I’ve now been to Oslo twice, both visits right at the start of the year with temperatures as low as minus 7, thick snow on the ground, and minimal time to see all that much of it. On my visit last week, we arrived late and managed to see a bit of one neighbourhood on our walk to and from a restaurant, but we really made the most of our lunch break with a walk around the city centre.
When you’re pushed for time, and traveling with work, trying to see as much as possible is the priority for me in any city. Add in the fact that it is one of the most expensive cities in the world, wandering around is probably the cheapest way to see some of the best of Oslo. So, here’s a quick guide to a handful of the main tourist sights all within easy walking distance of each other.
The Oslo tiger
Oslo is home to many sculptures, art installations and even has its own sculpture park, but the most famous of all is the Oslo Tiger. You can find him right outside central station, which unless you have a spare £100 is the quickest and by far the cheapest way (£25 for a one way ticket..) of getting into the city centre from the airport.
Of course if you’re travelling in by ferry which I’ve done once, you’ll arrive down at the port. More on this later.
The tiger is sat on the open space right outside the station, and represents the reputation that Oslo has as the ‘Tiger City’. This dates back to a Norwegian poet in the 1800’s, but the statue was given to the city as a gift when it turned 1000 years old.
From the front of Oslo Central, and by the Tiger sculpture, head straight up the street named Karl Johans Gate. This huge long street is going to take you right past so many of the sights.
The first thing you’re going to come to is the Oslo Cathedral on the right. It’s free admission and open most days (seasonally dependent), and is the place for Royal occasions and events. Outside you can see a red heart statue, put there in remembrance of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, due to the huge spread of flowers that were laid around the cathedral grounds.
Promenaden Oslo Fashion District
Continue walking up Karl Johans Gate, past adorable Scandinavian coffee shops, and boutique stores, and your next stop is going to be what’s known as Promenaden Oslo fashion district, which as the name suggests is a high end fashion district.
The main street to look out for is Nedre Slottsgate, and this was my absolute heaven. The beautiful street is lined with designers, luxury brand names you can’t fail to recognise like Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Burberry, Valentino, Rolex and so on. Like most shopping streets of this nature it’s beautifully presented, cobblestoned with public benches and greenery dotted alongside.
As well as big fashion names you can also find the Norwegian luxury department store known as Steen & Strom. We went in purely because it has a Joe & the Juice, but it’s very much like a Harvey Nichols or Selfridges, but with a distinct Scandinavian feel to it. There’s a beautiful homeware section, complete with flower shop too.
Once you’ve had your fill of shopping, or window shopping, come back up to Karl Johans Gate again, and continue on. Your next stop is the parliament building that appears on your left. But before you arrive don’t forget to turn back and look back on where you’ve come, spot the giant Freia clock above the buildings.
This is the equivalent of Cadbury’s, and is the name of the most amazing Norwegian chocolate.
The impressive Parliament building is next, where the Norwegian parliament have met since 1866. You can go inside and participate in guided tours but again this is seasonal.
Walking further up Karl Johans Gate until you come to the big green space in the middle of the road. I say green, in winter it’s obviously covered in snow. The park has an old fashioned kiosk at the entrance, and paths that weave through past the ice rink, bandstand and park benches.
Take the right hand side path, and admire the beautiful buildings that line the road. Much further ahead you should begin to see the Royal Palace come into view, but don’t miss the Grand Oslo Hotel that you pass as you walk up past the park.
Oslo Grand Hotel and Fearless Girl
The Oslo Grand Hotel is every bit as grand as it’s name suggests, with a beautiful entrance, and an even more attractive lobby inside. The hotel is a famous spot, due to the fabulous view you get from it’s bedrooms, especially for the Royal parade that comes right past on Norway’s Constitution Day on 17th May.
The luxury hotel has a rooftop bar from which you can enjoy a drink overlooking the city, an indoor pool, and it’s very own famous ‘Fearless Girl’ statue stood outside.
You might recognise Fearless Girl from Wall Street, New York, but until my last visit to Oslo I had no idea there were more than one. She represents gender equality in the workplace, and the artist, Kristen Visbal create a fair few, Oslo being one of the first cities to buy and place one.
Remember the chocolate I mentioned earlier? The shop itself is located further up Karl Johans Gate and you will pass it as you continue up the street. It’s been there since 1899 and still has a traditional look to it inside. Don’t pass on the opportunity to buy some, because I’m seriously regretting it.
The last stretch of Karl Johans Gate will take you past the National Theatre building on your left, and the Oslo university buildings on your right.
Ahead you can see the Royal Palace. I’ve never been up close to it, but like many of the other stately buildings in Oslo it is open for guided tours during the summer months.
This little walking tour through the centre of the city allows you to see quite a bit of the tourist sights of Oslo, but there’s plenty more in other areas of the city.
This neighbourhood is thriving with little cafes, boutique shops, jazz bars and all sorts of little quirky places. We walked through in the evening, and it’s definitely a trendy area of the city, with street art on almost every wall and cute little vintage shops I wish I’d had the time to rummage through.
Aker Brygge Wharf
This trendy harbour front area of the city is known for its fine dining opportunities, boutique shopping, art installations, and a lovely view of the harbour.
There’s also some slightly less upscale, and cheaper restaurants, for example Døgnvill Burger, but for a burger and beer for two here it still cost around £90. It really is such an expensive place.
The popular area is attractive nevertheless, with it’s lively bars, outdoor eating in summer, and the place where you can set sail for a tour of the Norwegian fjords. You can also spot the Nobel Peace Centre close by.
Across the harbour, you can see Akershus fort, towering up high. Previously a Royal Residence, it has a distinctive medieval look to it, especially when it is lit up at night. For those wishing to get a closer look, entry is free and it is open most days, offering an insight into Norwegian history.
The Harbour Promenade
Being famous for it’s cruises, DFDS ferry to Copenhagen, and Norwegian fjord tours, they have really transformed the harbour front that stretches right the way along the front of the city, connecting all of the areas together into a place a lot more interesting than your average docks.
Their aim is to offer a different experience regardless of which promenade you take along the waterfront. You can see the giant orange blocks that mark each section, and these are information points to tell you more about what is close by.
Activities to be found along this long stretch of water front include a saltwater swimming pool, public spaces to walk and enjoy the sun in the summer, the Aker Brygge wharf I mentioned above, an old warehouse used for sports, a skate park, and of course the iconic Norwegian National Opera & Ballet.
Norwegian National Opera & Ballet
Right on the harbour you can’t miss this modern and impressive white building. It blends right in with the snow in winter, and offers amazing views over the fjord.
Walking around from the Opera House, you can find further developed community areas, including Salt, an art project and outdoor food and drink, even in freezing temperatures! There’s also a floating sauna, and a full program of cultural displays and events.
Right next to the ferry terminal you can also find Vippa Oslo, which is like a food market, with indoor and outdoor spaces. It was deserted on a cold Tuesday, but I bet its a great spot in the summer.
This is a very quick overview of my experience so far of Oslo. I feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface, and there are still so many amazing things to see and do in Oslo that I haven’t had chance to experience. The huge ski centre and jump, sledging, boat tours of the beautiful fjords and the Viking Ship museum are all very popular activities.
The fjords of course have a reputation of being stunning, and from the brief glimpse I got when sailing in for the first time I really would love to see more of them.
Have you been to Norway? It’s the coldest place I’ve ever been to but it really is beautiful, and perfect for a winter escape.
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