When I stepped off a Hurtigruten cruise ship to explore Oslo, the first person
I thought about was my fourth grade geography teacher, who introduced our class to this 1,000-year old city linked to Vikings, fjords and fish.
Background: Oslo (which means either “field of the gods” or “the field below the hill”) has been Norway’s financial, political and cultural hub since 1300. Vast offshore petroleum reserves discovered nearly half a century ago continue to fuel Norway’s comfortable reputation as the richest country per capita in Europe. Investment of these profits funds the country’s system of public hospitals and universities, which facilities provide medical treatment at no charge and tuition-free higher education to citizens. Situated at the end of one of the country’s most beautiful fjords, the city is draped in emerald hills and adorned with a string of islands that hug her coast like pearls on a prima donna. Furthermore, Oslo’s reputa- tion as “Capital of the Changing Seasons” contributes to the active lifestyles of 600,000 residents who enjoy a variety of outdoor recreation year round. To accommodate this trend, the city is relocating roads and traffic underground to open up more fjords and waterfront areas for additional recreation, culture and accommodations.
Why go now: Winter is an exquisitely beautiful time to visit Oslo. Just remember this adage: There is no bad weather; only bad clothes. Guided city walks with a different theme each day are available throughout the season. Kids of all ages love the outdoor ice skating rink. Skiers can visit the resort north of the city center, where five slopes, four lifts, ski/snowboard lessons and rentals, cross-country trails, a sledding hill and two cafés will keep the whole family entertained all day. Want culture? Check out Oslo’s World Music Festival, Oct.27-Nov. 14, presents “Soundtrack of a Nation,” featuring performers from around the globe. (www. osloworld.no)
Spend your day: Visit the Viking Museum, where you’ll see a ginormous Viking ship as well as other finds from Viking tombs around the Oslo Fjord. Then, view Norway’s largest public collection of paintings, drawings and sculptures at the National Gallery, established in 1837. The gallery’s central attractions include Edvard Munch’s The Scream and Madonna and paintings by Cézanne. For a glimpse into Norwegian consciousness, visit Holmenkollen Ski Museum and Tower, the oldest of its kind in the world. This historic landmark presents over 4,000 years of skiing history, as well as Norwegian polar exploration artifacts. Traveling with children? Check out more than 30 rides and attractions at TusenFryd Amusement Park or take your budding scientists to The Norwegian Museum of Science and Technology to browse 20 permanent and temporary exhibitions about energy, oil, industry, medicine, air- planes, cars and trains – including a Robot Center and Planetarium! Before you leave town, see a performance at the Norwegian National Opera and Ballet, Norway’s largest performing arts institution, with over 600 employees working in about 50 professions and trades. After the opening in the old harbor area in 2008, the Opera House soon became a landmark in Oslo. Designed by the Norwegian architects Snøhetta, it is the first opera house in the world to let visitors walk on the roof.
Must do: Edvard Munch (1863-1944), Norway’s most important artist, is famous for his painting, The Scream, exemplifying his evocative treatment of psychological issues. Last year, the Munch Museum and National Gallery celebrated the 150th anniversary of Munch’s birth. Plan to spend some time here, exploring multiple galleries that show the breadth of Munch’s artistic legacy.
Don’t bother trying to learn Norwegian phrases or downloading translation apps for your smartphone. Nearly everyone in Oslo speaks English as well as several other languages.
Where to eat: During the past decade, Oslo has become a capital of taste. With a strong connection with the North Sea and nature, chefs across the city are using the region’s abundant seafood and agricultural resources to create a palate of new culinary experiences. In addition, the city boasts some world champion baristas who import, roast and grind beans with great care and enthusiasm.
• Grilleriet (www.grilleriet.no $$-$$$) As the name implies, most food is cooked on a charcoal grill in the heart of an open kitchen.
• Tjuvholmen Sjomagasin (www.sjoma- gasinet.no $$$) Open-air dining on the waterfront make this a hotspot for seafood lovers.
• Stockfleths (www.stockfleths.as $-$$) Specialists in coffee and tea since 1985, these folks are globally-recognized pros in the beverage world. Go.
Where to stay:
Thon Hotel Opera (www.thonhotels. no/opera $$$) Located next to Oslo Central Station, the Airport Express Train and all public transportation are right outside the door. The hotel also has great views of the Oslo Fjord and the new Opera House.
Getting around: Plenty of options exist — tram, metro, bus, boat or city bicycles. Once you’re in Norway, you can dial 177 to ask specific questions about transportation in the Oslo. (www.177.no) If you’re driving a rental, keep in mind most street parking and parking lots are municipal – which are free with an Oslo Pass; but parking houses (garages) and some larger lots are private, and require a fee.
So you know: For the best value in exploring the city, purchase an Oslo
Pass – available at the Tourist Information Center next to City Hall or at hotel receptions, camp sites and other convenient locations around town. Available in 24-, 48- or 72-hour increments, the Pass gives your free entry to more than 30 museums and the city swimming pools, access to free public transport and free public parking, as well as discounts on attractions, restaurants, shops and leisure venues.
Hurtigruten – Excursions and cruises around Norway and the Arctic. (www. hurtigruten.us)
Visit Oslo – The official source for tour- ism information. (www.visitoslo.com)