Living on the other side of the world, I have always dreamed of making my way up to the Scandinavian countries. One winter’s week, I made it there. I was in Norway. Out of that week in the country, I spent a cold weekend in the capital city, Oslo. It is a charming city located on Norway’s southern coast and surrounded by forests, hills, lakes, and fjords.
I was traveling with my family, and the main reason for our trip to Norway was to head waaaaaaay up north to Tromso to see the stunning Northern Lights (read about it here: Chasing the Aurora Borealis); but there was no way we could miss stopping by Oslo. A weekend (that’s 2 days) was just enough time for us to have an easy-going skim through the surface of this amazing city. Here’s what we did.
Day 1: Saturday
We arrived Oslo in the early morning on Saturday; and took the 20-minute shuttle train from the airport to the city center for NOK 160~US$18.5 per way. After leaving our luggage at the hotel, the Oslo Guldsmeden (will write about it soon) — it was time to head out in search of food!
Lunch at Mathallen
From the Oslo city center, we took a short tram ride to Vulkan, where the Mathallen Oslo is located. Mathallen is an indoor food hall filled with more than 30 specialty food shops, cafes and restaurants offering Norwegian, as well as international products and dishes — a great place to go for a diverse selection of food. Mathallen Oslo was buzzing with people during our visit at noon, and I couldn’t keep my eyes off all the delicious looking fares. So for lunch, we filled our table with seafood and oysters, sushi, tapas, roast chicken and even Vietnamese pho.
After a filling lunch, we decided to take the bus (Bus 30) to Bygdøy (in summer, there’s the option to take the boat). Bygdøy is a peninsula located on the west side of the Oslo city center, and home to some of the city’s most popular museums — the Viking Ship Museum, Norwegian Maritime Museum, Kon-Tiki Museum, the Fram Museum, the Holocaust Center; as well as several manors. Since we only had a couple of hours, we decided to spend it at the Norwegian Folk Museum.
Norwegian Folk Museum (Norsk Folkemuseum)
The Norwegian Folk Museum, or Norsk Folkemuseum is Oslo’s largest open-air museum. It has more than 150 traditional buildings spread out across its grounds, detailing the lives of the local folk from different regions, social classes and time periods from as far back as the 16th century. I felt as if I was transported back in time — I really enjoyed the walk around. In winter, the Christmas Market adds a lovely cheer to the surroundings. Entrance costs NOK 125~US$14.5 for adults, and NOK 40~US$5 for children; and we took 3 hours.
Dinner at hos Thea
After taking the bus back from Bygdøy, we made a pit-stop at the hotel to refresh before heading out for our 8pm dinner. We were to dine at hos Thea, a charming and intimate restaurant that was highly recommended on TripAdvisor. The chef and staff of hos Thea were extremely gracious, and I was recommended the 4-course Chef’s Menu for NOK 525~US$60 (there’s also the 6-course option). I had the potato soup, as well as the scallops duo for starters, deer tenderloin on celery root puree for mains, and a selection of fruit sorbets for dessert. My meal was fantastic; and I couldn’t have ended the day on a more satisfying note.
Day 2: Sunday
Our plan for the second day in Oslo was to explore the city center. After a wonderful organic breakfast buffet at our hotel, we took the bus to our first destination of the day, Frogner Park.
Frogner Park and Vigeland Sculptures
Frogner Park is also known as Vigeland Park from the 200 sculptures around the park created by Gustav Vigeland in the early 20th century. They depict the circle of life, and are sculpted in the nude because it is meant to be timeless and unbound by clothing of a certain period. I couldn’t help admiring Vigeland’s work in fascination and a little confusion — the naked figures are portrayed in the weirdest, and oddest positions. The park’s most popular sculpture, the monolith, has nude figures as well — 121 of them, carved onto a 18m high single granite block.
We took the bus from Frogner Park to the Royal Palace. The palace is located at the top of Karl Johans Gate (Oslo’s main street), and is the royal residence of the present Norwegian monarch. It was built in the first half of the 19th century in a neo-classical style. It is only open to the public during summer (compulsory guided tours at NOK 135~US$15.5) — so we could only admire the grand building from the outside. The statue of King Karl Johan stands in front of the palace.
Lunch at Kaffistova
From the palace, we walked down the main street in search for lunch. We finally decided to stop at Kaffistova; a no-frills local diner serving simple, traditional Norwegian food. And boy, was it absolutely delicious. I ordered the kjøttkaker — Norwegian meat balls served with mashed peas and potatoes for NOK 149~US$17; and my family also tried the lutefisk (dried cod) and pork ribs. Prices are pretty affordable.
Karl Johan’s Gate
After lunch, it was time to hit the streets! Oslo’s main boulevard is named in honor of King Karl Johan (King of Norway in the early 19th century), and is lined with shops, cafes, bars, hotels, and street sellers. It is also home to Oslo’s historical buildings like the Oslo Cathedral, National Theater, the parliament and universities; and ends at the Oslo Central Station. We had a lovely time strolling along the busy street, people-watching while having a hot cuppa out in the cold, and spending most of our time at the Christmas Market!
Christmas Markets are the best thing about spending winter in Europe. Oslo’s Christmas Market is located in the center of town, and is as wonderful and lively as it can get. With shops selling Christmas goodies, warm food and festive trinkets to a huge ferris wheel and ice-skating rink; I felt like a small girl again — walking around with churros in my hand, and curiously peeking into every stall. I love the Christmas season.
Nobel Peace Center
A short walk south from Karl Johans Gate brought us to the marina and the City Hall Square, where the Nobel Peace Center is located. The center is a museum about the coveted Nobel Peace Price — and showcases the history and purpose of the price, the story of Alfred Nobel, as well as the laureates and their works. We had an interesting and educational tour through the permanent and temporary exhibitions about war, conflict resolution, human effort, and peace. Entrance is NOK 100~US$11.5 for adults.
Akershus Castle and Fortress
Towards the evening, we made our way to Akershus Castle, overlooking the marina and the sea. It was built at the end of the 13th century as a royal residence and successfully protected the city from all sieges; it later became a prison too. Entrance to the castle is NOK 70~US$8 for adults and NOK 30~US$3.5 for kids; but to walk about the fortress is free. It was almost closing time during our visit, so we just explored the grounds overlooking the marina, and watched the sky turn dark.
Night at Aker Brygge
Time for dinner along Aker Brygge, popular with the many dining, shopping and entertainment opportunities along its marina. We made prior reservations at one of Oslo’s most popular seafood restaurants, the Lofoten Fiskrestaurant; but earlier in the day, my parents decided they wanted Asian food, so I called to cancel. We ended up at Asia Restaurant, also located along the marina. It serves Southeast Asian cuisine — service was good, food was commendable, and we were happy with that little piece of home.
After dinner, we spent the rest of our night walking around Aker Brygge and its marina, and soaking in the nightlife on our last winter’s day in Oslo. We left the city after breakfast the next morning.