If I’m being honest, I only went to Norway for the fjords; my visit to Oslo basically happened because I thought, “well, if I’m in Norway, I guess I should see the capital too…?”
That kind of attitude, though, is misguided: Oslo is great. No, it’s never going to be the biggest or the most exciting European city, and it’s never going to have the best food or the most museums. But it does have lots of things to do, to see, and to eat in its own right.
I stayed centrally in Oslo, not far from the Oslo Cathedral. While the cathedral was not particularly memorable, my favorite feature had to be the royal box: the spot where the royal family sits when they come to church. I’m sure they only attend on rare occasions, but I like the idea of being in church on some random Sunday in February, looking up, and waving to the King.
Across from the Cathedral is Stortorvet, a square with a large flower market on it. Having never met a flower market I did not adore, I browsed through here several times during my stay in Oslo.
Oslo’s main thoroughfare is Karl Johans gate, which stretches from Central Station on one end to the Royal Palace on the other. While portions of the street are undeniably touristy and tacky, it was nonetheless integral to my stay, and I loved the gorgeous, stately architecture of many of the street’s buildings.
Just off Karl Johans gate is the National Theater. While I did not get a chance to take in a performance there, I loved this building, from its columns and cheerful yellow facade to everything that surrounded it: statues, fountains, and flowers galore. And speaking of statues, I noticed that they were everywhere in Oslo: from the grand collection in Frogner Park to the statues that could be found in front of just about every major building and in the middle of just about every square. I’m not sure why Oslo is statue-mad, but I loved this aspect of the city.
While it was relatively overcast during my time in town, Oslo’s harbor area was worth a stroll. The waterfront is tidy (of course) and fun, lined with plenty of restaurants and even more flowers. On a sunny day, I’m sure this is the place to be.
Another highlight was visiting the National Museum of Art, Architecture, and Design. The obvious attraction here is Edvard Munch’s “The Scream,” but I found plenty of other previously unknown-to-me gems, too – all the Norwegian romantic landscapes were a particular favorite. Another fun feature of the museum? One room had a sculpture with easels set up around it – guests are free to sit down and sketch if they like.
Oslo is very much a modern city, but I found quaint pockets too. I have no idea the name of this neighborhood, not far from Mathallen (Oslo’s food hall), but I loved it. It was very hilly, but the burn in my calves was totally worth it as I was treated to colorful homes decked out with flowers. Swoon.
Oslo’s fortress, Akershus Festning, was another charming spot. My favorite part of the fortress was its views – it overlooks the harbor – but the complex is also home to several different museums. On a rainy morning, I stopped by the Norwegian Resistance Museum – it was tiny and not terribly riveting, but it was still interesting to consider World War II from a perspective I rarely ever hear about.
(Sidenote: as seen above, Norwegian schoolchildren on field trips are the cutest – they get decked out in matching jumpsuits and reflective vests, like tiny, blonde construction workers, and everyone is always holding hands.)
I didn’t step inside Norway’s Royal Palace, but I still dropped by to give King Harald a wave from the palace grounds. This was a beautiful building, but perhaps not quite as riveting as other European castles I have visited.
In terms of food and drink, Oslo had plenty to offer. At Rorbua, a rustic restaurant near the port, I ordered the “bucket of shrimp” and was promptly delivered the largest portion of shrimp I have ever seen in my life, and all of it super fresh. I only ate a fraction of this, but it was damn good.
At Mathallen, which I had already visited once on my food tour, I grabbed a dinner of fish ‘n chips. I loved Mathallen’s vibe: on the evening I visited, it was packed with locals and bustling with activity.
Another favorite spot in Oslo was WB Samson, a classy café on Karl Johans gate. I stopped in several times for coffee and snacks; it was one of my favorite places to relax and regroup amidst all the sightseeing.
While I didn’t eat anything there, I also enjoyed browsing the food market on Youngstorget, which was filled with interesting stalls. This market has an eclectic mix of goods: savory and sweet, with tons of international cuisines too.
A local highly recommended Cafe Tekehtopa to me, and I ducked in there for lunch in the midst of a downpour. It was a cozy place with friendly waiters, and my bouillabaisse was the perfect antidote to the damp weather.
Oslo’s big department store, Steen & Strom, houses a food hall on its ground floor. Of all the shops, the one that caught my eye was the cleverly named Hello Good Pie. I stopped in for an afternoon snack and found that the place certainly lived up to its name.
I spent nearly four full days in Oslo, and found that the city was well worth my time: I had plenty to do to fill my days, yet Oslo is compact enough that I felt like I was able to explore beyond the usual tourist sites to find some of the city’s more hidden, off-the-beaten-path attractions. While I wasn’t a huge fan of the weather, and while the crazy high prices made me want to cry, exploring Norway beyond the fjords was most definitely a good idea.