As well as the largest city in Norway, Oslo is also the cultural, economic and governmental centre. It became capital
city in 1814 when Norway gained its independence from Denmark and as one of Europe’s maritime centres, is home to nearly a 1,000 companies and 8,500 employees in this sector alone.
With a city population of around 575,000 it is the fastest growing capital city in Scandinavia and one of the fastest growing in Europe as a whole.
The city covers some 454 square kilometers of which 242 are forests which gives the city a very green appearance. So much so that it is not uncommon to see a wild moose in urban areas especially in winter. The city that sprouted up where the River Lo (now called Alnaelva) meets the Bjørvika is one of the explanations for the city’s medieval name of Aslo which later became Oslo (with Oslo meaning river mouth.) When fire destroyed much of the older areas of the city in the 17th century the it was moved westwards to be nearer the Akershus fortress and was renamed in honour of King Christian IV of Denmark and Norway to be called Christiania. Amid much debate, the city was renamed Oslo in the 1920s and the original old town of Oslo became Gamlebyen.
Oslo as well as being one of the world’s most expensive cities, is also known as being one of the greenest cities too, being voted world number 2 in 2007 by Reader’s Digest. That being said, the large number of homeless people did lead to the corruption of the city’s nickname of Tigerstaden (Tiger City) to become Tiggerstaden (beggar city.) It is more proud of the phrase Byen med det store hjertet which means city of the open hearted due to its welcoming approach to national and international immigrants. One of the oldest capitals (if not the oldest) among the Scandinavian countries, Oslo celebrated its millennium in 2000.
Like the UK, the country is a constitutional monarchy and the current monarch is Harald V who took the throne in 1991. The Norwegian monarchy can trace its line all the way back to Harald Fairhair in the 9th century. Harald V is also the head of the Church of Norway and Norwegian Armed Forces.
How To Get There
The main international airport is Oslo Airport, Gardermoen. It is also the principal international airport for Norway as a whole with flights to the rest of Europe as well as other continents including the Americas and Asia. Originally built as a military airfield, Gardermoen became a commercial airport in 1998.
Gardermoen is also a hub of Scandinavian Airlines (SAS), Norwegian Air Shuttle and Widerøe (the largest regional carrier in the Nordic countries) and it welcomed 19 million passengers in 2007, an increase of more than a million on the previous year.
Another airport which is primarily used by lower cost carriers but which serves Oslo is Sandefjord Airport, Torp and this was joined last year by Moss Airport, Rygge. Oslo can also be found on many cruise itineraries especially in the summer and there are daily ferries from Kiel, Copenhagen and Frederikshavn.
Where to stay
Oslo offers accommodation in every price bracket; from youth hostels, guest houses and camp sites through to hotels, of which there are 50 in the city centre. Although there is no star system in Norway standards of accommodation are relatively good. The tourist board recommend that visitors check hotel availability and book prior to travelling as hotels are frequently full.
The Oslo Package is available for hotels in every price bracket and this includes the Oslo Pass which gives the visitor free access to 35 museums and attractions as well free travel on all public transport, free parking in municipal car parks and discounts on sightseeing and car hire.
In addition, two children under the age of 16 can stay in the same room as their parents at no extra cost. For more information and to be able to book hotel rooms online see www.visitnorway.com
The options for shopping in Oslo include large shopping centres and department stores. Popular shopping areas include the part of the city around Karl Johans gate. In the pedestrian precinct there are popular names such as H&M and Zara.
There are also a number of department stores and shopping centres such as Oslo City, Glasmagasinet and Byporten. In the city centre House of Oslo is home to more than 20 shops specialising in lifestyle and home design. In particular Møllergata is known for furniture and Grensen is highly regarded for shoes.
Bogstadveien and Hegdehaugsveien are popular choices for those clothes shopping with good value and exclusive options available. For those seeking out work from young Norwegian designers, the Grünerløkka with its small independent shops also features bars, pubs and restaurants.
Alternatively, head to Grønland for bargains on textiles and gold as this is a significant enclave for businesses run by immigrants.
Nightlife and Eating Out
In keeping with being a capital city, Norway has a number of international and home-grown specialities on offer, including a number of Michelin starred chefs.
Depending on the time of year that you visit you might get the chance to sample reindeer, salmon or even whale. For Norwegian specialities popular choices include Aker Brygge and Holmenkollen. As you might expect, some of the best seafood is to be sampled near to the harbour while those dining out on a shoestring might be well advised to visit areas such as Grønland and Grünerløkka.
After hours nightlife ranges from a pint of beer in a traditional pub to one of the many night clubs and discos which stay open until 3am in the Downtown area. The city centre is the place to head for clubbing in general as well-known DJs come from all round Norway and abroad.
Oslo is also a great live music venue and as is particularly well known for its jazz and many venues throughout the city offer all sorts of live music.
As well as being a very green city, there are plenty of things to see and do in Oslo including: Vigelandsparken Sculpture Park is one of Oslo’s must-see sights. It is famous for showcasing more than 200 sculptures and is free to the public.
The most visited site in Norway for 2007 was the Holmenkollen Ski Jump. This has been pulled down to make way for the new version which is to see action in the 2011 FIS Nordic World Ski Championship. Whilst work is going on, there is a visitor’s centre near the site which provides information about this famous venue.
One of the most significant buildings in Oslo’s history is the Akershus Fortress. Other venues which remind the visitor of Norway’s colourful past include the Norsk Folkemuseum, the Fram Museum and the Viking Ship Museum. New to the city being built just last year is the Opera House. This has already become a firm favourite thanks to its stunning architecture in marble and glass. It also hosts world class opera and ballet performances.
For those looking to see something of what Oslo looked like in the Middle Ages a visit to the Old Town (Gamlebyen) is a good place to start. Celebrate the arts with a visit to some of the many galleries which include the National Museum of Art, Archiecture and Design, the Munch Museum (another famous Norwegian Edvard) and the DogA (Norwegian centre for Design and Architecture).
Oslo is not all about winter and in the summer the Tusenfryd Amusement Park opens its doors for rides and water park for all the family. It is also in the summer months that the doors of the Royal Palace open to the general public for guided tours. Other new attractions include the Nobel Peace Centre and Holocaust centre.
Events in Norway
In mid-January Disney comes to town as children’s favourites such as Mickey Mouse perform on ice at the Oslo Spektrum which is on Sonja Henies Plass.
Although the weather may be inclement, many brave the elements to visit Oslo in March for the Holmkollen Ski Festival, also known as the Finken Cup. This is one of the biggest sporting events in the area and draws competitors in Nordic from around the world.
Also in March is the Oslo Kirkemusikkfestival (Church Music festival) which takes place throughout Oslo including the city’s cathedral. In mid-March, Holmkollen is home to the Nasionalanlegg sports arena which showcases the culmination of the BWC (Biathlon World Cup).
In early April Oslo goes heavy metal as the Inferno Festival hits town. Local rock bands perform at the Rockerfeller Music Hall.
There are a number of events in May including Constitution Day on May 17 when the people of Oslo gravitate towards the Royal Palace decked out in their finest costumes. Late in the month is the Norwegian military Tattoo which takes place at the Oslo Spektrum and has become the country’s largest indoor event.
The Bislett Games take place in June, an athletics event held at Bislett Stadion in Oslo. Going back in time to the middle ages also in June is the Oslo Middelalderfestival which highlights traditional Norwegian food and arts and crafts. Thrill seekers need look no further than the Ta Sjansen in late June when the brave (or foolhardy) launch themselves down the Holmenkollen ski slope in home-made boats.
One of Norway’s most famous sons is honoured throughout July with the Edvard Grieg Music festival taking place at the National Gallery.
For those who enjoy music there is the Oslo Kammermusikkfestival (Chamber Music Festival) in mid-August which is a showcase for many of Norway’s top musicians at various venues throughout Oslo. For music-lovers of a different bent, mid-August is also the time to enjoy the Oslo Jazz festival which attracts crowds of nearly 20,000 every year.
In September the popular Ultima modern music festival takes place with pieces performed by Norway’s Chamber Orchestra and State Opera. Later in the month is the Oslo half marathon which attracts more than 10,000 runners.
The beginning of December marks the start of the traditional Norwegian festivities when the Christmas tree is lit in University Square and later in the month is the Nobel Peace Prize Ceremony which takes place at the Radhus (Town Hall) and is hosted by the Norwegian Nobel Institute.
How to get around
Getting around in Oslo is quite straightforward given the fact that the various modes of transport share a ticket system, so it doesn’t matter if you choose ferry, underground, bus or tram.
For specific information on this see www.trafikanten.no As the centre of Oslo is very compact, walking or cycling offer good options for discovering the city under your own steam and bike cards can be rented from the Tourist Information Centres.
Greeting etiquette is casual in Norway but make sure to retain eye contact and smile when shaking hands. It is quite common for people to introduce themselves by their first name but it is also fine to wait to be invited to use them. When arriving or departing it is usual to shake hand on an individual basis.
Location: Oslo is on an arc of land at the northernmost end of the Oslofjord. There are 40 islands within the city limits Time: GMT + 1 Hour Language: Norwegian although English is widely spoken.
Climate: A humid continental climate with cold snowy winters and mild and pleasant summers. Area: 454sq.km.
Population: City: 575,000, urban: 856,915, metropolitan: 1,283,533
Religion: Norway is a Protestant Christian country.
Electricity: 230 volts at 50 Hz Telephone code: +47
Currency: The Norwegian Krone (NOK)
Passport/visa requirements: Holders of a valid United Kingdom passport can stay for up to three months without a visa.
National airline: SAS (www.flysas.com)
Airports: Oslo Airport (Gardermoen), Sandefjord Airport, Moss Airport
Flight time: Approximately two hours and 30 minutes.
Public Holidays- 2009 2009 New Year's Day 1 January Palm Sunday 5 April Maundy Thursday 9 April Good Friday 10 April Easter Sunday 12 April Easter Monday 13 April Public holiday 1 May Constitution Day 17 May Ascension Day 21 May Whit Sunday 31 May Whit Monday 1 June Christmas Day 25 December Boxing Day 26 December UK
Tourist Office details: Royal Norwegian Embassy, 25 Belgrave Square, London, SW1X 8QD.Tel: 020-7591 5500.
Images courtesy of Anders Gjengedal/Innovation Norway and Frithjof Fure/Innovation Norway