What sets Oslo apart from other European cities is not so much its cultural traditions or its internationally renowned museums as its simply stunning natural beauty. How many world capitals have subway service to the forest, or lakes and hiking trails within city limits? But Norwegians will be quick to remind you that Oslo is a cosmopolitan metropolis with prosperous businesses and a thriving .

Once overlooked by travelers to Scandinavia, Oslo is now a major tourist destination and the gateway to what many believe is Scandinavia’s most scenic country. That’s just one more change for this town of 500,000—a place that has become good at survival and rebirth throughout its nearly 1,000-year history. In 1348 a plague wiped out half the city’s population. In 1624 a fire burned almost the whole of Oslo to the ground. It was redesigned and renamed Christiania by Denmark’s royal builder, King Christian IV. After that it slowly gained prominence as the largest and most economically significant city in .

During the mid-19th century, Norway and Sweden were ruled as one kingdom, under Karl Johan. It was then that the grand main street that’s his namesake was built, and Karl Johans Gate has been at the center of city life ever since. In 1905 the country separated from Sweden, and in 1925 an act of Parliament finally changed the city’s name back to Oslo. Today, Oslo is Norway’s political, economic, industrial, and cultural capital. The Norwegian royal family lives in Oslo, and it’s where the Nobel peace prize is awarded.

Open-minded and outgoing, Oslo has increasingly embraced global and European trends. For urban souls there are cultural attractions, nightclubs, cafés, and trendy boutiques, and for outdoors enthusiasts there is hiking, sailing, golfing, and skiing within the vast expanse of parks, forests, and fjords that make up greater Oslo.

Oslo Sights

Karl Johans Gate, starting at Oslo Sentralstasjon (Oslo Central Station, also called Oslo S Station and simply Jernbanetorget, or “railway station” in Norwegian) and ending at the Royal Palace, forms the backbone of downtown Oslo. Many of Oslo’s major museums and historic buildings lie between the parallel streets of Grensen and Rådhusgata.

To the southeast of the center of town is Gamlebyen, a historic district with a medieval church. West of downtown are Frogner and Majorstuen, residential areas known for their fine restaurants, , cafés, galleries, and the Vigeland sculpture park. Southwest is the Bygdy Peninsula, with a castle and five interesting museums that honor aspects of Norway’s taste for exploration. Northwest of town is Holmenkollen, with its stunning bird’s-eye view of the city and the surrounding fjords, a world-famous ski jump and museum, and three historic restaurants. On the more multicultural east side, where a diverse immigrant population lives alongside native Norwegians, are the Munch Museum and the Botanisk Hage og Museum (Botanical Gardens and Museum). The trendy neighborhood of Grünerlkka, with lots of cafés and shops, is northeast of the center.

Oslo Reviews

You can find nearly every type of cuisine in Oslo, from traditional Norwegian to sushi and Mexican. Many Oslo chefs have developed menus based on classic Norwegian recipes but with exciting variations, like Asian or Mediterranean cooking styles and ingredients. You may read about “New Scandinavian” cuisine on some menus—a culinary style that combines seafood and game from Scandinavia with spices and sauces from any other country. Fusion and crossover cooking have come to stay, even in fast-food restaurants.

Spend at least one sunny summer afternoon harborside at Aker Brygge eating shrimp and watching the world go by. Floating restaurants serve shrimp in bowls with baguettes and mayonnaise. Or better still, buy steamed shrimp off the nearby docked fishing boats and plan a picnic in the Oslo fjords or Vigeland or another of the city’s parks. Note that some restaurants close for a week around Easter, in July, and during the Christmas holiday season.


Oslo Reviews

“Comfort and convenience at a cost” is a perfect characterization of Oslo hotels. Most lodgings, from the elegant Radisson SAS classics to the no-frills Rainbows, are central, just a short walk from Karl Johans Gate. Many are between the Royal Palace and Oslo S Station, with the newer ones closer to the station. For a quiet stay, choose a hotel in either Frogner or Majorstuen, elegant residential neighborhoods behind the Royal Palace and within walking distance of downtown.

Television and phones can be expected in most Oslo hotel rooms. Typical Oslo hotels operate on the European Plan, that is, rates are for a double room without breakfast.

Special summer and weekend rates may save you money. Consider cutting costs by buying an Oslo Card, which entitles you to discounts and free public transportation throughout the city. Inquire at hotel chains about their discount programs. Through the Rainbow and Norlandia hotels, you can purchase the money-saving Scan+ Hotel Pass. The pass entitles you to receive up to a 50% discount and a fifth night free at 200 of their hotels in Scandinavia.

Oslo Nightlife

More than ever, the Oslo nightlife scene is vibrant and varied. Cafés, restaurant-bars, and jazz clubs are laid-back and mellow. But if you’re ready to party, there are many pulsating, live-rock and dance clubs to choose from. Day or night, people are usually out on Karl Johans Gate, and many clubs and restaurants in the central area stay open until the early hours. Aker Brygge, the wharf area, has many bars and some nightclubs, attracting mostly tourists, couples on first dates, and other people willing to spend extra for the waterfront location. Grünerlkka and Grnland have even more bars, pubs, and cafés catering to a younger crowd. A more mature upmarket crowd ventures out to the less busy west side of Oslo, to Frogner and Bygdy.

Drinking out is very expensive in Oslo, starting at around NKr 50 for a beer or a mixed drink. Many Norwegians save money by having drinks at friends’ houses—called a forschpiel—before heading out on the town. Some bars in town remain quiet until 11 PM or midnight when the first groups of forschpiel partyers arrive.

For nightlife listings, pick up a copy of the free monthly paper Natt og Dag or Friday’s edition of Avis 1.

The monthly tourist information brochure What’s on in Oslo lists cultural events in Norwegian, as does Aftenposten, Oslo’s (and Norway’s) leading newspaper, in its evening OsloPuls section and the Friday edition of Avis 1 newspaper. The Friday edition of Dagbladet, Oslo’s daily liberal tabloid, also gives an exhaustive preview of the week’s events. Tickets to virtually all performances in Norway, from classical or rock concerts to hockey games, can be purchased at any post office.

For information about gay and lesbian clubs and bars in Oslo, you can read Blikk, the gay newsletter; check out www.gaysir.no; or call LLH (Landsforening for Lesbisk og Homofil Frigjring. 22/36-19-48), the national gay and lesbian liberation association. Filmweb.no is the Web site used nationally for ordering tickets.

Oslo Shopping

Oslo is the best place in the country for buying anything Norwegian. Popular souvenirs include knitwear, wood and ceramic trolls, wood spoons, boxes with rosemaling, gold and silver jewelry, pewter, smoked salmon, caviar, akvavit (a scnapps), chocolate, and goat cheese.

Established Norwegian brands include Porsgrund porcelain, Hadeland and Magnor glass, David Andersen jewelry, and Husfliden handicrafts. You may also want to look for popular, classical, or folk music CDs; English translations of Norwegian books; or clothing by a Norwegian designer.

Prices in Norway, as in all of Scandinavia, are generally much higher than in other European countries. Prices of handmade articles such as knitwear, are controlled making comparison shopping useless. Otherwise, shops have both sales and specials—look for the words salg and tilbud. In addition, if you are a resident of a country other than Norway, Sweden, Finland, or Denmark, you can have the Norwegian Value Added Tax (moms) refunded at the airport when you leave the country. When you make a purchase, you must clearly state your country of residence in order to have the necessary export document filled in by store staff.

1 Comment

  1. Tabetha [at] Handmade Jewelry

    October 20, 2010 at 10:46 pm

    I really enjoyed reading through this post! I enjoy all things handmade, but particularly handmade jewelry. Keep up the spectacular work!

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