Oslo may not be the most obvious location for a quick layover; it’s location up near the top of the world doesn’t make it obvious as a transit hub. But, with several low-cost airlines using it more and more as a hub, it actually makes a great place to spend a few hours or days between other stops. My wife and I found that to get to Berlin, it was actually more affordable to travel on Norwegian via Oslo than any direct flight. Plus, we got to experience a new city!
Norway is probably best known for cold-weather, home to reindeer and the highest per-capita winter Olympic medals in the world. Skiing and shooting may initially come to mind, but Norway, and Oslo in particular really shine in the summer and fall too. It helps that the two times we’ve visited the Nordic country we’ve had gorgeous sunny, warm, but crisp weather. Built up around the water of the fjord, the sun really makes Oslo glitter too. As a capital city, there’s a great variety of food and culture, but the city is small enough to easily explore on foot.
Oslo is also a city investing in modernization and emerging as a transportation hub, seeking to become a worth-while destination on its own. Though the airport is fairly small, it’s the kind of place you might board a plan from the tarmac itself, growth from Norwegian airlines and others increasing their flights to and through the hub mean it’s growing quickly. The express train from the airport makes getting into the city easy, comfortable and convenient. Though it’s a bit pricey, the train quickly traverses the country-side, arriving into the town’s central and main station in about 20 minutes, with ample power outlets for charging and fast, free wifi.
A great way to start the day in Oslo is with some local coffee. Norwegians are a coffee-obsessed culture, consuming more coffee per person than nearly anywhere else in the world. Fuglen, an award winning shop brews a delicious cup. It’s a bit of a walk from the station, but makes for a good way to get acquainted with the city. The funky, Scandinavian furniture design inside makes for a cozy place to sip, as do the small tables and chairs outside along the street. While sitting here, we noticed nearly every third car was electric, making Norway’s goal to get to 100% electric cars seem somewhat achievable.
From Fuglen, we walked down the street to the Royal Palace and Gardens. Still inhabited by Norway’s ruling family, though they only rule in name as Norway is a constitutional monarchy in which the parliament makes all the real decisions, this palace is a beautiful building with an even more stunning view out over the town thanks to its position on a hill. The guards’ attire may make them a bit less intimidating than their British counterparts, but the uniform definitely has a bit more flair. The grounds are also worth exploring, especially the little pond and surrounding gardens.
Descending from the palace, we explored the courtyard and square in front of the concert hall and national theater. In the winter a large public skating rink takes up the space, while in the summer it’s a more open space where tour groups assemble and buskers look for money. Fountains and statues commemorate Oslo’s famous leaders, influencers, and statesmen, many who are actually more recognizable than one might otherwise believe about Norway’s global influence.
With limited time, we didn’t go in the buildings, but instead focused our exploration of the nearby Ammundsen Brewery, especially its awesome outdoor space, essentially a miniature beer garden in the middle of a blocked-off street. They even had heaters and foux fur blankets for those who were chilly. We didn’t feel the need to use them on the sunny, 70 degree morning. The brews were quite nice, not overly hoppy, but my session IPA had a nice bite and was perfectly refreshing for the sunny day. I found Norway to have a great craft beer scene, probably due to their relatively late entry to it. They aren’t as beholden to tradition as German and Belgium who seem afraid to take risks, and yet aren’t so eager to prove themselves that they go overboard like the hop-bomb abominations of so much of American craft breweries.
We eventually had to peel ourselves away from the brewery to see more of the city, so we continued down the street toward and past the town hall, or Radhuset. The massive tower had been visible for much of our walk around the city. On this early fall day, the shadows played off the russet red stone of the tower and showed off the gilded features.
Just around the corner, the Nobel Hall stands against the water as it looks like it has for eons. Along with the center in Stockholm, the annual event honoring scientific discoveries and achievements is held in the massive hall here. Inside is a museum showcasing the notable winners of the award, but we skipped it because the building itself was cool enough just to look at from the outside.
We continued our walk along the waterfront past the ferries, the historic ships, and along to Akershus Fortress. This fortress has stood protecting the harbor entrance and solidifying the seat of power in Norway since it’s independence from Sweden. The grounds of the fortress are now a public park worthy of exploration for the views over the water. There’s something unique and special about the tranquil blue serene waters of the fjords in Norway. While the Oslofjord doesn’t have the pastoral farms and pastures of the others further up the country or the massive mountains, the views over the harbor are awe-inspiring in their own way.
Along the waterfront is one of Oslo’s unique locations, Vippa food hall. Originally set up as a more permanent home for the area’s popular food trucks, it now houses about a dozen permanent counters with a variety of food from around he world. We opted for the poke bowls, heaping with local salmon in huge chunks that were buttery smooth. We also grabbed a tap pour of Ice Bjorn, one of our favorite brews from our trip last summer.
Our final touristy stop in town was at the one can’t miss attraction, Oslo’s Opera House. Situated right along the water, it has a unique sloping design meant to look like an ice berg emerging from the water. The sloping design means the roof can be climbed, making it a popular spot for both walking around and for outdoor concerts. It sort of evokes Sydney’s Opera House with the somewhat organic slopes and corners. We didn’t have time for a concert, but the roof was certainly fun to check out.
We ended up with a few extra minutes before the next express train back to the airport, so we stopped at an awesome looking outdoor beer bar, Royal Gastropub. Trying one final pint of the local brew, we captured a few last drops of the Scandinavian sunshine with some light beer. Easily navigating the modern and well-lit train station, we were able to pick up our bags from the large lockers conveniently located in the middle of the station. Leaving all of our bags in the station had allowed us to fully enjoy the city while not being bogged down. After a quick 20 minutes, not even enough time to get a full charge on my phone, we were back at the airport and getting ready for our flight.
Oslo is a wonderful and beautiful city up in the heart of Scandinavia that is too often overlooked as a destination. With so many more options for getting there and getting quickly into the city, it’s worth considering Norway’s capital for a trip, whether a quick layover, or a longer stay. There’s a ton to do in the city, but the compact layout makes it great for even a quick run around. Don’t miss out on Oslo just because it’s small or seems far away. Both of those are changing rapidly, so it’s time to get there now.