafikanten which is located outside the Oslo central station. The Trafikanten makes available information, free maps as well as tickets for travel for the tourist. Public transport runs from the early morning hours to midnight. A variety of passes such as the Tourist Ticket valid for unlimited use on any mode of transport for a single day and the 24 hr, 48hr, and 72hr Oslo card make the use of the excellent public transportation system very convenient for a tourist. The Oslo card also enables the tourist to get free admission to museums and other discounts.
The subway or metro of Oslo is called Tunnelbane or T-bane. It is composed of six lines and serves the city center as well as the suburbs.
By Buses and Trams
Buses and Trams supplement the subway network and serve areas not yet connected by the T-bane. Jerbanetorget is an important transport hub for the tram and bus network. Buses such as Bus 31, 34, 37 and 54 are useful buses for tourists as they cover areas of the city not covered by the T-bane.
By local commuter Train
There is a local commuter train network connecting the municipality of Oslo with neighboring towns and cities.
The ferry service is seasonal and runs in the summer months of April to September. The Ferry links the City Hall to the museums on the island of Bygdøy.
Cabs in Oslo are metered and expensive. Short distances can cost upwards of 100kr. There are various cab companies operating in Oslo and they have a complicated system of surcharges for various services. Cabs can also be called but this service as in other cities of the world attracts a surcharge too.
Oslo can be explored by a tourist by availing of the public bike service which exists in the city. It is complimentary and one can on verification of one’s hotel key at the tourist office pick up a bike for a maximum three hours at various locations in the city.
Sights of Oslo
Buildings of Downtown Oslo
Several buildings of interest exist in downtown Oslo and give a tourist an insight to the historical and cultural heritage of Oslo. The Royal Palace is one such building which is located at the end of the main drag of the city called Karl Johans Gate. Oslo Cathedral and the surrounding Krikeristen which is the old bazaar is also worth exploring as it is populated by artists displaying their talents .The Oslo City Hall is a building on water front. Open to the public it has a magnificent main hall with murals depicting scenes from Nordic history.
This is a medieval castle built in 1299. It affords gorgeous views of the Oslo fjord and has two museums full of memorabilia from Norwegian military past.
The ski jump located on the west side of the city can be accessed by metro. This ski jump was opened in 1892 and it has the oldest ski museum which was opened in 1923.One can access the top of the ski jump and take in the gorgeous views of the city. This ski jump attracts more than a million visitors a year and is also popular in the summer when people coming to walk and ride bikes here.
The Nobel Peace Center
This Center features pictures of every Nobel Peace Prize winner over the years.
Oslo has a number of museums The Henrik Ibsen Museum is a visual delight and a shrine to the playwright Henrik Ibsen. Another Museum is devoted to the melancholy but fascinating works of the Norwegian artist Edward Munch. This museum is another must see for any tourist to Oslo. The National Gallery features contemporary artists as well as Norwegian Art. At one time all these various Museums used to charge entrance fees. Later it was decided to provide complimentary entrance for tourists to these museums on the procurement of the travel related Oslo Pass.
The peninsula called Bygdøy outside the city center is infested with museums. It is accessible by ferry from Aker Brygge during the summer months or by bus.
The museums located here include the Folk Museum which is an open air structure devoted to buildings from Norway’s past.
The Viking Ships Museum
The Viking Ships Museum contains the well preserved Viking ships which were excavated from the burial mounds in the southern part of Norway. The 9th century ships are in excellent condition as they were embalmed in clay. Like the Egyptians the Vikings buried their dead royals with all goods they believed they would need in the after life. The hoard of treasures which have been discovered are also on display along with the three ships. The ship in the best condition is the Gokstad while the Oseberg is a delicately carved with animal head post . The Oseberg served as the burial chamber of a Viking queen.
The Kon Tiki Museum
The museum contains the famous balsam wood raft the Kon-Tiki used by explorer Thor Heyerdahl to cross the Pacific ocean in 1947 in order to prove the theory that the settlers from Polynesia could have sailed the 4300 miles to Peru from Polynesia is a raft similar to the one he used. The Museum also contains the reed raft Ra II used by Heyerdahl to sail the Atlantic in 1970 as well as a taxidermy of a white shark and artifacts from his various voyages to Easter Island and Polynesia.
The Norwegian Maritime Museum displaying exhibits from Norway’s maritime expeditions and the Fram Museum featuring the Fram vessel the world’s first ice breaker ship are also located here.
The most famous park in Oslo is the Vigeland Park which features the sculptures of celebrated Norwegian sculptor Gustav Vigeland. 200 pieces of his work adorn the park. These sculptures feature human forms and his most famous and admired work is the Monolith located in the center of the park. This worke was carved from a single stone and contains several writhing human forms. The Angry Boy featuring a boy stamping his foot is another popular work. More examples of his work can be found in the nearby Vigeland Museum.
The Toyen Park is another verdant expanse popular with the locals in the summer. The Botanical Gardens located on the south of Toyen Park are another popular summertime haunt for tourists and local residents of the city alike.
Apart from Parks and Museums a tourist in their itinerary must include a picturesque ferry ride to one of the islands of the Oslo-Fjord. The ferries operate in the summer time from Vippetangen.
Oslo is one of the most expensive cities of the world but it has a number of accommodation options to suit every budget. Grand Hotel Oslo is where the noble peace prize winners are put up. Hotel Continental Oslo is another luxurious hotel with a popular café called Theatercafe which is a trendy people spotting locale of Oslo. A more moderately priced hotel is the Radisson SAS Plaza Hotel at Sonja Henies Pass 3, it is the tallest hotel in Northern Europe with 37 floors and is located close to Central train station. Rooms here start at 1300 kr and include a substantial buffet breakfast. There are a number of hostels available for the younger and more budget conscious tourist some of these are Holtekilen Hostel, Haraldshiem Youth Hostel and Ronnigen Youth Hostel.
Dining and Shopping
Aker Brygge on the waterfront is the hub for restaurants and bars in the summer months but it can be frightfully expensive too. Stortingsgaten which runs parallel to the main Karl Johans gate avenue is another locale for more moderately priced bars and restaurants. Another area for budget dining is Torgatta and streets around it. This area has a number of Asian restaurants and shops as has the area of Gronland called ‘Little Pakistan’ for its concentration of South Asian restaurants and stores selling products from the subcontinent.