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Oslo, Norway
The World's Biggest Capital Village

Oslo, Norway courtesy
Oslo is situated at the tip of the
Oslo Fjord, and the harbor is one
of the main outdoor attraction for
both residents and visitors.

Oslo is Norway's capital city with a population of about half a million. Compared with places like New York, London, Paris and Tokyo, it's little more than a village although it does cover an astonishing 454 square kilometers (175 square miles).

In the heart of the city you’ll find the Royal Palace. For those not used to kind of freedom enjoyed by the Norwegian royals, the palace can be quite a surprise. There are no fences surrounding it and the gardens are open to the public at all times. You’ll find families picnicking there, people walking their dogs. There are guards but they generally leave you alone. As the late King Olav once said, who needs bodyguards when you have the entire population of your country protecting you?

From the Palace, Karl Johans Gate leads down towards the parliament buildings. The road is divided in two, with open-air cafes and gardens in the middle. People of all ages congregate here, but it’s especially popular with younger people enjoying a half litre of lager (pils).

Karl Johan is also the main shopping street of Oslo but be warned, prices in Norway are higher than you're probably used to. Make sure you've taken enough of your hard earned cash with you. Norwegian enjoy a high standard of living, but they also complain about the prices. Lager and cigarette prices are what bring the most complaints from the locals.

Most people associate Norway with snow, ice and extremely cold temperatures, tending to forget that there are also warm, humid summers. Although Oslo is alive and kicking all year round, it’s during summer that the average tourist not there for winter sports, can enjoy the maximum benefits of a visit to the city. In fact, the variation in temperature and the magnificence of the surrounding countryside offer Oslo the benefit of a plethora of outdoor activities that cannot be competed with by any other capital city.

Vigeland Sculpture Park
Don't miss a visit to Frogner Park for an array
of more than 200 stunning outdoor sculptures.

Oslo is situated at the tip of the Oslo Fjord, and the harbor is of its main attractions. From here, you can take boat trips out to the surrounding islands, including Bygdoy with its abundance of museums.

Along Aker Brygge (Aker Pier) you’ll find street musicians and other pavement performers doing their thing while visitors and the people of Oslo enjoy fresh prawns and a half liter of lager which is always served ice cold.

In fact, being able to down that first outdoor “summer pils” is part of Norwegian culture. For most it is a symbol of spring and another long, cold winter behind them.

A varied assortment of restaurants, trendy cafes and bars can be found along the pier, offering something for most tastes and budgets.

Bygdoy is one of the more affluent areas and is the place to go for museums. Whether you want one that depicts rural life in Norway, Viking ships, or Kon-Tiki, the raft which Thor Heyerdahl built to sail from America to Polynesia, you'll find it here.

Elsewhere in Oslo you'll find The Henie Onstad Centre, The Munch Museum and The Museum of Technology and many other collections of art and cultural treasures. Bygdoy also has Oslo’s only naturist beach. Topless sunbathing is allowed, and widely practiced, on all beaches in Norway.

Other places to visit include Frogner Park with its 212 superb sculptures and undoubtedly one of Oslo's finest pearls.

Also visit Holmenkollen Ski Jump for its magnificent view across Oslo and the fjord. Raadhusplassen (the area around the Town Hall) and the area surrounding Akers Festning are the red light districts and probably best avoided at night!

To see Oslo at its very best, plan a visit during May or June. There’s a special atmosphere in the city during those late spring months that can’t be experienced at any other time. Call it the X-factor... with daylight lasting long into the night and the cold of winter banished there is a feeling of new life and excitement in the air.

Picnic in an Oslo park
There’s a special atmosphere in the city during late spring that can’t be experienced at any other time
photo  © Molly Holzschlag.

If you’re thinking of visiting during winter, be warned that the city center may not be the pretty sight you might have in mind. The fresh white snow quickly turns to a grayish slush that natives navigate through. The surrounding countryside is prettier and will provide those picture postcard views of snow covered Norway that you expect.

Oslo’s a busy city, and driving can best be described as a nightmare. If you decide to rent a car, remember that any vehicle approaching from the right has the right of way and they will make sure they get it. On main roads this can be pretty scary! There are also trams to deal with... and they stop for nobody.

The people of Oslo are generally friendly and most speak very good English. When you visit, take an hour out of your schedule to just sit down by the quay enjoying the sun, a cold lager and a bag of fresh prawns. That's what Oslo's all about.

About the Author:

Sharon Jacobsen grew up in East London but moved to Norway at the age of 19, returning to England in 1998. She now lives in Cheshire with her partner and two of her three children.

More about Oslo tourism around the Web:

Visit Oslo

Oslo Travel Information - Lonely Planet



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