Remember way back in 2013 when the Disney hit Frozen was all the rage? Like all little girls, my then five year old daughter knew all the songs and wanted all the merchandise. We bought the dvd and watched the adventures of Anna and Elsa over and over again with the beautiful illustrations of the Norwegian scenery in the background.
Fast forward a few years and we found ourselves beginning our Scandinavian Summer trip in Oslo, the beautiful capital of Norway. “Look” I said as soon as we arrived, “Isn’t it amazing? Doesn’t it look just like Frozen?” Don’t you feel like Anna or Elsa?”
“Uh Mom?” she replied, “you do realize that Frozen is like, a little kid movie, right? It’s not really my thing anymore.” Okay, fine then. I guess I’ll just be up here belting out Let it Go by myself.
But aside from missing the “Frozen is cool” window by a few years, I couldn’t have picked a better place to begin our exploration of Scandinavia. We arrived at Oslo’s international airport early in the afternoon and soon found that the metro was fast and efficient and the city was compact and easy to manage. I had heard that it could be hard to find reasonably priced accommodation, so I had booked as early as possible and ended up getting a great deal. I had booked with a chain called Thon which had branches all over the city. The property ended up closing over the summer for renovations and the hotel chain dealt with our reservation by upgrading us to a suite in another hotel nearby. Score!
The location of this second hotel couldn’t have been better; we were across the street from the grounds of the royal palace which was a huge public park where both tourists and locals went to relax on summer evenings. The palace was at one end of Oslo’s major pedestrian street with the main train station at the other end. Between the two was over a kilometre of parks, museums, restaurants and galleries, all beautifully traffic free and humming with energy day and night.
We spent our first evening in Oslo just wandering and enjoying the city, but the next morning we were ready for some serious exploring. Oslo has a lot of amazing sights, but like everything in Norway, it’s not cheap. While kids were free in a few places, most museums had entry fees of $20-30 Cdn per adult and even a short bus ride was about $5. So I decided that the best way to deal with costs was to get it all out of the way at once and not worry for the rest of the trip. The city of Oslo sells the Oslo Pass, which covers almost all the sights and transportation throughout the city, and while the passes were quite pricey, around $300 Cdn for the whole family, it was great to be able to pay once and not worry about costs again for the three days we were there.
We started on day two by catching the little ferry to the “Museum Island” across the harbour, which is actually a peninsula as far as I can tell. We began our day at the Norwegian Folk Museum, which was an excellent introduction to Norwegian history and culture. The museum has re-created a traditional village by moving old houses and farm structures from all over the countryside. You can wander around the little farms and ask questions about traditional life in rural Norway. There is also a small stave church and demonstrations of folk dancing and music several times a day.
Another part of the museum looks at urban life in Oslo starting in about the 19th century with shops and apartments from different decades. My kids liked the 1970’s flat with the retro toys and furnishings best. We ended up spending the entire morning at the folk museum and could have easily stayed longer.
From the folk museum we walked about ten minutes uphill to our second stop, the Viking Ship Museum. This museum exhibits three of the best preserved Viking longships ever discovered along with various other treasures that were buried with them. The museum itself is a bit bare bones and dated, but the ships themselves are just amazing to see. There has been a bit of effort to modernize the exhibits including a cool multimedia presentation that runs for about ten minutes a few times an hour which the kids really enjoyed, but overall this museum didn’t have quite as many kid friendly features as most of the others we visited.
From the Viking ships we walked about 15 minutes downhill to the Fram Museum down by the waterfront. This museum houses the polar ship Fram and tells the story of Norway’s part in the history of polar exploration. It was surprisingly engaging with artifacts from various expeditions, incredible stories of survival, a kids area where they could try pulling an ice sledge and of course a huge ship to explore. After visiting the Fram, we went next door to see a different side of Norwegian exploration, a museum dedicated to the huge balsa raft called the Kon Tiki which Norwegian anthropologist Thor Heyerdal used to cross the Pacific Ocean from Peru to Tahiti back in 1947.
For our second day we started at the History Museum, which was a few minutes from our hotel. It had some very interesting Viking artifacts, but the museum itself felt like it was having a bit of an identity crisis, trying to take the emphasis away from traditional history exhibits and putting an emphasis on a sort of non-linear, inclusive, modern/historical perspective or something? Anyway, if it’s not already obvious, I didn’t really get what they were going for. But they had Viking relics and that was cool.
From the History Museum we moved on to the National Gallery of Norway, which had a nice collection of paintings including lots of beautiful Norwegian landscapes and several works by Edvard Munch. They had a room where you could try your hand at sketching and this helped entertain the kids for a bit while the adults took turns enjoying the paintings.
From the gallery we walked down to the Askerhus fortress complex near the waterfront. This area is still controlled by the army and is technically a military base and it has a bit of a disjointed feel to it. The fortress is very beautiful and you can tour the main rooms of the castle, but we found it a bit cold and lifeless. Our favourite part was probably the cannons and amazing views of the harbour from the walls.
On our last day in Oslo we started with a visit to Frogner Park, which was just outside the centre of town. This park is famous for it’s collection of oversized nude statues by the sculptor Gustav Vigeland. We found sculptures. They were very large. And very nude. Fortunately, the kids were much more interested in the great playground nearby.
Our last stop was the city hall, a huge red brick building which lay just inland from the harbour. It was built in the 1930’s and while the architecture wasn’t that attractive, the enormous murals and sculptures inside were interesting to see. My seven year old son was quite fascinated by it for some reason and kept saying that the city hall was his favourite stop in all of Oslo.
And from there it was time to return to the hotel for our bags and to make the trek out to the ferry terminal for the next leg of the trip. On to Copenhagen!