When our plane started to descend into Oslo airport the reality of Norway’s natural beauty became apparent. Visible out of the window as the plane banked into a sweeping turn was mile upon mile of lakes, mountains and trees all covered in a deep blanket of early winter snow; a sea of white broken by pockets of grey lakes and the dark spikes of conifer. The snow was unexpected, as when booking this trip for November we’d been told it was likely too early, but welcome. Even the airport, surrounded by snow dusted trees, was turned into something picturesque. Sat on the bus from the airport, which I’d recommend over the train as it’s significantly cheaper for a round trip and only takes 40 minutes, I took advantage of the free wifi to frantically do some googling for “Oslo’s best cinnamon bun“. The bun which really stood out was made by WB Samson, the Oslo institution. Each bun is baked in its own individual tin, knotted up rather than simply swirled and covered with cinnamon and a little salt. I could happily talk about this bun for the rest of this post, but as it was simply a pitstop we made between the bus terminal and our hotel, I should probably get going with the rest of the trip.
Our hotel, the Scandic Vulkan, was located in the heart of the Vulkan district, overlooking the famous food hall and just over the river from the city’s Grünerløkka district. The hotel itself, part of the Scandic chain, offers affordable well designed rooms with free breakfast and comfortable beds. When we arrived, our room wasn’t quite ready so we dropped our bags at reception and went for a walk near the hotel. The Mathallen (food hall) was just a stones throw away so after wrapping up warm we followed our noses. The Mathallen isn’t your standard European foodhall. Rather than a selection of market stalls with the odd hot food vendor it’s primarily small restaurants, all offering food from around the world, with a few smaller stalls offering fresh produce. Knowing that we were going to have to be careful with our budget on this trip as Oslo is the most expensive city in the world, we resisted the urge to buy snacks from a number of places and went with a cup of coffee from Hendrix Ibsen, which started a weekend of full of very good coffee. Once we’d filled up on hit drinks we set off up the river outside, while the light still held. This took us through a small park, complete with a ‘Duck Cafe’ (a shelter for ducks), up past the Art College and finally to the base of a waterfall so picturesque you’ll start thinking you’ve left Oslo altogether. The cold and snow meant the bottom of the waterfall was covered in ice, which added to this effect, and the old mill buildings adjacent to the cascade gave it a feel of a different time.
After this, we were able to check in to our hotel room, where we freshened up and had a quick nap before we moved on to have dinner at Døgnvill Burger. Being a Saturday night, and a particularly popular place, it was heaving when we arrived, but they found us a space at the bar. The service here let the whole experience down a bit, as after being seated at the bar we were all but ignored for a good 20-25 minutes. I ordered the ‘Mondays’ (blue cheese, among other bits and pieces) and Maddie ordered the Veggie Burger. Mine was surprisingly good, with the patty cooked medium rare and the toppings messy, but not get-in-your-hair-and-pretty-much-everything messy. After this pleasant, but rather long, meal we headed into the heart of Oslo to find a drink. Now, as is documented basically everywhere, Oslo is expensive, and I wouldn’t suggest going out on the town for a full night of getting drunk, but the city has a great community of microbreweries so if you’re interested in a couple of social drinks, it’s definitely something to consider. We popped to Crow Bar and had a couple of their sample sized drinks. After this we retired to the hotel to sit and drink gin we’d bought in duty free on our way through Stansted, which is basically the only affordable way to drink in the country, and watched Inside Out which I’d had downloaded on my laptop for about 6 months (it’s great, watch it).
Sunday was our only full day in the city, so we woke up early to take advantage of the short daylight hours. The hotel offered a large complimentary breakfast buffet (including great bread, cooked options, a waffle iron, fruit, porridge and a host of other breakfast items), which we took full advantage of. With the city being such an expensive one we knew that we’d not want to be spending too much money when we were out and about, so stocking up on free breakfast food was a real bonus. Once we’d had our fill we ventured down to the waterfront to tick off one of a couple of our main ‘must sees’. This one came in the form of the Opera House which, since its completion in 2007, has won a couple of awards for its design. It sits at the top of the Oslo Fjord in all its angular glory and, as we were arriving around 9am, it was pretty quiet. The ice and snow was still clinging on to the city and we were the first to risk venturing up the angular roof of the building, which I can imagine is covered in people on a sunny summer’s day eating picnics and admiring the view. Once we’d almost frozen our fingers off on the roof we walked further into the center of Oslo to find a cup of coffee and a cinnamon bun. This stop was at Fuglen, for a flat white and one of their buns. A completely different type of cinnamon bun to WB Samson’s, it was more of a glazed bun with a syrupy filling between its coils. This hit the spot and warmed us back up before we walked up to the Royal Palace.
From the Royal Palace we walked the 40 minutes to our other main must do, the Sculpture Park. This walk was through a large residential area and gave us a chance to see what some of the less touristy bits of Oslo were like. We could easily have taken a bus, but again we were trying to save some money. We were greeted to the sculpture park by the only buskers we really saw on the whole trip, and yes, I can confirm that floating Yodas have infested snowy parks in Oslo as they have Covent Garden. The sculpture park is possibly one of the most bizarre places I’ve visited on my travels. Every single sculpture consists of naked people in various forms. From drop kicking babies and laughing children to contortion and a pillar of piled up humans they are all worth seeing. Maddie got a little distracted by the portion of at the back of the park that appears to be the area all the local dog walkers bring their pups on a Sunday afternoon. After spending some time walking around in the snow and imitating some of the statues, we headed back in the direction of the hotel, all on foot, This took us through large areas of Oslo and ended up with us deciding to grab a coffee from Tim Wendelboe and walk around Grünerløkka while the light still held. Grünerløkka is the ‘hip’ part of Oslo and is packed with bars, restaurants, vintage & furniture shops and cafes. We popped into a market in one of the squares before heading back for a well deserved nap, as by this point we’d basically walked the entire of Oslo. After the nap we headed to the highly recommended Night Hawk Diner for some food. As you can tell from the name, it’s a diner style cafe and while the ambience & decor was fun, the food itself wasn’t quite as good as hoped. It’s definitely worth checking out, but don’t go expecting anything particularly special (although the pancake that came on the side of my main was particularly fluffy). We ventured to a bar 5 minutes down the road for a pint before heading back to our hotel and having an early night so we could try and make the most of our last morning before flying home.
The last morning started with our free breakfast, this time a stack of waffles we made in the waffle iron. We then headed over to the botanical gardens, which sadly weren’t all that inspiring at 10am on a chilly Monday morning, although we did spend 10 minutes throwing stones into ice-topped ponds and pretending we were children again. The rest of the morning was spent pottering around, grabbing a final cinnamon bun from another WB Samson (we didn’t realise there’d be one at the airport…) and then taking advantage of our check out time being midday to have a bit of a freshen up before we got the bus to the airport.
All in all, with the short days and cold weather we felt we made the most of our time in Oslo. With such a short time it can be quite easy to cram so much in that it feels like everything is done at a forced march and that you’ve not had any time to unwind. There’s a couple of things I want to do in Oslo that we decided to save for a second trip, ideally in the summer. The Folk Museum, for instance, has boats running out to it which stop at the end of September and would be high on the list if we were to go back at a warmer time.
As ever there are more photos on my Flickr.
Must See & Do – Winter
Food & Coffee Shops
Dognvill Burger Vulkan
Hendrix Ibsen (Coffee)
Night Hawk Diner (Breakfast)
Fulgen (Coffee & Cinnamon Buns)
WB Samson (Their Cinnamon Buns are the absolute best)
Get some alcohol in duty free on your way in
Walk everywhere, Oslo is very manageable on foot
No shops are open on Sundays, but all of its coffee shops are
Buy some thermals if you’re going in winter
Get the coach from the airport, not the train
Scandic Vulkan provided us with a room free of charge for being part of this feature