Situated at the end of a long fjord and with dozens of islands nearby, Oslo is one of those places where you constantly see ferries scurrying back and forth.
We arrived there in record high temperatures at the end of May 2018 en route to the start of a two week “adventure cruise” from Bergen to Svalbard. We could as easily have flown straight to Bergen, but we wanted an excuse to take the spectacular 7 hour Oslo to Bergen train. And it didn't seem right to visit Norway without seeing a bit of Oslo.
With just one jet-lagged night in the city for our first visit, our sightseeing was casual. Our hotel was right by Oslo S, the Oslo Central Station, so we were just a few minutes walk from the Operahuset, Oslo’s distinctive modern opera house built on the edge of the harbour. Walking around, and on top of the opera house on such a warm sunny evening was a great way to unwind after a transatlantic flight. There were small craft of all sorts crossing the water in all directions, and we soon recognised the pattern of ferries heading to and from the islands. But the ferry we could not help but notice was the large Stena Line ro-pax cruise ferry docked opposite the opera house. By lunch-time the next day, as we were waiting at Oslo S for our train to Bergen, we could clearly see the same ferry complex, but by then it hosted a DFDS ferry. Between them these lines carry trucks, cars and passengers to Copenhagen and Frederikshavn in Denmark.
We returned to Oslo for a couple more days after flying back from Svalbard, this time with an aim to see a bit more of the city. After a fortnight of quizzing our fellow passengers about what to see in Oslo, the Vikingskipshuset, the Viking Ship Museum, was firmly at the top of our list. This is situated on Bygdøy, a peninsular across the bay. Although accessible by bus, the easiest and most fun way was to take the ferry, the Bygdøyfergen, from the Rådhusbrygge 3 pier. This was a small passenger ferry that was dwarfed by the large Ruter (public transit) ferries which were constantly coming and going between the main Aker brygge ferry terminal beside us and the islands in the Oslofjord.
Our little ferry stopped first at the pier at Bygdøynes, by the Frammuseet, before we disembarked at the end of the line at Dronningen. From there it was a 10 minute walk up to the Vikingskipshuset through a very genteel neighbourhood that seemed perfect for foreign embassies. The museum was not a disappointment; there are several amazingly well preserved Viking boats, and many other Viking artifacts. And not too enormous—
after spending an an hour or two we felt we had been able to see a lot, and could leave without having missed anything.
If you make it to Oslo and your interests extend at all beyond shopping, do not miss visiting the Vikingskipshuset. It's not just being able to marvel at the craftsmanship and beauty of the exhibits. It's suddenly having a real physical connection to the all those stories and fanciful artists' renderings of Vikings in their longboats that we were brought up with.
We stopped at a café for lunch, excruciatingly expensive by our standards, though maybe not so much for Norway. A little thing we noticed there was that 4 out of the 5 cars parked outside the café were pure electric—
something we had noted a lot during our time in Norway. We carried on walking down to the Frammuseet, the Fram Museum, which was in the same grounds as the National Maritime, and Kon-Tiki Museums. It seems that Bygdøy is devoted to museums—
Norway’s equivalent of South Kensington (for those who know London). We turned down the offers to save money by buying tickets to all the museums and stuck with the Frammuseet—
there is a limit to how many museums can be enjoyed in one day.
The Fram is a three-masted schooner with a long and distinguished history of polar expeditions, the most famous of which were with Roald Amundsen. She is fully preserved and accessible to the public inside and out, and surrounded by loads of excellent displays of her voyages and polar exploration in general. Maybe a little more commercial feeling than the Vikingskipshuset, but excellent and well worth visiting for anyone with the slightest interest.
Once outside we watched the ferries shuttle back and forth past the tip of Bygdøy while we waited for our ferry to return us to the Rådhusbrygge ferry terminal. We spent the remains of the day wandering the Akershus Festning (fortress) which has great views over the harbour and back towards Bygdøy. Oslo has much more of interest than we’d expected. It was relaxed and fun, especially in the sun. But expensive.