A quick detour to Oslo today, dear readers.
I’m taking a break from the Middle East for a bit to do a post closer to home for the cool World Reviewer. No worries, I’ll return to the exciting Arabian world shortly, with posts on Egypt, Oman, Bahrain and Kuwait. And maybe Qatar.
But for now, here’s my World Reviewer take on Norway’s open-minded capital and some cool things to do in Oslo:
Oslo things to do
1. Where’s your home town, and what’s the main reason people visit?
Oslo, Norway. Most people visit Oslo for the fantastic nature surrounding the city on all sides. And for sports, either to participate or to watch. Especially winter sports. Even more especially Nordic skiing: cross-country or ski jumping. For the extreme-sport oriented maniacs, the famous adventure travel venues, especially for base jumping and wingsuit flying, are in the West country.
On one side, Oslo is bordered by the fjord. On all others, by the hills, calm lakes and rivers of Oslomarka forest. Just 15 minutes by public transport from the city centre, locals take advantage of the surrounding nature at every opportunity. Many visitors do too.
2. What’s the main reason you think people SHOULD be visiting?
Oslo is one of the world’s premier destinations for ecotourism. Many Oslovians feel they’ve drawn the winning ticket in life’s lottery for living here, and the city’s close proximity to nature is a big part of that. So if visitors come for nature, that’s as it should be. But Oslo offers heaps of cultural sights and activities as well. Locals adore Frogner Park; ambling (or walking the dog, running, or skateboarding) among the fabulous sculptures of Gustav Vigeland. Strolling on the roof of the Opera House is another favourite. As it the maritime Bygdøy Peninsula.
3. If you had to recommend to the friend of a friend one unmissable thing to do in Oslo, what would it be?
Just one thing, eh? Tough one. I recommend buying a ticket for the hop-on hop-off boat that ply between City Hall, Bygdøy and the Opera House; getting off and spending time at whichever spot takes your fancy. The boat is an old, wooden sailing ship and the trip is great in summer. Perhaps surprisingly, it’s equally wonderful in winter, standing on deck with a cup of hot gløgg in hand, as snow softly falls. Just be sure you’re dressed warmly. Seeing Oslo from the fjord gives you a sense of how the Vikings must have felt when returning home after ages at sea.
4. If they had a whole day in Oslo what would you recommend they do?
To get your bearings, I recommend the boat-trip above. Then take your time exploring one or two of the stops more in depth. You haven’t time to see all three in one day. At the Opera House, join the locals for a walk up the cool, sloping marble roof and enjoy excellent fjord views from the top. At City Hall, you have a number of options. Check out the artsy entrance hall, and don’t be surprised if you feel you’ve seen those paintings before. This is where the annual Nobel Peace Prize Ceremony takes place.
A few hundred metres up the hill is Akershus, a medieval fortress with more stunning fjord views. Back down the hill, you’ll find the evocative Nobel Peace Centre and the lively renovated ship yard Aker Brygge, full of quirky shops and cafes. Have lunch there, or – if it’s summer, buy a delicious basket from Pascal’s Cafe de la Paix in the Peace Centre and hop on the tram to Frogner Park for a lovely picnic in the grass. You’ll be surrounded by 212 life-size nudes and the scent of thousands of roses.
5. What if they had three days?
Three days? Much better (but still not enough). So you’ve already spent one day checking out the Opera House, City Hall, Aker Brygge, Akershus Fortress and Frogner Park. It’s time to explore Norway’s more than 1000-year-old maritime history at Bygdøy. You’ll find well-preserved Viking Ships, the Polar Ship Fram used by Roald Amundsen in Antarctica (he was the first to reach the South Pole), the ocean-crossing Kon-Tiki raft and much more. Norsk Folkemuseum, the world’s first open-air museum is at Bygdøy as well. As is lovely nature walks and Huk Beach, where clothing is optional. Set aside at least one day for Bygdøy, and even then, you’ll just touch the surface.
Spend your last day in the great outdoors. You have a choice between exploring Oslomarka Forest or the islands of the Oslo Fjord. (If you get up very early, you could do both). 15 minutes on the metro takes you to Holmenkollen where you can have a look at the ski jump and the Museum of Skiing. If you have children along, or you’re a kid at heart, have a go at the cool ski jump simulator. Continue up the hill to Frognerseteren, an iconic restaurant at the forest’s edge, for coffee and waffles. Locals prefer theirs served with sour cream and strawberry jam. Then, take a hike! Or, if it’s winter, strap on cross-country skis and glide through miles and miles of trails. If it’s Sunday, you won’t be alone. Seems half the city finds their way here on weekends. No worries, though – there’s room for everyone.
Back down in the city centre, grab a picnic lunch and hop on the ferry for a short ride to Hovedøya Island where you can roam about the ruins of a 12th century monastery, get up close with free-roaming sheep and goats, take an invigorating swim in the Oslo Fjord or just laze at the beach.
6. What will you never catch a local doing?
Take the tourist train. Or have one’s picture taken while teasing the Royal Palace Guards with their ridiculous hats. However, Norwegians from out of town will do this.
7. What WILL you catch a local doing?
– Crossing on red; it’s not actually illegal and pedestrians always have the right-of-way.
– At the first sign of summer, throw away their inhibitions. And most of their clothes.
– Also in summer, enjoy after-work beers at Aker Brygge or along main street Karl Johan. Beginning at 2 pm.
8. And what local delicacies would visitors be fools not to try while they’re there?
Nordic cuisine is all the rage. Slow, informal meals based on fresh locally-grown raw materials. Try fish, sea food, moose, reindeer, and – dare I suggest it – whale.
9. In 140 characters, how would you sum up your home town as a great destination?
Come to Oslo to experience nature, culture and Vikings. Bring the kids!