Whether you’re considering a Baltics cruise or a fjords cruise, there’s every chance that you’ll pay a visit to Norway’s cosmopolitan and cultural capital, Oslo. As the country’s commercial and economic heart, it presents a modern face to all who visit it, though once you set to exploring the city, you’ll find that there’s much of Norway’s past to unearth, too.
Founded over a thousand years ago and then established as a centre for trade, Oslo became a capital in 1300 though was stricken by the Black Death not long after in 1349, and as a consequence its trade suffered hugely. Fire was also a constant threat to the city over the centuries but after 14 incidents, in 1624, King Christian IV of Denmark and Norway ordered Oslo to be rebuilt on a completely different site across the bay and not one for modesty, named it after himself. As a result, Christiana was established and it became a true capital when the country’s long-standing union with Denmark was ended. The 19th century saw much growth and the construction of a number of landmark buildings but it wasn’t until 1925 that the city took the name Oslo, after which its municipality expanded, covering all the areas you can explore today.
Perhaps Oslo’s most eye-catching landmark and certainly its most popular cultural attraction is its opera house. Regarded by casual visitors and architectural experts alike as a masterpiece, its modern design is a revelation, allowing what is a huge, functional structure to nestle stylishly on the shores of Oslo Fjord. Even if you don’t have time to attend a performance or if it’s not your thing, the Opera House is a must see and it’s quite an experience to climb its sloping roof, admire the design and take in the view. Oslo City Hall is another key cultural site, containing some beautiful murals and artworks, most notably in its stunning main hall. Another tourist favourite which is especially convenient, as it’s located close to the main cruise ship port, is Akershus Castle and Fortress. You can explore the castle grounds, see the exhibits and if you’re there at the right time, witness the changing of the guard. Be sure to wave at your docked cruise ship from the ramparts, from where you can enjoy great views. No Norwegian visit would be complete without a helping of Viking history, and with that in mind, the Viking Ship Museum is the perfect place to visit. As to what you’ll see, the clue’s in the name and you’ll be sure to enjoy a fascinating voyage through the country’s past and learn all about the famous longboats.
As the gateway to the Norwegian fjords, Oslo’s a city with many natural wonders situated close by. Nordmarka is an expansive outdoor nature area which is easy to reach from the city. A great place to get away from it all, it’s popular with walkers, joggers and casual picnickers alike, with plenty of scenic forest trails to choose from. If you’re feeling a little more adventurous, this is also where you’ll find the popular Holmenkollen Ski Jump. If you’re a little more pushed for time while in the city but still feel the need to get away from it all, then be sure to head to Frogner Park, a leafy escape right in the centre of Oslo. Popular with visitors and locals, it also hosts over 150 different species of plants, and there’s even an open-air bath. Close by to Frogner Park is Vigeland Park, which manages to combine culture with outdoors appeal and is where you’ll find 192 fascinating granite works by the sculptor of the same name. Dealing with human life and development in general, they’re set amid beautiful natural surroundings.
Though perhaps not the first destination which springs to mind when it comes to retail therapy, Oslo’s great when it comes to a good choice of contrasting shopping experiences. One must-see and a tourist attraction in itself is Aker Brygge, a former shipyard which has been turned into a shopping centre. There’s a great atmosphere and a good choice of restaurants and bars, making it a great place to hang out, even if you’re not intending to buy anything. All foodies, meanwhile should make a beeline for Mathallen Marketplace, where a mouth-watering choice of mostly local delicacies are available. There’s a lot of opportunity to try before you buy and this is the perfect place if you’re heading off to the park for a picnic but also great if you want to take a tasty treat or two back home. Art’s a big deal in Oslo too and for enthusiasts, there’s also a good number of galleries. Perhaps the most popular owing to its location is the City Hall Gallery, which is the obvious choice if you’re already visiting the City Hall as part of your tour of Oslo’s landmarks. Head out of the centre to some of the city’s other districts and you’ll find a number of other galleries displaying all manner of works, from contemporary pieces and African art to handicrafts and works of photography.
By Simon Brotherton