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OSLO, NORWAY

One of the best features of Oslo, Norway, is its setting. Located at the base of the Oslo Fjord, the city extends up the mountains that surround it on three sides. The city's cultural center is downtown, right on the water. Oslo is easy to navigate and so compact that you can walk almost everywhere.

Oslo was once considered the sleepy cousin of Stockholm and Copenhagen, but it has finally come into its own, with cultural and entertainment possibilities that rival those of cities many times its size.

For those who love the outdoors, Oslo has more than 1,550 mi of hiking and skiing trails within the city limits, and there's a good view at almost every turn. Don't let the climate scare you: It's not as cold as you might expect. Norway's coast is bathed in warm water thanks to the Gulf Stream. Although winter temperatures can be chilly, summers bring pleasantly warm days (up to 75 degrees F), cool evenings and a sun that doesn't set until around 11 pm—giving visitors even more time to spend outdoors.

According to the United Nations, Oslo enjoys one of the highest standards of living in the world, partly because of the discovery of substantial oil and gas deposits in the late 1960s. The United Nations has consistently named Norway the best place in the world to live. The capital city's public transport, clean water, access to nature, low crime rate and superb medical service in no small way contribute to this. Oslo also regularly tops the list of the most expensive cities in the world.

GEOGRAPHY

Oslo curves around the innermost shore of the Oslo Fjord. It is surrounded by forests to the west, north and east and covers approximately 175 sq mi.

Oslo's center is compact, with the main railway station (Sentralstasjon) serving as its eastern edge and the royal palace as its western. The main street, Karl Johans gate, connects the two. Other popular sights are on the Bygdoy Peninsula, which juts out into the fjord, southwest of the city center.

HIGHLIGHTS

Sights—The supreme city view from the marble-slated roof of the Den Norske Opera; the scenic grounds of Akershus Slott; the art-deco murals at Oslo Raadhus; the more than 200 unique sculptures in the Vigelandsparken.

Museums—Burial ships at the Vikingskipshuset; the fabulous Kon-Tiki Museet, which contains Thor Heyerdahl's famous vessel; impressive contemporary art at the Oslo's Astrup Fearnley Museet, located in a landmark building on the edge of the fjord.

Memorable Meals—A traditional Norwegian lunch buffet; soaking up the atmosphere at Theatercafeen;  choosing from an array of Norwegian specialities and gourmet snacks at Oslo's indoor food market.

Walks—A wander along Akerselva, the city's historic river; exploring Oslomarka; strolling down Karl Johans gate, Oslo's Champs-Elysee; exploring the Ekeberg Parken Sculpture Park and finishing with a glass of white wine on the terrace of the Ekeberg Restaurant, taking in the wonderful views of Oslo and the fjord.

Especially for Kids—Summer and weekend activities at the Norsk Folkemuseum; TusenFryd amusement park; ice skating at Spikersuppa Kunstisbane, the seasonal skating rink by Karl Johans gate; the beaches of the Oslofjord islands.

DINING

Traditional Norwegian food consists of hearty soups, meat-and-potato entrees, and seafood such as lutefisk (dried cod marinated in water and lye), smoked herring and salmon. Oslo now has several Michelin-starred restaurants.

Eating out in Norway can be expensive, but you will find that it is the wine that contributes to the largest part of your bill. In a less expensive restaurant, the house wine may be around 250 NKr and can escalate to unmentionable prices for fine wines.

Generally, breakfast is served before 10 am, and lunch is 11 am-3 pm. Be sure to try the brown cheese—it's eaten in thin slices on dark bread spread with butter. Norwegians usually take a bag lunch to work, so there are fewer lunch options, though you will find some downtown.

Locals dine out infrequently, preferring instead to go home early to their families. When they do dine out, most Norwegians prefer to eat in the early evening, but most restaurants are open for dinner until 10 or 11 pm.

Smoking is banned in all restaurants and bars.

 
 

HISTORY

Oslo was first settled around AD 900 by Vikings who built small wooden houses at the foot of a hill in what is now called Gamlebyen (Old Town). Viking King Harald Hardraade's castle was there, and the remains of two churches and a bishop's residence from that time can still be seen. At the end of the 13th century, King Haakon V Magnusson started work on Akershus Castle at the base of the Oslo Fjord.

When and how Oslo got its name is uncertain, and the meaning is ambiguous, as well. "Os" refers either to a long, narrow hill or to a Norse god, and "lo" translates as field. So, Oslo means either "the field below the hill" or "the field of a god."

After a fire destroyed the city in 1624, Danish-Norwegian King Christian IV ordered the town rebuilt in brick and stone behind Akershus Castle. He renamed the city Christiania, after himself, and oversaw construction of many buildings in what is still the cultural center of the city—called Kvadraturen (the grid).

After a short period of independence from Denmark in the early 1800s, Norway entered into a union with Sweden that lasted until 1905. The city was named the capital of newly independent Norway, and its name was changed back to Oslo in 1925.

During World War II, Germans occupied the city for five years. After the war, Oslo expanded on a small scale. The city's economy did not take off until the late 1960s, when oil was discovered in the North Sea. Although the main oil town is Stavanger, on the west coast, many oil and construction companies have their main offices in Oslo. More than 40 years after the discovery of North Sea oil, Oslo has become a wealthy city with all the advantages and occasional problems that involves. Oil still drives the Norwegian economy.

 

 

SIGHTSEEING

Start your exploration of the city by walking along the main street, Karl Johans gate, which bustles with activity in the summer. At the top of Karl Johans gate is the royal palace, where you can watch the changing of the guard daily at 1:30 pm. Halfway down the street is the Oslo Cathedral, with its cluster of medieval-style shops. At the bottom of the street, you'll find the main railroad station (Sentralstasjon).

For a worthwhile detour, take the clearly signposted walkway from the station to the nearby Oslo Opera House. The white marble-and-granite building appears to rise out of the water like a sparkling glacier, and it is the only opera house in the world where you can walk on the roof where you will enjoy sweeping views of the city, the fjord and surrounding islands.

Don't miss the Vigeland Sculpture Park, home to nearly 200 statues created by Gustav Vigeland. The wrought-iron gates to the park are open all day, so you can visit it long after other city attractions have closed. The ski jump at Holmenkollen is also a popular attraction.

The Munch Museum and the National Gallery both display a great number of works by Munch. The attractions at Bygdoy are also worth a visit, particularly the Viking Ship Museum (1,000-year-old ships that look almost modern) and the polar ship Fram, which took Norwegian explorers to both the Arctic and the Antarctic.  Also make sure to get a close look at the medieval stave church at the Norwegian Folk Museum. Bus 30 will take you to the museums at Bygdoy, and a ferry travels there from City Hall in summer.

Consider purchasing an Oslo Pass, which grants admission to many museums, as well as unlimited use of the public transportation system, among other perks. It's a great way to save money in this expensive city. You'll find the card at most hotels, the Oslo Central Station and the Tourist Information Center. You can also buy it online at http://www.visitoslo.com/en/activities-and-attractions/oslo-pass.

POTPOURRI

The Norwegian government is very protective of its citizens. This manifests itself in a number of ways, but the strict alcohol-purchasing laws stand out the most. Supermarkets may not sell beverages with an alcohol content that exceeds 4.75% by volume. Anything stronger is sold at state-run stores (called Vinmonopolet). Liquor is heavily taxed, and the government only imports wines of a certain standard. This means that there is no cheap "plonk" on the shelves. Beer in supermarkets can be purchased 8 am-8 pm Monday-Saturday. No sales on Sunday.

Norway is a casual country, and people respect the privacy of the royal family. King Harald's sisters stand in line at the fishmonger with everyone else, and Crown Prince Haakon is frequently seen in restaurants and at rock concerts. Former King Olav often spoke with the children at The International School, located one block from the palace.

Norway, Iceland and Switzerland are the only western European countries that have not joined the European Union. Norway has held two referenda on the matter (in 1972 and 1994).

Norway may be a big oil producer, but that doesn't mean that gas is inexpensive. Statoil, the Norwegian state oil company, doesn't give price breaks at its pumps.

SCHEDULE A CALL WITH DARLA

DOS & DON'TS

Don't use the name "Lapp" or "Laplander" for the Sami people—they find it derogatory.

Don't be surprised if someone whizzes past you on a bicycle on the sidewalk, as the law allows this.

Do take your shoes off when entering the home of a Norwegian friend. It is considered correct behavior, especially in the wet and winter seasons.

Do take your kids to Norway. The country prides itself on being child-friendly. Most Oslo restaurants have special menus for children that include fruity milk shakes, and even walking tracks in the forests are suited for strollers.

Don't order a bottle of mineral water in a Norwegian restaurant. It's expensive, and tap water is served free—without any raised eyebrows—and is usually of better quality.

Don't litter. Norwegians are especially conscientious when it comes to keeping their land clean.

Do remember tips are not mandatory. Wait staff in restaurants are paid relatively well in Norway. It is more common to round up to the nearest 10 NKr.

Don't be late. Norwegians tend to be punctual in both business and social settings.

Do keep it informal. There are very few differences between classes in Norway, the dress code is relaxed, and people refer to each other on a first-name basis.

GEOSTATS

Passport/Visa Requirements: Citizens of the U.S. need passports but not visas. Proof of onward passage and sufficient funds needed for all. Reconfirm travel document requirements with carrier before departure.

Population: 593,045.

Languages: Norwegian, but almost everyone speaks some English.

Predominant Religions: Christian (Evangelical Lutheran).

Time Zone: 1 hour ahead of Greenwich Mean Time (+1 GMT). Daylight Saving Time is observed from the last Sunday in March to the last Sunday in October.

Voltage Requirements: 220 volts. 50 Hz. Adapter plugs and converters should be purchased prior to arrival.

Telephone Codes: 47, country code. No city code required;

Travel 42

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Courtesy of: Darla Logsdon

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