The Old Fogies go to Oslo in Norway

The last destination on our short Norwegian cruise was Oslo which is the capital and most populous city in Norway. We had visited Oslo about 15 years ago for a few days and was interested in how the city had changed.

When the ship docked near to the city, we had our first look at the distinctive Norwegian Opera and Ballet House that sat like a glacier at the beginning of the city centre. Its unusual design allows visitors to walk all over the building and many could be seen to walk over the roof.

Our impressions of Oslo all those years ago was an attractive compact city with plenty of attractions and as we made our way to near the Central Station we could see that despite the new buildings on the waterfront, little had changed. One of the highlights of our last visit was going to visit Frogner Park or known locally as Vigeland Park which has a remarkable large collection of sculptures by Gustav Vigeland. Another highlight was to go to Bygdøy which is a green peninsula which is the location of a number of interesting museums like the Fram Museum, Viking Ship Museum and the Kon-Tiki Museum.

Oslo is one of the most attractive cities in Europe being at the northern end of the Oslofjord and surrounded by green hills and mountains. There are 40 islands within the city limits and numerous lakes.

Its attractive setting has attracted human habitation for centuries dating back to 1000 AD, Oslo has been regarded as the capital city since the reign of Haakon V of Norway (1299–1319), the first king to live permanently in the city. In the following centuries it suffered from a number of fires that destroyed the city. In 1624, Christian IV of Denmark and Norway ordered the city to be rebuilt near Akershus Castle and be given the name Christiania. In 1877 the city was renamed Kristiania. The original name of Oslo was restored in 1925.

Many of the major landmarks were built in the 19th century, including the Royal Palace (1825–1848), Storting building (the Parliament) (1861–1866), the University, National Theatre and the Stock Exchange. In 1850, Christiania overtook Bergen and became the most populous city in the country. For a long time, Oslo and Norway was considered one of the poorer countries in Northern Europe and many Norwegians emigrated to the United States. However in the 20th century the benefits of oil and maritime developments have led Oslo being an important centre of maritime business with nearly 2000 companies and 8,500 employees within the maritime sector.

This has led to Oslo becoming one of the most expensive cities in the world and any visitor should be aware that a visit to a local bar, restaurant or coffee shop are likely to be very expensive. Even the museums and art galleries are relatively expensive, although you do find the odd one free to enter.

Last time we visited was in the summer, this time the temperature was -4 and chilly, so it was a brisk walk that took us to near the Central Station and into the city centre. Many cities have bicycles to hire, but Oslo seems to have gone more for electric scooters that you can find all over the place.

Sooner or later, visitors to Oslo will come across Karl Johans Gate which is a long road leading from the centre up to the Royal Palace. The sharp incline takes you past Oslo cathedral with its remarkable ceiling, the grand Storting building (the Parliament) and large University building. Up in the distance is the Royal Palace standing at the top of a hill.

Walking up the hill, we noticed the flags on the side of the road which indicated a royal visit and was reminded that on our last visit there was also a royal visit by King Jaun Carlos and Queen Sophia of Spain. Unlike Britain who love their pageantry, Norway has a more low key approach, in fact when the King of Norway welcomed their Spanish counterparts outside the palace, there was one man and his dog and us two who clapped and waved. The royal entourage probably taking us for locals waved to us and we rather timidly waved again.

The yellow Royal Palace is in a lovely setting in the middle of a park with great views of Oslo and its surroundings, the occasional guardsmen marched up and down probably to keep warm. The winter sun made it all a wonderful scene but we both thought it was time for a warm coffee.

From the palace it is a short walk to the red bricked City Hall and the Nobel Peace Centre that was being prepared for its Nobel prize ceremony in December.

Outside the centre in the small park, we were showered with white pieces of fluff, originally we thought it was snowing but closer inspection revealed it was like filler for something. People walking past would often start coughing if they swallowed some of this material, so we decided to look around the boats in the small jetties near the Aker Brygge area. At the end of the this area was the roof that looked like sails of the Astrup Fearnley Museum of Modern Art.

From this point you could look across the water to the museums on Bygdøy and the imposing Akerhus Fortress, whilst we enjoyed these views we noticed that with the setting sun, the temperatures were dropping even further and it was time to have a hot drink and something to eat.

Oslo is a fascinating mix of old and new, unlike many other Norwegian towns there are not the large numbers of wooden buildings but more solid 19th century buildings and the new landmark buildings like the Opera House. Other than these new buildings, Oslo had changed very little from our previous visit and is a great place to visit for a short or longer stay. Its compact size means that it is easy to get about, although there is a comprehensive transport system if you want to travel further afield.

We both agreed that it had been nice to be reacquainted with Oslo, its just a shame it is so expensive !

Old Fogies Travels are the adventures of two elderly Londoners (The Old Fogies) as they explore their home town and travel around the world looking out for the strange, unusual and absurd.

Our articles are published on our blog but also listed on the website of our friends at Visiting London here