One of Europe's best-kept secrets, magnificent Oslo stands as an exercise in contrasts. On one hand is its growing metropolis of more than half a million people, whose gleaming, glass-and-steel skyline and ultra-modern shopping centers form a fascinating juxtaposition with wide avenues and stunning late 19th- and early 20th-century Neoclassical architecture. On the other hand are Oslo's vast forested areas, public parks, botanical gardens, and network of pathways, which traverse the mountains on which the city was built — a true nature lover's city if ever there was one.
Scandinavia's oldest capital dates back to the early 11th century, when Harald Hardråde and his Viking minions founded a settlement on a rocky hillside just east of the modern city center. After suffering raids and a series of fires over the next six centuries, the settlement moved west to its current location. In the 1620s, another terrible fire ravaged Oslo; prompting Denmark's King Christian IV to rebuild the city, which he then renamed Christiania after himself. Christiania became the official capital of Norway on the 17th of May 1814 after the dissolution of the union with Denmark. The new name, however, never really took, and when Norway's nationalistic spirit blossomed in the 1920s, the city became Oslo once again.
Plan to spend three or four days exploring the capital region's potpourri of sites: the center of the modern city, Akershus Slott, a castle whose fortifications date from the 13th century; the Norsk Folkemuseum (Norwegian Folk Museum), an open-air museum whose original buildings and structures — some dating from medieval times — are representative of the country's many regions; the University of Oslo's Vikingskiphuset (Viking Ship Museum), which maintains the Oseberg, Gokstad, and Tune, three of the best-preserved Viking ships in existence, all of which were excavated in the Oslo fjord region; and world-class museums devoted to the works of noted Norwegians like painter Edvard Munch, painter Emanuel Vigeland, and sculptor Gustav Vigeland.
For a respite from sightseeing and myriad exhibits, head to Grunerløkka, a district on the banks of the Akerselva River that's popular for its waterside pathways and restaurant scene. Or visit upscale Frogner, a residential area just ten minutes' walk west of the city center that's home to many of Norway's finest restaurants and to the famous Gustav Vigeland Sculpture Park. Oslo's nightlife scene thrives throughout the year, with discos and traditional taverns boasting an international collection of patrons and the Den Norske Opera thrilling audiences with a variety of performances.
Oslo has also become one of Northern Europe's top event towns, thanks to highly publicized celebrations like the Constitution Day, the Ibsen Festival, the Notodden Blues Festival, and the Oslo Jazz Festival. Of course, two events in particular garner worldwide attention. The first is the ceremony honoring the recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize in December; the second is in the middle of March, the Holmenkollen Ski Festival, which draws spectators and competitors from all over the world.
Henrik Ibsen once penned, "A community is like a ship, everyone ought to be prepared to take the helm." Such is Oslo's mentality. The city has long-striven to distinguish itself from the rest of Europe — and even Scandinavia — yet it enthusiastically welcomes visitors and relishes any opportunity to show off. That said, Oslovians take fierce pride in the majestic landscape surrounding their city, and their love of sports (especially of the winter variety) runs deep. Proud, friendly, beautiful — is it any wonder that Oslo so appeals to travelers of today.
If you want to buy a drink for the girl at the end of the bar, know that it is an investment. With the price of alcohol so high, the gesture implies you’d like more than a wave and some small talk. Dole out your gifts carefully because, in Norway, a free drink is not a frivolous gesture.
Money Saving Tips
• Cook your own food - Food is very, very expensive in Norway so the best thing you can do is it simply make your own meals. Go grocery shopping but skip buying lots of fresh vegetables such as peppers or whole chicken fillets as they are very expensive. Minced chicken is cheaper. Avoid eating out!!!
• Eat cheap - If you do decide to eat out, your cheapest options will be shwarma and pizza. These meals usually cost around $10 USD.
• Couchsurf - The best way to avoid expensive hostels is to not stay there. Couchsurf (i.e. staying with locals for free) so you can save your money for what is really important – sightseeing and beer.
• Camp - Because of free public camping laws, as long as you have your own tent, you can camp in the parks and public lands for free.
• Get a tourism card - Attractions in Norway can get very expensive, especially since the exchange rate is so bad. The best way to afford all the attractions is to get a city tourism card so you can get free entry into all the attractions as well as free transportation.
• Book in advance - If you can plan your transportation in advance, you can save up to 50% off the cost of your train or bus tickets. Buying last minute means it’s going to be more than any budget traveler can afford, especially if you want to visit a number of destinations in Norway.
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