Monday, September 16, 2013

Oslo, Norway

Executive summary by darmansjah

Located at the head of the Oslo-fjord inlet and hemmed in by miles of woodland, Oslo is the only European capital that offers hiking, kayaking, sailing and skiing within its city limits. It’s no cultural slouch either, with a vibrant café and bar scene and world-class museums showcasing local talents such as the artist Munch.

Oslo winters are long and harsh, with temperatures dropping to-25C and less than two hours of sunlight in December and January. May, June and July see the most sunlight and some of the city’s best festivals. They are the best months for many outdoor activities.

Singapore Airlines, Scandinavian Air and KLM fly to Oslo from Singapore, transiting in Amsterdam, London or Copenhagen. From K.L., fly Malaysian Airlines to Airlines to Oslo via Amsterdam. Boasting a reliable network of public transport, one can easily get around by trains, long distance express buses and local buses, as well as express passenger boats.

Designed by Oslo architectural firm Snohetta, the Opera House resembles a floating glacier. It’s at its most magical in the winter. In summer, you can sunbathe on the roof (00 47 2142 2121;  Kirsten Flagstads plass 1; 10am-11pm Mon-Fri; 11am-11pm Sat, noon-10pm sun; tours US$17).

Dominating the harbor front is Akershus Castle. Built in the 13th-century. University students in period dress lead guided tours (00 47 2309 3553;; 10am-4pm Mon-Sat, 12.30pm-4pm Sun May-Aug; US$13)

The 18th-century Tlethusbakken and Damstredet districts were once shanty towns. Now chic residential neighbourhoods for artists, they’re great to explore. Reach them by walking north past the Var Freisers graveyard where the playwrights Bjornson and Ibsen, and artist Munch are buried.

Launched in 1892, the PolarshipFram was the strongest ship of its time and spent much of its life stuck in ice in the race to reach the North Pole. You’re allowed to explore the ship and imagine life at sea (00 47 2328 2950; bygodynesveien 36; 9am-6pm Jun-Aug; US$11)

The Munch Museum has over 1,100 paintings, including the scream, 4,500 watercolours and 18,000 prints bequeathed by Munch himself. It is a landmark collection (00 47 2349 3500;  Toyengata 53; 10am-9pm Jun-Aug; US$17).

At 11am, ibsen would leaves his apartment on Drammensveien and walk to Grand Café for a lunch of herring, beer and one shot of aquavit. His table is still here. Don’t worry, though, there’s more than herring on the menu. Pick from reindeer, Arctic char and mussels (00 47 2321 2000;  Karl Johans gate 31; lunch and dinner; mains from US$22).

Popular with Norwegian families at Christmas, the Theatercafeen presents classics dishes, such as reindeer steak, in Vennese-style surroundings (00 47 2282 400;; stortingsgata 24; lunch and dinner Mon-Sat, dinner Sun; mains from US$27).

Smia Galleria is one of those restaurants Oslo residents are so fond of they almost hate to share it. The leafy patio is perfect on summer afternoons. If they have it, try the rhubarb crumble with wild strawberry sorbet (00 47 2219 5920; in Norwegian; Opplandsgata 19; closed Mon; mains from US$43).

Located on aker Brygge beside the harbor, Solsiden is great on summer evenings. The menu only features fish; the speciality  is a towering platter of shelfish (00 47 2233 3630;  Sondre Akershus Kai 34; dinner May-Aug; mains from US$47).

Feinschmecker has made a name for itself with its innovative modern taken on traditional Norwegian food. Dishes such as sautéed crayfish tails in apple cider are immaculately presented (00 47 2212 9380; balchens gate 5; dinner Mon-Sat; mains from US$65).

Oslo  has a network of buses, trams, T-bane trains and ferries. The Oslo Pass, valid for 24, 48 or 72 hours, can be used on all public transport and gives access to many museums (from US$40; you can hail taxis, or contact Oslo Taxi.

Located in a quiet neighbourhood, the Ellingsens Pensjonat offers one of the best deals in the capital. The building dates from 1890 and many of the orginal features remain. Rooms are simply decorated with pine furnishings, and there’s a small garden for sunny days (00 47 2260 0359; Holtegata 25; from US$118).

Founded in 1891 as a sanatorium by Dr Ingebright Christian Lund, the castle-like Holmenkollen Park Hotel Rica offers great views and good-value luxury accommodation. The hotel also puts on an enourmous breakfast buffet (00 47 2292 2000; kongevien 26; from US150).

The Thon Hotel Astora might be marketed as a ‘budget’ notel, but if it weren’t for the slightly small bathrooms and lack of a minibar, there would be nothing to distinguish it from some much more expensive options. Rooms are comfortable and the location is central (00 47 2414 5550; Dronningens gate 21; from US$166).

Grims Grenka has modern, minimalist rooms, with semitransparent bathroom cubicles, artfully placed lighting and designer furnishings. In addition, there’s a stylish rooftop bar and an excellent Asian-fusion restaurant (00 47 2310 7200; Kongens gate 5; from US$237).

Brimming with history and period character, the regal Grand Hotel has long been considered the benchmark of true elegance in Oslo. The rooms are beautifully appointed and there is an on-site spa. If you book early, some good bargains are available (00 47 2321 2000; Karl Johans gate 31; from US$300).

Statuesque; Forum users rate Vigeland Park. This extraordinary open-air sculpture park is a showcase of the work of Gustav Vigeland (1869-1943), Norway’s best-loved sculptor. There are 212 granite and bronze sculptures in all, and Vigeland’s work ranges fro mentwined lovers and tranquil elderly couples to contempt ridden beggars. The sculpture park is located within the larger Frogner Park (free).

Folktown; Forum users also rate the Norwegian Folk Museum. This open-air museum features more than 150 buildings, mostly from the 17th and 18th centuries, relocated from all over Norway. Paths wind past old barns and rough-timbered farmhouses with turf roofs spouting wildflowers. There’s folk music and dancing every Sunday in summer (00 47 2212 3700; Museumsveien 10; US$17).

Raiders’ rest; to get an insight into the habits of Norwegians’ seafaring ancestors, forum users recommend the Viking Ship Museum. There is something intimidating about the sleek, dark hulls of the Oseberg and Gokstad, both built from oak in the ninth century, and used as burials for nobles. The jewels buried with them may have vanished, but the longships are the finest of their kind (00 47 2213 5280;; Huk Aveny 35; US$11).

Engage with the spirit of Polar exploration in Roald Amundsen’s The South Pole: The Norwegian Expedition in ‘The Fram’ (US$25; Hurst & co). for general tourist office information, see; for hiking,

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