I visited Norway hoping more was waiting there for me than high prices, low temperatures and an overabundance of smoked seafood. Because I would be starting my trip there, I pinned particular hopes on the country’s capital.
This was in spite of the many warnings I’d received, which centered on one message: Oslo is boring.
My Intro to Oslo
“Oslo’s not only cold and grey,” a friend in quirky Montréal informed me, the week before I jetted across the north Atlantic. “But people are unfriendly and there isn’t a lot to do, except for dine in extremely expensive restaurants.”
To be sure, the Tuesday morning I arrived was probably the coldest, greyest June 12th I’ve ever experienced. The burly Viking waiting for me at Oslo’s Sentral Station partially quelled my disappointment, but I didn’t get to enjoy his presence for long: I had to meet a tour guide in less than an hour.
What to Do in Oslo
Oslo Opera House
“On a sunny day,” The older gentleman, who moonlighted as an architect, explained, “this building would stun you with how bright and white it is, almost as if it were an iceberg coming out of the harbor. “But today,” he smirked, and ran his hand across the exterior of the Oslo Opera House, “the grey sky simply emphasizes what a poor choice it was to use—these blocks are positively yellow!”
Although the three-hour tour barely scratched the surface of Norway’s capital—a blessing, in a way, given my jet lag—it proved an apt cross-section of the city that most people I know love to hate. Certainly, it didn’t counter the case to be made that Oslo is boring.
“While we were on top of the Opera House,” I recounted to my host, as he filled my glass with the Spanish red he’d just opened, “the tour guide explained to me how controversial the ‘Barcode’ skyscrapers are, and how they pervert the original vision of Oslo—’the sea, the green and the city in-between’.”
He laughed and re-corked the bottle. “That’s a really old-school view—I like the Barcode a lot. I feel like it modernizes my city.”
“Hmm,” I sighed. “He also talked shit about Aker Brygge—I’m assuming you love that place, too?”
“Yup,” he said,”in fact, that’s where we’re going to go with my co-workers next week, before you leave.” He raised his glass and toasted me. “To differing opinions?”
We clinked our glasses clinked together, and as I began devouring the medium rare salmon he had prepared for my “Welcome” dinner, I pondered how subtly yet dramatically different his perspective on his city had been than the one my tour guide, a seeming expert on all things Oslo, offered.
The sometimes-architect had sung the praises of structures like Akershus Fortress, which dates back to the late 13th century, and the city’s iconic Royal Palace, while Anders downplayed the importance of Norwegian tradition in moving his city into the future.
I’ll spare you the gory details—it’s been years, and my feelings have calmed—but I had quite a crush on the man who hosted me in Oslo. I actually ended up humiliating both of us at a function involving alcohol the night before I headed to Bergen, but I’ll also spare you those details.
What I will say is this: Avoid visiting Vigeland Park, whose erotic sculptures are…evocative, shall we say, with anyone who does not return your affection. It’s extremely difficult not to talk about sex here, and extremely uncomfortable to do that with someone who doesn’t see you that way, or vice-versa.
Is Oslo Worth Visiting?
I’m on the fence about this one. On one hand, I’m glad I traveled to Oslo to see it for myself, in spite of having been warned by friends that it isn’t worth the hassle. On the other hand, if I hadn’t spent any time in Oslo I could’ve used the time to explore Norway more deeply, to say nothing on all the personal drama I wouldn’t have had to deal with.
I’ll be frank: You’ll probably end up thinking Oslo is boring. However, you have free time in your Norway trip (let’s say you’re spending two weeks in the country, or maybe even longer) there’s little reason not to spend at least a night in Oslo. Who knows? You might even love it.
Other FAQ About Visiting Oslo
What is Oslo famous for?
Oslo is famous primarily for being the capital of Norway. Beyond this, there’s no reason any foreigner would know the city, or have any reason to visit here.
Is Oslo gloomy?
Surprisingly, Oslo only sees 77 rainy days per year, according to Weather-Altas.com. However, Oslo is frequently cloudy and only rare sees high temperatures above 20ºC. You can definitely consider Oslo to be a gloomy city, particularly if you hail from a sunny city or country.
Can you see the Northern Lights in Oslo?
Although you may be able to see flashes of aurora on a very clear, dark night, light pollution from Oslo will mostly prevent this from happening. Likewise, the Oslo cityscape doesn’t provide a very beautiful foreground for the show the Northern Lights put on.
The Bottom Line
Is Oslo boring? In a word, yes. When I returned to Oslo Saturday morning, after a few days in and around Bergen on Norway’s west coast, I felt as cold as the drizzle falling on my train as it pulled into the station. The energy of Oslo, it turns out, falls less in line with the erotic sculptures of Vigeland Park, and has more in common with the muted tones of Oslo Opera House under the greyest skies you can possibly imagine. Want to make sure your time in Oslo is more exciting than mine was? Consider hiring me as your Travel Coach!