I have a great job and love what I do, but there are some times when you just need a little change in scenery. So, imagine my surprise when the opportunity popped up to head to Norway for a week. Quite a scenery change, huh? I had never been to Norway, nor had I ever been that far north. I also had just returned from New Zealand, where I was just the furthest south I had ever been! Cramming both trips in within a month’s time was a challenge, but I was certainly up to the task! I’m even more blessed that I now spend a significant amount of time is such a gorgeous country.
To get to Oslo, I typically fly business class on American Airlines from Dallas-Fort Worth to London Heathrow, where I have a layover before transitioning to British Airways from London Heathrow to Oslo. Not all American Airlines flights offer lay-flat seats, but these flights do and it was well worth the upgrade. I normally sleep most of the flight over to London, which allows me to hit the ground running in Oslo. On the return trip, I usually nap in between several movies. When I know I want to nap, I request an express meal from the flight attendant. You can get your meal in one course rather than being served several courses, which allows you more time to sleep or work. American also allows you to pre-select your meal 30 days prior to departure. So, no fear, they won’t run out of the one thing on the menu that you like! British Airways business class is nice, but not as fancy as the flight is only 2 hours each way. However, you do get a light meal and the seats are certainly more spacious than economy class.
Upon my very first arrival into Norway, I was a little shocked at just how easy it is to enter the country. There were no forms to complete and once I approached immigration, they asked two questions and sent me on my way. Oddly enough, they were slightly more inquisitive when I was leaving the country. However, both times, the immigration agents were very friendly. Immigration through London Heathrow is a whole other ball of wax. Allow yourself plenty of time (2+ hours when changing terminals) and be prepared to stand in a line, unless you have a FastTrack pass.
The Oslo Airport is about 40 minutes north of Oslo, if traveling by car. The roads are well maintained and quite similar to the roads we’re accustomed to in the United States. Driving is quite easy, even if you do not understand Norwegian. Driving in Oslo itself is a little daunting, but you also take your life into your hands when driving in New York City. If you don’t think you’ll be heading to other parts of the country, the easiest option to get from the airport to Oslo is by train. Flytoget is the high speed rail service that connects you to Oslo in 21 minutes with only one stop along the way. The cost of the ticket is approximately $21 USD each way. If you don’t mind an extra stop, you can take another train into Oslo that costs approximately $7 USD. That one stop adds about 5 minutes to your journey, so it’s well worth the savings. Other than that one extra stop, the only difference between the two trains is that Flytoget is strictly a train service that gets you to/from the airport, while the other train is a normal service between several points.
Once you get into Oslo, you’ll notice they have an extensive public transportation system. There is a system of trolleys to get you around within in the city, and as I alluded to above, a larger rail network to get you throughout the country. However, they don’t just rely on trains. There are also buses that provide airport service and I saw many taxi cabs. There are also bicycle stations where you can rent a bike via the internet or phone application for blocks of time. This system provides you with a reservation for a bicycle located at a specific numbered slot and also reserves a slot for you to return the bicycle at your final destination. Of course, many locals also choose to just walk to get to where they are going. The city is very safe and Norwegians are very keen on being outdoors.
Oslo is a unique blend of old and new. There are many structures that have that distinct Scandinavian look, but the city has also has many modern buildings. The city is well connected with Wi-Fi, but you’ll also find shops that sell traditional Norwegian attire. Everyone I encountered was extremely friendly and the younger population is fluent in English, which is comforting for those uneasy with foreign languages. In general, Oslo seems to attract a younger population, who are very laid back and social.
While in Oslo, I have stayed at the Thon Hotel Rosenkrantz, Scandic St. Olavs Plass, and Radisson Blu Plaza. There are many Thon hotels in Oslo, as it is a Norwegian chain, but the Rosenkrantz is very centrally located and only a 5 minute walk to the National Theatre train station. You are also only minutes by foot to Parliament, the National Theatre, and the Royal Palace. If you want to stay closer to the water and port, the Thon Cecil is a nice choice. If you want to stay closer to the Opera House, the Thon Hotel Opera is the best choice. However, these attractions are no more than a 10 minute walk from the Rosenkrantz.
The Rosenkrantz reminded me of the Aloft Starwood brand. It’s very modern, colorful, funky, basic, yet clean. The rooms are small, yet functional. While the hotel had 8 floors, I had a 5th floor room that overlooked Kristian Augusts Gate, which is a trolley route. So, it was a bit noisy. During my next stay, my room overlooked Rosenkrantz and it was much quieter, though I had read somewhere that the hotel invested in soundproof windows. Excellent choice. So, I would request a room that over looks Rosenkrantz Gate or the backside of the hotel. The 8th floor not only had guest rooms, but it also had a guest lounge where pre-dinner appetizers are served nightly and happen to be complimentary. Beverages other than water, tea or coffee are an extra charge. I admittedly used this as my dinner on most nights. There is a daily breakfast buffet at the Paleo Restaurant on the 1st floor. The breakfast buffet is approximately $17USD and is amazingly out of this world good. They have every type of breakfast food you can think of- waffles, omelets, cold cuts, pastries, cereals, breads, fresh juices, etc. As it is a buffet, the service is not very attentive, but you should be able to get everything you want without the assistance of the staff. I personally like having a diet coke every morning, but instead of trying to waive down the waitress, I walked across the street to a vending machine every morning to grab my caffeine. The prices were about the same between a restaurant or vending machine ($2.45 USD per bottle), which seems high, but is normal for Norway.
The Scandic hotel is just a little further west than the Rosenkrantz, so still within a short walk from the National Theatre train station. The Scandic is very similar to the Thon in that it’s modern, clean, and efficient. There is nothing fancy about these hotels, yet they are comfortable and the staff is friendly. I did happen to prefer the breakfast at the Thon, but there is not much that beats it!
I have stayed many times in Oslo and I usually end up staying at the Radisson Blu Plaza. The Plaza is adjacent to Oslo Central, making it extremely convenient to catch a train or bus but it’s also right in the middle of town. I can typically walk most places within the city in 20 minutes or less. The Radisson is very popular for conferences and tourists, but it’s also 34 stories tall so there are usually rooms available. Other than an amazing breakfast spread, the jewel of this hotel is the gym. It’s located on the top floor and has jaw dropping views looking out over the train station out to the Opera House and Oslo Fjord (picture above). The Radisson is also a bit more Americanized, so the rooms are larger and unlike most of the mid-range Norwegian chains, the bathrooms have lotion (NOTE: be sure to bring some lotion with you, especially in the winter!)
In terms of cuisine in Norway, if you aren’t downtown, be prepared to like fish! Fish, cold cuts, and salad fixings seem to be the food of choice in Norway. However, Oslo has many American-type restaurants, like TGI Friday’s, and they also have many English-style pubs. Norwegians also seem to enjoy pizza, so you will find their pizza chain, Peppe’s, in many areas. It’s not the best pizza in the world, but it’s easy to find and will hit the spot. A surprising place to find decent food is Oestbanehallen, which is right in the central train station. You’ll find several restaurants, including one of my favorites- Olivia.
I was disappointed during my first trip that I did not get to see much of the city, let alone the countryside. All of the pictures you see of Norway feature the fjordlands, which are in the Western part of the country. The city of Bergen is a good jumping off point to see all of the beautiful scenery. Bergen is approximately 6 hours by train from Oslo and inexpensive flights are also available from the Oslo Airport. Several of my colleagues had visited Bergen during the first trip and thought it to be a worthwhile trip. So, I was bound and determined to see it all on my second trip. You can read more about that here. However, there are also some interesting sites to observe in Oslo, such as the National Theatre, City Hall, the Viking Museum, the Nobel Museum, and the Royal Palace (the Palace is only open during the summer months).
As most of us are aware, Norway experiences long periods of daylight in the summer and long periods of darkness in the winter. As I was there in May, the days were starting to grow longer, with sunrise at 5:30am and sunset after 9:30pm. I recommend trying to go during this time, as it keeps you energized to stay out and enjoy everything the city has to offer. Just keep in mind that May has several national holidays, including Constitution Day on May 17, which impacts hotel availability, museums, and shops. If you are able to be there on Constitution Day, I do recommend spending a little time watching the parades. It’s a stunning display of family and patriotism.