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We have visited Oslo many times because we have good friends there. It is not an inexpensive city to visit. Save those pennies before visiting. Thanks to competition from Norwegian Air Shuttle, at least the plane ticket from the US to Oslo is reasonable all the time.
Jim “The Travel Organizer,” who last wrote about The small German town of Speyer and Deidesheim, Oahu, Napa Valley, Venice, Singapore, Bangkok, Sonoma County and Myrtle Beach, went to Oslo recently and here are his tips should you visit.
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Last year, I wrote about Qatar’s 2017 2-for-1 business class sale that took us from JFK to SIN for $2,117.12/person. I thought that was pretty great until 2018 rolled around and Qatar offered 2-for-1 business class fares from OSL to AKL (which included the longest flight in the world at the time, DOH->AKL) for $1,727.75 – just 7.1 cents/mile and a whopping 4,840 EQD (>40% of the amount needed to requalify as Executive Platinum status for 2019 on a single ticket!) if credited to American Airlines.
Now I just needed to find an affordable positioning flight. Unbelievably, at almost the exact same time, American Airlines put their JFK->OSL flights on sale for pennies over $400/person (the base fare was only $1.00!), so we were on our way to Auckland by way of Oslo….
Constitution Day in Oslo!
Our good fortune continued when it turned out that, serendipitously, we would end up being in Oslo for their most festive national holiday – Constitution Day – on May 17, 2018. The “Visit Norway” website describes Constitution Day as “a party like no other.”
It’s important to understand that Constitution Day festivities start early in Oslo! Before the Women’s Choral Society of the University of Oslo – “the world’s oldest academic female choir and the world’s top-ranked women’s choir” – presents its first free performance in the Palace Park at 8:00am, many residents come together for a potluck breakfast with friends and neighbors. After this presentation, the choir processes to the Parliament Building for a 9:00am performance following a speech by Norway’s President (in Norwegian, of course). At 3:30pm, we took in the free Festkonsert (Festival Concert) at Akershus Fortress featuring, in the words of Tom Andersen, Head of the Fortress’ Visitors Center, “…super-talented young people in the fields of music, dance and drama” along with the Oslo Symphony Orchestra.
The highlight of Constitution Day, however, is the Children’s Parade down Oslo’s main thoroughfare past the Palace where they are greeted by the Royal family. More than 100,000 people — children from more than 120 schools, marching bands and Norwegians decked out in their bunad (Norway’s traditional folk costume which indicate one’s ancestry and can easily cost upwards of $3,000/outfit!) march for roughly 3 hours in this colorful spectacle. Tips: Free tickets are available for download from the “Visit Oslo” website but (1) the order form is only in Norwegian, so use Google Translate and (2) the number of tickets is limited so submit your order as early as possible.
Party, party, party!
More than a coffee shop, not exactly a “restaurant,” Kulturhuset (literally, “culture house”) is a 3-story, combination food hall, bar, game room, performance venue and shared workspace open 19½ hours/day on weekdays. Believing “when in Rome, do as the Romans do” to be culturally sound advice, we secured a reservation for Kulturhuset’s Constitution Day party, which featured a DJ marathon and free popcorn all day long. The celebratory meal for the day was a “17th of May plank” (pictured here) – a selection of hors d’oeuvres including skagenrore (shrimp salad), French asparagus, Serrano ham, salami, cheeses, bread, crackers, apricot compote and a garlic aioli – all washed down with a Norwegian Pilsner.
Free admission to an amazing museum
Fittingly, the inspiring Norway Resistance Museum is located within the walls of Akershus Fortress where many Norwegian resistance fighters were tortured and/or executed during the 1940-1945 Nazi occupation. Using artifacts and dioramas, the visitor is led through a chronological description of the underground communication which buoyed Norwegian spirits during this dark time and the story of the successful sabotage of the Third Reich’s attempt to develop an atomic weapon. The normal admission of 60 Norwegian kroner (NOK) or around $7.39, half that for seniors and children, is waived on Constitution Day.
Getting from the airport to the heart of Oslo couldn’t be much easier. Oslo’s Airport Express Train (Flytoget) whisks you from the airport Arrivals Hall to Oslo S (Oslo’s Central Station) in just 20 minutes for 190 NOK ($23.63 USD/adult, half that for seniors 67+). Travel is ticketless if you sign up for an account online; all you do is swipe the credit card you register (be sure to register a card that bonuses spend on train transportation) at the entrance and exit gates.
Where we stayed
For sheer convenience, it’s difficult to beat the Comfort Hotel Grand Central, located in Ostbanehallen (East Train Hall), a wing of Oslo S. Just follow the signs from the Flytoget stop at Oslo S to the Visitor’s Information Center; the hotel entrance is directly opposite. Right out front is a plaza featuring a giant tiger sculpture which is the meeting spot for Oslo’s free walking tour (see below) and a major interchange (Jernbanetorget) for Oslo’s underground Metro as well as above-ground tram and bus systems.
What we did
While Constitution Day was definitely the highlight of our visit, there’s more than enough to see and do in and around Oslo to fill 4-5 days. Here are some highlights:
There’s way more here than meets the eye – and there’s LOTS that meet the eye – in this magnificent public space! The world’s largest sculpture garden celebrating the work of a single artist, this park is a showcase for 212 bronze and granite sculptures by Norwegian sculptor Gustav Vigeland. The collection, dubbed “The Weirdest Statues in the World” by The Daily Mail, includes everything from a woman embracing a giant lizard to a naked man fighting flying babies and everything in between. “Angry Boy,” one of the most popular pieces, portrays a toddler throwing a tantrum with amusing precision.
The focal point of the park is “The Monolith,” a 46.33 foot high pillar made up of 121 intertwined human figures representing the human desire to reach out to the Divine. Other intriguing features are less obvious, like the paving around “The Fountain” which, while appearing simply decorative, is actually an intricate labyrinth that can take hours to complete.
Tip: Take Tram #12 from in front of Oslo S to the Vigelandsparken stop for 35 NOK/adult, 18 NOK/child or senior ($4.32 and $2.22 respectively). Just make sure to travel in the right direction; with your back to the train station, the tram should be headed to your left. The tram stop for your return trip is on the same side of the street as the sculpture park itself. You can buy your tickets from the Visitor’s Center in the train station’s Ostbanehallen.
Oslo Free Walking Tour
Free Tour Oslo (85% 5-star reviews on TripAdvisor) offers 3 tours/day: a “city tour” in English and Spanish starting at 10:00am and a tour of Oslo’s east side starting at 1:00pm every day. Both tours meet, conveniently, at the tiger statue in the plaza in front of Ostbanehallen. The “city tour” includes stops at the Opera House, Akershus Fortress, City Hall, the National Theater, and the Parliament building.
The Oslo “Cathedral” is not, as one might suspect from the name, Roman Catholic; it is the most important church affiliated with the Church of Norway which was established in the 16th century during the Protestant Reformation. It is located along Karl Johan’s Gate between Jernbanetorget and the Royal Palace. Oslo Cathedral is open Saturday through Thursday from 10am-4pm and on Fridays from 4pm to 6am Saturday morning.
There is no admission and English language print guides are available in the entrance vestibule. Entrance is free and guided tours can be arranged – at least 2 months before you wish to visit. Worth noting are the stained glass windows in the choir by Emanuel Vigeland (Gustav’s brother), the bronze relief entrance doors recalling Ghiberti’s “Gates of Paradise” doors to the Baptistery in Florence and the brightly painted ceilings.
All of the Nobel Prizes are awarded in Stockholm – except the Peace Prize which is awarded in Oslo each year on December 10, the day Alfred Nobel died in 1896. Nobel’s 355 patents, which included nitroglycerin detonators, blasting caps and his most famous invention – dynamite – made him rich. In 1888, a French newspaper which erroneously reported his death when it was really his brother Ludwig who had died called Nobel a “merchant of death.” Some believe reading his own obituary motivated Nobel to give the fortune he amassed to reward “…those who, during the preceding year, shall have conferred the greatest benefit on mankind” in the form of awards in the fields of physics, chemistry, medicine and peace (economics was added later).
Others contend it was Nobel’s long affection for and admiration of the peace activist Bertha von Suttner that is responsible for the establishment of the Peace Prize. The Center has three exhibition spaces: one devoted to Nobel and the Peace Prize recipients, another featuring the work of the current year recipient in depth and a third devoted to a topic of current interest. Open every day from 10am-6pm, admission is 100 NOK/adult, 65 NOK for children and seniors ($12.43/$8.08); free guided tours are available twice daily from May-August and once on Saturday and Sunday the rest of the year.
Where we ate
Restaurants in Oslo can be very expensive! The hors d’oeuvres plank pictured above at Kulturhuset and 3 bottles of beer set us back $77.83! That said, in addition to it, we especially enjoyed 2 restaurants:
I’m a sucker for a blue cheese burger and Café Sara served a very nice version with French fries for 169 NOK ($21.00). My wife thought the fish and chips dish – breaded cod with salad and French fries – for 149 NOK ($18.50) was among the best she’s ever tasted.
Delicatessen Aker Brygge
This is an Oslo mini-chain serving tapas; the one in the Aker Brygge commercial district adjacent to the wharf and right around the corner from the Nobel Peace Center where we ate “…is the most formal…and, by far, the largest,” featuring exposed brick walls, high ceilings, lots of glass and outdoor dining. We ordered patatas bravas, steamed mussels and chorizo, fried chorizo and grilled Argentinean shrimp served with a chili-plum sauce served on a plank (is this a “thing” in Oslo?) along with 2 glasses of wine. Everything was delicious! Our bill came to $76.59.
- Be sure to book a guided tour of Oslo’s Opera House – an architectural and performance marvel! It’s not reviewed in depth above only because interior pictures are strictly prohibited. (100 NOK, about $12.50)
- Oslo’s National Gallery (closed Mondays) presents its art collection in a chronological manner; a banner in each hall explains the period or artistic style displayed. (Closed Mondays, 120 NOK/adult, 60 NOK/child or senior).
- If you’re uncertain about purchasing tram, bus, metro or ferry tickets on the Ruter website, the friendly folk at the Oslo Visitor Centre in Ostbanehallen sell and explain how to use them.
About the Author:
I organize things; it’s what I do! I enjoy the natural adrenaline high of travel as much as the next person but I also try to limit the likelihood that the surprises I experience along the way will be unpleasant ones. To this end, I spend more hours than most preparing for each trip. Fortunately for me, I enjoy the anticipation of travel as much as the experience of it. The focus of my trip reports will be to help those who read them to enjoy high value experiences — maximizing enjoyment while minimizing cost. I’ve been a minister, nonprofit agency executive, professor and consultant; my “job” in retirement is planning our next trip. If you would like additional information and/or recommendations, please feel free to contact “The Travel Organizer” via email.
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Get the Oslo pass. It’s a great deal, especially for seniors. Buying food as take out is much less than eating in.