The oldest of the Scandinavian capital cities, OSLO (the name is made up from Às, a Norse word for God, and Lo, meaning field) was founded, according to the medieval Norse chronicler Snorre Sturlason, around 1048 by Harald Hardråde. Harald's son, Olav Kyrre, established a bishopric and built a cathedral here, though the kings of Norway continued to live in Bergen – an oddly inefficient division of church and state, considering the difficulty of communications between the two settlements. At the start of the fourteenth century, Håkon V rectified matters by moving to Oslo, where he built himself the Akershus fortress. The town boomed until 1349 when the bubonic plague wiped out almost half the population, initiating a period of slow decline whose pace accelerated after Norway came under Danish control in 1397. No more than a neglected backwater, Oslo's fortunes were ultimately revived by the Danish king Christian IV, who in 1624 moved Oslo lock, stock and barrel, shifting it west to its present site and re-christening it "Christiania". The new city prospered and by the nineteenth century, Christiania (indeed Norway as a whole) was clamouring for independence, which it finally achieved in 1905 – though the city didn't revert to its original name for another twenty years.
Today's city centre embodies the urban elegance of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries: wide streets, dignified parks and gardens, solid buildings and long, consciously classical vistas combine to lend it a self-satisfied, respectable air. Oslo's biggest single draw is its museums, which cover a hugely varied and stimulating range of topics: the fabulous Viking Ships Museum, the Munch Museum, the park devoted to the bronze and granite sculptures of Gustav Vigeland, and the moving historical documents of the Resistance Museum are enough to keep even the most battle-weary museum-goer busy for a few days. There's also a decent outdoor life – Oslo is enlivened by a good range of parks, pavement cafés, street entertainers and festivals, and in summer, when virtually the whole population lives outdoors, the city is a real delight. It's also worth visiting in winter, when its prime location amid hills and forests makes it a thriving and affordable ski centre.
With its population of around 550,000, Oslo is one of the smallest capitals in Europe and is flanked by nature on almost all sides. The city's public transportation system is convenient, with buses, trams, a subway system, trains and ferries. This extensive network will take you all around town, into the wilderness or out to one of the islands of the inner Oslofjord, all in less than 20 minutes.
City Center & Karl Johans Gate
All your transport and information needs can be met right in the city center, where you can easily access much of the city's history and metropolitan life once you are situated. The city's transport hub is Oslo Sentralstasjon/NSB (Oslo Central Station). The main Bus Terminal is situated diagonally across the street. The train station itself is served by local, intercity and international trains, as well as the Airport Train (Flytoget). The Byporten shopping center is adjacent to the railway station. Across the street is another big shopping center, Oslo City . Walking west from the station, you will find Karl Johans Gate , Oslo's most famous and pedestrian-friendly parade street. On your right as you walk up the sloping hill is Oslo Cathedral , dating from the late 17th Century. It is open daily, free of charge. Further up Karl Johan, past shops, restaurants and pubs, you will find the Parliament building Stortinget on the left-hand side, with its original Neo-Romanesque architecture. Across the street, the five-star Grand Hotel has greeted its guests in style for more than a century. Grand Cafe has been a favorite haunt of famous Norwegian artists, including the playwright Henrik Ibsen. The little green spot of Studenterlunden on the other side has an open-air restaurant and a large pond, which becomes a very popular ice rink in the winter. At the end of the road is the Neo-Classical Nationaltheatret built in 1899 and guarded by the statues of Henrik Ibsen and Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson. In addition to a magnificent Rococo theater seating 800 people, Nationaltheatret has its own gallery with a unique collection of portraits. Back on the other side of Karl Johan, you find the oldest part of the University of Oslo, built in 1852. Inside the main Assembly Hall, you can see three great works by painter Edvard Munch: Sun, Alma Mater and History.
Just a short walk up Universitetsgaten, the most extensive collection of art in Norway is on display at the National Gallery . You can see work by famous Norwegian artists such as Edvard Munch, Christian Krohg and J.C. Dahl, as well as international names like Picasso, El Greco, Matisse and Van Gogh. Around the corner is the University Museum , which is composed of a historical section displaying Viking finds, runic stones and religious art, and an ethnological section with artifacts from all over the world collected by Norwegian anthropologists. On St. Olav's Gate, there are two reasons to visit the Museum of the Applied Arts : the Norwegian and foreign applied arts and fashion and design items exhibited here, and the delightful 19th-century museum coffee shop, Cafe Solliløkka.
Karl Johans Gate runs all the way up to the Royal Palace built by the eponymous 19th-century king, Karl Johan, who ruled the union of Sweden and Norway. Strolling in Slottsparken , the royal gardens surrounding the palace, you can discover memorable statues, enjoy a picnic, or take a nap in the shade of a tree. From here, you should be able to see the twin towers of Rådhuset the Town Hall, inaugurated in 1950 to coincide with Oslo's 900-year anniversary. The Town Hall, facing the harbor, is open every day except Sunday and frequently hosts various exhibitions.
Akershus Fortress stands guard at the harbor. This was originally a residence for kings, but later (in 1592) it was remodeled to become a fortress armed with cannons. Today you can find the famous author Henrik Wergeland's office, the Castle Church, the Royal Mausoleum and the Resistance Museum inside the fortress. The army still uses parts of the fortress, so you can see the daily changing of the guards here. At the waterfront, you can also find the main Tourist Office . Further along the pier, Aker Brygge beckons with its exclusive shops, restaurants, pubs and bars. It's probably the most packed area of Oslo in the summer!
Further back on shore, Akershusstranda runs uptown past the Astrup Fearnley Museum of modern art. Temporary exhibitions show predominantly post-war art, and the museum keeps a permanent collection as well. More modern art is on display in the innovative Museet for Samtidskunst at Bankplassen. Stop by Christiania Torv, where the immense statue of King Christian IV's glove in the center of the square points out the spot where he decided to rebuild the city after a disastrous fire in 1624.
Frogner, Uranienborg & Majorstuen
To the west of the city center, you'll head into Frogner, named after the vast 18th-century estate of Frogner Manor that now houses the Oslo City Museum. Including the traditional town of Frogner, this large borough also spans over the city districts of Uranienborg and Majorstuen. Frogner Park contains the Vigeland Sculpture Park and Museum , the most visited tourist attractions in Oslo. Do not miss this amazing collection of 212 larger-than-life granite and bronze sculptures, representing all stages of life. Even the park gardens themselves are masterfully sculpted, providing pleasant, leisurely walks for visitors amidst always-in-season greens.
From the harbor of the city center, you can also take a ferry to Bygdøy and Dronningen, technically considered part of Frogner, but distinct in its own right. This is where the five most popular museums of Oslo are located, the open-air Norwegian Folk Museum being the largest. It contains architectural examples of more than 150 old original buildings from all over Norway, including a stave church. There is also a large collection of traditional costumes, furniture, silverware, jewelry and artifacts. The Viking Ship Museum is just a short stroll away and features three ritual ships in which Viking kings and queens were once buried. Three other museums are located at Bygdøynes. At the Kon-Tiki Museum , you can see the papyrus boats Ra I and Ra II, and the Kon-Tiki raft, which the well-known explorer and anthropologist Thor Heyerdahl created for his oceanic voyages to prove his theories on the spread of ancient civilizations. The Fram Museum is dedicated to Arctic explorers Roald Amundsen and Fritjof Nansen and their polar ship Fram. You might also want to take a look at the recently renovated Norwegian Maritime Museum located next door.
Grünerløkka is probably the most modern and hip area of Oslo, definitely the destination point for younger locals and travelers looking for a party night out. This area is completely littered with bars, restaurants and nightclubs, providing a social hotspot for those looking for some high energy while in Oslo. But there's an echo of much history here, as well, being that Grünerløkka was once the 19th-century working class zone of Oslo. Despite the industrial feel having moved out, there's still a lot of culture to be witnessed here. Paulus Kirke is a major religious sight and feat of Neo-Gothic architecture, which can be found along Grünerløkka's main boulevard, Thorvald Meyers Gate. You can also stop by Olaf Ryes Plass, a pedestrian park square, before heading over to the Norsk Form , a premier institute for design and architecture.
Gamle Oslo & Oslofjord
Oslo stretches far outside the main city center into the cold northern terrains as well as further south and into the bay of the Oslofjord. Below the Akershus fortress, where Akershusstranda road leads to Vippetangen quay, boats frequently depart for the islands of the inner Oslofjord, all part of the Gamle Oslo (Old Oslo) borough. The trip across takes 5-30 minutes, depending on which island you would like to visit. At Hovedøya , you will find the ruins of a Cistercian monastery built by monks from Kirkstead, England, during the 12th Century. Back on shore, Gamle Oslo also includes the neighborhoods of Grønland, Helsfyr and Tøyen, to name a few. Tøyen particularly overflows with museums, including the Munch Museet dedicated to the Norwegian symbolist Edvard Munch, as well as the Zoologisk Museum and Paleontologisk Museum , both housed in the gardens of the illustrious Botanisk Hage og Museum .
Holmenkollen & Greater Oslo
You have not seen Oslo unless you have been to Holmenkollen , a professional arena for international skiing events every winter. Finish your day enjoying the panoramic views of the modest city of Oslo and the Oslofjord from the famous ski jump tower. If you don't dare to exit the tower on a pair of skis, take the elevator back down and try out the three-dimensional ski simulator to safely experience an Olympic event.
The OsloCard is a discount card that is worth considering if you are staying for a few days and want to see all the sights. It will give you discounts on many things, including transport. You can buy the card at tourist information centers, the Central Station, Trafikanten hotels, Narvesen-newsagents, and certain post offices. You can buy the card for one, two, or three days, and at single or family rates.
If eating and drinking is all you ever think about, you will be happy in Oslo. Chances are you will survive even without a trailer with a fridge and a stove in it. But even though tap water is good, fish is cheaper than meat, and the east-end shops have a wide range of inexpensive vegetables and fruit in store, you probably did not come here to spend your time cooking.City Center & Karl Johans Gate
Norway's capital is big enough for the amount of choice to be inexhaustible, no matter what your choice may depend on—value for money, low price, luxury, location, provenance of the cuisine—and yet the city center is compact enough for the restaurant you have chosen to be easily accessible even on foot.
A lot has changed since the 1960s. Norway has moved from rags to riches, Norwegians have acquired more leisure and money, and Oslo has become a multicultural society, notably with a large group of Asians. Today, half a million Osloers spend more and more of their time and money in Oslo's 1,000+ food and drink places. The traditional Norwegian food that, some decades ago, was simply prepared and eaten without anyone giving it much thought is now just a niche in the overall restaurant market and to be sampled at places like Maud , Engebret Cafe (sea specialties), Holmenkollen restaurant or Kaffistova (self-service). Around Christmastime you can find it anywhere; look out for Norwegian specialties like lutefisk (cod prepared in an alkaline solution, translucent in appearance), pinnekjøtt (smoked and dried ribs of lamb laid on top of birch sticks, steamed, and served with boiled potatoes and mashed swedes) and slices of spekemat (dried meat) like fenalår (cured leg of lamb), followed by some dessert based on multer (cloudberries).
Whether you come by plane or by train, your stay in Oslo is likely to start at the central train station, Oslo Sentralstasjon . The modest eastern opening of the city's main street, Karl Johans Gate will be among the first things you see as you leave the building. If you only eat food you are familiar with, you might as well choose a Burger King, McDonald's, Peppe's Pizza , Pizza Hut, Subway, or Bagel & Juice close to where you are staying, as such chains can be found all over the city. If you are already too hungry to move on, a more exciting bet would be Tampopo in Skippergaten, where you get two generous pieces of sushi for a reasonable price. Also, even before you reach the Oslo Cathedral , you could pause for Italian delicacies at Baltazar Restaurant or Trattoria Cappuccino for light meals. In Rådhusgaten, a couple of blocks to the left, you will find the luxurious restaurants Statholdergaarden and Wollans—the latter widely recognized as Oslo's best fish restaurant—and Cafe Celsius , which offers excellent cafe meals and a cozy fireplace.
To avoid misunderstandings, we might as well let you in on another Norwegian specialty: don't get too worked up if someone invites you to a vorspiel. In its local sense, the word vorspiel implies drinks and at least three or four people. And when you reach the point where none of you can bear to wait any longer, you all get dressed and go out. A nachspiel, on the other hand, is when you continue drinking and get things really going, at least judging from what people who have tried it are almost sure they remember.
With Egertorget, you reach the innermost core of Oslo, and here you no longer need anyone to tell you where to eat; whatever you are after, you would find it blindfolded. With a little luck, you will bump into a classy French meal at Brasserie Hansken for something a little formal, or Brasserie France ; spectacular Szechuan at Dinner or the plain luxury of Julius Fritzner. With a little class, you might seek out an evergreen like Grand Cafe , once Ibsen's hangout, or the Art Nouveau classic Theatercafeen whose clientele and atmosphere is more renowned than the food. Northeast of Studenterlunden, the streets are packed with nice bars like XO, Ett Glass , Savoy , Cafe Amsterdam , Zoo Lounge , Last Train, the rock venue So What, or the hip lounge club called The Living Room, while the Italian menu at Ciao Ciao is filled with exquisite, inexpensive highlights. On the other side of Studenterlunden there is the vegetarian restaurant Vegeta vertshus and the intimate Babettes Gjestehus .
If the weather is warm, you will be over at Aker Brygge in no time. Here, the beer and seafood barges moored along the piers make for a wonderfully dizzying afternoon in the sun. If it is cold and cloudy, most corners of the world are represented with at least one eating place inside the ancient docks of Oslo, rebuilt in a Post-Modern vein to form a big center with offices and residences. Acqua is its most exclusive restaurant, and Beach Club prepares the best burgers in town, while the Indian curry class is topped by Agra.
Frogner, Uranienborg & Majorstuen
On our way up Drammensveien to Frogner, we hurry past the Park of the Royal Castle trying not to spend too much time in any of the lively bars like Barbeint, Bollywood Dancing, or Palace Grill —also a splendid and imaginative restaurant. This west-end residential area is dominated by top-ranking French gourmet paradises like Feinschmecker or Le Canard ; seafood temptations like Mares , East, or Fuji ; modern Italian pleasures at Spezzo Cucina Italiana; or Indian ones at Village Tandoori. But it also boasts the country's best pizza place, Pizza di Mimmo. However, any gastronomical tour of Oslo, Norway or even Scandinavia would have to end at Bagatelle . From here, you cannot go any further; their mind-blowing, eight-course fantasies seem perfectly reasonable price-wise.
On your way back to downtown Oslo, you may consider crossing the Royal Park to visit Homansbyen and its beloved artist hangouts like Lorry . Here, you also find plenty of inexpensive places like Tapas Bar. Hegdehaugsveien is a long range of fashionable couture shops that extends into Bogstadveien, while the eating- and drinking-place density never drops for a second. From here to Majorstuen, try the Indian meals of the boisterous Curry & Ketchup (copious and cheap) or Gate of India (great food), the vegetarian ways of Krishna Cuisine, the crossover kitchen of Fusion, the drinking and messy dancing of Mezzo, or a nice cup of cappuccino at Broker .
If you still do not feel at home in Oslo, ask for a ride with one of the taxis loaded with west-end kids on their way to barhopping at east-end Grünerløkka, the hippest part of Oslo these past five years. The renowned Bar Boca —on which a drink book has been written—and the intimate Dr. Kneipps wine bar both make for a pleasurable evening. While Markveien Mat- og Vinhus is still the most exclusive restaurant, more recent eating places mostly opt for crossover, as is the case with Helt Rått and Somewhere Else. Of these, Sult has the best food as well as bargain prices, and it even takes on to quench your Tørst . Dermed Pasta is a great Italian take-away, whereas Mucho Mas prepares Tex-Mex dishes at a moderate price.
Grünerløkka slopes down to bridges across the Aker river. On the other side, in between Southeast Asian supermarkets and vegetable shops, the cross streets around Storgata and Torggata conceal secret treasures like Hai Kafe and Saigons Lille Kafe, both serving up a decently prepared meal with a drink at a pocket change. Likewise, at the excellent Korean-Japanese Nam Kang Sushi, there are meals to fit most wallets. Torggata is teeming with fast-food shops, mostly kebab, of which Lille Amir is arguably the best. Not far from there, you will find bars like Sikamikanico —with an alternative, young and hip clientele—and Paragrafen, the time-honored beer cafe Justisen , and the ethnic nightspot The Nomad . Storgata could be rounded off consuming delicious pastries at Cafe Bacchus; or instead, turn left down Brugata well before it, passing the stylish Teddy's Softbar on our way to Grønland where Punjab Sweet House will sell you a three-course meal and a beer for cheap. In the same area, Bangkok Thai Restaurant, providing Oslo's only authentic Thai cuisine, is also known to have an advantageous price level. Come to think of it, now we are almost back where we started, at Oslo Sentralstasjon !
Gamle Oslo & Oslofjord
If you ever get hungry again, try leaving central Oslo to find a restaurant so good its location does not count, like Victor on Sandakerveien. Or visit one whose location is exactly what matters, as in the case of Lille Herbern Fjordkro.
Holmenkollen & Greater Oslo
On the other hand, you can sample the popular staffed cabins deep in the Oslomarka. Or you could just as easily combine heavenly food and a great location by visiting Bølgen & Moi at the Henie-Onstad Art Centre where you will be running the risk of confusing the exhibited works of modern art with the deftly prepared culinary sculptures of the chef.
Holmenkollen is Oslo's big skiing center. This is not an alpine skiing center, so do not bother bringing your snowboard when you visit it. When people talk about Holmenkollen, they usually think about the ski jump. This is perhaps the best-known landmark in Oslo, and it can be seen from almost everywhere in the city. At night the tower is lit, and this is a sight that can put the citizens of Oslo in a rather patriotic mood. In winter large international competitions are held here, both in ski-jumping and on the cross-country ski tracks surrounding it. Every summer an outdoor concert is held by the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra together with the televised amateur competition Ta Sjansen (Take the Chance). There is a ski museum in Holmenkollen, as well; as you may know, Norwegians like to point out that the cradle of modern skiing is in Norway, at Morgedal in Telemark.
Holmenkollen is a magnet for tourists; this is not a place for people who dislike hundreds of people with cameras. It is a good idea to take the underground line 1 up here in the evening or at night and walk around on your own (we can all do without talkative guides, right?) and look at the view over the city, which is quite magnificent. Just remember that it does not get very dark in summer, so if you want to see the lights of the city, you will have to wait until autumn.
Frognerparken is another big tourist attraction; endless rolls of film have been used up here. This is where the Norwegian sculptor Gustav Vigeland was given carte blanche. We advise you to take your time and look at the sculptures, because they are more than just naked people; they show the different stages in life and the different situations you may find yourself in during your life. What the big statue at the highest point of the park, the Monolith, symbolizes, you can find out for yourself. The best thing about this park is probably that it is very user-friendly as well as very beautiful. None of the statues are fragile or unapproachable: children climb on them, people sunbathe on the lawns and young people (both those who are young for the first time and those in their second youth) practice roller-skating.
In summer there are usually quite a lot of people here, but do not let that deter you; there is plenty of room. For the best experience of both culture and nature, come here in the autumn, on an early sunny morning just when the leaves start falling from the trees. At that time Frognerparken is probably the most beautiful place in the city.
Aker Brygge down by the fjord is full of life in summer. This is where many citizens of Oslo like to have their first utepils (outdoor pint of beer) of the year. Architecturally speaking, the authorities in Oslo really have started or approved of a lot of weird things. The building called Postgirobygget (you cannot miss it: very ugly and very high) and the Hotel Plaza are examples of that. Someone say about the former that it was something that not even Stalin with a bad hangover would have done. Aker Brygge, on the other hand, is a place where a bit of architectural courage has yielded a good result. This area is probably the closest Oslo will ever get to La Defense in Paris (which might be a good thing). The area consists of shops, offices, restaurants, a cinema and some terribly expensive apartments. The restaurants here, both the floating ones and the ones on land, can be recommended, but be aware that your wallet may feel much lighter afterwards. From Aker Brygge and the surrounding areas you can board guide boats that will take you around the Oslo fjord.
Across the road from Aker Brygge you will find the Akershus Fortress It was founded in 1300, but has changed since then; today it is a museum and the place where the Norwegian state hold their representation dinners. A lot of things are smaller in Oslo than in other capitals; this fortress is no exception. But it is still worth a visit (take a guided tour or just a walk in the area); if nothing else, do it for the view over the fjord.
It is nice to walk from the castle to the main railway station, Sentralstasjonen if you want to see the centre of the city. The castle (you will find it!) is by far not as impressive as castles elsewhere in Europe, but has its charm. You should try to come here on 17 May, the national day. That is an experience that many a foreigner actually finds worth writing home about.
If you walk southeast from here you will get to the National Theatre an old and honorable building. The statues of Henrik Ibsen, the most important writer in Norway and allegedly one of the best playwrights in the world, and Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson, Norway's most famous National Romantic writer, can be seen outside of here.
From here you can walk up Karl Johans Gate the main street, where the already mentioned outdoor pint of lager is also consumed in summer. Grand Cafe on the ground floor in the Grand Hotel is the place where Ibsen used to go every single day at the exact same time. He apparently had a few habits which he was very unwilling to give up, this being one of them. Grand Hotel is a fashionable hotel, where for instance the Spice Girls and Backstreet Boys stay when they visit Oslo (to give concerts, of course, they probably would not come here for any other reason). Grand Cafe is a popular place to come for the weird Norwegian dish lutefisk (a preserved fish dish) from the end of November until Christmas. You may want to try it if you are of the adventurous type!
From here you can go along Karl Johan a shopping street like many others, but again with its own Oslo charm.
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