Now before we get to the reason behind the title, let me just say that Oslo, Norway’s capital is one of the best places I have ever visited, hands down.
My girlfriend had made friends with a French guy whilst she was studying in France and he had invited us to stay with him for a few days during late January 2016. I’d always heard Norway was a really clean and friendly country but I never expected my trip to be one of the best experiences up there.
We flew into the capital on a reasonably sunny day, albeit a little crisp in the air, even the drive from the Gardermoen, Oslo’s airport was pleasant, passing plenty of smooth highways and picturesque towns, we eventually arrived in the city.
On first impression it looked like any other city, but I soon fell in love with this place very quickly.
Now let me just say this now, Norway is expensive, like really expensive to eat, drink and generally live here.
However, it is also one of the cleanest cities I’ve ever been to and everyone speaks fluent English here (not that that should be a must but it certainly helped). After a quick bite to eat in one of the many shopping malls here, which introduced us to just how expensive eating out here is, we met up with our friend who took us to where we were staying.
We quickly chucked our bags down and went for a stroll to the royal residence at the top of Karl Johans gate, home to HM King Harald V and HM Queen Sonja.
The building is in neo-classical style with a facade of stuccoed brick, and was completed in 1849. The Royal Palace Park surrounds the palace on all sides and features grassy areas, majestic trees, small ponds and statues. It had been snowing quite a bit recently so there were many snowy mounds around which made a great way to pass the time, chucking snow balls at one another and sliding on the icy grass hills around the palace. We didn’t go in the palace itself but the building is very impressive to look at.
From here we walked into the main high street where you have shops galore, amazing cafes – there is a really cool coffee culture here which suited me down to the ground and the cakes here are glorious too.
After walking around more shops, we walked down to the port where huge ships are anchored in the harbour, with the Museum at Akershus Fortress hangs over the top to the left hand side that documents Norway’s domestic World War II history from the years 1940-1945. Then you have the tall rise buildings of Oslo’s few skyscrapers in the background, it really has a great balance of history and modernity about the place.
One thing I really liked is that compared to many other capital cities, Oslo is relatively small with a population of less than 600,000. You don’t feel like you’re in a capital city here, its easy to walk around and see the main attractions without the usual hustle and bustle. You can also hop on the city tram, which is a great way to get around without getting lost.
On our second day we opted to check out a few of Oslo’s museums. You can’t come here without seeing at least one so we decided to start off with a visit to the viking ship museum. This place was so cool, I’m quite into history and the ships here are restored so well they are incredible to get up close to and the size of them is insane. The vikings were master ship builders and these evidence that to a tee. This place certainly didn’t disappoint and was well worth the entrance fee. They also had a little viking necklace making class going on for kids so it is also extremely family-friendly too. There are also little corner staircases and balcony’s so you can look down on the ships from high up to see the inside of them.
The other, slightly more expensive museum round the corner is the Fram museum. It houses the world’s strongest polar vessel which is famous for three different polar expeditions. It’s worth a trip but be prepared for lots of kids running about the place, as there are lots of school trips here with a range of activities and games dotted around the vessel as well as educational info and guides. We didn’t enjoy this as much as the viking museum but it is an impressive ship and again worth a visit.
You also get to see the other side of Oslo’s impressive port from this side, so it is well worth taking a few moments after the tours to take some selfies of the water and port in the distance. We opted to walk right round the port to the museums, passing some classic Norwegian style houses and buildings which was really interesting.
In the afternoon, we took a pleasant walk around Vigeland Park. Designed by a chap named Gustav Vigeland it features many sculptures of naked people, some a bit weirder than others but the park is gigantic. You could easily spend a few hours walking around here. As the snow was still on the ground we enjoyed more snowball fights and genuine messing around.
On the second night, not to be rude to our guest we did opt for a dinner out but realised quickly why you have to have a bigger budget to come here – still we had a nice meal out in a cosy restaurant which was worth it despite the price tag.
On the third day and because it was the weekend, we were guided by our friend, who finally had a day off to take us up out of the city and into the mountains for some sledging. Now I’d never done sledging before, so I was quite nervous but excited at the same time. After a brief train ride which takes you from the city centre up into the mountains, we arrived at a little hut where you can rent the sledges, a helmet and goggles. It was snowing quite a bit to begin with, the top of the sledge course was thick with snow on the ground and lots of people running towards the top of the track to get off to a good start. As a fairly awkward guy and not used to sitting down so low, I did start to wonder what a earth I’d got myself into but after watching our friend run and jump on his sled first, easing himself off with his hands at his side we quickly followed suit.
Let me say this, the course was fairly steep, on a sled and in snow that was quickly turning to ice. The speed you pickup is terrifying yet exhilarating at the same time and to be honest, I bloody loved it. Every single second of it. And when kids get in your way because they’ve either fallen off or slowed down and you are gaining on them at an almighty pace, trust me kicking them out the way just kind of seemed normal. It was brilliant and I had a smile on my face, all the way down the circuit, falling off a couple of times but what a way to spend a day in the snow. You then simply get on the train at the bottom of the circuit and jump on it which takes you back to the top to do it all over again. We did that three times in a row before finally calling it a day when we couldn’t literally see out of our goggles anymore.
After another evening of eating in, the final full day was spent with our guide and his girlfriend who joined us for a mountain hike. This time we hopped on the same train again but instead of doing the sledging he took us off the beaten track and through a pine wooded trail through forest trees high up in the mountains overlooking Oslo below.
I don’t know how to say this to justify it but it’s simply the best view I have ever seen in my entire life. When they talk about taking a moment in, that was one of the best of my life and what I think travel should be all about. No phone out, taking pics, nope just looking around in amazing snow covered trees and the view of the city under the sun was a moment I’ll always remember.
I didn’t think it could get any better, but after walking for a while through what can only be described as a real life winter wonderland, seeing a wild deer and crossing little streams, we eventually came across a huge lake, that was fully frozen. The sky was incredible here, an array of colours zig zagging over it really made it special to look at.
There was a little hut right next to it with some wooden benches to sit on. They sold ice creams and hot drinks so we grabbed a coffee here and just took more of the view in.
The day was eventually finished off with our friends partner cooking us a Norwegian dish of meatballs in a sauce. A great end to a brilliant short trip.
Before we headed back to the airport, we had one last look around the shops and we walked around the The Oslo Opera House; home of the Norwegian National Opera and Ballet, and the national opera theatre in Norway. The building is situated in the Bjørvika neighborhood of central Oslo, at the head of the Oslofjord. It’s an impressive structure with a peculiar shape but you can walk around it, onto the roof to get a great view across the harbour.
Oslo was, in my eyes one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been to, and a cheap flight from the UK via Amsterdam is well worth looking into. Just be prepared to take a good budget if you plan to eat out and if you go in the winter take a thick warm coat and go sledging if you can – maybe ease up on the kicking kids out the way thing though!