Article updated on October 21, 2021
Text: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen
Photographs: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen
The almost thousand-year old capital of Norway has known an incredible expansion for the past dozens of years making it one of the most expensive cities of the world and is really worth a visit. Follow us throughout Oslo discovering its various neighbourhoods.
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The Central Train Station in the city centre is the arrival point of most visitors to the Norwegian capital. Scents emerge from its food courts, about a dozen of different languages can be heard, and a rainbow of skin colours reminds us that about a quarter of Oslo is made of immigrants attracted by the booming economy of the country. Just out of the station, the modern architecture of buildings captures our attention right away.
We are drawn towards the Oslo Opera House and find ourselves captivated by the modern architecture of this iceberg coming out of the clear blue waters of the Oslofjord. This amazing building all covered in marble and glass is a gathering point for tourists and locals alike, whom wander on the inclined plaza that surrounds the main structure from sea to roof-top level. Seagulls circle above, and their shadows play with the wavy aluminium covering the top tower contrasting with the white marble and the blue sky. It is hard to imagine that only a few years ago, a wrecked shipyard was occupying that spot.
The capital has changed fast boosted by oil revenue… and was ranked the most expensive city in living expenses in the world overtaking Tokyo in 2013. This wealth is clearly visible at Aker Brygge. Until 1982, the shipyard and engineering industries boomed in this economical centre. Now, it is the biggest gathering point in Norway: the stunning modern architecture mixed with classy renovated industrial buildings houses shops, restaurants, bars, the Astrup Fearnley Museet of modern art, trendy and luxurious flats, cinemas… This exclusive peninsula is surrounded by small harbours with powerful leisure boats, art sculptures, bridges, gardens and beaches. Terraces are packed, bands are playing, well-dressed and fit patrons are having fun, spending money on outrageously expensive alcoholic drinks (after all, Oslo is the most expensive city in the world where to buy a beer!) while enjoying the sunrays as much as they can with the century-old Akershus fortress in the background.
We keep wandering through the city, following the smells of lilac and we find ourselves in Frogner, the residential embassy area on the West side of Oslo. Its quietness and country-like feel so close to the centre are surprising. Tesla cars are parked at every street corner: the city of Oslo is aligned with Norway’s plan to make electric cars number one, fuelled by plentiful and cheap hydropower electricity thanks to generous subsidies, free parking, toll-free roads, and traffic-free lanes.
We decide to dig into history a bit more and to visit the National Gallery in the Universitetsgata, a significantly older part of town. The famous ‘Scream’ by Munch is admired by many tourists along with some landscape paintings by Johan Christian Dahl that give us an idea of life in the Norwegian countryside roughly one century ago or everyday scenes by Tidemand and The Bridal Procession on the Hardangerfjord, an icon of Norwegian identity.
After passing through the vibrant and multi-cultural neighbourhood of Grønland, we reach Oslo’s river. A walk along the Akerselva takes us back to this industrial revolution that started changing the city dramatically multiplying its population by a tenfold within a few years only and turning farmland into factories. Forested areas, historical industrial buildings, and waterfalls are now an off-the-beaten path and low-key district to grab a bite or have a drink.
Another great area to check out in the summer requires hopping on a ferry boat. Gressholmen is a local’s favourite: bring your pick-nick after visiting the Mathallen food court to buy local specialties, and hike the island to find your perfect spot with a view on the modern city, colourful traditional wooden houses on the neighbouring islands and busy fjord with all kinds of boats. You can also enjoy the terrace of Gressholmen Kro to grab some simple food, or head back into town for fine dining options of fresh and seasonal Norwegian food from fish to game.
Oslo leaves us puzzled with many questions. The way this city copes with a huge amount of immigrants with significantly less problems than in many European capitals is impressive. How this city, in a country which not too long ago suffered from massive migration of its inhabitants to North America due to poverty, rapidly grew into a modern and wealthy hub is baffling, the hospitality touching, the architecture mind-blowing, and the museums excellent; this city trip really worth-while!
- The Oslo Pass allows you to use public transport for free, including ferries to some of the islands, and to visit Oslo’s museums for free!
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