Oslo, the Norwegian capital got some bad press recently because of the horrible terror attacks. In my mind however, it is entrenched as a beautiful city where it seems that nothing bad can ever happen. The city lies between the Oslomarka (the forest area) and the Oslofjord (the sea) and is quite an interesting mix of Scandinavian culture along with several other immigrant communities. I visited Oslo in summer a few years ago, when the sun refused to set until 10 at night and peeked in again by 4 in the morning. It was a city of surprises, mainly due to the fact that I didn’t have much knowledge of Norway beyond the Vikings and Henrik Ibsen. It was therefore a surprise to discover that Norwegians spoke almost perfect English, many cab drivers were from Pakistan and there were as many restaurants for tandoori and naan as there were for Norwegian cuisine. As for Vikings, they were very much around. There was a Viking Ship Museum dedicated to them after all!
What to see
The Aker Haus fortress near the harbour
Take a walk around the city, especially the part they call Medieval Oslo with its churches and cobbled lanes. The area is called Gamlebyn or Old Town. True to medieval form, there is also a fortress called Akershus Festning or Fortress, which can be quite nice to walk around in, though do not expect Tower of London type medieval props here. It gives you a fabulous view of the Oslo Fjord, which is really the best part of the visit, apart from the fact that the entrance is free! If you feel like walking more, the Ekeberg Hill is a short distance away on foot or by tram and gives you good views of the city.
Walk down from here to Aker Brygge, which is a former shipyard turned into trendy hotspot with malls, pubs and restaurants, all quite expensive but worth a try nevertheless.
Performers at Aker Brygge
You don’t need to spend though as there is enough to do by just hanging around this beautiful harbour front teeming with performers, people, sailboats and great views. If the weather is sunny (and it often isn’t), take yourself to Frogner Park and the mind blowing sculptures within it at Vigeland Park. Dotted with more than 200 sculptures of human figures by the famous Gustav Vigeland, it is quite a sight to behold and turns every first time visitor quite speechless.
Inside Vigeland Park
A lot of the activity in Oslo happens around Karl Johan’s Gate, a pedestrian-only long street lined with cafes, shops and pubs that ends at the Royal Palace. The Domkirken (church) is also situated here as is the National Theatre and the Bazaar market, where you can look for some cheap trinkets. Cheap by Oslo standards that is. In fact, downtown Oslo as some would call it is the most happening area in the city, with pretty back alleys, the harbour, churches, the station, shopping malls and theatre and a fortress and royal palace thrown in for good measure. This is also where the Nobel Peace Prize is given in December, at the City Hall.
Moving around Oslo : Your best bet is to get the Oslo Pass if you intend to move around the city, take in the sights, shopping and nightlife. It offers access to public transport, museums and other tourist attractions, parking in municipal car parks among others and is available with a validity of 24, 48 or 72 hours. You can pick it up at any tourist information office for 230 Norwegian Kroner (NOK), which is almost Rs. 1880.
The public transport system (bus, train, tram) is quite good though a fun way of exploring Oslo would be with the city bike. You could pick a smartcard from the Tourist Information office and rent a bike from any of the 100 bike stations around Oslo. Costs NOK 80 (approx Rs 600) for 24 hours.