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Oslo, Norway

Introduction

Oslo, Norway - Opera House
Oslo Opera House

Oslo is the capital and largest city of Norway, but many visitors give the city little time as they attempt to escape the high prices of the capital in exchange for fjord country. However, the capital is home to some of the country's best museums, restaurants, and architecture and is worth your time. The city is home to about 900,000 people, with the greater area being home to about 1.4 million people, however Oslo is one of the fastest growing cities in Europe. This growth is primarily due to immigrants and Norwegians from the country moving to the capital for work as Oslo is the country's leader in banking, shipping, insurance, industry, trade, and many other political and economic sectors.

Oslo sits at the end of the Oslofjord, which makes the city quite protected from the North Sea, yet it has easy access to it (although parts of the fjord can freeze in the winter months). The city is bordered by these waters and by rising lands inland, which make expansion difficult. Despite the limited area, over half the city is protected lands covered with forests and lakes. Sitting close to the North Sea, temperature extremes in Oslo are somewhat muted as the water makes winters a bit warmer and summers a bit cooler.

History & Background

Oslo was founded in the 1000s, although people surely lived in the region prior to the founding of the city at this time. The city didn't grow in power for much of its early history as there were numerous other cities of wealth and after Denmark took over Norway the city fell too close to Denmark to gain much power.

The city began to rise in power when King Haakon V (reigned: 1299-1319) moved the capital to Oslo and built the Akershus Castle to protect the city. During this time the city slightly grew in power and influence, but Norway's trading center was the Hanseatic League city of Bergen; during this time Oslo struggled to complete with the Hanseatic League in the way of trade. Despite holding political power, Oslo truly served as Norway's second city for much of this time.

Oslo suffered further when Denmark and Norway united under the Kalmar Union in 1380. This union shifted political power to Copenhagen, Denmark as economic power in Norway remained in Bergen. Oslo again failed to grow significantly during this time and was hit with fires, the plague, and other set-backs that made the city's growth a slow process from this time through the 1500s. Oslo also later lost its status as capital of Norway.

In 1624 much of the city burned to the ground so the city center was shifted slightly and re-named Kristiana (or Christiana) after the king who re-built the city, King Christian IV. Unfortunately, little else changed as Bergen continued to control the country's economy and Denmark maintained control over the political scene.

The 1700s began the upswing for Oslo as Norway and their allies won the Great Northern War against Sweden. This war required ships and Oslo's ship-building industry exploded and continued to thrive after the war. This economic growth and gain in power eventually put the city in a position to serve as the capital in the early 1800s.

In 1814 the Kalmar Union ended and Norway fell under the rule of Sweden. This move led to the official shifting of the capital to Oslo and the beginning of the city's growth. The new government (which existed, but still fell under Swedish rule), began to build their new capital with governmental buildings, such as the Royal Palace and Parliament, a university, houses, and commercial buildings. The city also began to rapidly expand as it became both the political and economic center of the country as by the mid-1800s Oslo had surpassed Bergen in population.

Changes continued in the 1900s as Norway gained independence from Sweden in 1905 and in 1925 the city was re-named Oslo, which was its historic name. In more recent decades the city has grown as a modern city. Sky scrapers have been built, political power and public institutions are centered in the city, and the city has become the country's transportation hub. Although signs of the past exist, due to the city's recent growth Oslo appears and feels very modern.

Oslo Today

Oslo is not just a modern city today, Oslo is a leading city in the modern and post-modern movements, both in architecture as well as in other realms. The city has an incredible infrastructure and skyline as every modern amenity is easily accessible, although you may have to pay a lot to access them.

The capital is also home to a thriving arts scene as museums, performances, and other forms of architecture are all popular among locals and foreigners alike. This scene creates a sense of prestige and high culture that is also apparent as the city is home to the Nobel Peace Prize. Despite this, the city rarely feels inaccessible or out of reach.

Oslo is also constantly on the move and always changing as the universities draw students from throughout the country, the government and government-run programs bring in a large educated population for work, and the social and welfare benefits offered by the government attract numerous foreigners who settle in the city as they struggle to find work and a new life. It seems Oslo is a city on the move and in constant motion focused more on future progress than on past successes, an attitude that perhaps contributes to the accessibility of the city and its people.

However, the progress, technology, social benefits, and the large number of goods that must be imported make Oslo one of the world's most expensive cities. Despite the expense, the city has numerous jobs in various fields which pay well so most locals make a lot, but also must pay a lot for housing, food, transportation, etc. For the tourist the expense become quickly apparent as few people have a salary suited for life in Oslo.

Historical & Architectural Sights

Akershus Castle & Fortress (Akershus Festning): This fortress and former military stronghold from the 1200s offers incredible buildings, museums, and a great view of the harbor. For more information visit their website at: www.forsvarsbygg.no/festningene/ (Norwegian only).

Nobel Peace Center (Nobels Fredssenter): This building is the home of the Nobel Peace Prize and it houses a museum honoring all past laureates, information about the award's founder, Alfred Nobel, and other displays about peace and war. The award itself is not presented here though, it is presented in Oslo Town Hall. For more information visit their website at: www.nobelpeacecenter.org/en/.

Norwegian Opera House (Operahuset): This post-modern building appears to be an iceberg to the trained eye and to others is perhaps the most visually stunning man-made structure in all of Norway. Most visitors only picnic on the slowly slanting roof, but inside the building is home to world class operas, ballets, and other performing arts. For more information visit their website at: www.operaen.no/en/.

Oslo, Norway - Parliment (Stortinget)
Parliment (Stortinget)

Parliament (Stortinget): The Parliament building stands in the center of Oslo and serves as the home to the legislative body in Norway. It is also available for tours to the public. For more information visit their website at: www.stortinget.no/en/In-English/.

Royal Palace (Slottet): The royal palace (1824-1848) is centered in the middle of Oslo and is home to the royal family. It is also available for tours to the public. For more information visit their website at: www.royalcourt.no.

Museums, Arts, & Entertainment

Fram Museum (Frammuseet): This museum houses the ship, "Fram," which is one of the most famous polar ships. Visitors can actually step on board the ship to understand how the people lived on polar expeditions. For more information visit their website at: www.frammuseum.no.

National Gallery (Nasjonalgalleriet): A part of the National Museums (Nasjonalmuseet), this museum is Norway's largest art museum as it's home to paintings, drawings, and sculptures. The most famous of its paintings is "The Scream," by Edvard Munch, also recognized by Guinness World Records™ as being the most stolen painting of all time. For more information visit their website at: www.nasjonalmuseet.no/en/venues/the_national_gallery/.

National Museum of Contemporary Art: A part of the National Museums (Nasjonalmuseet), this museum hosts a number of visual art pieces from the past century and often has rotating exhibits. For more information visit their website at: www.nasjonalmuseet.no/en/venues/museum_of_contemporary_art/.

Natural History Museum (Naturhistorisk museum): This museum is also home to botanical gardens, a zoological museum, and a museum filled with geological items, including rocks and minerals. For more information visit their website at: www.nhm.uio.no/english/.

Norwegian Museum of Science, Technology, and Medicine (Norsk Teknisk Museum): This hands-on museum is great for children as most of the displays are interactive and educational. For more information visit their website at: www.tekniskmuseum.no/ (Norwegian only).

Norwegian Opera House (Operahuset): This post-modern building appears to be an iceberg to the trained eye and to others is perhaps the most visually stunning man-made structure in all of Norway. Most visitors only picnic on the slowly slanting roof, but inside the building is home to world class operas, ballets, and other performing arts. For more information visit their website at: www.operaen.no/en/.

Oslo, Norway - Oseberg in the Viking Ship Museum
Oseberg in the Viking Ship Museum

Vigelandsparken Sculpture Park (Vigelandsanlegget): This huge park (which is a part of Frogner Park) features over 200 sculptures by Gustav Vigeland and is a center of modern art as locals and tourists alike flock to this public park. For more information visit their website at: www.vigeland.museum.no/en/vigeland-park.

Viking Ship Museum (Vikingskipshuset på Bygdøy): The highlight of this museum is the two well-preserved Viking ships from the 800s, but it also offers an insight into the Viking way of life and culture as it displays tools, carvings, and clothing among other items. For more information visit their website at: www.khm.uio.no/english/visit-us/viking-ship-museum/.

Sports, Activities, & Parks

Holmenkollen Ski Jump & Museum (Holmenkollbakken): This ski jump offers more than just the jump itself, this area offers great views of the city of Oslo and the world's oldest ski museum, a fitting attraction for the country that invented ski jumping and many other winter sports. For more information visit their website at: www.holmenkollen.com/eng.

Tusen Fryd (Tusenfryd): This is Norway's largest and most popular amusement park as it boasts water rides, roller coasters, and other games and rides; the park is only open from April to October. For more information visit their website at: www.tusenfryd.no/eng.

Vigelandsparken Sculpture Park (Vigelandsanlegget): This huge park (which is a part of Frogner Park) features over 200 sculptures by Gustav Vigeland and is a center of modern art as locals and tourists alike flock to this public park. For more information visit their website at: www.vigeland.museum.no/en/vigeland-park.

Areas & Neighborhoods of Interest

The Government Quarter (Regjeringskvartalet) is a cluster of government buildings near Parliament. Although few of these buildings stand out from an architectural perspective, the area is the center of Norway's political scene.

Transportation

Transportation options from Oslo are numerous as the capital is also Norway's largest transportation hub. SAS Airlines has a hub in Oslo and from here there are daily flights to all large Norwegian cities and even many towns. Train routes in Norway are limited, but from Oslo trains travel to many large cities, including Bergen and some further afield, including Trondheim. Buses also service the country quite extensively and from Oslo you can get to nearly any city in Norway, although some bus routes take a long time to navigate the geography. Boat routes are more limited, but travel to some cities in Norway.

Like the domestic routes, Oslo is also the largest hub for international transportation routes. The airport services flights to dozens of countries throughout the world, although regional routes are more common as getting to any major European city is easy from Oslo's airport. Boats from Oslo primarily service locations in Denmark, but there are further routes as well. Bus and train routes from Oslo are primarily limited to traveling to Sweden.

Airport: Oslo has a few airports, but the largest is Gardermoen International Airport, which is located about 31 miles (50 kilometers) from the city's center. The airport code is OSL and the airport's website is: www.osl.no/en/osl. This airport is a hub for Scandinavian Airlines (SAS), Norwegian Air Shuttle, and Wilderoe.

Oslo is also home to a couple small regional airports, including Moss Airport, which is in the town of Rygge and serves numerous budget airlines. Its airport code is RYG and it is located about 40 miles (65 kilometers) from Oslo's city center. The airport's website is: www.en.ryg.no/). For the location of these airports or for directions, see the map below.

Train Station: Oslo's main train station is located on the center of town. For train times and schedules, their website is: www.nsb.no. For its location or directions, see the map below.

Bus Station: There are numerous private bus companies that service Oslo. There are a couple bus stations and stops, but the main bus station is located next to the train station and most long-haul bus routes begin or end here. For its location or directions, see the map below.

Local Transportation: Oslo has an extensive public transportation system, including a Metro (subway), buses, trams, and ferries. These services are run by Ruter; for times and prices, visit their website at: ruter.no/en/. There are also services from the airports to downtown. For more information on these services go to their website at: www.visitoslo.com/en/transport/transport-airport/.

Official Websites

City of Oslo: www.visitoslo.md
Kingdom of Norway: www.visitnorway.com

Map & Directions

This page was last updated: August, 2013