How to Spend 72 Magical Hours in Oslo, Norway
Our guest post from Jim at WINEtineraries looks at spending 72 hours in Oslo. Whether you’re going for a national holiday or a trip any time of year, here are some great ways to spend your days in Norway’s capital.
Sometimes the Stars Align…
It all started when Qatar Airlines offered 2-for-1 business class fares from Oslo (OSL) to Auckland, New Zealand (AKL) which included, at the time, the longest flight in the world (DOH to AKL). Unbelievably, at almost the exact same time, American Airlines put their JFK to OSL flights on sale for a few pennies over $400/person (the base fare was only $1.00!). So, my wife and I were on our way to Auckland by way of Oslo and had 72 hours to spend in the city.
See also: Review: SAS Lounge Oslo Airport
Constitution Day in Oslo!
The serendipity continued when it turned out that we would end up being in Oslo for Norway’s most festive national holiday – Constitution Day – May 17. The “Visit Norway” website describes Constitution Day as “a party like no other.”
Note: Although the details of any of the celebration-specific experiences below may change due to ever-evolving COVID-related conditions and restrictions, this guide is a description of Oslo’s traditional celebration of this holiday.
It’s important to understand that Constitution Day festivities start early in Oslo! The Women’s Choral Society of the University of Oslo – “the world’s oldest academic female choir and the world’s top-ranked women’s choir” – presents its first free performance in the Palace Park at 8:00am. Even before that, though, many residents come together for a potluck breakfast with friends and neighbors. There’s also a free afternoon outdoor concert on the grounds of the historic (see below) Akershus Fortress.
The highlight of Constitution Day is the Children’s Parade down Oslo’s main thoroughfare and past the Palace where the royal family greets them. More than 100,000 people — children from more than 120 schools, marching bands, and Norwegians decked out in their bunad (Norway’s traditional folk costumes which indicate one’s ancestry and can easily cost upwards of $3,000/outfit!) march for roughly 3 hours in this colorful spectacle. One of the traditions of Constitution Day is that children can eat as much ice cream as they want.
Party, Party, Party!
More than a coffee shop, not exactly a “restaurant,” Kulturhuset (literally, “culture house”) is a 3-story combination food hall, bar, game room, performance venue, and shared workspace open 19.5 hours/day on weekdays. Believing “when in Rome, do as the Romans do” to be culturally sound advice, we secured a reservation for Kulturhuset’s Constitution Day party.
It featured a DJ marathon and free popcorn all day long. The celebratory meal for the day was a “17th of May plank” (pictured here) – a selection of hors d’oeuvres including skagenrore (shrimp salad), French asparagus, Serrano ham, salami, cheeses, bread, crackers, apricot compote, and a garlic aioli. All washed down with a Norwegian Pilsner, of course.
Free Admission to an Inspiring Museum
The free world owes a debt of gratitude to a tiny handful of Norwegians who endured incredibly harsh conditions against staggering odds to sabotage Hitler’s atomic weapon development program. The story of their bravery is told in the Norway Resistance Museum which, fittingly, is located within the walls of Akershus Fortress where members of the Norwegian resistance were tortured and/or executed during the 1940-1945 Nazi occupation.
Using artifacts and dioramas, the visitor is led through a chronological description of German occupation and the underground communication which buoyed Norwegian spirits during this dark time. Normal admission prices are 100 Norwegian Kroner (NOK) for adults — a little more than $11– 60 NOK ($6.67) for seniors and students, and 40 NOK for children ($4.44). Admission fees are is waived on Constitution Day, though.
Tip: Before your visit, read up on the daring mission to cripple the Vemork hydroelectric plant on which the movie The Heroes of Telemark is based. Two good books are The Winter Fortress: The Epic Mission to Sabotage Hitler’s Atomic Bomb and Hunting the Nazi Bomb.
Getting from the airport to the heart of Oslo couldn’t be much easier. Oslo’s Airport Express Train (Flytoget) whisks you from the airport arrivals hall to Oslo S (Oslo’s Central Station) in just 20 minutes for 210 NOK ($23.36 USD/adult, half that for seniors 67+ and students). Travel is ticketless if you sign up for an account online. All you do is swipe the credit card you register (be sure to register a card that bonuses spend on train transportation) at the entrance and exit gates.
Where We Stayed
It’s difficult to beat the convenience and value of the Comfort Hotel Grand Central, which includes a breakfast buffet and can be booked with Choice Privileges points. This hotel is in Ostbanehallen (East Train Hall), a wing of Oslo S. Just follow the signs from the Flytoget stop at Oslo S to the Visitor’s Information Center; the hotel entrance is directly opposite.
If you continue walking straight instead of turning left into the hotel or right into the Visitor’s Information Center, you will exit onto a plaza featuring a giant tiger sculpture. This is the meeting spot for Oslo’s free walking tour (see below) and a major interchange (Jernbanetorget) for Oslo’s underground Metro, as well as above-ground tram and bus systems.
Other Lodging Options
The following properties can also be booked with hotel points. Interestingly, there is no Hilton property in Oslo, and the only Hyatt property is more than nine miles from the city center.
- Radisson Blu Plaza Hotel (4⭐️) – a 6-minute walk from Oslo S, turn right on Jernbanetorget after exiting.
- Best Western Plus City Hotel (3.5⭐️) – a 6-minute walk up the main pedestrian street from Oslo S.
For a more luxurious (and higher priced) stay, consider:
- Amerikalinjen (4⭐️) – the historic headquarters of Norwegian America Lines reborn as a boutique hotel, just 2 minutes from Oslo S.
- Grand Hotel Oslo (5⭐️) – Norway’s best-known and most prestigious hotel, a 10-minute walk up Oslo’s main pedestrian street from Oslo S.
What We Did for 72 Hours in Oslo
While Constitution Day was definitely the highlight of our visit, there’s more than enough to see and do in and around Oslo to fill a few days. Here are some additional highlights for spending 72 hours in Oslo.
Oslo Free Walking Tour
Free Tour Oslo (85% 5-star reviews on TripAdvisor) offers three tours per day. The English “city tour” starts at 10:00am every day. The gathering spot for the tour, conveniently, is by the tiger statue in the plaza in front of Ostbanehallen. The “city tour” includes stops at the Opera House, Akershus Fortress, City Hall, the National Theater, and the Parliament building.
There’s way more here than meets the eye – and there’s LOTS that meet the eye – in this magnificent public space! The world’s largest sculpture garden celebrating the work of a single artist, this park is a showcase for 212 bronze and granite sculptures by Norwegian sculptor Gustav Vigeland. The collection, dubbed “The Weirdest Statues in the World” by The Daily Mail, includes everything from a woman embracing a giant lizard to a naked man fighting flying babies and everything in between.
“Angry Boy,” one of the most popular pieces, portrays a toddler throwing a tantrum with amusing precision. The focal point of the park is “The Monolith,” a 46.33-foot-high pillar made up of 121 intertwined human figures representing the human desire to reach out to the Divine. Other intriguing features are less obvious, like the paving around “The Fountain” which, while appearing simply decorative, is actually an intricate labyrinth that can take hours to complete.
Tip: Take Tram #12 from in front of Oslo S to the Vigelandsparken stop for 39 NOK (adult and student) or 20 NOK (child or senior). That’s $4.34 and $2.23, respectively. Just make sure to travel in the right direction; with your back to the train station, the tram should be headed to your left. The tram stop for your return trip is on the same side of the street as the sculpture park itself. You can buy your tickets from the Visitor’s Center in the train station’s Ostbanehallen.
The Oslo “Cathedral” is not, as one might suspect from the name, Roman Catholic. It is the most important church affiliated with the Church of Norway, which was established in the 16th century during the Protestant Reformation. It is located along Karl Johan’s Gate (the main pedestrian street) between Jernbanetorget and the Royal Palace.
Oslo Cathedral is open Saturday through Thursday from 10am-4pm and on Fridays from 4pm to 6am Saturday morning. There is no admission, and printed guides in English are available in the entrance vestibule. Entrance is free, and guided tours can be arranged — minimum 2 months before you wish to visit. Worth noting are the stained-glass windows in the choir by Emanuel Vigeland (Gustav’s brother) and the brightly-painted ceilings.
The bronze relief entrance doors reflect themes from the Beatitudes in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:3-11) and depict ordinary people in dress contemporary to their completion in 1938.
All the Nobel Prizes are awarded in Stockholm – except the Peace Prize. This is awarded in Oslo each year on December 10, the day Alfred Nobel died in 1896. Nobel’s 355 patents, which included nitroglycerin detonators, blasting caps, and his most famous invention — dynamite — made him immensely wealthy. In 1888, a French newspaper which erroneously reported his death (it was really his brother Ludwig who had died) labeled Alfred a “merchant of death.”
Some believe reading his own obituary motivated Nobel to give the fortune he amassed to reward “…those who, during the preceding year, shall have conferred the greatest benefit on mankind” in the form of awards in the fields of physics, chemistry, medicine, and peace (economics was added later). Others contend it was Nobel’s long affection for and admiration of the peace activist Bertha von Suttner that is responsible for the establishment of the Peace Prize.
The Center has three exhibition spaces: one devoted to Nobel and the Peace Prize recipients, another featuring the work of the current year recipient in depth, and a third devoted to a topic of current interest.
Open every day from 10am-6pm, admission is 120 NOK for adults and 90 NOK for seniors and students ($13.36 or $10.02).
Tip: Free guided tours in English are available at 2pm on Saturdays and Sundays and are included in the price of entry. Plan your visit accordingly!
Be sure to book a guided tour of Oslo’s Opera House – an architectural and performance marvel! It’s not reviewed in depth above only because interior pictures are strictly prohibited.
Admission is 120 NOK for adults — about $13.36. Tours are at 1:00pm daily.
The new $723-million National Museum is scheduled to open on June 11, 2022, located near the Nobel Peace Center. It will gather the collections of the former National Gallery, the Museum of Contemporary Art, and the Norwegian Museum of Decorative Arts and Design under one roof. It will be the largest cultural center in all of Scandinavia.
Where We Ate
Restaurants in Oslo can be very expensive! Plan for that during your 72 hours in Oslo. The hors d’oeuvres plank pictured above at Kulturhuset and three bottles of beer set us back $77.83! That said, in addition to this spot, we especially enjoyed two restaurants:
I’m a sucker for a blue cheese burger, and Café Sara served a nice version with French fries for 179 NOK ($20.00). My wife thought the fish and chips dish – breaded cod with salad and french fries – for 159 NOK ($17.69) was among the best she’s ever tasted.
This is an Oslo mini-chain serving tapas. We ate at the one in the Aker Brygge commercial district adjacent to the wharf and right around the corner from the Nobel Peace Center. Considering the chain, this location “…is the most formal…and, by far, the largest,” featuring exposed brick walls, lofty ceilings, lots of glass, and outdoor dining. We ordered patatas bravas, steamed mussels and chorizo, fried chorizo and grilled Argentinean shrimp served with a chili-plum sauce served on a plank (is this a “thing” in Oslo?), along with two glasses of wine. Everything was delicious! Our bill came to the equivalent of $76.59.
Final Thoughts on 72 Hours in Oslo
If you’re heading to Oslo, Norway, here’s a look at how we spent 72 hours in the city. Hopefully, you came away with some good ideas for where to stay, where to eat, and what to do with your time — as well as how to get around.