Note – photo gallery at the bottom of this post.
In some ways, Oslo reminds me a lot of Sydney. They have an iconic Opera House as well, with a modern design of steel and glass that’s entirely tourist-friendly, allowing you to walk up to, and climb onto the roof of the structure. They have a touristy harbour area (Aker Brygge), which reminds me of Darling Harbour. They have a large open space in the centre of the city like Martin Place, where they hold festivals and fairs like the Christmas markets. And like Sydney, the main city is quite walkable – just as I never bother to catch transport from Wynyard to Central, we hardly bothered to catch buses, trams or trains in Oslo as everything is quite close together.
That’s where similarities end. Unlike Sydney, Oslo has an absolutely stunning winter. We walked through the park on our first day, where everything was still green. The next day, we walked through the park again and everything had been blanketed in a beautiful carpet of white snow that turned the whole city into a beautiful landscape. There’s nothing quite like walking through the Christmas markets and watching kids on the public ice-skating rink, drinking from a cup of reindeer mince soup, as snowflakes slowly fall from the skies and kiss you on your cheeks.
If there’s one thing that will stick in my mind about Oslo, it’s art and design. It starts with a commitment to beautiful architecture around the city – like the modern Opera House, the classic Parliament House, and the stunning murals inside the City Hall. It continues onto their pride in their nation’s art history, with celebrations of their favourite arty son Edvard Munch who painted The Scream in both the National Gallery and the dedicated Munch Gallery. There’s also celebrations of their classic folk art traditions, with a museum specifically dedicated to both traditional and contemporary Norwegian folk arts, crafts, and fashion design.
Oslo’s art and design also reminds me of the afternoon we spent with K’s Norwegian friend Stine, who studied Industrial Design with him back in university and now works as a jewellery designer. We went for a delicious creamy pot of hot chocolate at the Hotel Bristol, sitting in their beautiful lobby restaurant that’s designed like a cosy library – very hygge.
In addition to our afternoon hot chocolate treat, we had a few other meals out – an overpriced meal at Louise Restaurant and Bar in the Aker Brygge area, and a much more satisfying lunch at Mathallen Food Hall in the cool area of Grunerlokka. Other than that and a few other small snacks along the way (a Mexican-style chilli soup featuring reindeer mince, and some chimney cake), we generally made the effort to cook at home. Norway, along with the other Nordic countries, are amongst the most expensive countries to visit for travellers. Given the current exchange rate, cooking a pasta or a stew at home is much more affordable than eating out all the time.
Still, while Oslo may be expensive for tourists, I can see how it would be a great place to live. Many Norwegians seem to have a much healthier attitude towards outdoors activities even when it’s cold and snowing. It wasn’t unusual for us to see kindergarten teachers taking their group of toddlers rugged up in snowsuits out for walks through the city’s gardens. Groups of three and four year olds would sit on the roof of the Opera House eating their packed sandwiches, or trudge through the snow at the fortress on their daily walk. It’s a much healthier attitude than the way most kindergartens and playgroups in Australia keep their kids cooped up inside or restrict them to a square of concrete outside with some pitiful play equipment.
Overall, I quite enjoyed our time in Oslo. It felt like quite a small city, where you could just walk around and take everything in at a slower pace rather than being rushed from Point A to Point B in the interest of seeing everything. While it is an expensive city to visit, I wouldn’t let that deter you from visiting – it’s quite beautiful in winter. I’d make the effort to get out of Oslo into other parts of Norway like Alesund though – it’s well worth the trip!