Now, I’m not a travel writer. I’m a food guy. But I like to travel and I think I do it well. So I thought I’d offer you some travel tips from Oslo, Norway. These tips include food. Of course, they do. But you can only eat 6 or 8 meals a day. What are you going to do with the other 45 minutes? So I have put together a simple list of all Best Things to do in Oslo, Norway.
I believe Oslo has to offer. It’s a good list. That’s because I am fairly particular. I want to see the city or country I visit in as authentic a manner possible. I don’t like tourist traps. But I would not want to miss all the “must see” stops wherever I go either.
Best Things to do in Oslo, Norway
- Starting with Vigelandsparken (Vigeland Sculpture Park). Gustave Vigeland, the most prominent Norwegian sculptor of the 20th century built this massive 74-acre sculpture garden as a gift to the people of Norway. Or so the story goes. The theme of his life’s work is the “destiny of mankind”. But I rather think it’s more a monument to his own life’s destiny. He was not a tall man, but he seems to have held himself in high esteem. Which is a theme that resonates all throughout the 227 colossal-sized statues. Including the park’s central element. A 52-foot high monolith (picture at right). It’s composed of 121 nude figures, all reaching presumably for the same thing– their destiny. I’d say they found it.
- The Oslo Opera House (Operahuset). The Norwegian National Opera & Ballet is Norway’s largest performing arts institution. It has amazing architecture by Norwegian architects Snøhetta. It’s dramatic, appearing like a modern ice floe rising from the surrounding fjord. If you do nothing else here, take in the city views from the sloping rooftop promenade. If you have a bit more time you can spend it amongst the art & architecture or even enjoy a meal. There is an upscale restaurant, a casual waterfront café and several bars which all run separately from the performances. So even without tickets to the show the Opera House is worth a visit.
- The City Center around the main street Karl Johans Gate which connects the Oslo Central Station with the Royal Palace is a fun area to wander. It’s a shopping district, and the parts I visited were for walking only– no cars allowed. Making the stroll quite pleasant. Lined with many familiar international retailers like Benetton and H&M, as well as a few shops unique to Norway such as Steen & Strøm and Paleet there is plenty to keep you occupied for hours. But if you don’t have a lot of time in Oslo it’s also a great place to get the vibe of the city. Street performers are common and you’ll find several cultural institutions nearby like the Parliament and the National Theatre.
- Take the ferry to the Bygdøy Peninsula. The 15-minute trip alone brings great views of the city and offers an inexpensive way to get out onto the fjord. But there’s a lot to do there too; museums, restaurants, Viking ships, & beaches. Still, much of it is doable in an afternoon. Bygdøy maintains its rural character. The royal family has a summer home here, as do many of Oslo’s well-to-do residents. Ferry No 91 operates from early April to early October, making the run to Bygdøy every 30 to 40 minutes from 08:45 am with the last crossing returning from Bygdøy at around 6:30 pm in April, September, and October, 9:15 pm in the summer months.
- A stroll along the waterfront brings sights such as the Akerhus Castle and Fortress, where you can walk the ramparts and enjoy the views, the Rådhuset (city hall) which features Norwegian art, and the bustling piers where traditional wooden sailing ships still find an anchor. Of course there are open-air restaurants, cafés, and bars too. But my favorite part was just being there, taking in the city and its people. The light can be spectacular in Oslo in the summer and no place more so than along the harbor at sunset, where locals drop by to cast a line and catch the last rays of sun– which can be well after 10 pm.
- Connected to and really an extension of the harbor is a bustling area known as Aker Brygge. It’s a new development in an old part of town. Dining, shopping, apartments and office space all come together in this modern steel-and-glass complex developed on and around Oslo’s old ship building yards. It’s an area with a lot of great nightlife. I spent some of my evenings here and will have more to say in an upcoming post. Because Aker Brygge is where people of Oslo meet and mingle.
Oslo is an artistic city. There are also quite a few museums. A few too many to take in on one trip. But the three I’d say are not to be missed are the Nasjonalgalleriet (National Gallery). It houses the country’s largest art collection. Including one of the versions of Edvard Munch’s The Scream (1893).
If the National Gallery gave you a taste for Munch, then a trip to the Munch Museet may be of interest to you. He was Norway’s greatest painter and donated a treasure trove of his works to the people of Norway; including yet another version of The Scream. This one valued at 75 million dollars. Which is an amazing amount, especially as it was famously stolen in 2004 only to be recovered and returned to this museum in 2006.
The third museum I’d recommend is Vikingskipshuset (Viking Ship Museum). This fascinating collection includes 3 actual ships that were recovered from the mud of the Oslofjord. All three date from the 9th century. The beauty and craftsmanship are astounding. But the fact that they have survived in such poetic detail gave me goosebumps. Kids will go crazy here, but I gotta tell ya– I was not the only adult gawking.
But I came to Oslo to eat. So where did I eat? What did I like? What would I recommend? I’m so glad you asked…
- I mentioned there were dining options at the Opera House. I had lunch there on the terrace at Brasserie Sanguine (Kirsten Flagstads Plass 1) which spills out from the main floor of the foyer and has a beautiful view of the Oslofjord. There is seating both indoors and outdoors. It’s menu is best described as international with French, Spanish and Italian flourishes. The restaurant is headed up by Chef Petter Sekne. I was able to have a long chat with him during lunch and he took me to his other restaurant at the Opera House called Argent, Fine Dining (Kirsten Flagstads Plass 1). It is much more local in character with an emphasis on clean flavors and seasonal Norwegian ingredients used in fresh, innovative ways. While I did not eat there I did learn a lot and got to taste an unusual (to me) local ingredient known as granbar. Which are needles of a certain Norwegian fir tree. The innovative pesto-like granbar sauce I tasted with the chef was enough to convince me of this chef’s talent.
- Norway is about seafood in my mind. So I also ate at one of the top seafood restaurants in Oslo. Tjuvholmen Sjømagasin (Tjuvholmen Allé 14) is located in the Aker Brygge. Way at the end, right on the water. It’s chic and very, very modern. It’s all silver and glass, with beautiful white-clad tables running up and down and side to side across the large room. I wouldn’t call it intimate, but the 300 seat dining room runs smoothly. It’s got a wide-open kitchen that is as entertaining to watch as any Grieg concerto. We opted for the three-course set meal that started with an amuse bouche of watermelon gazpacho made crunchy with perfect little brunoise of fennel bulb. Our first-course included a seared sea scallop from nearby Frøya, sitting atop a cauliflower puree, with chorizo and leek. The local seafood selection continued into the main course with hake from Kristiansund served with fennel and asparagus. We finished with Norwegian strawberries that had a level of acidity that balanced the sweet like no berry I have ever tasted before. They were so perfect that the only accompaniment they required was cream– both warm and cold, in the form of pudding and vanilla ice cream.
- There’s another contender for seafood along Oslo’s waterfront and that’s Solsiden (Sondre Akershuskai 34) It’s a bit more casual in ambience than Tjuvholmen Sjømagasin, but no less expensive. It is known for its huge platters of what I would call Parisian-style fruits de mer and it bills itself online as having “the most romantic sunsets in town”. Which I can attest too. However, you must remember that the sun can set well after 10pm here during the summer. This restaurant does not always serve that late, as I disappointingly discovered my first night in Oslo. But a nice review of Solsiden from a trusted local blogger, Nordic Nibbler, is strong enough that I feel I can recommend this restaurant despite the fact that the closest I got to eating here was standing in an empty room gobbling up the excellent views of the sun setting over the sparkling Oslofjord.
- What’s a trip anywhere without sushi? Of course Oslo has some of the greatest seafood in the world. So it stands to reason that there’s good sushi to be had. And there is. I learned about Alex Sushi (Cort Adelersgate 2) from the chef and sommelier co-owners of Maaemo restaurant (Schweigaardsgate 15b). My conversation and cooking video (soon to come) with this pair of culinary artists were the “foodie” highlights of my entire trip to Norway. So when it was casually mentioned where they liked to dine after a long evening at their sensational restaurant, I figured it was worth noting. I don’t think this restaurant is on the average tourist’s radar, but if you’re looking for something special you should consider it. But once again, why take my word for it? We have the excellent palate and an insightful review of Alex Sushi from Nordic Nibbler.
- But there are other ways to enjoy the fruits of the Norwegian sea at considerably fewer krone and I have a way of sniffing them out! You see early one morning I was taking my daily Jet Lag Walk at some strange hour (when I should have been sleeping) and I stumbled onto one of the highlights of the trip. I don’t know if it’s a secret, but I was certainly the only tourist I encountered early that morning as the shrimp boats were pulling into the harbor. It seems the people who work the shrimp fisheries have a habit of cooking up several extra batches of the fresh catch on the boat during the night. Then, bright and early the next morning at the harbour, they sell what they don’t plan to eat themselves to whomever is lucky enough to wander by. So there I was, on a chilly summer morning– right in front of the Rådhuset feasting on a breakfast of the freshest shrimp you can imagine. A priceless moment for me to be sure.
I like street food, duh. Norway has its own version too. It’s known as pølse and it’s like a Frankfurter, it’s often served with lompa. Which is a type of traditional Norwegian potato bread. It’s round like a tortilla, and due to the American influence lompa has come to act as hot-dog-style wrapper for the pølse. They can be topped with just about anything too. Including shrimp salad. Here’s some news: Norway is the biggest sausage eating country per capita in the world! That because pølse are served everywhere– at service stations, news stands, corner stores, and on sidewalks. Pølse is THE fast food of Norway. Don’t miss it!
SERIOUS FUN FOOD
Best Things to do in Oslo, Norway
Best Things to do in Oslo, Norway
Best Things to do in Oslo, Norway