It is my second full day in Oslo, and I find myself on a boat tour of the Oslofjord, the narrow inlet along which the Norwegian capital is laid out. It is cold, especially for a kid from California. We are given thin blankets as we board, which help, but even those, my thick winter jacket, and the overpriced but delicious hot chocolate sold aboard can’t keep the cold from my bones. I stand regularly so my feet don’t lose feeling, and watch the scenery go by.
It is, of all things, blissful.
Just one amazing view from the Oslofjord.
I have never been a fan of below-freezing temperatures, and have consistently joked that if it is below 60 degrees Fahrenheit that it isn’t worth getting out of bed in the morning. (Ok, there is some truth to this, but travelers must make painful exceptions to all general rules, lest they never see a thing.)Oslo in winter is below freezing, and sometimes very much so. And yet there is something perfect about spending time here in this white season. After all, people have called these climates home for millennia, scratching a tough living from the icy soils and braving the frigid waters, so certainly I can partake in it for a few days. The city certainly looks completely natural in the snow and ice, and I find it hard to imagine Oslo without these accessories.
Residents here don’t let the cold stop their enjoyment of the city; the pedestrian Karl Johan Gate, one of the main thoroughfares in the center of town, is always crowded. And so, despite semi-regular balance issues on the slick ice, I attempt the same.
Oslo actually does a pretty great job of controlling the ice. You will notice gravel spread out over many paths so that as it freezes in place, it gives traction over the frozen terrain. Sidewalks are largely clear, or at least portions of them are. I’m wearing only train running shoes (I pack light) so I occasionally still add sliding to my walking, but I make do.
The Oslofjord is a wonderland. Glassy blue waters gently roll past the boat as we cruise small sheltered islands, waving to children playing with their dogs in the snow. The grand buildings of Oslo feel forgotten until they pull back into view; then I rush to snap photos before they vanish again as a new waterway opens up.
Even now, in the middle of winter, the outdoors are what Oslo is all about. The incredibly efficient metro trains are crowded with skiers and sledders, venturing outside of the city to ply their crafts. (Norwegians can ski as soon as they can walk, and it is the national sport.) While the Oslo ski jump in the suburb of Holmenkollen is shrouded in thick fog, the ski museum teaches all about it, and youngsters walk past to the nearby cross-country course. (The museum is probably not worth admission on a day like this, as the view from the top is the reason for entry.)
Ski jump shrouded in fog.
Worth the entry, regardless of the icy conditions, is the Norwegian Folk Museum. It is an outdoor exhibition of different aspects of Norse culture. Buildings from different parts of the country, built in different time periods, have been moved here and reassembled, so the museum features full village and city replicas! Some of these include actors in period dress, crafting demonstrations, and more. It is fascinating, to say the least, even though the ice is worse here than in most places I visit. Don’t miss the stave church, a 13th century wonder!
I adore this church!
Next door to the Folk Museum is the famous Viking Ship Museum, a wonderful way to get out of the ice for a few minutes and appreciate just how incredible the Vikings were. Three ships are on exhibit here, two having been restored and one as found, as well as their assorted treasures. All three were used as burial ships, hence their preservation through the centuries. The museum also teaches much about Viking society. For instance, I never knew the Vikings traded as far away as Egypt!
The Viking Ship Museum is unique in the world.
To me, there are twin highlights of Oslo from a cultural standpoint. First is the Nobel Peace Center. Unlike the other Nobel Prizes, the Peace Prize is given out here in Oslo, and this museum is worthy to be associated with such a prestigious award. Exhibitions rotate as the prize does, and they are powerful.
The Nobel Peace Center
Second is the Vigeland Sculpture Park. (It is actually Frogner Park, but is more commonly known by the aforementioned name.) Here are a TON of sculptures in varying media by Gustav Vigeland, all of human forms in the nude. Creating more than 200 sculptures between 1924 and 1943, Vigeland captures both form and emotion in a way I have rarely seen. The park is free to enter and wander and, while pathways are precariously icy in the winter, is absolutely worth as much time as the weather will allow.
Just a few amazing pieces from the Vigeland Sculpture Park.
After all of these cultural delights, those of the culinary persuasion will be on your mind. Oslo might be the most expensive city for food in the world (not an exaggeration), so prepare to spend. However, there are some local dishes that are wonderful and unique, helping to offset the price tag in a small way.
My favorite restaurant on this trip was Elias Mat and Sant. Specializing in local ingredients, it offered the favorites for prices that were reasonable by Oslo standards. The barley risotto with elk was easily a standout!
This was the best meal I ate in Oslo.
For a cheap(er) snack, try Haralds Waffle near the Oslo Cathedral. It sounds weird, but the waffle with sour cream, raspberry jam, and brown cheese was divine!
Weird, but amazing!
Many people would be scared to come to Oslo in winter. However, the city is incredible, even in the cold. If anything, it is a more authentic way to visit.
Note: thank you to VisitOSLO for providing me with an Oslo Pass, allowing me complimentary entry into such a variety of museums.
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