Oslo: the Norwegian capital and most expensive city in Europe, as well as a burgeoning metropolis with a small town feel. While there probably isn't enough to do to sustain more than a two-day jaunt, Oslo's beautiful scenery and quality museums are united under a convenient package deal to make the most of a brief stay. Thanks to the all-inclusive Oslo Pass, we had access to all public transportation and museums, as well as discounts at participating restaurants.
Our first stop was the Norwegian National Opera and Ballet, a modern granite monolith sitting regally on the water, and from whose angular roof one can take in nice views of the city and harbor. From there we hopped a tram and cut across town to Frogner Park, home to over 200 sculptures by artist Gustav Vigeland. The park's 80 acres include ponds, trails and plenty of grassy expanses perfect for picnicking or playing either kind of football. It's also a popular field trip destination for rambunctious kids, with the inevitable result of some of them doing inappropriate things to the artwork.
From Frogner Park it was an easy bus ride to the Viking Ship Museum and adjacent Norwegian Museum of Cultural History. We only stopped at the former, where we were impressed by the massive ships and artifacts dating back to the first century. Afterwards we caught a ride back to the city center, where we passed by the Royal Palace (not free with the Oslo Pass, unfortunately) and stopped for a lunch of traditional Norwegian food. Neither of us was brave enough to try the reindeer cakes, a local delicacy, so we settled for something akin to a meal at the Ikea food court - meatballs, potatoes and salmon.
A twenty-minute (albeit uphill) walk from the train station brought us to the modest Munch (pronounced “monk” – not like the random cravings you get when you’re high) Museum, which features rotating exhibitions culled from the world’s largest collection of Edvard Munch’s paintings, prints and drawings. There you can see “The Scream” up close, watch a detailed documentary about the artist’s life, and enjoy the café and free wi-fi. Security is pretty tight for such a small museum, but then again they’ve had two paintings stolen within the last decade. You can also take the metro there, but you'd miss out on seeing a slice of Oslo’s immigrant neighborhood – a marked difference from the more traditional, posh downtown area.
For the most spectacular views, get above the city by taking the metro line 1 almost all the way to the end. This winding, leisurely ride brings you right up close to the rustic houses and lush Norwegian woods. Up the hill from the second to last stop rests the Voksenåsen Culture and Conference Hotel, a serene retreat reeking of eco-friendly chic, where you can look down on Oslo from the bar’s patio. But for more altitude and an unforgettable panoramic view head to Holmenkollen, home of Oslo’s ski jump tower and ski museum.
The bottom line: What Oslo lacks in gastronomic appeal, it makes up for in gorgeous natural scenery that is rare in major European cities.
DO: Make use of public transportation; it'll give you a more intimate look at the city at a fraction of guided tour prices.
DON'T: Take a taxi from the airport. Use the shuttle buses that service the major hotels or take a train.