It is no surprise to anyone that I am a winter lover. Not the usual cloudy and rainy winter we have here in The Netherlands, but the snow-covered winter wonderland we often see on Christmas movies. Although Thomas is annoyed because every time I see snow falling I beg him to go outside to enjoy the Narnia's paradise, I managed to convince him to plan winter vacations every year. So for winter 2018/2019, our chosen destination was the Nordic and modern Norway's capital city: Oslo.
OSLO - THE COLD BEAUTY
While for some, winter would not be the first choice of season to visit Oslo, we were impressed with how the city perfectly works (and is actually booming) even during winter. We were lucky enough to visit during a weekend where it snowed all day long and we can guarantee you that it did not bother us. On the contrary, it definitely enhanced the beauty of this city which is framed by mountains and the sea while also highlighting the colourful architecture of buildings at some streets.
Of course it is mandatory for you to come with warm clothes as the temperature is usually negative in winter and can get around -10°C. However, there are plenty of places where you can get in for a warming up break while discovering this charming and thriving European capital. Indeed, as Norwegians are already used to having severe winters, every building has a heating system, from the museums and cafes to churches and the train station. So, there is no excuse to not visit Oslo even in winter!
HISTORY - FROM KRISTIANiA TO OSLO
Though there are many evidences of the presence of Vikings in the Oslo fjord (a long narrow inlet formation in the southeast of Norway), the story of Oslo officially begins in 1049 with Norway's Christian Era, when King Harald Hardråde (Hard-Ruler) ordered the building of a cathedral (and a corresponding bishopric) in the city.
However, it was not before King Haakon V decided to reside permanently in Oslo in 1299 that it became the capital city of the country. At this moment, he commanded the start of the construction of the famous Akershus Fortress as the Royal residence. Unfortunately for Oslo, as there was an alliance between Norway and Denmark, Copenhagen became the monarch residing city while Oslo had more of a provincial administrative center role.
This status would begin to change under the reign of Christian IV of Denmark who decided in 1624, after big fires destroyed the city's major wooden buildings many times, that the old town should not be once again rebuilt. Instead, he ordered all citizens to move their shops and workplaces to a newly built city which was then called Kristiania as an homage to the King. During the XVIII and XIX centuries, the importance of the city slowly grew driven by the port's shipbuilding and trade activities and especially after the 1814 with the independence of the Kingdom of Norway, when Kristiania became the capital of the kingdom. From this point on, many state institutions had to be established to expand the administration and the capital witnessed a period of fast growth.
The name Kristiania lasted until 1925 when it was decided to name the city Oslo after an eastern suburb that had actually been the site of the city center before the devastating fire of 1624. This was decided after the Norwegians thought it would be inappropriate to have their capital city named after a Danish King. Nowadays, the city is still a flourishing European capital city attracting many business (maritime and oil related specially), visitors as well as immigrants looking for a better quality of life.
THE 8 THINGS YOU CAN'T MISS IN OSLO
1. Starting point: the Barcode Project
If you are a fan of modern architecture and the many perspectives it offers for photographs, you can't miss our starting point! Located just a few minutes walking from Central Station, on a former dock and industrial region in central Oslo, the Barcode Project consists of a row of modern high-rise buildings, each one a creation of a different European architecture company. While each building may not be outstanding on its own, the combination they form offers a superb composition due to their alignment and the almost even gap between them. The result, when observed from afar, creates remarkably the impression of a barcode, hence the nickname given.
2. Oslo Opera House
Continuing the modern architecture quest, we get to the treasure of Oslo: the Opera House. This piece of architecture was inaugurated in 2008. With its angled roofs covered with Carrara marble and white granite, the building seems like a glacier rising from the waters of the Bjørvika inlet, especially during winter when it is covered in snow (though you have to be careful while climbing it up for the amazing view on Oslo from the top).
Visiting the interior is a nice chance to warm up while admiring the 15-meter-high windows that flood the beautifully vast main foyer with natural light and the complex arrangement of the golden wooded "wave wall" which gives access to the upper level of the opera. While visiting the foyer is free, there is a guided 50-minute tour to the Opera costing 120 Kr (12 EUR).
3. Old town
Between the Oslo Opera and the Akershus Fortress lay part of the old town of Oslo. Stroll around the streets to discover some historic buildings that nowadays host cafes and some museums to discover the ancient charm of Norway's capital.
4. Akershus Fortress
The cherry on top for the medieval Oslo is definitely the Akershus Festning (Akershus Fortress). Its building was commenced in 1299 by King Håkon V in an attempt to not only provide a Royal residence for the capital but to protect it from constant attacks from his opponents. With its strategical location at the very end of the headland, indeed it survived many attempts of siege through the years as well as serving as a military base, prison and even as the temporary office of the Prime Minister of Norway.
Nowadays, the Fortress complex is perfect for a walk through its high walls and walkways, to observe the guarding routine of the King's Guard and for watching the beautiful sunset over the fjord. The Fortress is open to public daily from 6 a.m to 9 p.m.
5. Radhuset (City hall)
Perhaps one of the most iconic building of Oslo, the City Hall is a red brick building with two towers more than 60 meters high. Inaugurated in 1950 as part of the 900-year celebration of Oslo, it hosts the city council, the city's administration and other municipal organizations. While the industrial style of the exterior of the building may seem somber and austere, the interior of the building is a showcase of Norway's history and culture told along the decorated corridors and rooms. To start it with, the main hall (where the Nobel Prize is awarded every December 10th) contains frescoes by the famous Norwegian artists Henrik Sørensen and Alf Rolfsen depicting the pillars of the country's identity: fishing, forestry and industry. Other rooms have equally terrific murals of various artists with historical, natural or cultural motifs. The visit of the galleries is free of cost and they are open everyday from 9 a.m to 6 p.m.
6. Nobel PEace Center
A few meters away from the City Hall, you can see the beautiful building hosting the Nobel Peace Center. As the Norwegians are proud of their role in the maintenance of international peace, they offer yearly since 1901 the Nobel Peace Prize to those who remarkably contributed to "fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses" as states the will of its creator, Alfred Nobel. The Nobel Peace Center is a museum presenting the story and the work of the Peace Prize winners throughout the years as well as the story of Alfred Nobel and the prize itself. It is open from Tuesdays to Sundays from 10 a.m to 6 p.m and the tickets cost 120 NOK (12 EUR).
7. Aker Brygge
This modern neighbourhood located just beside the wharf area in central Oslo is the epithet of the modern Scandinavian architecture. Once an industrial region with many shipyards and engineering enterprises, the area started changing in the 1980's when some of the big workshops halls were transformed in large shopping areas and many other constructions were demolished to make space for restaurants, museums, office space, cinemas and high-end residencial buildings. Though an expensive area, you can wander around it for free to admire the modern architecture and escape from the cold wind of the bay area.
8. THE FROGNER PARK & THE VIGELAND INSTALLATION
One thing we remarked about Oslo (and maybe Norway) is that they LOVE statues. We don't recall having seen so many before in a single city and surely the Vigeland Installation – located in the Frogner Park – is the climax of this statuemania of Oslo. With over 200 bronze, granite and cast iron statues by artist Gustav Vigeland, the park is open 24 hours everyday of the year with no admission fee to fulfill the vision of the artist to be a true public space open to people from Oslo and beyond.
The whole park is an ode to the human body and to human emotions, relationships and hopes. Make sure no to miss:
- The Bridge - With its 58 sculptures, the bridge was the first installation open to public. Throughout its 100 meters length, you can admire sculptures depicting not only babies and children (including the iconic Sinnataggen which depicts a toddler in the middle of a tantrum) but also women and men figures of different ages with themes like play, lust, energy and vitalism.
- The Fountain - After the bridge, the path goes on through a rose garden that take us to the Fountain, one of the most emblematic sights of the park. While six giant statues depicting men with different ages hold the main vessel with the water spring, there are 20 statues around it with tree groups representing the "tree of life". These trees shelter groups of human figures which are a romantic expression of Man's relationship to nature through different stages of human life as you go around it, from the childhood and teenage phase through adulthood, elderly ages and death.
- The Monolith - Standing at the highest point of the park and measuring 17 meters, this sculpture is carved out from a single gigantic granite block and depicts 121 figures climbing on one another as if fighting or supporting their way to the top. It has been interpreted as a kind of vision of resurrection and of the spiritual evolution of human being through the ages. The plateau where it is located can be accessed by eight wrought iron gates also depicting human figures and there are 36 statues around it representing different stages of live still in the "circle of life" theme: from a loving young couple to a pile of dead bodies.
Stay tuned for the second part of this trip with some less known but totally worth-checking spots in Oslo (check our post here).
DETAILS OF THE TRIP
- By plane: Oslo is easily reached with major national airlines company. Low-cost companies such as Ryanair or Norwegian Airlines have some good deals.
- By Flytoget Airport Express Train: tickets to reach the city center of Oslo costs 196 NOK (around 19 EUR). It takes around 20 minutes to reach the city.
- By VY (Norwegian National Railway): a cheaper option is to reach Oslo S (train station) via train. It is cheaper, it costs 105 NOK (around 10EUR). It also takes around 20 minutes to reach the city (but only 3 trains per hour).
- Oslo offers a wide selection of accommodation options. It is a very expensive town (and country in general) so we tried to find something that was good and well located and yet not too expensive:
- We stayed at Forenom Serviced Apartments Oslo Royal Park (123 EUR/night). It is a very clean apartment with a great bed. The location is ideal, it is located 5 minutes away from the Royal Palace and the main attractions.
- We must admit that it is quite hard to find a good (and affordable) place to eat in Oslo. We didn't really try any Norwegian specialty but we still have a nice suggestion for you:
- Mathallen Oslo: this is a nice (and warm) place to have lunch. They have many options ranging from Norwegian food to French food, and also some Asian food. We had a delicious sandwich filled with minced duck meat and delicious French mustard.
- Don't leave Oslo without buying (and trying) some of their delicious chocolate from the brand Freia. They have various kinds so don't hesitate to try different ones!
*All prices are referred to December 2019
Now it's your turn to let us know what you think of visiting Norway in winter. Have you already done it? Did you like it? Let us know! =D