Lay of the Land
Located in southern Norway, the oldest Nordic capital of Oslo has a history dating back over 10,000 years (the Viking Age lasted from 800 to 1030 AD), but has only been independent for a short time. Under Swedish and Danish control for nearly 350 years, Norway established its freedom in 1905, and the Norwegian capital was renamed Oslo in 1925 (since 1624 it had been named Kristiania).
Vast oil and gas fields were found off the coast of Norway in the 1960s, and the economy skyrocketed, turning the already prosperous nation into one of the wealthiest in the world in just over a decade. Norway remains one of the richest countries today; its sovereign wealth fund is in the high hundreds of billions, surpassed only by China and the UAE. Thus, it is an extremely expensive place to visit, but also a dynamic one. The government provides universal healthcare, free education and arts funding, so the atmosphere is one that encourages creativity, which has created a particularly innovative art scene and lots of vibrant neighborhoods.
The historic center is centered around Karl Johans gate, the partially pedestrian-only main promenade that is home to luxury designer outlets as well as the Hotel Continental and Grand Hotel (where the Nobel Peace Prize banquet is hosted each year). Major historic sights, including the Royal Palace, City Hall and National Gallery are also located here.
Until the early 2000s, Oslo’s waterfront was touristy and seedy, but now the uber-hip areas of Tjuvholmen and Aker Brygge are filled with stunning modern architecture, boutiques and waterfront restaurants with views of the Oslofjord. Tjuvholmen is located on the peninsula that sticks out from Aker Brygge. Both neighborhoods were shipyards until the turn of the 21st century, when private investors took over and invested in high-end apartment and office buildings as well as art space. The always-bustling neighborhoods are now home to the Thief Hotel, Astrup Fearnley Museum and lots of public parks and spaces to lounge at the water’s edge.
Formerly a working class neighborhood, Grünerløkka (northeast of the city center) is now a creative hotbed and home to concept and vintage stores, artisanal coffee shops and charming neighborhood restaurants. Akin to New York City’s Lower East Side or Williamsburg, the hipster nave is home to Oslo’s young, creative set and a great spot to explore. Mathallen, Oslo’s famous food hall, is on the fringe of Grünerløkka in the up-and-coming Vulcan development and is a must-visit for foodies.
Located a 10-minute ferry ride from Oslo’s waterfront, the Bygdøy Peninsula feels a world away from Norway’s capital city. The most upscale residential neighborhood in Oslo, the peninsula is sprinkled with stunning homes (the most posh of which are painted white, historically the most expensive color) and boasts five unmissable museums (the Kon-Tiki, Fram Museum, Norwegian Museum of Cultural History, Viking Ship Museum and Maritime Museum), that provide a glimpse of Norwegian daily life and history.
Another of Oslo’s urban renewal projects is Bjørvika, an inlet of the Oslofjord that is located along the waterfront from Aker Brygge. Formerly a container port, the area is home to the Oslo Opera House, the new Munch Museum, which will be completed in 2018, and The Barcode Project, a row of high-rise buildings that resemble a barcode.
The upscale borough of Frogner is an exclusive residential area with high-end shopping and Frogner Park, home to the Vigeland Sculpture Park. The area, which technically encompasses the Bygdøy Peninsula, is mostly filled with embassies and historic houses from the early 1990s.
Oslo is a compact city that can be covered on foot, although taxis and Ubers are available (albeit astronomically expensive) and the public transportation system is quick and easy to use. Indagare Tip: The Oslo Pass (roughly $40US/day), which gives visitors entry to over 30 museums and free travel on all public transportation, is a great way to affordably navigate the city. Of course, all who visit Oslo should take at least one ferry ride, which provides a glimpse of the vast wilderness just beyond the city.
Fights arrive into Oslo Airport, the main international airport with direct routes to more than 140 destinations. All major carriers service the airport, including Norwegian Air, a budget airline that provides affordable flights, particularly for business class travelers, to destinations in Scandinavia, and given the high cost of visiting the region, saving on airfare can make a big difference with on-the-ground expenses. From there, the city center is either a 20-minute train ride or a 40-minute taxi ride away (a taxi will cost upwards of $70 USD).
When to Go
The best time to visit Oslo is between May and September, when the days are long and weather is warm, with temperatures ranging from 55 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit. It is not recommended to visit during the winter months, when Oslo receives only a few hours of sunlight a day. Many locals go on vacation during July, so while the weather is spectacular and sun hardly even sets, some of Oslo’s best restaurants are closed.