Oslo

There are not many cities as easy to explore as Oslo.  Many attractions are within easy walking distance of the port, the public transport system is efficient and easy to use, and the locals are friendly and helpful. But, when time is limited and you want to get as much as possible out of your short stay in port it pays to come prepared.  So with this in mind here are some of the practical things to consider while you’re visiting Oslo.

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Akershus Castle, Oslo

Statistically, Oslo is Scandinavia’s sunniest city and does have a surprisingly mild climate despite being on a northerly latitude.  However don’t be deceived.   Winters here are cold and temperatures will drop to below freezing in the coldest months.  Snow is plentiful so gloves scarves and a really warm coat are a must.  In the winter months it’s also worth noting that the days are short with an average of just 7 hours of daylight, but the Norwegians can still be relied upon to create a warm, cosy, inviting atmosphere with candles, lighted torches and crackling fires which illuminate these dark evenings beautifully.  In contrast summer days can seem almost endless with sunsets as late as 10pm.  Oslo boasts an average of 18 hours of sunshine during the summer months.  Remember though that this is a temperate climate and statistically August is the rainiest month, so a waterproof is a necessity to avoid being caught out.  Whatever time of year you visit and whatever the weather, Oslo is a city where many of the key attractions are within walking distance so put on your favourite pair of comfy walking shoes and put your best foot forward.

Language

When it comes to chatting with the locals in Oslo you are unlikely to encounter any problems as most Norwegians speak English very well and will be happy to converse with you in English. However, without doubt they will be hugely appreciative of any effort to speak their native language, so with that in mind, here are just a few phrases you may find useful.

English Norwegian Guide to pronunciation
HelloGoodbye Hallo Ha det Ha-looHa-deh
Yes Ja Ya
No Nei Nigh
Do you speak English? Snakker du Engelsk? Snah-ker du Eng-yesk?
I’m sorry Beklager Bek-larg-eh
I’m sorry I don’t speak Norsk Beklager, jeg snakker ikke Norsk Bek-larg-eh ya snah-ker ick-keh Norshk
Thank you Takk Tuck
Can you help me? Kan du hjelpe meg? Kan du yelp-eh migh?
Where is the toilet please?I would like… Hvor er toalettet? Jeg vil Vur er toil-leta    Yi vil

Local Currency & Shopping

The local currency in Norway is the Norwegian Krone.  One Krone consists of 100 ore  and comes in denominations of 50, 100, 200,500, 1000 krone notes and 1, 5, 10 and 20 krone coins. ATM cash machines are readily available all over Oslo and credit and debit cards are accepted just about everywhere. Bear in mind that Oslo is considered to be one of the most expensive cities in Europe, so do come prepared for high prices and perhaps the more thrifty visitors would benefit from a visit to the eastern district of  Oslo.  This area was once a working class and industrial part of the city, but more recently has blossomed into a cultural haven, is home to the Akerselva river and offers some of the cities most historic areas  along with some of it’s less expensive café’s and restaurants.

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One of the sculptures along the waterfront

Getting Around

Oslo has an impressive public transport system and the trams, buses, metro, trains and even the boats operate under the same ticket system.  A single ticket which is valid for one hour, covers all the modes of transport mentioned above and costs 34 Krone if bought from the driver as you board, or 24 Krone if purchased in advance from one of the many kiosks or machines located at the metro stations, tram or bus stops.  A valid ticket must be stamped either by the driver or by the automatic machine and there are hefty on the spot fines for anyone not carrying a valid stamped ticket, so remember to check for this at the time you buy.  If you are planning on lots of travelling around Oslo then you may prefer the option of an all day pass.  The all day pass covers all the same transport options as the single ticket but for unlimited travel over one day.  All day pasees cost 60 krone and can be bought at the many 7-Eleven, Narvesen or Deli de Luca Kiosks, which are well known and abundant Oslo convenience stores.    A travel option that may well suit the more cultured visitor is the Oslo Pass and is especially suitable for those with plans to visit several of the museums that Oslo has to offer.  The Oslo Pass gives free entrance to over thirty museums, free unlimited travel on public transport and offers a variety of discounts around the city.  A 1 day Oslo Pass costs 220 Krone or 95 for children and can be purchased at the Trafikanten.  The Trafikanten is the information centre for public transport in Oslo and is located at Oslo Central Station at the foot of the see through clock tower.  You can also obtain the single and day tickets here along with free timetables, and handy visitor maps.  These handy freebies are also available at any of the tourist information offices,  which can be found at Oslo Central Station, next to City Hall or at the cruise ship terminal.  A final and slightly more energetic transport option is to use the city’s public bike service which has bike stations located all over Oslo.  Bike hire costs 70 Krone for the day and you simply purchase a key card from one of the tourist information offices, again these are located at Oslo Central Station, next to City Hall and the cruise ship terminal.  This key card then enables you to take a bike from any one of the bike stations located around the city and drop it off in another.  The public bike hire is a great way to see Oslo under your own steam but this service is only available in the summer months.

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The National Theatre where Ibsen’s plays were amongst the first performed

The Royal Family (and a right royal romance)

Oslo has all the charm of being a capital of a country with a monarchy that dates back more than a thousand years: the city can boast a Royal Palace, an old Castle and a resident royal family who provide a fair share of intrigue. Oslo residents are generally extremely proud of their royal family – the birth of the current king, Harald V, was a cause for great celebration in 1937: he was the first Norwegian-born prince in nearly six hundred years and secured the line of succession to the newly established royal family.

In the present day, Oslo has a firmly recognised royal family, closely tied to Britain’s own royalty (King Harald V is a second cousin of Queen Elizabeth II). The current royal family has always attracted a great amount of interest throughout Norway, especially in recent years, when what some may describe as a modern day Cinderella story took place in the capital. In the year 2000, more conservative Norwegians were scandalised when the Crown Prince Haakon fell in love with a commoner, Mette-Marit Tjessem Høiby. The Prince’s choice shocked many, as Mette-Marit was a single mother with a dubious background in Oslo’s ‘house-party’ and rave scene. Though Mette-Marit seemed as far from royal as a girl could get (more at home in jeans and trainers than in crown jewels), the unmarried pair moved into an apartment in Oslo and enjoyed life as any normal couple would. In 2001 most of the controversy dissipated when the pair married in Oslo Cathedral and Mette-Marit made a tearful apology for her wild past. The couple now have two more children, including the heir to the throne, Princess Ingrid Alexandra.

Exploring Oslo

The City Centre

Oslo’s city centre is compact and easy to explore on foot. It clusters around Karl Johan’s Gate, the bustling main parade street leading up to the Royal Palace. It’s worth a walk up this street as this is the heart of Oslo and the area offers some great shopping. Most of the city’s chain and department stores are located here.

Between Karl Johan’s gate and Akershus Fortress lies Kvadraturen, or the Old Town, which retains the rectangular street pattern it was given during the reign of Christian IV. Some of Oslo’s oldest buildings are located in this area, including the Oslo Cathedral (closed for renovations at time of writing), where Prince Haakon and Princess Mette-Marit married. Two of the cities best department stores, Steen and Strøm and GlasMagasinet, can also be found in this area.

Along the Oslofjord you can find the Akershus Fortress and Castle, voted Oslo’s favourite attraction by Norwegians. The fortress and its park-like grounds are free to explore, and the walls offer panoramic views of the city and fjord. Look out for the changing of the guards everyday at 1.30pm. During the summer, visitors can explore the castle itself and wander through the magnificent halls and ballrooms, now used for state dinners. Also inside the fortress walls is the Norwegian Resistance Museum (Mon-Fri 10-3, Sat and Sun 11-4, longer hours April-Sep: admission charge).

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Main entrance for the City Hall

The City Hall, a somewhat austere 1930s building where the Nobel Peace Prize is awarded, is also in this area (open 9am-4pm Sep-April: no admission charge, 9am- 5pm May-August: admission charge), while along the water’s edge is the new opera house, an impressive marble and granite iceberg of a building, that lies half submerged in the Oslofjord. In April 2008, most of Scandinavia’s royalty descended on the city for its grand opening of this long awaited building, intended to rival even Sydney’s opera house in its grand design.

The elegant Royal Palace is also worth a visit, especially if you are able to time it to coincide with the changing of the guards (again at 1.30pm, lasts 40 minutes), and the beautifully kept Palace park is perfect for a stroll. This impressive structure, first commissioned in 1825, has housed both Swedish and Norwegian kings and guided tours of its stately rooms are sometimes offered in the summer.

Towards this end of town lie the National Gallery, holding Norway’s largest collection of Norwegian art, and the National Theatre. The National Gallery made international headlines in 1994, when masked gunmen stole two of Edvard Munch’s most famous works The Scream and The Madonna (the paintings were recovered only three months later).

Many of the cities best shops are to be found in its centre. Norwegian specialities include sweaters, glassware and porcelain and Oslo is packed with modern Scandinavian designs and products, though prices are on the expensive side. A great place to explore is the exclusive Paleet, a restored turn of century shopping centre close to the Royal Palace Park, on Karl Johan’s Gate. With an elegant atrium, diverse shops and wonderful eateries, this little mall oozes charm and should be included in your itinerary if time allows.

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Viking ship

Oslo WestFrom the National Theatre, you can catch a bus or tram to Vigelandsparken, or the T-bane (Oslo’s equivalent to the London underground) to Majorstuen station (buses, trams and the T-bane also depart from the central station area, if you don’t want to walk as far as the National Theatre). This is Oslo West, home of the famous Vigeland Park, a unique dreamlike park displaying over two hundred towering sculptures of the human form. All these sculptures, from entwined lovers to angry children, are the work of Gustav Vigeland, one of Norway’s most famous and prolific sculptors. Vigeland Park lies within the grounds of Frogner Park, which dates back as a park to 1896. Its roots go further back than this to the eighteenth century when the land was owned by the aristocratic Anker family, and the park was the site of many lavish parties. To this day buildings remain in the park from the Anker family’s period.

Oslo West is traditionally the more expensive and exclusive side of the city. Here you’ll find stroll-able wide streets lined with exclusive shops, art galleries, and stately nineteenth century architecture. This is the area for more designer shops and branded stores, but there are also some cosy cafes and interesting sights.

Oslo East

In recent years Oslo East has bloomed, transforming from the working-class and industrial area of the city, to a trendy and chic district. This area has lots to offer the visitor and it’s also here that you’ll find the city’s cheaper cafes and restaurants (handy in a city known for being particularly expensive).

Highlights of this area include the Akerselva River, which runs 8km from rural forested origins to the centre of Oslo. This river has some spectacular waterfalls, the most impressive being next to the Beier Bridge, in Grünerløkka, which is one of the most vibrant parts of the city. This area is also one of the most historic parts of Oslo, with ruins dating back to medieval times. It also houses the Edvard Munch Museum, the celebrated Norwegian artist who bequeathed over five thousand works of art to Oslo (T-bane to Tøyan Station: 10am-4pm Tuesday-Friday, 11am-5pm Saturday and Sunday, longer opening hours in summer: admission charge during peak season).

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Fram museum, Oslo

Bygdøy PeninsulaThis area lies to the South West of Oslo city centre and is best reached by a 15 minute ferry ride, leaving from Pier 3 (opposite the City Hall), or alternatively it’s a 20 minute bus journey from the National Theatre. If you have the time, this area is definitely worth a visit, and offers plenty of rural charm: the Royal Family are among the more affluent residents of Oslo to own a summer house here.

Two of the city’s most visited museums can be found here: the Viking Ship Museum and the Norwegian Museum of Cultural History. The Viking Ship Museum is a magnificent attraction, displaying three of the best preserved Viking ships in the world, that date back to the tenth century (10am-4pm Monday-Sunday, longer opening hours in the summer: admission charge). The Norwegian Museum of Cultural History (Monday-Friday 11am-3pm, Saturday-Sunday 11am-4pm, longer opening hours in the summer: admission charge) is one of Europe’s largest open-air museums and displays the various cultural traditions of the entire country. Authentic timber homes and traditional villages, along with a

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Living history at the Oslo Folk Museum

reproduction of early twentieth century Oslo, make this a great destination for those who wish to get a better sense of Norway as a whole. You’ll find some of the best Christmas markets in Oslo here in December, a magical time of year for the museum and for the whole of Oslo.

Akker Brygge

This bustling waterfront development has been described as one of the most attractive places in Northern Europe to shop, eat and generally relax. This picturesque complex includes old warehouses transformed into fashionable shops, boats converted into cafes and bars, together with an attractive blend of nineteenth century industrial brick and ultra modern glass and chrome. It’s brimming with Scandinavian style, and though the cafes are on the expensive side, it’s a perfect spot to people watch (Sharon Stone has been spotted shopping here).

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Akker Brygge, Oslo

Interesting fact: Oslo chefs are credited with more Michelin stars per head than any other city in Europe. Move over Paris!

Dos and Don’ts

Do make sure you have some spare coins for public toilets. A visit to them will often cost you, and it is usually in exact change.

Do take the opportunity to be independent in this city. It’s easy enough to navigate on your own, and small enough to find the best bits without a guided tour.

Do be prepared to walk. There are only a few cruise ship docks and all are within easy walking distance of the city centre, ranging from a five to twenty minute walk away.

Don’t take a taxi if you can avoid it. These are usually expensive, and the public transport system is excellent.

Don’t linger in the area just south of Karl Johan’s Gate and the Central Station in the evening, although Oslo is one of the safest city’s you can come across. This is the red light district and is just more unsavoury than unsafe.

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Vigeland Park, Oslo