You know that moment when your mother in law invites you round for the bank holiday weekend and you decide to take everyone to Oslo instead?
I speak candidly when I tell you that this particular weekend break was every bit as whimsical, random and impulsive as my introduction leads you to believe, planned (in the loosest sense of the world) with a grand total of a fortnight’s notice.
Easter Weekend in the UK is a cosy pocket of time for those of us who work hard and travel hard; there aren’t many other times in the year when can you can enjoy a 3 night break away without sacrificing even a day of annual leave but despite this, Pumpkin and I had never previously taken advantage of Easter weekend for travel purposes.
When I realised both he and I as well as my in-laws were free for the entirety of the weekend, I pounced opportunistically to try and coordinate a long-awaited family holiday. Pumpkin’s expression, when I proposed the idea, was predictable and familiar – the increasingly defeated face of an Instagram husband, wondering when the dust will finally be allowed to gather on his suitcase.
“But we’re going to Japan in just 3 weeks” he wailed in exasperation – the relevance of his point completely lost on me. 😀
Oslo, Norway, as a destination choice, came about completely by circumstance. Everyone wanted to visit a country they hadn’t previously travelled to (which ruled out most of Europe) yet we chose to stick to Europe given our limited time. A few internet searches later and I found myself booking a “bargain” weekend in Oslo but next time I dare to use the “b” word, I will be sure to do my research so I learn in good time that it is one of the most expensive cities in the world!
Unlike neighbouring capitals Copenhagen and Stockholm, Oslo, in many ways, seems to have fallen underneath the cluttered tourist radar, which makes it something of an ideal city break location; the streets are sparse, the tourist traps few and far between and the photogenic corners peppered across the city catch you completely off guard.
And to prove just how much of Norway’s mystical capital city you can see with just four days at your disposal (leisurely lie ins and afternoon coffee breaks included), here is my ultimate Top 20 Oslo guide. I rarely do chock-a-block compilation posts but I was taken aback by just how diverse an array of activities I found in this city and I left with the distinct feeling that Oslo deserves far more acclaim than it receives.
20 ways to spend 4 days in Oslo
Visit Oslo Cathedral
It might not have the grandeur of Notre Dame but an understated simplicity and quiet calm resonate against the low-lit, baroque interiors of Oslo Cathedral.
Stroll down Karl Johans Gate
As the main city boulevard in Oslo, we started our weekend in Oslo with an evening amble down Karl Johans Gate, which connects the Royal Palace to Oslo Central Station. Accommodation in and around this area may prove to be more costly but is an ideal location for anyone looking to explore Oslo for the first time.
Vigeland Sculpture Park
I won’t dwell on this too much as one day, I hope to devote a whole post to it but trust me, you need to visit the Vigeland Sculpture Park.
In fact, if there is only one sight to see away from the centre of the city, let this park be it. With countless sculptures from the romantic to the plain weird, keep your cameras charged as you’re in for a visual feast of more 200 impressive statues and sculptures.
Feel Inspired at the Nobel Peace Centre
For anyone who follows the Nobel Peace Prize updates or has an interest in world affairs, a visit to Oslo would be incomplete without seeing the Nobel Peace Centre and whilst you are free to roam around inside independently, it is well worth timing your visit to coincide with one of the guided tours (included in your ticket price anyway).
With the help of the guide, we gleaned a deeper understanding about the history of the prize, the centre, the winners and the selection process.
At the end of the tour, we found ourselves immersed in a sea of digital faces, faces of previous prize winners, who tirelessly campaigned for peace and toiled in the pursuit of world peace.
Oslo City Hall
Marvel at the colourful murals draping the inner walls of Oslo City Hall or, if like us, you turn up on Bank Holiday when it is closed, then you’ll just have to admire the exteriors, which aren’t quite as colourful!
Freeze your socks off with a Oslo Fjord Cruise Boat Ride
When my father in law approached the front of the queue and saw the outdoor seating on the boat, he proclaimed “there must be indoor seating. If it’s all outdoors, I’m going back to the hotel” It may have been the end of the March but to us Brits (many of whom are far more flimsy in chilly climes than we would ever care to confess), the climate felt Arctic – not metaphorically either, as we weren’t that far away from the Arctic after all.
To his credit, he didn’t go back to the hotel. Instead, he sweet-talked the boatmen, who gave him shelter next to them and gave him his own informal, private guided tour! Meanwhile, Pumpkin, Mum in law and myself snuggled under thick blankets provided to us on the boat, each of us hoping one of the others was taking photos, so fearful were we of our fingers losing circulation and falling off.
If you are a little more sensible, you will do this activity in the summer or come equipped with actual proper winter warmers. Being on a boat in Norway in winter (or spring apparently) is not time to be Carrie Bradshaw, ladies. Focus on packing warm!
Take a trip down primary school memory lane with a visit to the Viking Museum
Explore original excavated ships from the Viking era and the treasures and historic relics found within them (and discover in the process, how much easier it is to remember Viking history when faced with life-size visual aids).
Eat Norwegian Salmon
You’re either a fish eater or your’e not. If you’re not, skip ahead to the next one of Oslo’s highlights but if you’re anything like me, you eat salmon by the truck load.
Aside from its health benefits and tasty flavours, salmon’s versatility makes it quite simply one of the easiest ingredients to cook with so I couldn’t leave Norway without trying some traditional Norwegian salmon.
Fine Dining with a View
Foodies – get ready to empty out your piggy banks and pack your glad rags because a meal at the Ekebergrestauranten, raised above the city on Ekeberg Hill, lends one of the most romantic views of Oslo with a side order of crisp tablecloths, succulent scallops and Norwegian and international specialty dishes.
Assess the cylindrical symmetry at the Storting Building of the Norwegian Parliament
Just off the Karl Johans Gate, there are no excuses to miss this attraction but my tip would be to ensure you see it by moonlight when it takes on an enchanting life of its own, guarded in the still of the night by a large white lion.
Inside tours of the Norwegian Parliament Storting Building are available but since we had done a very similar one a couple of months earlier in Budapest, we opted out this time.
Ponder over the floating She Lies statue
Compare and contrast the more classic sculptures at Viigeland park with what appears to be a floating glass and steel statue in the Oslo Fjord.
Spoiler Alert: the She Lies Glass Sculpture by Monica Bonvicini doesn’t actually float but from a distance, your eyes will have you believe otherwise.
Enjoy the crowd-free streets by day and night
There aren’t many European cities where you can stand in the middle of a road in the heart of the tourist district, photograph from every angle to your heart’s content and not risk being walked into by angry-faced hurried locals.
Visit the Opera House
Oslo’s opera house, unlike so many others that I have come across around the world, is the kind of sleek, modern, minimalist architecture you would never conjure up in your imagination when asked to picture an opera house. Brand spanking new after only being completed in 2007, Norway actually held a design competition for the creation of the new opera house.
But intentionally designed to be a space to be enjoyed by all and to part ways from the stereotypes affiliated with opera house attenders, the modern design and array of amenities were designed in the hope of attracting a greater subset of the population to the opera house.
Take a guided tour inside the opera house to see costumes being designed and behind-the-scenes workers in action and a seat in the auditorium (though again, if you’re visiting on a public holiday weekend.
Walk on the Opera House Roof
Truth be told, I am much more inclined to take a tour of an opera house than to actually want to see opera in one – that’s just personal taste but even if you can’t be persuaded to get the inside scoop, at least take advantage of the architectural design concept, which allows you to walk across the roof of the opera house and catch reflections of Oslo on the surfaces of the exterior.
Get a birds eye view of the city by night
Looking over Oslo at night from Ekeberg Hill left me wondering if I had entered Scandinavian Narnia with a few glimmers of electricity reminding me it was indeed reality.
The glistening night lights, interspersed like dew drops across a web of barren tree branches, kept us standing and kept us staring despite the proliferation of goosebumps on our arms.
See the Changing of the Guards at Oslo’s Royal Palace
Head to the The Royal Palace in Oslo to try and catch a glimpse of Norwegian royalty, King Harald V and Queen Sonja, who call this building home.
And if you fail at that mission (as you probably will), then set your sights on the changing of the guards instead.
The Museum of Cultural History
For someone who admits to usually shying away from visiting museums, I have certainly clocked up some serious museum loyalty points in the last twelve months. From the railway museum in York. the chocolate museum in Bruges and the pinball museum in Budapest (more to come on that later).
But after my fair share of light-hearted museums, in Oslo, I headed to the Museum of Cultural History to try and redress the balance (and convince myself I still have what it takes to be a proper culture vulture).
Shop and Dine at Oslo Central Station
Until I first visited New York City, the concept of a train station being worthy of tourist attraction status in its own right had never even remotely occurred to me.
But a snoop around Grand Central Station soon changed my stance on that and at Oslo Central station, we found chic cafes, funky blue backdrops and a pub that served us our dinner one evening. This is Norway though so expect to cough up cash for your fish and chips.
Relax and breathe…
Oslo is an easy-going kind of city. It doesn’t have the chaos and crowds you’ll find in cities like Rome or Barcelona. It is a city where you don’t need to choose between touring the sights or lounging around as there is space in this city for both. I rarely pack my swimsuit on city breaks and was a little cross with myself when I had to sit on the side lines whilst Pumpkin had a dip in the hotel pool at Clarion Hotel Royal Christiania.
The One That Got Away – The Norwegian Folk Museum
I’m cheating with this last one as I ran out of time to visit this museum myself but I bumped into someone I used to work with at Oslo Airport (small world!) and she fed back saying that this museum was well worth a visit. Reportedly one of Europe’s largest outdoor museums, visitors can get a feel for Norway’s traditional houses, arts and crafts and even join in for some pancake making!
Norway is no stranger to tourism but from observing those around me, I have often found that the crowds are drawn in by the prospect of the luminescent Northern Lights, the magnificent panoramas of the Fjords and the winter beauty of cities such as Tromso and Bergen. Somehow, its pretty capital city gets lost in between but I hope I have managed to persuade you that it is most definitely worth a visit in its own right.
All the photos in this post were taken on the very snazzy new Samsung Galazy S7, which I had on loan for this trip from Three (perfect timing really since I had no other camera during this trip having left mine on a train in London at the start of the year.) I’m not getting paid to say any of this and it was (sadly!) only a loan but unlike all the Apple-worshippers of the world, I have been a Samsung girl for as long as I can remember, mostly because I absolutely love the cameras on them and after using this new model in Oslo, it was a serious anti-climax going back to my exhausted old S4 Mini. #FirstWorldProblem or what?!
Have you ever been to Oslo? What would you add to this list?