[ 3 DAYS IN... ]

Akershus Castle is Oslo's oldest attraction, built between 1299 and 1319.

By Dennis Callan
Special to the Star-Bulletin

You cannot get lost in Oslo. The fascinating downtown is a compact area just 1 mile long and a half-mile wide, filled with the typical European variety of shops, parks, restaurants, museums, a scenic waterfront and historic sights.

Day 1
The Shopping Mile

Day 2
City tour, shopping districts and two museums

Day 3
Bygod Peninsula Museums and Munch

If you go...
Hotels, restaurants, factoids, and websites

All in all, you will be delighted with your visit to Oslo and Norway, ranked as the best country in the world to live because it has the world's highest standard of living and superior levels of education, income and life expectancy. Oil revenues and a focus on social welfare politics have placed Norway at the top of the United Nations Human Development Index for the third year in a row.

Average salaries have doubled to $45,000 in 20 years.

As a result of this growth, Oslo might be a little expensive to visit, but you will find it is worthwhile.

Oslo's population is only 550,000, making it the smallest Scandinavian capital, yet the city's official boundaries sprawl far into the rural countryside for 175 square miles, half of which is forest. Another half-million people live in the surrounding region of the Oslo Fjord area. With just 4.5 million residents in this huge country that stretches 1,200 miles, Norway is the least densely populated European country.

At the Norwegian Folk Museum, you can see all of Norway in one small park, with farmhouses, country manors, and local experts dressed in authentic costumes.

Day One The Shopping Mile

Start your explorations of Oslo on the main street, Karl Johans Gate, which begins at the train station and continues a mile to the Royal Palace. This boulevard is the center of town, buzzing with people all day. Karl Johans has fine shops and restaurants along in the vicinity of the train station where a lively pedestrian mall extends for six blocks, with several enticing side streets reserved for pedestrians. It is one of the few roads in the world where the pavement is heated to prevent ice or snow from getting in the way during severe winters. But it's better to visit in the summer, especially July, when hotel rates drop and the weather is perfect, with highs in the 70s and sunshine until 10:30 p.m.

Upon reaching the Parliament Building, Karl Johans opens to regular traffic but has wide sidewalks to accommodate crowds. The Parliament, finished in 1866 with a mix of Renaissance and Neoclassical styles, is open to the public during the summer.

The Central Park: After passing the Parliament, Karl Johans runs alongside pretty Studenterlunden Park. This small park is a main gathering place in fair weather, serving as an outdoor living room. The busy garden cafe at its center is an excellent place to stop for drinks and a light meal, or just sit on a bench and watch entertainers who often show up in front of the Parliament. A long fountain runs through another park section, and the whole area is circled with tall trees and beautiful landscaping.

Oslo's three main shopping streets, Karl Johans, Rosenkrantz and Stortingsgata, surround this popular patch of greenery, so be sure to wander the full length of each one to squeeze the most out of Oslo's best neighborhood. Shops along the main stretch of Karl Johans served as private townhouses a hundred years ago. In those days, people did not want anyone living across the street from them looking into their windows, so they purchased the land facing them and turned it into the park.

The Grand Hotel faces the park in prime position along Karl Johans Gate and makes an excellent place to stay. The hotel is renowned for its Grand Cafe, open from 11 a.m. to midnight with a varied international menu. For a nice view across the heart of town, go up to their rooftop terrace bar, next to the swimming pool.

In the next block there is an excellent small shopping mall called Paleet, which you could miss if you didn't realize the doorway at No. 37 Karl Johan leads to an inner world with three levels containing 42 stores and an excellent food court. The mall's sleek, modern design is artfully composed of colorful marble, glass and bronze, enhanced by bubbling fountains and potted palms. If you crave more than a food court can offer, the mall's ground level leads to one of Oslo's better restaurants, Blom, serving traditional Scandinavian dishes in a dark, wood-paneled room.

Vigeland Park gates boasts 58 bronze nudes showing powerful emotions through body language and facial expressions in a park of broad green lawns lined with poplar trees.

University: At the next block along Karl Johans, you find the oldest university buildings in Oslo, which were opened in 1854, a few decades after the University of Oslo was founded in 1811. These buildings are used for administration rather than classes because the main part of campus, which accommodates about 30,000 students, is outside the city center.

The three attractive university buildings are in the Neoclassical style with impressive columns and pediments, set back in a one-block campus of green lawns and tall trees. Peek inside the central building to appreciate the beautiful entrance hall, lined with tall columns and coffered ceiling, like a Greek temple, and then proceed into the auditorium where you will find three walls covered with large murals by Edvard Munch, Norway's most famous artist.

Royal Palace: Karl Johans Gate ends just beyond the university at the lush garden surrounding the Royal Palace, built by King Karl Johan, a French general placed on the Swedish and Norwegian thrones by Napoleon. The king never got to live in his palace, however, because he died four years before its completion. His son, Oscar I, moved in after ascending the throne. Norway today is a constitutional monarchy whose king works in the palace but resides elsewhere. The gardens are always open to the public and are a popular jogging route, though the palace is not open to visitors.

National Theater: In front of the palace you will find the most important stage in Norway. The building dates from 1899 and is quite beautiful inside and out with a mix of baroque and rococo elements. The statue fronting the theater is of Henrik Ibsen, considered to be the father of modern theater and probably the most famous Norwegian.

Henrik Ibsen, the father of modern theater and the world's most famous Norwegian, stands guard at the National Theater.

City Hall: From the theater it is an easy two-block walk toward the waterfront to see the impressive home of the city government. City Hall was a built between 1931 and 1950 in what was then the very modern style of Functionalism, with a plain brick design that looks like three large, plain boxes. At first the public did not care for this structure, which clashed with the rest of Oslo's more sophisticated design, but over time it has been accepted and stands as one of the city's most recognizable symbols.

Most famously, the Nobel Peace Prize is awarded here each December. Underneath the exterior arcades you will notice scenes carved in wood depicting Norse mythology.

The Harbor: City Hall faces the harbor, where there is a large restaurant mall, historic sights and excursion boat services. Here you will find Aker Brygge, where a shipyard that stood until the 1970s has now been transformed into a wonderful place to have a meal, do a little shopping and take a stroll along the waterfront.

Akershus Castle: On the other side of the harbor, you will see this imposing structure, which is Oslo's oldest and most historic attraction, built between 1299 and 1319. A 10-minute walk along the waterfront brings you up the fort's ramparts, which offer a lovely view back across the harbor. You can stroll the grounds for free, but it is worth time and money for an interior visit, guided by a costumed expert who can fill you in on much of the royal history.

The fortress has been attacked, rebuilt and expanded many times, so little of the original structure remains, but the existing complex is still fascinating. The rugged, stone walls had been painted white at one time but now have an earthy, organic appearance. In addition to guarding the city from attack for five centuries, it also served as a royal residence, so the interior is regally furnished. The castle was greatly expanded by Christian IV, who ruled Denmark and Norway from 1588 to 1648.

The Norwegian Resistance Museum is also on the grounds of the Akershus Fortress, depicting the struggle against the Nazis during World War II, when Norway was occupied for five years. Norwegians actively fought against the Germans and put their merchant fleet to work for the Allies.

Walk along the waterfront behind Akershus Castle to take a look at the fort's ramparts and the view across the harbor.

Old Town: Oslo's oldest buildings cover several blocks between the fortress and the Parliament. This part of town offers a pleasant place for a stroll, with shops, restaurants, a couple of modern art museums and historic buildings.

Oslo was destroyed by a fire in 1624 that burned the wooden village to the ground in a single day. King Christian IV required all new houses be built with stone or brick to make them fireproof. The king also decided to rebuild the town closer to the fortress.

The king personally designed the new town's layout, with wide streets that follow the same grid pattern we see today -- when he wasn't busy fathering 23 children and ruling Denmark. A defensive wall was built around the city, but the initial population of 3,000 grew so quickly that after 70 years the wall had to be removed to make room for expansion. The king renamed the city after himself, and it was known as Christiania for 300 years until it was renamed Oslo in 1925.

Follow the main street of this neighborhood, Radhusgata, to find several of Oslo's oldest existing structures, including Radmannsgarden, the town's earliest house, built in 1626, and adjacent to it, the Anatomigarden, a half-timbered building that was part of the early university. They are now the site of a cafe and art gallery. Across the street is Garmannsgarden, which was built in 1641 and served as City Hall from 1733 to 1843. Today it houses the Theater Museum. Two blocks down Radhusgata at No. 11 is the well-preserved Vice Regent's Manor, now one of the town's most deluxe restaurants, Stattholdergarden.

Cathedral Square: When finished with this old section, walk a couple of blocks inland to the Oslo Cathedral, the Domkirche, built in 1697. Today it sits along Karl Johan Gate, two blocks from the train station.

Stortorvet Square in front often hosts a colorful flower market, and across the street is Oslo's best department store, Glas Magasinet, noted for high-quality glass works.

Stables that once circled this square have been converted into attractive shops and cafes. Another pedestrian mall, Torggata, extends three blocks into another nice shopping area.

The Vigeland Park Monolith is a 55-foot stone obelisk featuring 121 larger-than-life, writhing nudes carved into a single piece of granite.

Day Two City tour, shopping districts
and two museums

Bus tour: The two-hour bus tour with a local guide complements the walking itinerary, taking you to a couple of important sights on the edge of town -- the ski jump and Frogner Park. You do not need the longer version of the bus tour, which take you on to Bygod Peninsula, because those visits are better done on your own tomorrow morning when Folklore Park is less crowded.

Several companies provide bus tours of Oslo with similar itineraries and options. Generally, the tour begins around 10 a.m. in front of City Hall, although you can make arrangements to be picked up at or near your hotel. On Drammnensveien street is the American Embassy, a dramatic Eero Saarinen building facing the Royal Gardens and palace. The Arch in St. Louis was also designed by this great Finnish architect. Across the street is the Nobel Institute, a bright yellow building with a bust of Alfred Nobel, the Swede who endowed the annual prizes.

Ski jump: The first competition at Holmenkollen, in 1892, used the natural slope. Then a wooden jump was built, followed by a concrete tower for the 1952 Winter Olympics, which was later extended to the high jump we see today. It's frightening just to look at this launching pad; imagine leaping over the edge and flying 100 yards to land in the snow!

Ski jumping is the most dangerous of winter sports, but skiing itself is an old Norway tradition -- not as a sport, but as a basic way to travel; most of the country is covered with snow half the year. Cross-country skiing is enjoyed by Norwegians of all ages, and downhill racing is the national sport.

Vigeland Sculpture Park: The park is often described as Oslo's top attraction, so it should not be missed. It features an amazing collection of 200 statues by Gustav Vigeland. Even those who don't care for statues will find this a worthwhile expedition because his subjects are people and human emotions, which have universal appeal. The pastoral setting enhances the experience. Gustav Vigeland (1869-1943) is little known outside of Norway because few of his pieces left the country, so the viewer will be surprised and delighted by the genius of his breathtaking work that took 40 years to complete.

You approach the statues through a beautiful park of broad green lawns lined with poplar trees, then reach a bridge that is home to 58 bronze nudes showing powerful emotions through body language and facial expression. The most famous piece along the south side of the bridge is the Angry Boy, his face contorted with rage and little fists clenched in fury. Or look at the mother and daughter with their backs toward each other in disagreement, or the father and boy happily playing together.

A crescendo is reached at the center of the park with the great Fountain, supported by six giants representing the ages of man. Towering above it all is the Monolith, a 55-foot stone obelisk featuring 121 larger-than-life, writhing nudes carved into a single piece of granite. Craftsmen worked under the artist's supervision for 14 years, transferring 1 million measurements from his model to transform a 270-ton granite block into this amazing totem pole of the human condition.

Vigeland did not discuss or explain his work, but rather invites viewers to make their own interpretations.

Oslo is just 1 mile long and a half-mile wide and filled with typical European sights, including this fountain.

Another shopping area: The bus tour ends with a transfer back to Oslo's center, but you might want to leave the tour at Vigeland Park and continue to explore this attractive neighborhood on your own. A major shopping district begins here, and you could also visit the nearby Vigeland Museum, built by the city for the artist to use as his home and workshop.

If you're interested in exploring another major shopping district, you might prefer walking from here along Bogstadveien street, a busy retail artery that continues a half-mile back to the Royal Palace. Return to the town center on Tram 12 or 15, or Bus 20, or on the metro from Majorstuen station.

Somewhat amazing for a city of just a half-million, Oslo has five different metro lines and eight tram lines, providing a total of 16 urban rail routes, plus 50 more routes covered by bus. There is also a commuter train system, with connections countrywide. Taxis are available but slightly expensive.

National Gallery and Historical Museum: Late afternoon is an excellent time to visit Oslo's two major museums for art and history, free and worth at least an hour each.

The National Gallery is the country's most important art museum, with an excellent collection of important European paintings filling 60 rooms on three floors. You'll be delighted by the sampling of works by French artists including Manet, Renoir, Cézanne, Gauguin and Matisse, along with several rooms of Old Masters from Renaissance and Baroque times, including works by Velasquez and El Greco.

One room is filled with some of the best work of Edvard Munch, Norway's most important artist, chiefly famous for "The Scream," which is hanging here. Several other versions of this iconic work are on display across town at the Munch Museum, a must for art lovers.

The Historical Museum, one block away, covers the evolution of culture from the Stone Age through the Middle Ages, then continues the human story with an Ethnographic Collection, exhibiting artifacts from the Arctic, Africa and the Americas. As one might expect, the Viking section is especially interesting: Horned helmets, battle axes, farming implements, swords, boats, gold jewelry and hundreds of other fascinating items depict the culture of those ancient Norwegians who thrived here from 780 through 1050.

Edvard Munch's "The Scream" can be viewed at the National Gallery and Historical Museum.

Residential stroll: If you would like to see Oslo's few remaining old wooden homes and a peaceful residential neighborhood, head toward the old cemetery, Var Freisers Gravlund. Two streets, Damstredet and Telthusbakken, at each end of the graveyard are lined with wooden homes and are quite scenic. While there, have a look at the Gamle Aker Kirke, the oldest church in Scandinavia, dating from 1100.

Boat ride: A scenic boat ride from the docks in front of City Hall provides a leisurely afternoon activity. Several companies offer a variety of routes, ranging from a simple hour-long loop through the harbor to a three-hour sailboat cruise, complete with a prawn buffet. The lively waterfront Aker Brygge complex would be a perfect place to end the day.

Day Three Bygod Peninsula Museums
and Munch

Start your day with a 10-minute ferry ride from the docks in front of City Hall across the harbor to the Bygod Peninsula, where you will find several outstanding museums. Alternatively, you could get out here nearly as fast on Bus 30.

Norwegian Folk Museum: Imagine traveling back to the 19th century and seeing all of Norway in one small park, with original farmhouses, country manors, village centers and local experts dressed in authentic costumes to tell you about it. This is what you will find at the Norwegian Folk Museum, one of Europe's largest open-air museums, with 150 original buildings moved here from all regions of Norway.

It is best to arrive when the park opens at 9 a.m. to beat the crowds and walk through the grounds, getting your bearings and taking plenty of pictures. The buildings open at 10 a.m. for interior visits with the guides, who you can have all to yourself before the main crowds show up around midday. Stick around for lunch, then catch the 2 p.m. folk dance show and you have made a great day of it, with enough time left to see a couple more museums.

Each building cluster has a knowledgeable guide who will entertain you with a tour of the property, demonstrate some crafts and answer questions. You might see a blacksmith in action, taste freshly baked goods or watch goats and pigs being fed. Interior visits of each site show you traditional furniture, kitchen utensils and domestic items that offer a glimpse of traditional culture. Tour guides often share stories about the buildings' former inhabitants, bringing the nation's history to life.

The grounds are naturally landscaped to re-create rural ambience. Each building complex is separated from the others by trees and pastures, with winding dirt paths connecting everything efficiently, so you will be able to get around with minimal effort.

Nearly all the park's buildings are made of wood. This gives an earthy appearance to the design that is greatly enhanced by sod roofs on many of the houses. It creates a Hobbit-like atmosphere where it looks as if the structures have somehow grown organically out of the ground. The grassy roofs insulated the homes and were carefully cultivated, growing on top of several layers of birch-bark shingles that waterproofed the building and kept the interior warm in winter and cool in summer. Two layers of sod were put together, one growing up and the other down, with the roots mingling in the middle so they did not damage the wood structure. This natural matting would last many years before it needed to be replaced.

City Hall was a built between 1931 and 1950 in what was then the modern style of Functionalism.

Lovers of arts and crafts will be especially delighted by the Old Town center where the artisans have their workshops, demonstrating traditional skills and selling products made on site. This includes a silversmith, weavers, candle makers and especially the Pottery, which has been part of the park for 50 years.

Folk dance performances take place at 2 p.m. daily in the outdoor amphitheater. Another nice time to catch traditional folk music and dancing is at the special Norwegian Evening event, beginning at 5:30 p.m. Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays, and which also includes a guided walk through the park and a light meal. The evening event would be fine if you cannot get here during the day, but you will not be able to see the whole park this way.

Viking Ship Museum: From the park, walk about 10 minutes to the museum, or wait for the city bus to bring you there. This small museum is another of Oslo's treasures, containing two large Viking ships and artifacts accompanied by informative descriptions. For a quick look for free, you could enter the lobby and walk up onto the balcony above the gift shop, but the museum is well worth a close examination of this incredible culture.

Other nautical-themed museums on the peninsula to consider: the Kon-Tiki Museum, which not only documents Thor Heyerdahl's dubious theories about Polynesian origins in South America, but showcases some interesting artifacts from Easter Island, where he did some useful archaeology; and the Norwegian Maritime Museum, which documents the history of seafaring, from hollow logs to the present. All but the most nautically minded should consider skipping these museums and walk back to the ferry dock at Dronningen for the 10-minute trip back to City Hall. You have a few remaining afternoon hours for walking, shopping or one more great museum.

The Viking Ship Museum boasts two historical ships.

Munch Museum: Art lovers would thoroughly enjoy a pilgrimage to this museum, which has about 1,000 of the artist's paintings displayed in rotation in a large, modern building that opened in 1963. It is beyond walking distance but easily reached by Bus 20 or metro to Toyen. If you are just getting off the ferry at City Hall, take the tram from there to the main train station, and connect to the bus or subway.

It's ironic that Edvard Munch is best known for just one painting, "The Scream," and yet the rest of his pictures, laced with existential anxiety, show the same skilled hand at work.

By now the day is nearly done and you will be looking for dinner and perhaps a last crack at the shops, so head back to the main stretch along Karl Johans Gate.

Beyond Oslo: Oslo is a great city, but Norway is even more famous for its rugged natural beauty, with steep mountains, deep fjords, incredible offshore islands and vast arctic wilderness. After completing three days in the city, consider exploring more of this vast nation, especially Bergen and the west coast fjords. You could head to Bergen, described as "Norway in a Nutshell," which includes a train ride through Alpine meadows, a rack-rail ride down to Flam, then a boat ride through Sognefjord, one of the world's longest and steepest fjords, arriving in Bergen for the evening.

Following a day in Bergen, you could board a cruise ship for a five-day journey north along the rugged, mountainous west coast of Norway, stopping at small towns several times daily for brief visits. You can cruise one-way and fly back, or sign on for a full 11-day round trip that covers 2,500 miles and stops at 34 ports, towns and fishing villages on what they like to call "The World's Most Beautiful Voyage."

Dennis Callan is president of the Hawaii Geographic Society and produces the "World Traveler" TV series, airing 6 to 7 p.m. Mondays on 'Olelo, Oceanic channel 52. He frequently leads tours through Europe, Canada and the United States, and writes "Three Days in ..." the first Sunday monthly explaining how to get the most out of three days in the world's great places. This is his 32nd article in a series, available on his Web site,


If you go ...

Here are a few places to stay and eat while in Oslo. To call from the United States, dial the prefix 011-47 before the phone numbers listed:


Grand Hotel: 31 Karl Johans Gate; my favorite: Call 23 21 20 00; e-mail; Web:
Hotel Bristol: 7 Kristian IV's Gate; call 22 82 60 00; e-mail Web:
Continental Hotel: 24 Stortings Gate; call 22 82 40 00; e-mail Web:
City Hotel: 19 Skippergate; call 22 41 36 10; e-mail Web:


Blom: 41 Karl Johans Gate; call 22 42 73 00.
Bristol Grill: 7 Kristian IV's Gate; call 22 82 60 20.
Grand Café: 31 Karl Johans Gate; call 22 42 93 90.
Stattholdergarden: 11 Radhusgata; call 22 41 88 00.
Stortorvets Gjestgiveri: 1 Grensen; call 23 35 63 60.
Theatercafeen: 24 Stortingsgaten; call 22 82 40 50.


Munch Museum: Tøyengata 53; open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesdays to Fridays and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekends. Admission: $10. Get there by metro to Toyen, or Bus 20. Web:
Norwegian Folk Museum: Museumsveien 10; open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily. Admission: $9.50. Get there by Bus 30 or Ferry 91. Web:
National Gallery: Universitetsgata 13; open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. week days except Tuesdays when it's closed, and Thursday, when it's open until 8 p.m. Also, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays, and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sundays. Free admission. Web:
Historical Museum: Frederiks gate 2; open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesdays to Sundays. Free admission. Web:
Akershus Castle: Akershus festning; open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Mondays to Saturdays and 12:30 to 4 p.m. Sundays. Admission: $5. Free admission to Fortress grounds, open 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily. Get there via Tram No. 10 or 12. Web:
The Kon-Tiki Museum: Bygdøynesveien 36; open 9:30 a.m. to 5:45 p.m. daily. Admission: $6. Web:
The Viking Ship Museum: Huk Aveny 35; open 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily. Admission: $7. Access: Bus no. 30, Ferry No. 91. Web:
Vigeland Museum: Nobels gate 32; open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesdays to Saturdays and noon to 6 p.m. Sundays. Admission: $7. Get there via Tram 12 or 15. Web:

Tour companies and services

Oslo Official Tourist Information Office: 5 Fridtjof Nansens plass. Call 47 24 14 77;
Batservice Sightseeing: Call 47-23 35 68 90;
Fjord Tours: Call 815 68 222;
Hop on/Hop off, Oslo Pride:

Other Web sites


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