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HOME AT FIRST's

ADVENTURE

NORWAY

OSLO

NORWAY'S

ACTIVE CAPITAL

SUMMER & WINTER

THIS ARTICLE FIRST APPEARED IN DECEMBER, 2004. MOST RECENT UPDATE: 2013.        Photos © Home At First   

   

DROP INTO OSLO
          Parachute into Oslo sometime. Come as you are — youthful Norway is informal and casual. You don’t need much preparation. Bringing a
MAP OF OSLO isn’t necessary — they give them away free at the city’s two excellent Tourist Information Offices. A smattering of language will only be a luxury — Norwegians, like all Scandinavians, learn English in school at a young age. Do bring your curiosity. Lose your timidity. Money is helpful, but not as much is required as you might think. Matter of fact, thanks to the high-speed airport train, parachuting into Oslo isn’t even necessary.

NAKED IN THE PARK
          Once a frumpy Northern European backwater with severe Lutheran hang-ups about alcohol, late hours, and other vacation temptations, Oslo has morphed into one of Scandinavia’s modern showcase cities, joining its capital cousins, Copenhagen and Stockholm, as livable,

Oslo's main boulevard, Karl Johan's Gate, viewed from the Royal Palace grounds. Photo © Home At First.
Oslo's main boulevard,
Karl Johan's Gate,
viewed from the
Royal Palace grounds.

Photo © HOME AT FIRST

sophisticated, enlightened, and active all year round.

 

 

Oslo isn’t Sin City East. For one, it’s more

Two of Gustav Vigeland's more than 600 fugures in Oslo's Frogner Park show the human condition captured in granite. Photo © Home At First.
Two of Gustav Vigeland's more than
600 figures in Oslo's Frogner Park: the human condition captured in granite.

Photo © HOME AT FIRST

youthful. And, although you can probably find a gutter if you look hard enough, Oslo’s active, youthful image is fresh-scrubbed and wholesome.
        On sunny warm summer days in the Frogner Park Norwegian girls sun themselves topless as discretely and apparently as innocently as is possible in such a popular public space. Nakedness does draw thousands daily to Frogner Park, even in snowy January. But it’s statutory. Make that statue-tory. The statues are clustered in a remarkable section of the park devoted to the life’s work of sculptor Gustav Vigeland, who created the almost 200 pieces of art representing more

 

than 600 human figures — all naked and all

portraying some aspect of the human condition.
          The great expanses of Frogner Park lure Norwegians for less sedate activities, too. There are runners and rollerbladers and roll-skiers and soccer games and frisbee. To say that the Norse are active is akin to saying the Italians have a passing interest

in food and wine. All Norwegians, it seems, have an

 

enthusiastic passion for the out-of-doors. In Norway health, beauty, and athleticism are one concept, so much so that even in their most populous city Norwegians are never far from Nature.

AN ACTIVE, HISTORIC,
AND TRENDY HARBOR

        Nor from Water. Oslo is built around the elegantly curved harbor at the top of the Oslo Fjord. The harbor is big and deep—the largest freighters and warships have no difficulty tying up at wharfside. And there is still plenty of sailing room

Oslo harbor viewed from the 14th century Akershus fortress. Photo © Home At First.
Oslo harbor viewed from the
14th century Akershus fortress.

Photo © HOME AT FIRST

for the thousands of small boats — powered by

 

 

motor or by wind — that share Oslo’s harbor. If Norwegians

The cannons of Akershus Fortress have protected Oslo harbor since the Middle Ages. Photo © Home At First.
The cannons of Akershus
Fortress have protected
Oslo harbor since
the Middle Ages.

Photo © HOME AT FIRST

are wannabe athletes, they are wannabe-more sailors more. Oslo’s harbor is divided into industrial, cultural, historic, long-distance passenger, and local traffic sections, and gleams with the self-confidence that the capital of nouveau riche Norway can easily afford.
        Oslo’s harbor’s water is clean, too, and lacks the brackish smell you might expect of an arm of sea. That makes the harbor side restaurants—and there are dozens featuring a wide variety of foods, styles, and prices—all the more appealing. During the day, Oslo’s quayside is full of visitors to its medieval castle/fortress, Akershus, and the radically modern brick Oslo City Hall. Others come here to take boat rides on the harbor and fjord, or to cross the harbor by water taxi to visit the museums at the lovely, upscale suburban town of Bygdøy.
        In Bygdøy, there are 5 museums scattered across this hilly, sleepy village of large Victorian or belle époque homes. Each museum may be visited in an hour, and you can

 

combine a look at one or two with a walk through Bygdøy

and an open air, quayside lunch. The museums provide insights into Norway and the character of its people:

MUSEUMS AT BYGDØY

the Norwegian Museum of Cultural History

the Norwegian Maritime Museum

the Fram Museum (after the Fram, the ship that explored the arctic regions with Nansen, Amundsen, and Sverdrup)

the Viking Ship Museum (a stunning collection of dragon boats — most found locally along the Oslo Fjord).

the Kon-Tiki Museum, devoted to the late Thor Heyerdahl's    explorations/recreations of possible cross-ocean migrations by primitive peoples.

          At night the harbor is even more lively — full of the sound of street music and crowds of strollers. The mixed age scene is safe and well lighted, with fashion ranging from teenage casual to 4-star

One of several Viking ships on display at the Viking Ship Museum in Bygdøy, a 10-minute water taxi ride across Oslo harbor. Photo © Home At First.
One of several Viking ships on
display at the Viking Ship Museum
in Bygdøy, a ten-minute water
taxi ride across Oslo harbor.

Photo © HOME AT FIRST

restaurant dressy.

 

Oslo's Royal Palace is a residence with armed guards, but its grounds are accessible to all. Photo © Home At First.
Oslo's Royal Palace is a residence
with armed guards, but its
grounds are accessible to all.

Photo © HOME AT FIRST

A STROLL DOWN MAIN STREET
          Between Frogner Park and the harbor is the Royal Palace, on a manicured hillside with a commanding view of the city and its main thoroughfare, Karl Johan’s Gate. The palace grounds, complete with uniformed soldiers and a prim, entertaining changing of the guard ceremony, are completely accessible, and usually lively with visitors and regular foot and bicycle traffic during the day. The palace really is home to the Norwegian royal family, a handsome, intelligent, athletic, and sophisticated group that serves as a model family 

 

for the nation.

          Walk down Karl Johan’s Gate from the palace right through the heart of Oslo. In less than a mile you pass through cultural Oslo, political Oslo, shopping Oslo, and end at transport Oslo. Along the way is the city’s excellent university, the National Theater, a wonderful boulevard park with public ice skating in winter, Norway’s Parliament building, a shoppers-only pedestrian mall, and, finally, Oslo Central Station. The station is the hub of public transport throughout Oslo, and beyond. Rail, bus, subway, and tramlines all cluster here, including the ultramodern high-speed airport line. Long distance rail services to other parts of Norway and Scandinavia also start here. Importantly, there are tourist information, currency exchange services, fast food restaurants and a shopping mall all within the

Skaters in the park along Karl Johan's Gate in late December. Photo © Home At First.
Skaters in the park along Karl
Johan's Gate in late December.

Photo © HOME AT FIRST

transportation complex.

 

 

With the Oslo Pass, entrance to the Kon-Tiki Museum is free. Photo © Home At First.
ENTRY IS FREE With the Oslo Pass
to Kon-Tiki and 30 OTHER Museums.

Photo © HOME AT FIRST

KEY TO THE CITY
          If Oslo’s compact size and walkability make exploration on foot simple, its excellent public transportation makes it easy to explore with a minimum of walking. An intricate network of streetcars (trams) scatter in all directions from Oslo’s Central Station. Having a day ticket for the network lets you hop on and off the trams at will — and is valid for the subway line out to Frogner Park and the water taxis across the harbor to Bygdøy, too. Day tickets are available at the transportation hub at Oslo Central Station.
          An even better deal — for those looking to visit some of the many museums in Bygdøy and throughout downtown Oslo — is the Oslo Pass which covers

 

admissions to many attractions, provides free parking

in city lots, and serves as a public transportation pass good for the buses, trams, subway, local trains, and inner Oslo Fjord cruisers. Available for 1, 2, and 3-day durations, the Oslo Pass gives visitors the freedom of the city.
 
WINTER IN THE CITY

          Active, outdoorsy Oslo is a natural destination in the long days of the Scandinavian summer. The surprise is that Oslo is a fascinating city of lights and outside activity even during the longest, dark Scandinavian winter nights. Oslo is the only major European city with skiing available just outside of the city center accessible by subway. Oslo’s main boulevard, Karl Johan’s Gate, is as full of people and bright as a summer afternoon even on snowy nights in December. Skaters of all generations fill the rink (the Oslo Pass even offers reduced price skate rental!) and the pedestrian shopping mall is full of Christmas shoppers looking for everything from expensive furs to traditional reindeer pattern sweaters. There are special Christmas markets in town — even a Designer Christmas Market — and a special Christmas exhibit at the Kunstnerforbundet Art Gallery. Across the harbor at Bygdøy (reached by bus #30 rather than by water taxi in winter), the Museum of Cultural History recreates a traditional Norwegian Christmas complete with a children’s choir and folk

Oslo shop window featuring traditional Norwegian sweaters. Photo © Home At First.
Oslo shop window
featuring traditional
Norwegian sweaters.

Photo © HOME AT FIRST

dancing among its authentic historic houses from around Norway.

 

          In the winter, of course, Oslo’s café society has retreated indoors. Everywhere there are cozy, warm restaurants with hot food and drinks of the season, offering a refuge from the snowy cold, and fortifying guests for the next foray outside.

 

Oslo's landmark City Hall. Nobel Peace Prizes are presented here in December. Photo © Home At First.
Oslo's landmark City Hall. Nobel
 Peace Prizes are presented
here in December.

Photo © HOME AT FIRST 

A PRIZE-WINNING DESTINATION
          Oslo is as comfortable as an old pair of jeans. Just show up — the rest is easy. Cultures will cross. People will meet and ideas will be exchanged. New foods will be tried, unfamiliar territory will be discovered, and old traditions will be examined. And, finally, the Nobel Peace Prize will be awarded, at the landmark City Hall by the harbor, as it is every December, when the world comes to Oslo.

 

LEARN MORE ABOUT HOME AT FIRST TRAVEL TO:
 OSLO, NORWAY, AND THROUGHOUT SCANDINAVIA

This article covers some of dozens of activities suggested in
HOME AT FIRST’s exclusive "OSLO ACTIVITY GUIDE
Provided to
HOME AT FIRST guests to SCANDINAVIA.

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