Photo Courtesy of Astrup Fearnley Museeet/Nic Lehoux
Norway's capital is a city of many faces. With roots back to medieval times, it is a place for history buffs who like ruins and fortresses. Literary types know it as the home of playwright Henrik Ibsen, and Nobel Prize–winner Knut Hamsun dedicated one of his best-known works to the city. Art, archit…ecture, and shipbuilding history beckon visitors to the city's many museums and parks. Oslo is surrounded by nature, and the city feels clean and safe. A growing café and bar scene offers a laid-back way to enjoy this Scandinavian capital city
What to know before you go to Oslo
Summer is Oslo's peak tourist season, with temperatures highest in July. Wintertime can be lovely if you like snow and a chill in the air—though it is very, very dark in December and January. Overall, May through September is probably the best time to go, unless you've packed all your warm clothes. And the summer nights are short and light—not the complete midnight sun of points farther north, but still very special.
Oslo has several airports, each about an hour from the city. The closest and largest is Oslo Airport Gardermoen, and from there the express train takes approximately 20 minutes to Oslo Central Station and costs about US$30. Local trains and airport buses will also take you around Oslo and the outskirts.
Though not a highly populated city, Oslo covers a lot of ground. The city is walkable but also offers the standard transportation options (metro, tram, bus) as well as bike rentals—Oslo's version of London's Boris Bikes. You can use the same ticket on all public transit within the city, and a standard 24-hour ticket costs just under US$14. There are also taxis aplenty, but be warned—they are expensive.
Be sure to visit Aker Brygge. This old industrial site is now home to shopping areas, restaurants, entertainment venues, and the Nobel Peace Center. And nearby sits the jewel in the crown—City Hall, where the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony is held every year amid Edvard Munch's famous frescoes.
Traditional cuisine is based on game and fish, with some peculiarly Norwegian dishes (think wind-dried cod and salty mutton) on offer for the adventurous. But nowadays you can find all that you would expect in any other large city (American diners, pizza parlors, sushi bars), as well as some small gems that are found only here. Do try the brunost (brown cheese). It's not technically cheese, but tastes more like fudge. It's something Norwegians love to put on their open-faced sandwiches, it can be found in all grocery shops, and it goes well with coffee. The country has seen an influx of microbreweries these last years, so if you like beer, Oslo is the place to be.
Norwegians love nature and activities such as hiking, skiing, and sailing. The Nordmarka woods, at Oslo's front door, are used year-round. The Oslo fjord is dotted with islands, making for cozy day trips in the summer via ferry or private boat. Oslo's other attractions that retain a Norwegian feel include a medieval fortress, several theaters, urban coffee shops for people watching, and the world-famous opera and ballet house designed by the same Norwegian architects responsible for the library in Alexandria, Egypt.
The largest festivals are Norwegian Wood and Øya Music Festival, both held in the summer. The Oslo Open House festival happens in September, when government buildings, the Royal Palace, and gardens normally closed to the public throw open their doors to let visitors have a snoop. Oslo has a wine festival in February, the Holmenkollen FIS World Cup Nordic Ski Festival in March, and a medieval festival in the Old Town in May.
As in most of Europe, tipping is voluntary, and the locals differ in how much they tip, if they tip at all. Some say 10 percent, some say more, or less—it's really up to you. Don't feel like you have to tip, but waiters will probably be glad if you show appreciation of their service. There is no need to tip taxi drivers or hotel staff. If you are visiting Oslo before Christmas, be sure to make reservations for all your lunch and dinner outings, as eateries are fully booked the last weeks before Christmas. Also, remember that on Sundays most shops are closed.
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more about Oslo
Alexandra considers herself a citizen of the world, after living in Denmark, Wales and New Zealand (and visiting around 70 countries), but she hails from Drammen, a small city close to Oslo. She holds an MA in creative writing and has been published in several online magazines, like National Geographic's Intelligent Travel Blog. She also blogs at Sopiesworld.net. Her favorite places in the whole world are her family's cabin in the Finnemarka woods in Eastern Norway, and Port Isaac in Cornwall.