In early November my friend and I ventured out to Oslo, Norway for a short weekend getaway. Oslo is a beautiful city and the gateway to Norway’s fantastic natural wonders. However, winter travels in Oslo makes for limited museum hours and early sunsets, and it is evident Oslo is used by travelers as a start and end point for deeper beyond travel in Norway. The city itself is nice, very well laid out and one of the best infrastructures in terms of urban design and most importantly public transit system I have seen, no wonder Nordic people are happier.
Our trip was very short and we barely saw Oslo in the daylight as the daytime hours were spent scrambling to see the museums that close at 4 or 5pm in winter.
Many international flights get into Oslo. There are nonstop flights to the United States with SAS, Norwegian Air or you can easily transit in other cities for a short hop over. From there airport to the city center is a easy 30 minute express train that costs 190NOK or USD$21 for a one way, and its just simply double that for roundtrip. It runs about every 20-30 min, and starts very early and ends quite late allowing for first departures and last arrivals to use it. Getting around the city is also easy. Most things are walkable. Some museums and sites require a bus or metro, which you can get a 24 hour metro card at major stations for USD$11, worth it given a single ride is around USD$4.
There are plenty of accommodation options and in all price ranges. Generally in Nordic countries, accommodation and general expenses are high. We picked Hotell Bondeheimen, at $135 with tax, about average this time a year for Oslo. It was close to the main National Theater station which is a stop for the airport express. Rates included breakfast and wifi. Rooms were comfortable and in Nordic minimalist design.
- Our flight arrived in Oslo at 1PM. The signage is all very clear and following the signs for the express train we arrived at the in-terminal station to get our tickets. After a short wait the train arrived and onwards we went to the city.
- Knowing the limited hours of both daylight and museum times left we decided to head straight to some museums. From the National Theater station we went to a automated kiosk to purchase a 24 hour bus/metro/tram transit card. We took a bus, if memory serves me right it is 33 or 32 to the Viking Ship Museum. This museum is small but worth a visit. The ships were found as graves, they dug them up, and found many more Viking artifacts as vikings buried important people in viking ships with offerings. Entry to most museums in the city is around USD $8.50. It offers a basic but informative insight into the early history of Norway and the Viking people.
- At the station outside we waited for the same bus which takes you further down the peninsula to Fram Museum, housing the Fram, a wooden ship used on the first expedition to Antarctica. This is a very good museum talking about Polar exploration to the Arctic and Antarctic circles, the struggles, the science, the life onboard, in the polar circles and what came before and after these expeditions. Lots of information. Very well curated museum and a wealth of history, science and information. Basically it is a Norwegian history, science, transportation and heritage museum all wrapped into one. The ships are well preserved and you can enter the bowls of it to see what life was like aboard in the tight quarters. Very worth a visit.
- By the time we exited the museum at its closing at 5PM, it was dark outside. We waited for the same bus, but note that you have to switch directions are one of the stations along the way, if you miss it, dont worry the bus will eventually turn around to return to the city. We arrived at the hotel and settled in and refreshed.
- Given that it was still early, even though it felt late and out dinner reservation was at 8, we walked from the hotel to Askershus Fortress, despite what google maps said, the winter hours are very limited winter so by the time we got there, it was closed. But there is a open path that you can climb on the out wall for some views since the Festningen Restaurant is there. Outside public hours it turns back fully into active military grounds. We walked as close as we could get to the main castle before the military check point, it is a very cool fortress and would return to see it during opening hours.
- After our failed attempts to see the fortress, we walked along the water to the beautiful Oslo Opera House designed by Snohetta. Along the way we passed Oslo’s floating/mobile sauna houses where locals were sauna-ing then cooling off by diving into the icy bay. You can scale the rooftop of the Opera House for fantastic city views but to also fully appreciate the spectacular architecture. It was very icy.
- From there we walked to a local restaurant recommended by the hotel, Elias mat & Sant, but despite what the hotel said, reservations very much required at this small and popular local spot.
- So we walked back across town, only 15 minutes, to our originally booked spot Engebret Cafe, Oslo’s oldest restaurant. Despite it being touristy, I was surprised to be in the company of almost all local Norwegians. We were given the Christmas menu, not sure if there was also the regular menu available. They have their own house brewed ales and Akevitt, Norwegian potato liquor. It was a very pricey dinner, at almost $150/person, for 3 courses and 2-3 drinks/person. It was only worth it for the atmosphere and for trying it out once but also for lack of other open local food options as most other places were fully booked or closed by the time we were eating. Next time, I will try to waitlist or book Maaemo, Oslo’s most famed and among the world’s top restaurants.
- After dinner we walked back towards hotel and stopped at Himkok bar, one of world’s50 best bars, and truly amazing drinks. They also distill 80% of the alcohol they use, primarily vodka, gin and akevitt. The first floor is the main bar, with the second floor being the distillery where you can sample and have flights, there is also an open courtyard area in the distillery side. The bar itself is like a speakeasy. Reservations highly recommended, we got very lucky with our walk-in as there happened to be an open booth and we were seated very quickly after asking if they had any spots for the two of us.
- After some fantastic local craft cocktails, we walked back to hotel just past midnight for a short sleep before heading back on the Oslo airport express to the airport for a 6AM flight.
- The next morning we took at 5AM train from National Theater Station to the airport.
Oslo is home to some beautiful architecture and design as well as some very under the radar but informative and fascinating museum and history. It is also home to a bustling but also under the radar food and bar scene. The food scene is overshadowed by Copenhagen, but their scenes are similar and yet different. Both cities take on the approach of reinventing and showcasing each country’s local ingredients and heritage. The transit system and easily walkable city also makes it a nice place to visit. I would return in the summer for longer museum hours and daylight as well. But for sure my next return to Norway will be to visit some Fjords.