As my 15-year-old daughter and I — along with CB! founder and CEO Amie O’Shaughnessy and her 14-year-old son — were planning a trip to Norway to see the northern lights, the first question we asked ourselves was whether we should spend time in Oslo before heading up north. We decided yes, and after spending 48 hours in town, we’re glad we did! Thanks to a wave of cutting-edge architecture and cultural venues, this small city is blossoming into a wonderful tourist destination.
Favorite Cold-Weather Things to Do in Oslo
Arriving into the Oslo airport is a treat, as it is one of the most beautiful airports in the world: bright, airy and extremely efficient. Taxis are expensive, so I highly recommend public transportation. There’s a wonderful airport express train called Flytoget, a 20-minute ride from the central station; it runs every 10 minutes. As an added bonus, children ride free with a paying adult. It’s a pretty trip through the countryside — you’ll get to see some of the iconic redwood homes for which Norway is known.
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TIP: I highly recommend buying the Oslo Pass, sold at most hotels and the visitor center. You purchase it in 24-hour increments, and it’s good at more than 30 museums and for all public transportation. It even provides free entry to public pools in summer.
Drop your luggage at your hotel and head to Vigeland Sculpture Park for the kids to run around and burn off steam after the flight. Some people think sculpture belongs in a museum, but Norwegians, with their love of all things outdoors, prefer to put it in the open air. There are 212 granite and bronze statues by Gustav Vigeland themed around the circle of life; he sculpted friends, lovers, parents, children and grandparents. All are lovingly depicted without clothes.
The 2008 unveiling of the striking white Oslo Opera House on the waterfront has proven to be a boon for the city. It deserves a visit, even if only to walk on the rooftop for the wonderful views or have a drink or a gourmet lunch in the beautiful cafe overlooking the fjord. There’s even an art installation floating in the water.
Take a walk along the Akerbrygge to browse the many shops, restaurants and cafes along the harbor. Winter doesn’t stop Norwegians from sitting outside at a cafe; many restaurants had outdoor seating with reindeer skins and blankets on the chairs, plus heat lamps. Older kids will enjoy the Nobel Peace Center in this area (entry included in the Oslo Pass).
On your second morning, take the train to the Holmenkollen ski jump. Go on a weekend, and you’ll usually find some type of competition going on. If you think the ski jumps look scary when you watch them on television, wait until you see them in person. The onsite Ski Museum, which tells the history of skiing in Norway, features an elevator ride up to the top of the jump. If there’s no fog (check the webcam before going), the view from the top is extraordinary! Entry is included with the Oslo Pass.
Hungry afterward? Frognerseteren is a beautiful, typical Norwegian restaurant about a 20-minute walk from the ski museum. The menu includes some wonderful local delicacies, such Norwegian waffles with jelly and apple cake — a perfect treat to warm up from the cold.
The backup plan, if it’s too foggy to see anything at Holmenkollen, is to visit one of Oslo’s many museums. The Astrup Fearnley Museum of Modern Art, the centerpiece of the city’s new Tjuvholmen waterfront development, has garnered a lot of attention. It was designed by famed architect Renzo Piano, who designed such iconic buildings as the Shard in London, the Whitney Museum in New York and the CentrePompidou in Paris. The collection is filled with pieces by heavy hitters such as Jeff Koons and Damien Hurst; we were fortunate to see the visiting exhibition by world-famous Japanese artist Murakami as well.
The Munch Museum, named after Norway’s most famous artist (known for his painting “The Scream”), is located on Karl Johan’s Gate — a great pedestrian street with many shops and restaurants. There’s a public ice skating rink here too. Younger kids may enjoy a break from the cold at the Leo’s Lekeland indoor play space, which is about 15 or 20 minutes’ ride from the museum.
While there are plenty of things to see and do in Oslo, one of the most memorable parts of the trip was the people. I can see why Norway ranked No. 1 on the 2017 World Happiness Report. Norwegians have an addiction to fresh air, and with half of Oslo’s area dedicated to green space, there are plenty of places where you can breathe deeply. And the locals embrace their fantastic public transportation system, evident by the lack of traffic.
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Editor’s Note: Ciao Bambino received a media package to explore and share what families can see and do in northern Norway in the winter. As always, our opinions are our own. Photos by Sandy Pappas unless otherwise noted.