Set between mountains and a fjord, Oslo is a year-round destination with an intriguing set of sightseeing attractions, including the new award-winning Opera House and the Nobel Peace Center. Even a time-pressed solo traveler can enjoy the best the Norwegian capital has to offer without necessarily spending a fortune.
Oslo is often overlooked by tourists in favor of the Norwegian west coast or the fjords. But the city deserves to be explored, and as a solo traveler you will be safe and shouldn't encounter communication problems as English is widely spoken.
Here are some ideas for spending a day or two on your own in Oslo.
Start the day with a cup of coffee or chai latte at The Fragrance of the Heart Coffee Club (Fridtjof Nansens plass, 2), a few steps from the harbor and just to the right of the red brick City Hall. Sit outside watching the day begin and get a sense of how locals live. The tranquil café, all light colors and cozy chairs, also sells Himalayan salt products and herb teas as well as meditation music by various artists.
The Tourist Office near the café sells Oslo Pass, which provides free transportation and entrance to museums. Maps and other material on Oslo are gratis.
Pier 3 in front of the City Hall is the departure spot for public ferries to the Bygdøy peninsula. It takes only ten minutes to get there by a ferry that leaves every 30 minutes from 8:45am to 8:45pm in the summer months.
Once there, see the world's two best preserved Viking ships from the 9th century in a museum built around them. Wander through an open-air exhibition of traditional Norwegian buildings and stave churches in the Norwegian Museum of Cultural History.
After spending a couple of hours on Bygdøy, take the ferry back to the City Hall. Here, the Nobel Peace Prize is awarded every year on December 10th. A stone's throw from City Hall is the Nobel Peace Center.
This unique exhibition presents the work and life of Alfred Nobel and the Peace Prize laureates. Among the highlights of the Peace Center are the world's only interactive digital wallpaper, movement-controlled screens, and topical exhibitions. It is a thought-provoking, powerful use of modern technology honoring the efforts of men and women of peace.
Lunch options are many in this area filled with shops and cafés. If on a budget, the Akershus Fortress across the harbor from the Peace Center is a good place to have a picnic lunch outside, weather permitting. It's an imposing stone and brick construction from the 14th century that withstood many a siege. The entrance to the fortress grounds is free. Witness changing of the Royal Guards at 1:30 pm daily.
For a more exquisite lunch with a view, take a tram to Ekeberg Restaurant. From the Ferry terminal, walk up the street in front of you (Roald Amundsens gate) to the National Theater. Tram 19 in the direction Ljabru will take you to Sjomannskolen, a ride of approximately fifteen minutes. It goes through what was once medieval Oslo, now a modern multicultural neighborhood with not many traces left of the past.
Walk up the hill to the left of the tram line as you get off and head for Ekeberg Restaurant, a white functionalist-style architectural gem from 1929 with its distinctive flat roof, cubic form, and large areas of glass. This short detour is worth it. When you get to the restaurant terrace, the view of the city and the islands of the Oslo fjord is truly spectacular. Use coin binoculars for a close-up of the city center and don't be put off by bad weather the sights are just as panoramic from inside the restaurant. A three-course lunch menu of the day will cost you about $50; or you can order from the menu. Try smoked trout with scrambled eggs, chive cream and lettuce served on a toast for $20 delicious!
Take the same tram 19 back to the city all the way to the final stop, Majorstuen. A ten-minute walk takes you to the famous Vigeland Sculpture Park.
The park covers an area of 80 acres and features over 200 nude sculptures in bronze and granite depicting human conditions in various stages of life. Gustav Vigeland, a sculptor originally trained as a wood carver, created this statuary between 1907 and 1943. He also designed geometrically landscaped grounds, filled, in season, with the fragrance of thousands of roses.
The Monolith, a 46-foot-high column rises from one single block of granite. The carving of over a hundred intertwined human bodies climbing towards heaven took 14 years to accomplish.
The tram that stops right outside the park gates will take you to the capital's newest landmark, the Opera House. Get off at the Central Station, Jernbanetorget, and go over the pedestrian bridge from the Airport Express Train exit.
Built in 2008, the Opera House is an iceberg-like structure that seemingly melts into the fjord.
As the evening approaches, enjoy another side of Oslo with its many dining and entertainment options. For a taste of informal and bohemian life, go to vibrant Grünerløkka, a formerly run-down working class area that is now popular with the young and creative. Reach it by trams 11, 12, or 13 from the center, getting off at Olav Ryes Plass.
When it comes to dinner, there are many options to choose from in all price ranges. Of the less expensive, try the laid back Fru Hagen (Thorvald Meyers gate 40 A). Main courses run from 129 kroner ($20 up), with a glass of beer at 49 kroner (less than $8 ). Fru Hagen is open to 3am Thursday through Saturday nights.
One of the best restaurants in Oslo is Sult (Thorvald Meyers gate 26), a place that serves Norwegian cuisine with a modern twist. The atmosphere is urban and casual, with mid-range prices. A three-course meal will cost you about 400 kroner and up ($63).
Nightlife is vibrant on Grünerløkka. Generally, most bars and nightclubs are open to the wee hours. These are often the same places that serve as ordinary bars and cafés during the day, but will impose age restrictions and often cover charges from 11pm. Dining or clubbing solo won't raise eyebrows anywhere regardless of your age and sex.
A good choice is Café Kaos, a rock bar in the evenings and a disco on Friday and Saturday nights. It's open to 3:30am, no cover charge, on Thorvald Meyers gate 56. If you like jazz, check out Blå Jazzclubb which has live performances several times a week.
Public transport stops at about 1am. If you stay out late and are not sure which way your hotel is, the safest bet is to get a taxi, even though they tend to be outrageously expensive. While Oslo is generally safe, it is best not to wander unfamiliar streets at night.
If you have an extra day in Oslo and want to see the best of fjord Norway, choose the Norway in a Nutshell trip. The round-trip from Oslo via Voss can be taken in one day. It leaves daily and costs $280. The trip provides two of the top 25 railway experiences in the world the spectacular Oslo-Bergen Railway and the world's steepest Flam Railway.
The trip also includes a mountain bus ride and a cruise on the Aurlandsfjord and Naroyfjord arms of Norway's longest and deepest fjord, Sognefjord. Naroyfjord, a UNESCO world heritage site, is only 250 meters (825 ft) wide in places with 1250-meter towering cliffs.
The Oslo-Bergen train is comfortable, with a buffet car selling snacks, but there's no open deck for photography (the weather seldom permits such luxury). The Flam railway covers 20 kilometers in 55 minutes and includes several photography stops.
The train from Oslo leaves at 6:35am and arrives back at 10:36pm, allowing for public transport connections.
Reservations are recommended, and the whole journey can be booked on Norwaynutshell.com. When booking, choose Norway in a Nutshell round-trip from Voss. The itinerary can be expanded; for example, to continue on to Bergen with an overnight stay.
>> Getting Around: Oslo has an excellent public transportation network consisting of trams, buses, T-bane underground ferries, and suburban trains.
>> Oslo Pass provides admission to thirty-five museums, unlimited use of the public transport in the capital, free parking, and discounts on sightseeing tours and restaurants. Buy it in your hotel or at the Tourist Information Office by the City Hall.