How to make the most of just 6 hours in Oslo
Is 6 hours enough to take in Oslo? …no, not at all. Not even close. But when we got the chance to visit the Norwegian capital on a mini cruise from Denmark, it only left my girlfriend and I with a handful of hours to speed date this Nordic beauty – and to try to get an impression of a Scandinavian capital that often seems underrated. One thing is certain. We boarded our ship back home wishing to return to Oslo someday soon.
It was a spectacularly sunny day in May as we arrived at the harbour, just a few minutes walk to one of the city’s relatively new landmarks – the contemporary Oslo Opera House that stands out as an architectural highlight at the waterfront, and looks like a bunch of giant wedges crossing each other and disappearing down below the water’s surface. Very unique and minimalistic, but it was also interesting to see the contrasts behind the facade, where wooden round shapes balance out the sharp edges and towering glass panels.
The opera house naturally steals most attention from Instagram-shooting visitors, but it would be a shame to miss “The Pink Palace” as it’s called by some – while the official name is Havnelageret. An enormous pink-coloured building that was finished in 1921, at the time being the largest concrete building in Europe. Originally used for storage space, but today housing several businesses, like the Norwegian newspaper Dagbladet. And you will probably also notice the floating sculpture named She Lies in the harbour basin, reflecting the sun like an iceberg.
We wanted to make the most of our time in Oslo, so we kept walking – past the central train station, across tram tracks and the flower adorned square where the city’s famous Karl Johan Gate (street) starts. It takes us past Oslo Domkirke, the cathedral finished in 1697, before we head north and across Youngstorget, which is a square lined in one end by an arched restaurant-complex with a distinct southern feel, making it seem like we had ended up in Spain for a second.
Our aim is Olso’s historic neighbourhood around Damstredet – which might be a stretch for some, within the short timeframe of this visit. But after all it’s just a 20 minute walk from the opera house, and definitely worth going for, as it’s a charming contrast to all the new and modern architecture rising from the ground at the revamped harbour front. Here we enjoy a quiet walk along the steep, cobbled street and among bright coloured, wooden houses. An area with a small town feel in the middle of the Norwegian capital of 673.000 inhabitants.
After an idyllic stroll, we make our way back south to Karl Johan Gate, which is lined by some really nice architecture and a lovey city park, where locals hang out in the sun in a surprisingly laid back atmosphere. I’m especially impressed with the majestic Grand Hotel facing a nice square across the street. An excellent spot in a city that had already surprised me positively at this point.
Karl Johan Gate is not surprisingly a main attraction in Oslo, as it’s leading up to the city’s Royal Palace from 1849 – set on a hilltop with a really nice view back down the famous street. The Royal Palace is the official residence of the Norwegian king, but can be visited on one hour guided tours during the summer.
While the palace has a nice but relatively simple facade, I was even more impressed with the nearby buildings along Victoria Terrasse – standing with beautiful rooftops behind a little promenade of shops and cafés. Definitely worth a closer look.
Shortly after we made it down to the modern part of the harbour front, that looks to have been highly transformed within the recent decade, with a eye-catching blend of funky architecture, and lots of restaurants and bars to choose from along Aker Brygge and Tjuvholmen.
Out here on the tip of what seems to be a small peninsula, locals were basking in the sun on an urban beach. Aker Brygge is a great place to enjoy a quick lunch on a bench, before checking out the area’s sculptures and street art – leading us along the lively marina and past the sad but beautiful memorial to the victims of the ‘Scandinavian Star tragedy’.
We returned to our ferry full of impressions and feeling positively surprised, from a few intense hours of exploring Oslo. A capital that seems to have a well-balanced city atmosphere – while offering an interesting mix of architectural styles, green areas and harbour life. We could easily have spent a few days enjoying it all – so we have many reasons to return!
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