Norway’s capital is a compact city with much to see. There are some wonderful museums, large parks, great restaurants and interesting nightlife. Here are some suggestions on things to see.
When we walk down the main street of Oslo, we feel at ease. There is no mad traffic, the airy streets and pleasant squares have a comfortable feel, and restaurants and cafes spill out onto the footpaths welcoming us to stay. It would be hard to find a significant capital city with a more good-natured feel.
The city centre has remained surprisingly compact and the main thoroughfare – Karl Johans gate – is a good reference point as it starts at the main railway station and ends at the royal palace. It is the location for the city’s parades, and the site of a seasonal ice-skating rink. The street is bustling with restaurants and stores that make for excellent people watching and window-shopping.
The Royal Palace stands without walls, and reflects Norwegian openness and general safety. It is built in Neo-Classical style with a facade of stuccoed brick. The building has two wings and is three storeys high. The building was commissioned by Karl XIV Johan in the early 19th century but he died before it was completed. A statue of the king on horseback is in the open space in front of the palace.
This is where the daily work of the monarchy is conducted and where the King and Queen live. It is where the King presides over the Council of State, grants audiences and holds official dinners. Foreign heads of state who visit Oslo generally stay at the Palace and most of the members of the Royal Court have their workplace here.
The Norwegian Folk Museum combines indoor displays with a collection of 160 reassembled buildings from around the country making it Europe’s oldest and largest open-air museum. The oldest two buildings are the shingle-covered Gol stave church and a house from Rauland, both from the thirteenth century.
In summer, costumed guides roam the site demonstrating traditional skills such as spinning, carving, dancing and horn blowing and this adds considerably to its appeal. An unexpected feature is an apartment building with exhibits and interiors representing different time periods during the past 130 years. Both the buildings and the indoor exhibits which cover furniture, clothing, tapestries, rose-painting, carving, farming implements and the Sámi population are interesting.
Viking Ship Museum
The Viking Ship Museum is a five-minute walk away. Here a trio of 9th-century Viking ships are on display in a specially constructed building which has viewing platforms to let you see into the ships. They are the best-preserved Viking ships in the world.
Two of the ships – the Oseberg ship and Gokstad ship -are in remarkably good condition and there is also a display of the treasures that were buried with them. As burial ships, they were equipped with unique treasures such as wagons, horses and textiles. Few examples exist elsewhere as they are seldom preserved from the Viking age.
The graves also contained jewellery, weapons, tools and household goods. I now see the Vikings in a new light – sure there was rape and plunder but there was also domestic sophistication. The museum was constructed over a long period starting in 1913 and it was not finally completed until 1957. It is the work of Amstein Arneberg a highly renowned Norwegian architect who also designed the Oslo City Hall.
The Fram Museum displays the vessel that took explorer Roald Amundsen to within striking distance of both the South and North Poles. Fram is claimed to be the strongest vessel in the world, and the surface vessel that has been the farthest both to the north and south of the globe. It was launched in 1892. My wife and I clamour all over the boat and see the cramped living quarters that the crew endured.
These explorers were undoubtedly strong men and the conditions they experienced were tough. I certainly would not have volunteered. Three galleries run along the museum’s walls displaying items taken on the voyages and detailing the route and conditions encountered by the intrepid explorers. There is also a representative selection of stuffed animals from the polar region which may interest children.
Oslo’s most popular attraction – Vigeland Sculpture Park – is the world’s largest sculpture park made by a single artist and is open to visitors all year round. There are more than 200 sculptures in bronze, granite and wrought iron.
The sculpture park is within a large green area called Frogner Park. Fifty eight of the park’s sculptures, including the popular Angry Boy are arranged along what is called The Bridge, the main connection between the Main Gate and the Fountain.
The Fountain is one of the Park’s showpieces and is adorned with 60 statues portraying children and skeletons amid giant trees. The park’s most popular attraction is The Monolith which is situated at the highest point. This towers upwards and is composed of 121 human figures climbing towards the sky. I find the Park has enormous appeal and I urge everyone to visit whether you are into art or not.
Nobel Peace Centre
In Oslo’s old railway station is the Noble Peace Centre which celebrates and publicizes the Noble Peace Prize. The building’s ground floor features a series of displays about conflict and peace while upstairs there is a display on the Nobel family and the ‘Nobel Fiels’ where all past holders of the peace prize have a light bulb on a flimsy stalk in a striking display.
Along the way he has started a newspaper, a travel magazine, a Visitor and TV guide and completed a PhD in tourism. His travels have taken him to more than 100 countries and his writings have collected a PATA award, an ASEAN award, an IgoUgo Hall of Fame award and other recognition.
He is the author of the Experience Guide ebook series which currently includes Experience Thailand, Experience Norway, Experience Northern Italy, Experience Myanmar, Experience Istanbul, Experience Singapore and Experience Ireland.