Travel: Heart of Norway

View across the harbour

View across the harbour - Credit: Archant

Oslo, the captivating capital of Norway, is one of the highest-ranked cities for quality of life. Rebecca Underwood sees why

Oslo Opera House, home of the Norwegian National Opera and Ballet

Oslo Opera House, home of the Norwegian National Opera and Ballet - Credit: Archant

Oslo offers visitors a rich and colourful history and a vibrant Nordic culture. Founded in 1,000AD and established as a strategic trading place less than half a century later, the city emerged as the Norwegian capital during the rule of Haakon V, King of Norway in the 14th century.

Today, Oslo is still the hub of Norwegian trade, a leading city for the Council of Europe and the heart of the European Commission’s intercultural cities project. Widely acknowledged for the high quality of life enjoyed by its residents, Oslo is also recognised as a centre of modern architecture and its skyline continues on a rapid path of transformation.

Culture and sport

Oslo’s Opera House is a fine example of contemporary architectural design. The building’s striking design features pristine Italian white marble alongside the rich brown tones of oak, and an aluminium roof and extensive use of glass that has resulted in a very impressive construction. Inside, the building is no less impressive, and performances scheduled for the autumn include Don Giovanni, The Barber of Seville, Carmen and The Flying Dutchman.

Holmenkollen ski jump - home to international competition and a ski museum

Holmenkollen ski jump - home to international competition and a ski museum - Credit: Archant

Norway is also the home of elite skiing, and for those who love the slopes the Holmenkollen Ski Museum should be on the agenda. It was built underneath a stunning Olympic-sized ski jump constructed in 2010 on a site that has had a similar facility since 1892 and is home to international competitions. The museum’s wide variety of exhibits reflects a surprising 4,000 years of skiing. Bang up to date, the popular Freedom on Snow exhibition is fun to explore and visitors should not miss the film on the development of modern snow sports, which features interviews with leading athletes. Those feeling inspired can practise their technique afterwards on the ski-jump simulator as well as snowboards and gyro boards.

The tower that tops the ski jump offers great views over the city. A lift takes visitors to the viewing platform and guided tours are available for both the museum and jump tower.

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Another popular Olso attraction is the Royal Palace. Built in 1849, this neo-classical building, which features a stuccoed brick facade, has a whopping 173 ornate rooms. The palace was built as a residence for King Charles III and is the official residence of the current monarchy, King Harald V and Queen Sonja. During the summer months, visitors are welcome to view a selection of the state rooms including the Great Hall and Banqueting Hall. The changing of the guard takes place at 1.30pm every day and draws a big crowd.

Vikings and folk tradition

The Grand Hotel - guests inclue Henrik Ibsen and the Queen

The Grand Hotel - guests inclue Henrik Ibsen and the Queen - Credit: Archant

For a taste of traditional Norwegian culture, head for the Norsk Folke Museum, located five kilometres from the city centre. Displays include a wide range of exhibits focusing on Norwegian folk dress, folk art, textiles, crafts, weapons, musical instruments and even toys, objects of daily life dating back to the 16th century. There is also a collection of photographs and documents relating to Norway’s traditions. Visitors can go further back in time to the country’s Viking past at the remarkable Ship Museum, which displays the well-preserved Gokstad longship built at the height of the Viking period in around 850AD. Discovered buried on farmland in 1879, the once sea-going vessel became a burial ship with a chamber built at the stern. The interior walls of the chamber are decorated with birch bark and remnants of silk and gold thread point to once-rich tapestries hanging here. A raised bed provided the final resting place for a man whose wounds suggest he died in battle.

Another longship, the Oseberg, became a burial platform for two wealthy women who died around 834AD. Their burial chamber was built behind the mast with the two bodies lying on a raised bed. Burial gifts consisting of clothes, shoes, combs, ornate sledges and carved animal heads were placed nearby. The Oseberg was discovered by a farmer in 1903; the ship’s excavation took less than three months, while its restoration lasted 21 years.

Visual arts

For art lovers, the Munch Museum, located on Tøyengata, offers an insight into the life and work of Edvard Munch, a master of Modernism who remained committed to the form for more than 60 years. Part of the Symbolist movement in the late 19th century, he was a pioneer who bequeathed his work to the city of Oslo. The collection includes more than 1,000 paintings, 7,500 drawings and watercolours, 18,000 prints and six sculptures.

Another popular art attraction is Vigeland Park, an open air sculpture display with more than 200 Gustav Vigeland (1869-1943) sculptures in wrought iron, granite and bronze. The Vigeland Museum, within the park, was built in the 1920s. A fine example of Norwegian neo-classicism it displays Vigeland’s lifework of sculptures, drawings, woodcuts and woodcarvings.


An ideal place to stay in Oslo and centrally located on the corner of Rosenkrantz Street and Karl Johan’s Gate is the Grand Hotel, which has been welcoming guests since 1874. Members of the aristocracy, artists, world leaders (including President Clinton) and numerous high-profile celebrities have all been attracted to this hotel, which offers a blend of tradition and contemporary flair. Accommodation is spacious and sumptuously furnished with rich fabrics and the level of comfort and service is first class. The King’s Salon in the hotel is well worth a visit to admire the painting of King Frederick V of Denmark and Norway. Dating to 1732, it has been displayed in the hotel since it opened. Another painting features Queen Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh and was presented to the hotel after her visit.

The Etoile Bar, on the top floor, gives great views over the rooftops – a good place to order a cocktail and raise your glass to this captivating city.