For a small city, Oslo punches above its weight in terms of galleries, museum and scenery. Just keep an eye on the Norwegian Kroner flying out of your wallet.
Grab a great value Oslo Pass (325 NOK for 48 hours) and tour your way through Oslo's many museums, gratis.
Operahuset. This stark white building is reminiscent of another water skimming opera house in Sydney, but instead of plumes of curved white sails, its sharp jutting angles recall an iceberg or the prow of a ship. It's perfect for its surroundings and you can climb on the roof to enjoy the view.
Nobels Fredssenter. A fascinating, mutlimedia exploration through the Nobel Peace Prize, the only Nobel Prize which is not awarded in Stockholm due to historical reasons. I spent hours there because of a wonderful moving wallpapers exhibition, which had photographs and brief biographies of every Peace Prize recipient. I felt humbled by these men and women, who had a believed that their voices and actions should be applied for the greater public good. There was also a temporary exhibition "The Places We Live", an audio and photographic portrayal of slums in Mumbai, Jakarta, Caracas and Nairobi, which enveloped you literally in the lives of their inhabitants. The most shocking image for me was one of an Indonesian mother, lying on a moth-eaten mattress with her two young sons, her head only inches away from the rolling wheels of a train.
Nasjonalmuseet. The National Museum has various branches housing different types of art. Time restraints meant I only got to see the Museum of Contemporary Art and the Museum of Architecture. I didn't enjoy the contemporary art collection - nothing really caught my eye and there were no explanations on the works, which meant I found myself unmoved by blank canvases of white "Untitled". Having said that, I did like Sophie Calle's The Hotel Room, a voyeuristic photographic essay which guessed at the lives and motivations of unseen hotel guests through their belongings. Apparently Tate Modern has a collection too which I'll be checking out. The Museum of Architecture was disappointing - small, with rotating exhibitions only, and in Norwegian.
Skimuseet and Holmenkollen Jump Tower. Matt's Norwegian friend had warned me to skip this museum, as it was really boring. But how could I not visit Norway's most visited attraction? As I climbed to the top of the ski jump tower, my stomach started clenching in anxiety. It's obvious of course, but a ski jump is really high and really steep. I couldn't even steady myself to sit on a concrete spectator step to enjoy the panoramic view of Oslo. The ski museum is definitely dull if you don't like skiing, but I quite enjoyed seeing the ingenious crafting of the ancient skis. Finally, you can experience an Olympic ski jump and downhill slalom race in the comfort of a simulator - the jerky movements didn't really correspond convincingly with the grainy video, but when else am I going to have the opportunity to do a ski jump?
Take a boat by Bygdoynes. Public ferry #91 is included in the Oslo Pass, and it leaves in front of Oslo City Hall to take you across Oslofjord to Bygdoynes, a serene museum-filled island.
Vikingskiphuset. Seeing a real live viking ship close up must be every little boy's dream. It was certainly amazing to see 1100 year old ships so solidly constructed, complete and well-preserved, but I can't say it rocked my world.
Frammuseet. The wooden polar ship Fram has great stories to tell, having advanced further north and further south than any other vessel. I didn't expect to spend much time inside the museum, but then I became engrossed in a BBC documentary called Vogages of Discovery: Ice King, about the great Norwegian polar explorer, Fridtjof Nansen, and his 3 year attempt to reach the North pole. Words cannot express my admiration for this man, who gets my vote for the greatest man in history: polar explorer, zoologist, oceanographer, scientist, inventor...and then diplomat and Nobel Peace Prize recipient for his role as high commissioner for refugees and the development of the Nansen passport for stateless citizens. I'm in awe.
Kon-Tiki Museet. I remember learning about Thor Heyerdahl's expedition through a Lego exhibition on world explorers. At this museum, you don't get a Lego replica of the Kon-Tiki, but the balsa wood raft. It was more sturdy than I expected, but to cross the Pacific in 100 days in such a vessel was a crazy undertaking. Got to hand it to these Norwegians, they are a hardy bunch. The museum also displayed his papyrus boat Ra with which he tried to cross the Atlantic, and an exhibition of Easter Island's flora, fauna, culture and monolithic statues.
Norsk Folkemuseum. Having trooped around similar open-air museums in Japan, I didn't have any high hopes about how interesting I'd find the Norwegian Museum of Cultural History. Luckily, there was furniture in many of the traditional Norwegian houses, you could watch weavers and potters and work and in particular the 13th century Gol Stave church was gorgeous. Also, it was the only museum I visited which had an area devoted to Sami culture. So all in all, an educational experience, but if I hadn't had an Oslo Pass I probably would have given the 95 NOK entry a miss.
Nationaltheatret. The ornate National Theatre was holding an Ibsen festival, so I thought where better to experience Norway's most famous playwright than in his own country (with English surtitles). Unfortunately, Romersholm was dire. The production was conducted without any scenery, just an occasional puff from a smoke machine, and most of the dialogue was delivered, automaton-like, facing the audience, even when the characters were supposed to be conversing with each other. I expect it was a deliberate theatrical device to emphasise the characters' alienation, but frankly it just made it really boring. My occasional lapses in concentration also meant I could barely understand the outlandish plot. The Norwegians seemed to love it though and it only cost me 135 NOK for an evening's (non)entertainment.
Cruise the Oslofjord. The Oslo Pass will get you 15% discount on the Batservice sightseeing cruises (178.50 NOK), so I jumped on the classic 2 hour fjord tour for some sunset cruising. On the way you get some interesting commentary, check out expensive residences and brightly coloured summer houses, and wind through some islands in the Oslofjord.
Scandic Byporten Hotel. A standard business hotel which is very conveniently located next to the central train station. The rooms were clean and comfortable, but nothing to write home about. The breakfast buffet was enormous and meant I could stuff myself to capacity and sneak away some salami and cheese sandwiches for lunch.
Voksenasaen Hotel. A typically clean-lined Scandinavian 4-star hotel with the most amazing view of the silvery fjords, quiet forested mountains and twinkling city lights. I managed to find a £45 room including breakfast on Expedia - amazingly cheap for Norway and such a beautiful setting. To celebrate my bargain-hunting, I gorged myself on the breakfast buffet, eating my weight in smoked salmon. The only downside was that it was a 30 minute metro ride to the city centre - but most of it ran over ground as it swept through the mountains, so it is possibly the most enjoyable and scenic metro ride I have ever experienced.
Thanks to my hotel breakfast-buffet sneaking habits, I didn't eat out that much in pricey Oslo, but here are a few places I experienced.
Kristiania. Set inside a grand old railway hall, this bar and cafe serves standard cafe food. My chicken burger was 159 NOK but the best thing was being able to sit outside and soak in some sunshine.
Frognersetern. The end of metro line 1 drops you off into the clean, crisp forest of Nordmark, and perched on a hillside is this restaurant and cafe with a sunny terrace overlooking Oslo's rooftops. I recommend their homemade blood orange icecream for 30 NOK.
Bocata. A slick and funky cafe/bar overlooking the National Theatre, and useful for a quick pre-theatre takeaway from a choice of salads, noodles and tapas. Seafood salad and green tea = 107 NOK.
Grand Hotel. This glamorous restaurant, famous for Ibsen's twice-daily visits, hosts a jazz band on Sunday afternoons and a large buffet for 295 NOK. This is great value if you have an appetite like mine. However, I was only looking for a slice of cake and some hot chocolate to shelter from the drizzle, so I sat at the bar, enjoyed the monied atmosphere, and paid 104 NOK for the privilege.
Egon. Basically the only place open which was close to my hotel after a long negotiation session. Luckily, the service was friendly and the fish soup was tasty - and I didn't have to pay the bill, a hefty 159 NOK.
United Bakeries. I loved the clean, white-tiled interior and the pallets of goodies dangling overhead from a little conveyor belt. My cinnamon bun came with a smile, unlike the usual poker-faced Norwegian service.
Samson Bakeri og Catering. Great prawn and mayonnaise sandwich in a seeded roll, great cinnamon bun too (better than United Bakeries). The damage: 84 NOK.
Theatercafeen. I thought I'd close my eyes to the prices and treat myself to an upmarket dining experience just once. This dome lit, leather-boothed restaurant is apparently one of NY Times 10 most famous cafes in the world, and I was desperate for something relaxing after sitting through Romersholm. I enjoyed my club sandwich and chocolate dessert, reading my book in a cosy single booth, and handed over 258 NOK.
T: +47 815 444 88
Nobel Fredssenter: Radhusplassen, Oslo
T: +47 48 30 10 00
Nasjonalmuseet (Architecture): Bankplassen 3, 0102 Oslo
T: +47 21 98 20 00
Skimuseet and Holmenkollen Jump Tower: Kongeveien 5, 0787 Oslo
T: +47 22 92 32 00
Vikingskiphuset: Huk Aveny 35, Oslo
T: +47 22 13 52 90
Frammusset: Bygdoynes, 0286 Oslo
T: +47 23 28 29 50
Kon-Tiki Museet: Bygdoynesvelen 36, 0286 Oslo
T: +47 23 08 67 67
Nasjonalmuseet (Contemporary Art): Bankplassen 4, 0102 Oso
T: +47 21 98 20 00
Norsk Folkemuseum: Museumsveien 10, 0287 Oslo
T: +47 22 12 36 66
Nationaltheatret: Johanne Dybwads plass 1, 0161 Oslo
T: +47 815 00 811
Batservice Sightseeing: Radhusbrygge 3
T: +47 23 35 68 90
Scandic Byporten Hotel: Jernbanetorget 6, 0154 Oslo
T: +47 23 15 55 00
Voksenaasen Hotel: Ullveien 4
T: +47 22 81 15 00
Kristiania Bar & Cafe: Jernbanetorget 1, Oslo
T: +47 22-17-50-30
Frognerseteren: Holmenkollveien 200, 0791 Oslo
T: +47 22 92 40 40
Bocata: Stortingsgaten 22, 0161 Oslo
T: +47 23 10 64 88
Grand Hotel: Karl Johans gate 31
T: +47 23 21 20 00
Egon: Jernbanetorget and other locations
Samson Bakeri og Catering: Gyldenløves gate 8
T: +47 22 54 23 60
United Bakeries: Paleet, Karl Johans gate 37 - 43, 0162 Oslo
T: +47 22 41 27 53
Theatrecafeen: Stortingsgata 24, 0161 Oslo
T: +47 22 82 40 50