After I deposited my trolley in a locker at the railway station, I was ready to discover Oslo. As it was only 11am it meant that I had a full day of sightseeing ahead on my Oslo stopover until my overnight train to Stavanger which would depart at 10.30pm.
I made a general plan for the day during the train ride from the airport to Oslo. My plan was to start with a leisurely walk along the waterfront, then to head to the Bygdøy suburb to visiting two of the city’s top museums, and afterwards to return to the city centre for a short walk and some good food before returning to the station for my onward journey deeper into Norway.
Oslo opera house
The first noteworthy point I hit on my city walk during the stopover was Oslo’s modern opera house, which has a magnificent setting on the waterfront.
There is lots of construction work going on in this area, with many high-rise apartment and office blocks being built. It was quite a sharp contrast with the rest of the city centre which is much more low-key.
The opera had stairs on either side of the building, which allowed you to walk all the way onto the rooftop. As the stairs were super slippery, I opted out of this. Better not to break my arm on the first day of my trip!
At minus five degrees Celsius it was fairly cold during my Oslo stopover – but I still thoroughly enjoyed my walk across the waterfront watching the arriving and already anchored ships.
After being seated for quite some hours in a plane and train, walking in the cold is a good way to wake up and get some feelings back in your limbs.
It is quite fun to watch the ships coming in and out of the port, whether it is an arriving ferry boat from Copenhagen or a curious little German Navy vessel anchored in Oslo harbour.
Oslo city hall
One of the most famous landmarks of Oslo is the city hall. Sure, the building itself is nothing special being built in the 1930s in a decidedly functional style.
It is however a symbol for the Nobel Prizes as each year the building hosts the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony on 10th December, the anniversary of Alfred Nobel’s death.
I was disappointed to find out that in winter there are no commuter ferries going from the dock near Oslo’s city hall to the Bygdøy suburb across the water where many of Oslo’s finest museums are located. With the help of some friendly locals I found out an alternative route by bus from a nearby bus stop, with the direct bus just taking 15 minutes the reach the first museum I planned to visit.
There are plenty of highly-rated museums in Oslo which you can visit during your stopover.
These are museums such as the Norwegian Folk Museum (cultural history), the Viking Ship Museum, the Kon-Tiki Museum, the Fram Museum and the Norwegian Maritime Museum. All of them reportedly are worthy of a visit. As I was limited in time, I could only visit two museums at most.
In the end, I decided to visit the Viking Ship Museum and the Fram Museum. I had visited before with my parents when I was a small teenager and had especially fond memories of the Fram Museum. I was curious to see how I would view both museums as an adult.
Viking Ship Museum
The Viking Ship Museum is located in a building in the shape of a cross which perhaps mostly resembled a weird-looking church. Yet inside, there are four historic Viking ships and various other historical viking items. While one ship has not withstood time very well and basically consists out of some pieces of flotsam, three others are in almost perfect state.
These Viking longboats were famed for their high speed, maneuverability and reliability, which allowed the Norsemen to raid coastal cities in Britain and even as far away as the Mediterranean.
These ships were however also used as funeral ships. A body of a famed ruler would be put onto the ship, after it was released into the water and set on fire with a torch or fire arrow. The longboats on show in the Viking Ship Museum have all been funeral ships, and their history is quite interesting.
Even though the Viking Ship Museum is rather small, the items are well-exhibited which makes for an interesting visit. Without doubt it now sees a huge increase in visitor numbers due to the popularity of the TV series ‘Vikings‘ on History Channel. It surely is easy to get some visions of Ragnar or Floki the shipbuilder while walking in the museum, and overall I enjoyed my visit.
Top tip: the 100 NOK (around 10 EUR) entrance fee to the museum also allows you to visit the Historical Museum in the city centre of Oslo within 48 hours. That is a nice 2-for-1 combo deal, which given Norway’s high price level is always welcome.
Walking in Bygdøy
From the Viking museum it is a short walk through the posh Bygdøy suburb down towards the waterfront where more museums are located. The Bygdoy museums are also well-worth a visit during your Oslo city trip or stopover.
I opted to revisit the Fram museum as I remembered that I absolutely loved it when I visited it as a teen.
The Fram Museum
The Fram Museum highlights the great polar expeditions and explorers of the past, although it is foremost the museum of three great Norwegian polar explorers: Fridtjof Nansen, Otto Sverdrup and Roald Amundsen.
Amundsen is perhaps Norway’s most famous son, being the first to cross the Northwest Passage and the first to famously reach the South Pole just days before his main competitor Robert Falcon Scott on his ill-fated expedition.
Both ships which Amundsen used on his voyages, the Gjoa and the Fram, can be seen in the museum. And yes, you can run around on the decks, walk through all the hallways and peek inside the rooms of both ships, which is why I loved it so much back in my teenage years! Because it is highly interactive the museum is perfect for children and adults alike.
Needless to say, there are countless other historical artifacts and exhibitions having to do with polar exploration showcased in the museums. These give more insights in the native people who inhabit the Arctic region and tell hundreds of others super interesting tales having to do with the more unknown Arctic expeditions of the past.
The museum is really a must for everyone interested in history, shipping or the extraordinary tales of the great explorers of yesteryear. The museum was still as magnificent as it was two decades ago when I visited it as a child, and I was glad to have visited it again.
The royal palace
After the two museum visits I had a short walk along the waterfront until it was time to catch my bus back to the city centre of Oslo where there are still a couple of interesting sights left which I wanted to see on my stopover.
I got out of the bus near the Royal Palace, which is located on a hilltop in a lovely park which you freely explore.
After taking some snaps of the hilltop palace and the guards, I headed down the hill back towards the commercial centre where most of the shops and restaurants are located.
Finding a place for lunch
Soon the big Norwegian dilemma came up: where to go for food? This country is. just. so. expensive! And I don’t mean just expensive, it’s ridiculously expensive. Especially when you are the kind of person like me who fancies a tipple you have to remember that it will break the bank.
Before you know you are off re-mortgaging your house and selling a kidney in order to pay for that second beer in the pub! It’s a pity, as there are some great pubs and restaurants in Oslo which you can visit during your stopover.
Normally I’m not too fuzzed about fine dining when travelling alone and I’m happy with a basic restaurant – but I surely did not want to end up at one of the ubiquitous fast food chains as I do love nice food and prefer to eat local cuisine wherever I go.
I decided to sit down on a bench for a while and to take out my smartphone trying to find some restaurants through Google Maps, TripAdvisor and all the other usual websites. Unfortunately, I couldn’t locate anything nearby that had good ratings and still had fair enough prices.
In the end, I stumbled across a French bistro called Brasserie France. It had an inviting menu, ‘reasonable’ enough prices (for Norway) and good online reviews.
I opted for the classical dish of moules-frites (mussels with French fries) which came in a nice broth of aioli. At about 35 EUR for the dish and a smallish beer it was definitely not cheap, but the taste was good and in the end well-worth the price.
Unless you want to eat fast food each day, high prices for food and drinks are something of a given in this country. Even at McDonald’s you will easily spend 15 EUR for a basic menu. You really do need to take this into account when visiting Norway as no matter how cheap your flight into the country is, living costs are very high.
Time for a beer
After the late lunch, I headed towards the train station for another beer in what seemed to be a nice pub based on online pictures and reviews. Oslo Mekaniske Verksted, as it was called, for sure didn’t disappoint.
The pub oozed tons of charm and had a nice mixture of patrons. Hipsters, businessmen, Viking strongmen and blonde Norwegian girls could all be found inside. Even better, the pub had a big list of craft beers.
I do love tasting local brews, but without any small tasters available and with beers running at 15 EUR for a draught beer or bottle it was again not cheap.
That said, I might have ended up drinking one beer at Mekaniske Verksted, or perhaps even two or three 😉 I loved the pub, and the Norwegian craft beer on offer was seriously good quality (unlike the country’s normal beer brands which are mostly forgettable). I can thoroughly recommend the place!
After coming to the conclusion that drinking more beers would mean selling my other kidney too, I wisely decided to head to the train station and call an end to my Oslo stopover.
I had a great day in Oslo during my stopover in the city. Oslo is exactly what you expect from a Scandinavian capital: it is easy to get around, has interesting museums and sights, as well as some great pubs and restaurants.
The only thing you should definitely take into account when visiting Oslo, whether it is on a stopover or as a proper city trip, is that the price levels are very high! Apart from that, I can definitely recommend a visit to this fantastic Nordic capital.
Koen works as a freelance journalist covering south-eastern Europe and is the founding father and editor-in-chief of Paliparan. As a contributor to some major Fleet Street newspapers and some lesser known publications in the Balkans, he travels thousands of miles each year for work as well as on his personal holidays. Whether it is horse riding in Kyrgyzstan’s Tian Shan mountains, exploring the backstreets of Bogotá, or sipping a glass of moschofilero in a Greek beachside taverna, Koen loves to immerse himself into the local culture, explore new places and eat and drink himself around the world.
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