Subtle; that’s what I found Oslo to be; subtle.
Its not like some cities where one almost immediately gets a flavour and the ambience. Oslo’s much more subtle than that. In fact, it took me a couple days until the city began to grow on me. If its your first time, I definitely suggest that you go for a week, otherwise you’re going to miss out.
One of the nice things is how nice and clean everything is. How polite and helpful people are. These qualities make it sound rather clinical, which they are, but at the same time its a very welcome to be surrounded by friendly people and cleanliness.
Its definitely a place to go walking and exploring. Although there’s a very good tram network and taxis can be found easily, I strongly urge a map and some comfortable walking shoes. There’s something familiar about the place, but new. It at times reminds one of Sweden or Denmark, but actually its rather different.
The next thing to strike you is that its expensive! Ok, so not so much a quality; at times, especially with bar prices, its ridiculously expensive. The cost of even fast food and snacks is high, let alone proper restaurants. This isn’t the place to go for shopping.
So, its subtle, clean and expensive; not the best sales pitch for a place! However, you would be missing out if only the obvious was going to steer your choices for destinations to explore and enjoy. After a couple of days one really begins to get a fuller flavour for the city and its people.
Its a very elegant place. Great food and fun bars are dotted around the place. To keep costs down one can even choose to stay in hostels, leaving money for food, drink and the famed ferries. Actually, the cost for hotels isn’t as high as some other European destinations. Probably the main reason for Oslo being known as such an expensive city are more to do with the taxation on alcohol. With a little bit of research, one can choose bars, cafes and restaurants which are off the typical tourist routes and will cost less.
There are lots of free attractions, museums and events to enjoy too. A quick look through the Visit Oslo web site will provide very helpful listings of these. Another thing to keep in mind is that the best times to visit are between May and September. Leave it later than that and the weather can get rather cold and wet.
On my first day, after checking in to my hostel, I picked up a camera and decided to go exploring. My first port of call was the beautiful palace right in the middle of the Slottsparken. The palace has its own guard and several times a day there is a changing of the guards ceremony which is well worth seeing. As with everything in Oslo, its very friendly and accessible, unlike certain other cities where everything happens behind closed metal gates at great distance.
The main streets in the centre of town are only a ten minute walk from the palace. Some very beautiful restaurants, both traditional and contemporary line the streets which then give way to trendy clothes shops and boutiques. Although not a city to shop for bargains, its still good fun having a lazy walk through the streets window shopping. A large ice rink in the middle of the city centre acts as a great focal point and meeting place.
The marina’s within walking distance of the city centre and 15 minutes later I find myself sat outside a cafe under some gas heaters and some viking style blankets watching the boats and people. There’s a booming trade in ferries as they dock and leave the marina carrying their cargo of tourists and commuters.
There’s a wonderful warmth and cosy feeling to the restaurants and bars at night. They just become so welcoming and comfortable. The food is good and the ambience great, and with the flow of beer the hours disappear and quite often one finds that its early morning all of a sudden.
One of the funnier things that I experienced was going from one bar to another after midnight, only to be greeted by the shouting chants of some drunken youths. I turned to my friend to ask if they were chanting football slogans to be told that actually they were reciting poetry! Now that’s the type of drunken youth I enjoy running into at night!
Norwegians like their coffee and the people of Oslo are definitely into good coffee. I found a rather wonderful coffee place next to my hostel (Cochs Pension, Parkveien 25) called Kaffebrenneriet, with the most amazing coffees and pastries. A superb start to the day. My joy was multiplied when I realised it was a chain!
My personal favourite place though has to be the Vigeland Sculpture Park (Vigelandsparken – Main entrance from Kirkeveien). Its an absolutely huge park dedicated to the work of sculpture Gustav Vigeland (1869-1943). There are well over 200 sculptures dotted around the park, some as individual pieces, others working together as a much bigger piece. Its quite possible to spend the better part of a day exploring the works in the park. Definitely worth a visit.
Another favourite haunt of mine turned out to be Lorry Restaurant (Parkveien 12). A large restaurant over two floors with a great bar. Although its a fairly large place, it somehow has a mood and atmosphere of a smaller and more intimate establishment. The service was also extremely friendly and fun. I must admit to having more than the occasional late night here; the kind when before you know it its 3.30 am and the staff begin to clear up!
Oslo may not be at the top of most people’s list for must visit cities, but having been, I’d certainly recommend it for that more relaxed break, checking out parks and museums during the day and spending the evenings sampling some good food and beer.