Go back. Baaaaaaaaaaaack! Over the falls!”
My first brief introduction to Norway was on the Maelstrom ride in the Norway pavilion in Disney’s Epcot theme park. The animatronic troll bellowed his warning to unsuspecting trespassers whose Viking boat was about to “plunge” backwards over the simulated waterfall, launching into a presentation of Norway’s mythology and culture.
The romantic notion of Vikings and fjords stayed with me over the years, so when the opportunity to visit Oslo, the capital of Norway presented itself, I jumped at the chance.
Let me introduce you to….
The 1,000 year-old city of Oslo is running over with sights and activities to thrill and satisfy every type of traveler. From vibrant fairytale-like old buildings juxtaposed against modernist architecture, a walker-friendly city metropolis, its own rippling fjord, ancient restaurants serving unique local fare, myriad museums, and oh-so-much more. Oslo holds its own in the collection of stunning Scandinavian capitals.
Oslo is one of those magical places that will cause you to say, “Why didn’t I visit sooner?”
Here are some of the highlights:
This park is not only one of Oslo’s best attractions, but in all of Norway. The park contains more than 200 sculptures of beloved Norwegian sculptor Gustav Vigeland, including the infamous Sinataggen – the London “angry boy. The sculptures are made of bronze, granite and wrought iron, and Vigeland even designed the park itself. Be sure to check out (actually, you can’t miss it) the Monolith, a 46-foot sculpture carved from one single granite block. The sculpture shows carved people with various expressions climbing towards heaven and is said to symbolize man’s quest for the Divine.
The original jump was used during the 1952 Winter Olympics, but was totally rebuilt and has been opened to visitors since 2010. From the main base tourists can stand at the rails for panoramic views over Oslo and take photos. Perched on top of a hill, the iconic ski jump is known for being one of the city’s finest vantage points. Visitors can also take an elevator to the top of the jump for an even more impressive view, if they are willing to wait in a long queue. There are several gift shops, a restaurant, and a simulator where you can experience the exhilaration of skiing down and off the jump.
Part of the Skagerrak strait leading into the Baltic Sea, Oslofjord is not the most beautiful Norwegian fjord. You won’t find the stunning cut through the craggy cliffs that are the hallmark of Norway’s other fjords. Instead, you’ll find a seascape of low rocky shores of pretty and diverse little islands. Each of these islands has its own character and distinctive history. Among them are Hovedøya, Lindøya, Nakholmen, Bleikøya, Gressholmen, and Langøyene. Even though the islands are inhabited, most of the population of the fjord resides on the mainland. Cruising through the narrow sounds of the fjord and past the picturesque summer homes along the idyllic bay and perched on the hills is a pleasant way to spend two hours. In the summer there are opportunities to go sailing, fishing and kayaking on the fjord.
The sleek angular architecture combined with the Italian marble and white granite used to cover the sharp angles give the impression that the structure is rising up from the Oslo Fjord. The Opera House has become a landmark on the Osco horizon. Stroll on top of the roof for some of the best photo of the fjord.
Attention foodies! Mathallen Market, housed in a high-ceilinged warehouse building, is the place to go for an immense selection of high-quality cuisine. Inside are row after row of shops and cafes offering fresh produce, seafood and meat, and baked goods. The warehouse-style interior is casual and boisterous and a great place to meet or make new friends. My favorite shop was Hello Good Pie, Norway’s first pie shop. It has an open baking area so you can see and smell the savoy and sweet treats. Try not to drool over the offerings under the glass case. My favorite? The fresh quiche with caramelized onions and innumerable cheeses. I am a bit of a quiche aficionado, given my 100% French heritage, and I must admit, this was the first quiche I’ve tasted that rivals my own!
Akershus Castle and Fortress
A visit to medieval Akershus Castle is like taking a time machine back through Norwegian history. Akershus Castle is one of the oldest milieus in Norway, dating back to around 1300 AD. Although it was remodeled in the Renaissance style in the 17th century, you can still see the remains of the original medieval dungeons and residence of the kings. The latest restoration took place in the 20th century, and today the grand halls are used for government functions. The fortress is a landmark is the most stunning and distinguishing silhouette on the Oslo waterfront.
Bygdøy is a peninsula west of Oslo center where several of Oslo’s most popular museums are housed. There are two ways to get there; take a bus, or take the boat leaving from Pier 3 behind the City Hall. The museums are small but impressive in content and it’s possible to see them all in one day.
- Viking Ship Museum contains three ancient Viking ships, including the world’s best preserved Viking ship.
- Fram Museum’s centerpiece the world´s strongest wooden ship, the polar ship Fram around which the museum was built. The public can go on board and take a look around in her cabins, lounges, cargo hold and engine room.
- Kon-Tiki Museum is a tribute to Thor Heyerdahl who gained worldwide fame when he crossed the Pacific Ocean on Kon-Tiki in 1947.
- Maritime Museum has an extensive collection documenting Norwegian maritime history, maritime trade and coastal culture.
Dating from the 1700’s, this is the oldest restaurant in Oslo, and some say all of Norway. The Christiania Theater was once located right across the street, and the Engebret was the place to be seen, frequented by both actors and audience. Frequent and famous patrons included the likes of playwright Henrik Ibsen, composer Edvard Grieg, and artist Edvard Munch. The décor and atmosphere are reminiscent of the low-lighted times-gone-by, and menu is flush with high quality, upscale appetizers and entrees. I chose a local specialty that I’d never tried before – medallions of reindeer in a sauce of port and raisins. I barely needed a knife to cut through the tender, tasty meat.
Four years after his death on January 23, 1944, Edvard Munch bequeathed all his works of art to the City of Oslo. The collection includes some 1100 of his paintings, although his most famous work, The Scream, hangs Oslo’s National Gallery. The Munch Museum’s modern building is located in Tøyen in eastern Oslo. However, the museum has long outgrown its current premises, so after years of debate, the Oslo City Council voted to build a new Munch Museum in Bjørvika in the Oslo’s harbour area, close to the Opera.
Walk this way
Oslo is one of the most walker-friendly cities in Northern Europe. Karl Johanson Street is the heart, loaded with shops, restaurants, cafes, and bars. At one end you can visit
Oslo Cathedral and at the other is the Royal Palace Park. In between, take side streets to visit the Parliament and the National Gallery. Grab an area map from your hotel or local vendors, but if you get lost, don’t worry because you won’t find friendlier, more helpful people anywhere on the Continent, and most are multi-lingual.
Alas, my beloved Disney Maelstrom troll ride has been closed to make room for (yet another?) princess ride based on the more updated Frozen movie. I suppose you can’t stop progress, and all that malarkey. But while I am in touch with my princess side on many an occasion, I can’t help but feel that there are already enough princess-themed attractions in the Disney lineup and wished Epcot had stayed pure to Walt’s original vision of a World Showcase vs. Fantasyland. I for one will dearly miss the three-headed trolls. Okay, Elsa, I will “let it go.”
Go back? To Norway – the real one? Why, yes. I believe I will.
If you go (links you’ll need):
- Thon Hotel Panorama is the quintessential Scandinavian boutique hotel, with sleek contemporary furnishings and the perfect location for walking around the city and to many attractions.
- Visit Oslo/Oslo Pass
- Oslo Sightseeing Tours
Disclosure: The author was honored to be the guest of Visit Oslo during her stay in Norway, but as always, the opinions, reviews and experiences are her own. All photos are provided courtesy of the author.
Author Bio: Patti Morrow is the founder and editor of Luggage and Lipstick – a travel blog for baby boomer women adventurers, author of the book Girls Go Solo: Tips for Women Traveling Alone, and freelance travel writer with bylines in over 30 publications, including The Washington Post, International Living Magazine, Travel Girl, Epicure & Culture, and Ladies Home Journal. She has traveled throughout most of the USA and around 50 countries and islands abroad.
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