A busy person's guide to Oslo.
Updated: Jul 19, 2019
Picture this: rolling, quiet hills, blue, tranquil waters and a calm that stretches for miles. This sets the scene as we fly into Oslo at midday on a Saturday. Your breathe is taken away in one fell swoop, your jaw on the ground and the plane hasn't even touched it yet.
This is Norway.
A place that most seem to overlook on their wanderlust list, but trust me when I say: for a busy person, it deserves a place at the top.
Touching down, we are through check-in and on a train in less than an hour. Twenty-five minutes later we’re in Oslo city - get the local train, not the express train if you want to save a few bucks.
Most will go straight to the Sentrum station however with a Zone ticket, it’s worth your while to spend a couple of extra minutes on the train and get off at the National Theatre station. From here, wander down to the Akker Brygge water front, grab a coffee and (weather permitting) sit on the harbour, catch up with great company and enjoy the stunning views.
Quite honestly, you could sit here all afternoon. But if you’re looking to experience as much of Oslo in a weekend, then it’s worth baring in mind that while museums and most attractions are open all weekend, shops are not. So it’s worth finishing your coffee and heading to the Grunnerlokka area.
In Londoner terms, Grunnerlokka is like the Shoreditch of Oslo. Full of vintage shops (for actual vintage prices), cute coffee shops and graffiti walls. If you’re looking for a bargain, one-off hunt, Grunnerlokka is the place to go - although keeping in mind your luggage allowance for the return flight… I highly recommend taking a peak in Vila while you are in the area as well.
For dinner, it’s worth trying one of the many restaurants in the area - or if you’re there during Lokka Days, one of the many stands. Norwegians are not stingy on their portions, so you get what you pay for - and then some in my opinion. Although other recommendations include the Ostbanehallen food hall next to the central station and Pepes Pizza (on the corner of Karl Johans Gate).
Having been up since 3am, you may then choose to retire to your accommodation (I can highly recommend Saga Poshtel) or have a cocktail or two. It is Saturday night after all. But it is worth saving your strength for day two.
Even in not so ideal weather, the sunrise in Oslo is nothing short of, yes, breathe-taking. In September the sun typically rises just before 7am and it is worth taking a walk towards the “Sentralstasjon” to see it rise over the Opera House. Then, take a walk around the harbour and take your pics while the site is still quiet - save for a couple of runners. The building itself is stunning, but the views even more so from the rooftop.
Recuperate your strength by then grabbing some breakfast. Now, as it’s Sunday and many places will not necessarily be open yet, so it is worth booking accommodation that serves it. Oslo rain is brutal, so you may wish to bring an extra layer and stock up on hot food and coffee before the day ahead of you. Charge up your tech while you are at it as well - and speaking of, consider bringing a waterproof camera or water house for bad weather. A GoPro sufficed on this occasion.
Most sites are not open until 11am, so make your way back to Akker Brygge and take a local ferry (that runs every ten minutes) to Bygdoy. By the time you arrive you can take a tour around the incredible Viking Ship Museum and then take a gander around the Maritime Museum and my personal favourite: the Kon-Tiki Museum. I couldn’t get Moana out of my head for days…
It was about here that I really understood the voyaging attitude that runs through this incredible country. It’s infectious. And with that in mind, behind the Maritime Museum, you can then jump on the next ferry back to the centre and make your way on.
As I found out after making my way passed the impressive Nobel Centre and City Hall, the National Museum has queues backing out of it around lunch time. So instead, hop on the tram out east to the Ekebergparken.
A free sculpture garden spaced out across miles of beautiful greenery, it’s worth picking a couple of sculptures that you would like to visit before you go as they are not the easiest to find from the maps given in the office. My personal pick was the Elgreem & Dragset “Dilemma”, a young boy stood on a diving board, very similar to the boards on the outskirts of the city, overlooking the fjords. It’s a story of the excitement and apprehensiveness of jumping into adulthood.
If, like me, you are worried about your battery charge at this point, take the tram back to Ostbanehallen and step into the Visit Oslo centre. Here, you can take a ticket and get some great advice from the team, or take five and charge up your tech for free.
At this point it’s about 3pm. The perfect time to get some late lunch or, as the locals do, get some waffles. On recommendation from the Visit Oslo team, seek out ‘the best waffles in Oslo’ at Haralds Vaffel (in Torggata). The traditional sweet toppings (‘gjetost’ cheese, sour cream and jam) are what dreams are made of!
Appetite satiated, head back along Grensen to the Royal Palace. Even from the outside, you will feel transported into a fairytale - and if you’re lucky, you may even get a glimpse of the royal family themselves as according to locals, they can often be found about the city.
Mid-afternoon is the perfect time to head back to the National Museum & Gallery for a quick scream selfie with ‘The Scream’ painting and to admire the other storytelling pieces. It really is like no other collection.
Having completed the completed the key attractions, you may have a little time left.
Instead of taking the train back to the airport from the National Theatre, walk back through town via the Nobel Centre (if you can make it in before 5pm) and take a free quick walk around the Akershus Fortress. Early evening is the perfect time to capture the light across the site as well as the water.
Depending on the time of your flight, you may wish have dinner in town or there are also, amazingly, a couple of great options in duty free. Make sure you keep an eye on your flight time however, as it may change, depending on weather conditions. Luckily both the train to the airport as well as the airports themselves are well-equipped with fast internet and charging stations.
Being used to London prices, Norwegian prices are not quite as shocking. However if you’re on a tight budget, it’s worth investing in an Oslo Pass for your trip. With it, you can gain free entry to all key sites, discounts at restaurants and shops, as well as free access to all local transport and two thirds off the airport train fare. You can either buy it from the centre when you arrive, or download it before you arrive. Check out the Visit Oslo website for more information here.
Will I go back? Absolutely! The fjords are calling!
Would I do anything differently? Hire a bike to explore a little more of the outskirts of the city.
Where are you thinking of going first?