If a certain someone was hoping to find himself in the eerie, mysterious Oslo portrayed in Jo Nesbo’s popular crime thrillers, then he would have been mightily disappointed. I can imagine the city having a sense of moodiness in the long, dark winter months but our late summer visit meant balmy temperatures and a bit of Scandinavian sunshine, which suited me just fine. When I think of Norway, I always envisage luscious green forests and endless fjords, but nestled amongst all this natural beauty is also a fast-growing cosmopolitan city with plenty of heritage and culture to offer. The Oslo we met was calm, clean and compact – all the ingredients for a relaxing city break weekend!
I imagine many visitors use Oslo as the starting point for their tours of the famous fjords, but with only a weekend in town, we decided to forgo any time at sea and stay put in the city. However, with the many green spaces dotted in and around the neighbourhoods, and the laid back atmosphere, we didn’t feel like we were missing out too much. Our agenda for the weekend was focused on the museums, cityscapes, and the food… of course, the food. This is what we got up to and where we ate during our Oslo escape…
Saturday – Moseying Around the Museums
Oslo has over fifty museums sprinkled across the city covering topics from history to art to even mini bottles, of all things, but the ones which I think are uniquely Norwegian and unmissable are all located on the Bygdøy peninsula. We took the ferry from Pier 3 by City Hall and got off at the first stop, Dronningen, to visit the Viking Ship Museum. It is home to three incredibly well-preserved Viking ships found in the Oslo Fjord which date back to 800AD; the sheer magnitude of them is what strikes you first but upon closer inspection, it’s the craftsmanship and details which are really amazing.
We then moved onto the Kon-Tiki Museum, the one which I was most excited to visit after watching a film about the expedition across the Pacific Ocean led by explorer Thor Heyerdahl in 1947. Heyerdahl and his crew of five spent 101 days at sea on board a balsa wood raft – the story itself is astonishing but even more so when you see the original raft before your very eyes! Keeping with the maritime theme, we also got on board the Fram, a huge polar exploration ship housed in the museum next door and learnt about the equally fascinating Gjøa.
The peninsula is also home to the National Maritime Museum, the Holocaust Memorial, and the Folk Museum should you crave more culture and history. We had had our fill so hopped on the ferry from Bygdøynes back towards City Hall, where the interior is also worth a nosey for the murals of Norwegian life and history. For those in search of some inspirational tales, I would recommend spending some time at the Nobel Peace Centre where there’s an exhibition on the most recent prize winner, alongside interactive displays about past laureates.
Saturday Dinner – Satisfy Those Meat Cravings at St Lars
St Lars is named after St Lawrence who was martyred on a gridiron over hot coals, so it’s easy to understand why the star of this restaurant is the grill. The menu is succinct with almost everything being cooked on the grill, with one notorious exception: the tartare of the day. I had set my sights on trying their horse tartare, which I’d read was a firm favourite, however what we got was more surprising, and perhaps a little shocking to some… whale. Commercial whaling is still accepted practice and after initial hesitation, we decided to put our prejudices aside and try it – the whale meat was darker and richer than I had expected, it had the look of venison but the taste of a heady tuna steak.
From the grill came our mammoth cote de beouf and all the trimmings for two. This is a grand and expensive (even more so in Norway, it seems) piece of beef and St Lars did it justice; we were forewarned that things come off the grill well-charred, which is absolutely acceptable when what lies beneath is perfectly cooked. The fries were a little too crisp for my liking but the simple salad dressed sharply, and the bearnaise sauce were great pairings which added just the right amount of acidity to cut through the richness and fat of the meat. Even the dark, primal colours and warmth of the dining room felt on theme; come to St Lars for their tartare and the meats cooked with fire and passion.
Sunday – Embrace your Artsy Side
The Vigeland Sculpture Park is only a short bus or tram ride out of the city centre, and is utterly worth the effort. Once there you’ll be greeted with the most curious bronze figures lining a long promenade; these were all created by Gustav Vigeland, making this the largest sculpture park dedicated to a single artist. The most famous of the bronze figures is the angry baby but I find the others, particularly the ones depicting interactions between two figures, far more interesting. While these were often humorous, when we got to the granite sculptures surrounding the daunting Monolith of 121 carved figures, I felt the mood shifted. The emotions and details were so striking; we could instantly sense the intensity of joy, sadness or frustration in the scenes.
Those who are still fascinated by the sculptures can find more at the Vigeland Museum also located on the park grounds, or for a slightly more obscure experience, visit the Emanuel Vigeland Museum. In the seemingly sleepy neighbourhood of Slemdal, we donned slippers to enter a barrel-shaped room with high ceilings, absolutely no open windows, and light coming from only the strategically placed lamps. The walls were completely covered with powerful and sometimes erotic scenes of life and death, the eerie vibe increased by the silence of the room. Originally intended by Vigeland to be a museum for his work, it also serves as a mausoleum, with his ashes in an urn above the door.
From here, we moved onto another well-known Norwegian artist, Edvard Munch. The Munch Museum holds the largest collection of his work, some 26,000 pieces, which are regularly changed depending on the current curator and exhibition. If you don’t know much about the artist, it’s worth starting your visit by watching the film about Munch’s life to get a better understanding of his style and its significance, before moving through the rooms. If you were hoping to catch a glimpse of Munch’s most famous painting, The Scream, in the museum, you’d be out of luck. This is housed in the National Gallery, where you’ll also find paintings from artists such as Picasso and Monet in their impressive collection.
Sunday Dinner – Contemporary cuisine at Arakataka
Arakataka feels like a quintessential new Nordic bistro, we’ve eaten very well in these establishments in Copenhagen, where the food is seasonal and local but the international influences are the twists or what give it their points of intrigue. The tiny kitchen is open for all to see, the team both front of house and in the kitchen are precise yet friendly in approach; I instantly have a good feeling about it. I like it even more when we are told that our dishes will come in some sort of order and pairing, even though we have opted for the small plates instead of the four course set menu. None of this ‘the food comes as it’s ready and usually all on its lonesome’ business which is a common pitfall of the small plate era. We start with some snacks, then follow with a tartare. It’s always a must-order for me, but particularly when it’s a variety I’ve never savoured – this splendid lamb, chanterelle and kohlrabi combination was unusual on paper, yet wonderfully familiar to the palate.
While the menu changes with the seasons, there are two dishes which always remain – the signatures of spaghetti with bleak roe, and the pepper crab. The spaghetti looked so underwhelming, I was completely taken aback by the creamy, umami-rich luxury of this pasta. On the other hand, the crab covered in a sauce of dark soy, coriander, pepper and lime, was a showstopper from the beginning. With the props on hand, we did everything we could for every last morsel of sweet flesh; I felt like I had performed surgery by the end of it but it was worth the effort. Once recovered, we managed to eat the rest of the dishes like the hake with raw shrimp, and the pork neck with ceps, in a much more civilised fashion. Arakataka was a delight from start to finish, the food is contemporary and clever, and all delivered in a swish setting!
Monday – Morning Wanderings and Lunch at Vaaghals
As our hotel was located on Karl Johans Gate, we had walked up and down this popular street numerous times throughout the weekend. This main artery of the city centre is lined with shops and bars, and as a result, is always bustling. With a little time to spare, I even managed some window-shopping as we wandered down to the Oslo Opera House. This eye-catching structure right by the harbour is famously known for encouraging visitors to walk all over its angular roof, and from there you can take in the glorious views across the Oslo Fjord. The Opera House hosts various performances throughout the year, but you can also take tours to get a glimpse of life behind the stage.
Just behind the Opera House stands a row of buildings known as the Barcode. Part of the recent rejuvenation of the docks area, these new highrises are home to international business and restaurants, including Vaaghals. Admittedly, if I had know it was at the bottom of the PWC building, I might not have been so keen but the casual ethos and style of the food appealed. Unsurprisingly, lunch had a business-like feel to it – that’s not to say the food wasn’t good, just that the choices were safe. A roasted duck leg with potatoes and jus could have done with more time in the oven, but my pan-fried fish with pickled beets, apple and bisque was pleasantly satisfying. Considering the location, it was a filling meal at a decent price, making it a great option if you’re in the neighbourhood!
So Make A Move…
Our weekend in Oslo ticked all my boxes for a fantastic city break – there was lots of history and culture to explore, it was a breeze to get around, and the food was excellent. However, I think it’s only to fair to mention that it does very much live up to its reputation for being one of the most expensive cities in the world. My advice is to come with a bit of a plan for what you want to see and do, and be armed with a realistic budget so you can enjoy yourself properly!
- Oslo Pass – if you plan on visiting a number of museums and attractions throughout the weekend, it is worthwhile picking up an Oslo Pass. The passes give you free entry to most museums and attractions in the city, as well as free public transport. Adult passes cost 395NOK (£39) for 24 hours, 595NOK (£59) for 48 hours, or 745NOK (£74) for 72 hours.
- Viking Ship Museum – Huk Aveny 35, 0287 Oslo, entry 100NOK or free with Oslo Pass
- Kon-Tiki Museum – Bygdøynesveien 36, 0286 Oslo, entry 100NOK or free with Oslo Pass
- Fram Museum – Bygdøynesveien 39, 0286 Oslo, entry 100NOK or free with Oslo Pass
- Nobel Peace Centre – Brynjulf Bulls plass 1, 0250 Oslo, entry is free
- Vigeland Sculpture Park – take tram 12 or bus 20 to Vigeland Park, entry is free
- Emanuel Vigeland Museum – Grimelundsveien 8, 0775 Oslo, take the T-bane 1 to Slemdal, open on Sundays only, entry 50NOK
- Munch Museum – Tøyengata 53, 0578 Oslo, entry 100NOK or free with Oslo Pass
- National Gallery – Universitetsgata 13, 0164 Oslo, entry 100NOK or free with Oslo Pass
- Oslo Opera House – Kirsten Flagstads Plass 1, 0150 Oslo, entry is free
- St Lars – Thereses gate 45, 0354 Oslo, dinner for two with wine was approximately £200
- Arakataka – Mariboes gate 7B, 0183 Oslo, dinner for two with wine was approximately £180
- Vaaghals – Dronning Eufemias gate 8, 0191 Oslo, lunch for two with wine was approximately £80
- Transport to/from the airport – the NSB trains run regularly to Oslo S, take approximately 25 minutes and cost 93NOK (£9). Be sure to avoid the Flytoget Airport Express which is twice the price and only a fraction faster!
- Stay at the Grand Hotel Oslo – located in the heart of the city, this is one of the oldest, most luxurious properties in Oslo, rooms from £200/per night.
Have you been to Oslo, what was your favourite attraction in the city?
Thank you to Visit Oslo for providing us with two Oslo Passes to help us explore the city, but as always, all opinions are mine and mine alone.
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