It was a rainy and cold day in London when the plane took off – Oslo bound.
I belong to a small group of travel enthusiasts who think “if I’m already cold, why not brave colder.” This little mantra rarely disappoints.
Armed with a wooly hat, pink gloves and a return Ryanair ticket (which cost less than a Hackney Cab from Heathrow to central London, priority boarding and all!) I landed in Oslo to a pretty sprinkling of snow and the cleanest airport train I have ever boarded.
First let me clear up a widespread misconception.
It’s really easy to have a great time in Oslo and nowhere near as expensive as people often say. It’s important to know that before being put off.
What follows is a fun way to spend 48 hours exploring not all, but certainly a good enough flavor of an incredibly pretty and frankly cool (weather pun intended) city – in an affordable and accessible way. The great news is, as summer approaches, Oslo becomes even more enjoyable and simply being outside in the gorgeous public spaces will prove it is a perfect city weekend break.
Must Do’s in Oslo
Buy an Oslo Pass
I can’t stress this enough. You can get 24 hour and 48 hour versions (the 48 hour one proves the best value for money) and best of all, you can download the app to your phone, which makes everything super easy.
The pass not only gives you FREE travel on all public transport (including island hoping through the fjords on the public ferries!) but it also gives you free entry into more than 30 museums and galleries, free walking tours, decent discounts on so many attractions (including ski rental, climbing and concert tickets!) invaluable special offers in restaurants, bars and shops and in the summer, free entry into the outdoor swimming pools.
Discovering this pass made Oslo more affordable than staying at home in London for the weekend!
Get up early and go to bed late
As soon as the summer months come around this is made even easier with up to 18 hours of daylight in a given day. If you don’t dilly dally you can see an awful lot of Oslo in a small but concentrated period of time.
Even if you do take the above advice and decide to get busy, make sure you also enjoy soaking up the moment. There are many places in Oslo where just sitting on a bench or in a café/bar can be the best hour you will spend in your day.
Get a bit silly
If you have an opportunity to don a Viking helmet, just do it. It’s fun.
If you’re off to Oslo and looking for some inspiration, check out what we got up to in this magical Norwegian city…
48 Hours in Oslo, Norway – The best quirkly little finds around!
Ice, Ice, Baby
I arrived and made my way quickly into town thanks to Norway’s efficient train system. After ditching my bag, I went straight out for a proper cold drink at the Magic Ice Bar, where glasses are made of ice and they lend you giant overcoat to keep you warm.
I don’t think it is possible for a vodka based drink to taste better than when it is drunk directly from ice!
The ice bar’s theme this year is in celebration of Edvard Munch so all of the sculptures were based on his paintings and I couldn’t resist creating my own version of the Scream taking a selfie through the ice wall!
We decided to take a stroll through this incredibly walkable, safe city which led to the discovery of a great little bar, Bar Lardo. This bar specialises in natural wines served with delicious meats and cheeses (the meat is sliced in front of you upon order) which proves the perfect compliment to the wine you will inevitably have one too many of.
I tried a Sicilian orange wine and a natural red which was just a little fizzy, a curious but excellent discovery. The atmosphere here was buzzy, friendly and utterly local – exactly what we were looking for! It was impossible to feel like a tourist sat at this bar.
There is no-nonsense, no-pretence, no-airs-and-graces feel about the place – just good honest knowledge of what will surprise and delight you mixed with a perfect Friday night atmosphere.
I highly recommend it.
Warning: It is very easy to while away hours here, luckily walking home a little tipsy isn’t a bad thing and can lead you to discover that in Oslo, even the pavements have existential thoughts. There is art scattered all over this city. It is a joy to behold!
Soaking up Oslo’s Culture
I was up early to make the most of the glorious sun streaming in through my window.
Off I went, straight to the harbour and the brilliant Astrup Fearnley Museum of Modern Art. Split across two buildings at the very end of the increasingly hip and trendy harbour area, you not only get a great dose of art but also a pretty spectacular view. In the summer there is even a tiny but glorious beach where you can sit or bathe depending on your inclination.
You can take your pick from the multitude of bars and restaurants on the harbour-side, many of which will welcome your Oslo Pass. I stopped into Døgnvill where I had one of the best vegan burgers I have ever had – order the Vegan Viking – you won’t be disappointed.
See Oslo Like a Local (only better!)
Once fuelled, my next stop was to the wonderfully named Viking Biking where I embarked upon a 3 hour bicycle tour of Oslo. This is a really fantastic way of getting your bearings on the city, and with Oslo aiming to be car free by 2020 this bike tour feels like you are part of the solution, not part of the problem.
Our guide provided an unbelievable array of brilliant information whilst we enjoyed pedalling and taking in the vast array of sights. Patrick, our Oslo-born touring mastermind was a fountain of knowledge and even pointed out (what was to become one of my favourite things from the entire trip,) the City Hall bells.
These ring on the hour but they were not playing boring old scales – they play real songs! At 3pm, when I was there, the played the ‘80’s classic, Twist in my Sobriety by Tinita Tikaram – a somewhat random, but delightful sound!
Best of all, the tour gives you plenty of time to stop and explore once you get to many of the destinations and if like me, you arrive on what seemed to be international ice cream day (in spite of the cold, everyone seemed to be eating one) you’ll even have time to enjoy a Cornetto whilst admiring the art scattered amongst the Vigeland Sculpture Park.
Whilst on your tour, it is also possible to wear a safety helmet with Viking horns on it. Do it. It casts a magnificent shadow on the pavement and where else can you pedal around a gorgeous city looking like a modern-day viking?
Post cycle I felt a little righteous, so where better to go than to a cocktail bar ranked one of the best in the world – Himkok.
The enjoyment of this bar with its own distillery begins before you even get there – seeking it out is part of the fun. I will say no more other than look for a sign that gives away one of the building’s former incarnations and push the unmarked door.
If you need a little more guidance, keep a look out for an old fur shop which reads ‘Pels Pels’ in Norwegian.
Once inside you’ll see where they make their own gin, vodka and aquavit and if you explore further (which we’d certainly recommend doing) you will discover it is like the Tardis; there are outside drinking areas, a cider only bar, a taptail bar (they put their best house cocktails on tap so that everyone can enjoy a cocktail without the wait!) and a barbers no less.
For pure indulgence, sit at the bar in the cocktail lab; explore the beautiful menu (a piece of art in itself), watch the cocktail makers create their seasonal cocktails with grace in front of you and then sit back and taste.
Each one I tried was frankly sensational. I took advice from one of their knowledgeable bar staff (Tomas) who recommended each of my cocktails and didn’t let me down once.
If you’re lucky you will be shown their special collection of unusual and interesting spirits from around the world – it is behind lock and key, but even just pressing your nose against the glass case is good enough!
They have live music on weeknights and a blanket ban on electronica (so as to not put off the older clientele).
The lack of pretension in this bar was an absolute delight – everyone was genuinely there for a great time.
Somehow, with all of its fancy drinks and hipsteresque qualities Himkok ultimately is a bar to welcome one and all. Pretty much how I am feeling about all of Oslo at this point.
When you have spent an evening sampling cocktails you wouldn’t necessarily think that surrounding yourself with tens of thousands of miniature bottles of spirits would be ones first port of call the next morning, however the Minibottle Gallery proved to be the most wonderfully surreal hair of the dog!
The museum has a total of 53,000 bottles, most are guarded in a safety vault (?) but 12,500 are exhibited in over 50 unique installations. This museum is so fantastically curious that I don’t really want to give much of it away, suffice to say there is a slide to get to the basement installations and a fascinating erotic parlour where you have to tweak a nipple to enter!
I don’t think my eyes have ever witnessed so many ‘things’ in one viewing, unless you count grains of sand on a beach. And I don’t.
This place should be on everyone’s visit list. What began as a 7 year old boy’s collection has become a man’s enthralling obsession, and I’m glad it has!
Ice in Oslo – Year Round
Next, following a short boat trip I arrived at one of my nerdy pilgrimages. The Fram Museum. The whole building is built around Roald Amundsen’s polar expedition boat and for someone that always dreamt of visiting the biggest white wonderland, it was always going to be a hit with me.
Having recently returned from Antarctica I felt an overwhelming desire to stand atop another boat that had been there too.
It is a deeply fascinating and well thought out museum, whether you have an interest in Polar expeditions or not There is an Antarctic simulator where you can experience what it must have been like to be trapped in the ice (basically, if it’s a hot day you can really cool down in there), an area where you can test out your strength and artifacts galore – that’s not even mentioning the two gigantic ocean-going ships housed inside.
Setting Sail for Warmer Climates
A hop, skip and a jump away and you are in the Kon-Tiki museum – another building housing a vessel which has survived the Planet’s seas, only this time it’s a raft!
This hand built raft was used by Thor Heyerdahl to demonstrate the way in which ancient people could have made long sea voyages and contacted different cultures. With his crew, they used it to sail 5,000 miles across the Pacific Ocean. Successfully!
Norwegian mariners are clearly a curious bunch and I felt terribly ordinary simply boarding the public ferry back to the city centre.
Golf (with a Twist of Lemon)
With a few hours before the flight home there was one more pit stop on my list. The Oslo Camping Bar. I had no intention of pitching a tent, but every intention of playing a round of mini golf whilst sipping another brilliant Norwegian local bevvy. This time, beer.
This bar is awesome! The mini golf course threads its way under, over, behind and between tables, upstairs, downstairs and finally up and over the bar. There are 18 holes, a maximum 7 par policy to keep things moving smoothly and enough variation to keep you on tenterhooks throughout.
If I could have teleported a bunch of my friends here to help me while away a lazy Sunday afternoon I am pretty certain I would have missed my plane. As it was, I found myself leaving Oslo with an absolute certainty that this was a city I would visit again and with each season so distinctly different. I know I will experience it differently each time and that’s a great thing.
If you crave the endless summer sun or the glittering majesty of a city blanketed in snow, Oslo will not disappoint you. It encourages you to be outdoors no matter the weather and there are more statues and sculptures per square metre than I have seen anywhere else on my travels.
It’s grown up and eco conscious, sophisticated yet decadent. It has just the right amount of Scandinavian oddness and is a fantastic way to spend 48 hours.
I highly recommend that you go! Go, go, go to Oslo!
Thank you to VisitOSLO and each of the spots that Zena visited for making her feel so welcome. As always, all thoughts are our own.