We began our carefully planned trip to Norway in its capital city, Oslo. While some friends and even some guidebooks had suggested skipping Oslo in favor of seeing more of the beautiful fjords, I’m glad we spent three days there. It was probably the easiest of our stops in Norway in terms traveling with children, and also gave us the historial and cultural backdrop we needed to fully appreciate what we saw later on.
Like Helsinki, Oslo is a surprisingly small capital city of around 600,000 people. The city center, bisected by two parallel roads–Karl Johans Gate and Stortingsgata–with park and historic buildings in between, is easily traveled by foot. However, it should be noted that even in July the weather in Norway is unpredictable. If getting wet is a problem, or if your stay and children’s temperament allows seeing a lot of museums, consider the Oslo Pass which offers not only unlimited public transportation and discount parking, but free admission to many of the museums and attractions in and around Oslo.
We stayed at the Best Western Karl Johan Hotell. Chosen for its perfect location in the middle of Karl Johans Gate, the hotel itself was surprisingly lovely (says the women for whom the words Best Western don’t exactly conjure up lovely images). Spacious junior suites, more reasonably-priced than others we encountered, gave us some much-needed space from the children in the evenings. The buffet-style breakfast is nothing special, but there are cafes on either side of hotel to supplement as needed.
The hotel is in easy walking distance–even for a five-year-old–from the Royal Palace, the National Theater, the Parliament Building, the train station and the harbor area. Take a day to explore this area and, if the weather allows, to dine alfresco and watch all the street performers and other interesting people who are bound to pass by. The large fountain in between the National Theater and the Parliament building seems to attract children when the weather is nice and I know our two enjoyed dipping there toes (and then some) in!
Next, a trip down the harbor-side takes you past Oslo’s City Hall and to the gates of the Akershus Festning, the primary defensive fortress in the area. With plenty of room to run around and lots of cannons to entertain the children, this is a great stop to wear out the little people before catching the ferry to Bygdøy.
Just across the bay from downtown Oslo, Bygdøy is the home of some of the most recognizable attractions in the area including the fabulous Viking Museum (Vikingskipshuset), the Kon-Tiki Museum, the Maritime Museum, and the Norwegian Folk Museum. While the Viking Museum is perhaps the most stunning because of the rarity of the contents (900 year old viking ships and artifacts, some of which are nearly perfectly preserved, displayed in a striking cross formation in the old church that houses the museum), those familiar with Thor Heyerdahl’s iconic voyage across the sea will appreciate seeing the actual boat in person.
Likewise, the children were fascinated by the potters, weavers, and silversmiths in the Folk Museum, which is a large open-air museum with buildings from different eras in Norwegian history. The rocky beach where you catch the return ferry to Oslo provides the children with another opportunity to get their toes wet and let loose before returning to Oslo and visiting one of the art museums that pay homage to the works of Edvard Munch.
We left Oslo feeling like there was a lot more we could have seen. Several of the manor houses outside the city looked promising and will be worth a visit next time around. But after a few days, it was time for us to climb aboard a train and head north to Ålesund, catching a glimpse of our first fjord on the way…