A few days before the first May Bank Holiday, I had the horrible realisation that I didn’t really have any more annual leave from work until the end of September. That meant one thing – no summer holiday this year. It was too late to plan anything for the imminent three day weekend but there was still time to organise something for May Bank Holiday number two. The Flatmate agreed to come with me and we had one main criteria for our holiday destination – it had to be somewhere neither of us had been to. It also had to work money-wise and flight-wise, by which I mean it had to be cheap and the flight times had to be after work on Friday night and we needed to be back Monday afternoon.
A bit of research later and The Flatmate found the cheapest flight deal was to Oslo. I’d never really considered going to Norway before but the flight times were perfect and the deal included three nights in a hotel. We booked immediately. Then we remembered one key thing – Norway is expensive. Very expensive. However, as I was set to discover, it was totally worth it.
I think Oslo is a very underrated city. It’s pretty, there’s loads of interesting things to do and the food is amazing. We also found a way to lessen the impact on our wallets. The Oslo Pass lasts for 24 hours (£28), 48 hours (£41) or 72 hours (£51) and gets the holder free entry into around 30 museums, free public transport, discounts in restaurants and more. This means that you can make the most of being in the city without bankrupting yourself.
1. Island hopping around the Oslo Fjord
If it’s a nice day in Oslo, take it and run. Run all the way down to the harbour, hop on a ferry and get your ass over to some of the islands in the Oslo Fjord.
A fjord is an inlet or channel of water surrounded by steep sides, which is formed through glacial erosion. Norway has some amazingly impressive fjords but sadly these are located in the west of the country, not near Oslo. The Flatmate and I spent hours trying to find a good way from Oslo to these fjords and back in the space of a day. The only way we could find was a tour which would have cost over £200 and would have been very rushed. That wasn’t really an option, however much we were tempted, and we figured since we only had a limited time we should stay in the city.
Apparently, the Oslo Fjord is the most unimpressive and I can’t say I was able to get any dramatic landscape photos of it. Although I didn’t have time to explore it thoroughly, so perhaps it would have got better had I gone further in. Instead, The Flatmate and I caught a ferry to Hovedøya, one of the islands in the fjord. I’d heard that if you were going to visit any of them Hovedøya was the best bet. We found a rocky crag on the coastline where I fell asleep in the sun, surrounded by people picnicing and barbecuing. I was jealous. That would have been ideal. I wish we’d had thought of that but, food or no food, this was still the perfect place to relax in the sun.
2. Monastery ruins on Hovedøya
I’ve already said that Hovedøya is, apparently, the best island to go to (it certainly had the longest queue for the ferry) but I haven’t yet said what made it great. Sure, it was a good place to chill in the sun but I’m sure the other islands would have been good venues for activity this as well.
The Flatmate and I started off our Hovedøya visit by popping into the cafe near where the ferry docks, where she treated herself to an icepop. The steep Norweigan prices put me off getting anything that wasn’t completely necessary for myself. Then we explored the ruins of a monastery, which lay next to the cafe. We do love some good ruins.
We spent a little while hopping around the inner and outer walls of the monastery before climbing a tower and viewing the site from above. It’s not a particularly extensive site and there wasn’t really any information – that I could see anyway – about the place, which was a shame, but it was a fun place to play and explore.
3. Sculptures in Vigeland Park
Vigeland Park is a park (big shock) full of sculptures created by artist Gustav Vigeland. Apparently, there are over 200 statues in the site, most of which are located along the central pathway. We didn’t wander off this track so I think we may have missed some but we saw the highlights. These included a series of sculpted individuals and groups along a bridge, a fountain, an obelisk made up of statues of people all jigsawed together, with other groups of statues placed on the steps leading up to it, and something that looked like a Christmas wreath but that was made up of sculpted people.
One thing that all of these statues had in common was that they all consisted of nude figures (less classically inspired and more bulky with less body definition) positioned in various, and sometimes rather bizarre, poses. These included a father attempting to balance his infant children, one of which was on his foot, and a mother with a gag in her mouth whose kids were sitting on her back. My personal favourite was a toddler mid-tantrum. Something both The Flatmate and I found annoying was the lack of any information detailing the inspiration behind the sculptures. Admittedly, there was a museum we could have gone into that probably explained it all but it would have been nice to at least have had an information board alongside the main sculptures.
In all honesty, particularly without knowing anything about the place, it’s actually quite hard to describe, even now I’ve seen it. It’s probably worth looking up some information about it on Wikipedia before you go.
4. Akershus Castle and Fortress
Akershus Fortress is a castle located on a cliff overlooking Oslo’s harbour. I’d heard that you could get some great views of the Oslo Fjord so, when a sunny day came, my flatmate tied it into our island hopping day (which turned into just the one hop to Hovedøya). We walked uphill into the castle and climbed the banks to see these views for ourselves, cameras in hand. The views probably would have been great- if it wasn’t for the fact that most of them were marred by a giant cruise ship. Although I must admit, that was pretty impressive. Just less of a natural wonder.
The castle, built around the 1290s, has been transformed over the centuries and has been used as a royal residence and a fortress. There are dungeons and a chapel to explore, amongst other rooms, and the tombs of a few members of royalty reside there. It didn’t take long to wander around- but then we didn’t use the audio guide nor go into any of the museums on the site- and, whilst it wasn’t the most amazing castle I’ve been to, I would say it’s worth a visit. There’s some beautiful furniture and decorations to see.
5. Oslo Cathedral
Since Oslo Cathedral was at the end of the road where my hotel was, it seemed like an easy stop to make. The Flatmate and I planned to pop in on the morning of our departure, however when we arrived at around 11.30am, there were a service still taking place so we had to turn back. Half an hour or so later, however, we were walking past the church with our bags in tow, on the way to Oslo Central Station to catch the train to the airport, and we saw the congregation leaving as the morning service ended. We took that as our cue and slipped inside. The organ was still playing and a few people were still sitting in their pews. We took our place among them and looked around. The decorations were ornate and the painted ceiling was unusual. We weren’t in there for long but it was worth a peak.
6. The Museums
If there’s one thing that Oslo seems to have in abundance it’s museums and pretty impressive ones at that. At the Viking Ship Museum you will find the relics of three Viking burial ships hips and their contents. At the Fram Museum you will find two ships that once explored the Arctic, one of which you can actually climb aboard. At the Folk Museum you can wander around buildings from old Norwegian folk villages which have been moved to the site.
One thing to note, however, is that many (but not all) places are closed on Mondays. This was something I didn’t realise when I tried to visit the National Gallery to see Munch’s Scream painting. Thankfully, the Nobel Peace Center, which has public exhibitions about some of its incredible prize winners, proved to be a fantastic alternate. There is so much impressive stuff to see and learn about in Oslo.
7. The Architecture
Whenever I pictured Scandinavian countries, I pictured somewhere grey, wet and cold. I’d be lying if I said there was no greyness, wetness or coldness at all during my trip but that wasn’t all there was. My first thoughts of Oslo were of how clean and quiet it seemed. The next were how nice some of the buildings were, particularly around the main street of Karl Johans Gate. The Royal Palace was slightly disappointing in comparison to Buck House and City Hall was not impressive at all but the National Theatre, Parliament and other random buildings were actually quite beautiful. So when you’re wandering around the streets of Oslo, pay attention to what you are passing by.
8. The Local Cuisine
As with anywhere, if you want an insight into the local culture, sampling the local cuisine is a must. In Norway that meant two things as far as I could tell: firstly, salmon, which seemed to be served everywhere, and, secondly, reindeer. Sorry Rudolph. The Flatmate and I rocked up to a restaurant called Elias, Mat and Sant having heard they did a great reindeer stew but sadly it seemed to no longer be on the menu (perhaps it was the wrong season) but they did have salmon. Really good salmon. Sure it was about £20 but that seemed to be the standard price of a main meal in a restaurant in Oslo. They also had board games so we could eat and play Scrabble at the same time.
Our second meal took us to Rorbua (which was one of the restaurants discounted with the Oslo Pass), where Viltgryte was on the menu (for about £22). This was a moose and reindeer stew, which was pretty amazing, I have to say. Although I have no idea which meat was which. I had it alongside a wine glass full Mystic Arctic beer – apparently the first beer to reach the North Pole. Sounds pretty Norwegian to me.