Greetings Internet Stranger and welcome to 24 hours in Oslo. When I told people I was planning a journey around Scandinavia, many people said that Oslo was the least interesting Scandinavian capital. These included my grandfather, who is of Norwegian heritage.
First of all, it’s no insult to say that something is the least interesting Scandinavian capital because all the Scandinavian capitals are very interesting. But let no one imply that Oslo is boring! 24 hours in Oslo will bring you a day of whale meat, street art, sick children, screaming, and authentic pizza. If that doesn’t sound appealing, I’m not sure what will. Let’s go!
24 Hours in Oslo
Where to Stay?
Norway was once a poor country. Then a lot of things happened in the 20th century, including the discovery of oil, and now Norway is crazy rich. So spending 24 hours in Oslo can easily cost you an arm and a lutefisk. And we want to spend all our money in Oslo on amazing food, not our hotels.
That’s why I suggest staying at Citybox Oslo. It’s very affordable for Oslo, but it also has private rooms and a private bathroom, so you can relax at the end of your evening in privacy and dignity. It’s also close to many major attractions. Breakfast isn’t included, but I got a discount on the tasty coffee and pastries served in the lobby. There’s no excuse to not stay here.
24 Hours in Oslo
What to Pack
Norway can be on the rainy side. So the two most important things you’ll need to bring are an umbrella and some rain boots. My favorite travel umbrella is the Repel Teflon Waterproof Umbrella. It is strong enough to stand up to the sometimes-quite-strong winds of Sweden.
For rain boots, I recommend the Asgard Rain Boots. They are comfy/cozy and keep my feet dry all day. Plus they’re cute enough that I can wear them out and about without feeling like some gauche American with gross feet.
Finally, if you’re not from Europe, you need a universal adapter if you’re going to plug in electronics. European electrical outlets don’t work with either American or British plugs. I suggest the NEWVANGA travel adapter. It’s usable with any electrical outlet in the world, so you won’t need to keep buying new adapters. I always carry two with me, just in case something happens to one.
24 Hours in Oslo
Morning: National Museum
Quick, who is the most famous Norwegian who ever lived? (We will not accept either Santa Claus or The Swedish Chef.) Some might say that the most notable Norwegian of modern times is demented painter of anguish Edvard Munch. Even if you’re not an art lover, you’ve seen his famous “The Scream” parodied in pop culture your entire life. So the first thing we need to do in our 24 hours in Oslo is head on over to the National Museum and learn all about Munch: the man, the myth, the legend. You might even meet some other notable Norwegian artists and impress your friends and relations. Let me just lead you over to…
approximately top 5: norwegian art
1) JC Dahl
JC Dahl, or Johan Christian Dahl as he is known on his birth certificate, is the first famous Norwegian painter. Today Norway is a phenomenally wealthy nation, but back in the 19th century it was both poor and obscure. Many Norwegians of a Romantic disposition wanted to create a new Norwegian style of art. Dahl used the majestic Norwegian landscapes to express the beauty and might of being Norwegian. It’s most effective because I know when I look at this painting, I definitely want to fling myself into the waterfall and become the bride of an underground troll. (If there’s one theme I leave you with today, it’s that Norwegian art is depressing.)
Also I apologize for this photograph being crooked. I always feel like it’s rude to block the paintings in a museum by trying to get the perfect shot, so I tend to just run as close as I can, snap a photo, and then run away. Then usually the guards yell at me for running in a museum.
2) Christian Krohg
Didn’t think that last piece was depressing enough? Try this portrait of a sick girl! As in the rest of Europe, one school of art that formed in reaction to the uber-dramatic Romantics were the Realists like Christian Krohg. These artists didn’t want to drive you into depression by making you stare at towering mountains and crushing waterfalls that make you feel overwhelmed with your puny insignificance. They wanted to drive you into depression by making you stare at the daily suffering of humanity. Krohg’s sister died of an illness when she was young, so he likely had her in mind when working on this painting.
In the 19th century, there weren’t prestigious art schools in Norway, so ambitious Norwegian painters had to study abroad. Dahl learned the Romantic style in Germany, and Krohg studied Realism in Paris by painting local prostitutes. I guess this makes Krohg Norway’s answer to Leonardo DiCaprio’s character in Titanic?
3) Winter Night in the Mountains
If I only introduce you to one new artist in your 24 hours in Oslo, let it be Harald Sohlberg. His eerie blue “Winter Night in the Mountains” is sometimes called the national painting of Norway. Sohlberg, who seems to have been the Platonic ideal of a Norwegian, spent much of his free time skiing in the Norwegian mountains. He felt an almost ecstatic, religious connection to nature there. The painting looks like it comes from a magical, troll kingdom, but Sohlberg apparently insisted that the light really was that blue. I’ll have to take his word for it because the chances of my going skiing in the Norwegian mountains in the winter at night are zero percent.
I just realized that we’ve looked at three prominent Norwegian paintings, and the only person we’ve seen in any of them was a dying child. I’m sure the next painting will be more cheerful, right?
4) The Scream
Wrong! Up next is the most famous Norwegian painting ever, Edvard Munch’s “The Scream”. According to the National Museum’s notes, the background of this painting is in the city of Kristiania. I don’t know how you can tell where this screamer is, unless Kristiania is the only city in Norway that is slowing melting to death.
Munch claimed that the idea for this painting came to him when he was walking with two friends. Suddenly he felt like the sky had turned to blood and he could hear the scream of nature. So often, it’s hard to understand the message of a painting. What was the artist trying to say? But here it’s crystal clear that Munch had one message, and that message is, “AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!”
PS. What happened to Munch’s friends? Did they also feel the sky turn to blood and hear the scream of nature? Did Munch push them in the water? It’s sad that their names have been lost to history because anyone who could be friends with someone who feels the sky turn to blood is a pretty remarkable person.
5) The Influence of Matisse
Well into the 20th century, ambitious Norwegian artists would leave Norway to study in more prestigious artistic communities in France and Germany. One of the most influential foreign artists for young Norwegian painters was Matisse. Above you can see one of Matisse’s portraits.
And here, you can see a portrait by Norwegian Jean Heiberg, who studied with Matisse. Note the similarities in color palette, geometric shapes, and the use of color blocks in the background. Some people find analyzing artwork intimidating, but it’s not so hard once you practice. I’m not a very visual person, so I always start by looking at the basic elements like color, shape, and line. Once you do that, it’s easy to notice similarities and differences between different artists.
24 Hours in Oslo
Afternoon: Oslo Food Tour
Internet Stranger, I can hear you rolling your eyes in confusion on this one. “What even is Norwegian food?” you ask. “Lutefisk and troll meat? Why would someone want to go on a food tour of Oslo?” Well, put aside your visions of salted, jellied fish and prepare yourself for an exquisite day of snacking on the finest meats, cheeses, seafood, and candy that Norway has to offer.
I recommend the Culinary City Walk through Foodtours.eu. This is a Scandinavia-only food tour company I have happily used in both Denmark and Sweden. On this four hour tour, you’ll taste the best of Norway’s capital, with a little street art thrown in to boot. Without further ado…
approximately top 5: Oslo Food
1) Norwegian Cheese
Our first stops on the tour are in the Mathallen food hall. (Mat is Norwegian for food.) One of Norway’s most famous food products is its delicious local cheese. You’ll get to sample three kinds of cheeses produced by small manufacturers. The first is a blue cheese that our guide (I’ll call her Elsa) said was made in a swimming pool. I promise you that it didn’t taste at all of chlorine. It was pure mold and stinky feet, just like a good blue cheese should be. The other two cheeses were a goat cheese and brunost, which is Norwegian brown cheese. (Ost is Norwegian for cheese. Never say I don’t teach you anything!)
Brunost is probably my favorite Norwegian food. It has a sweet taste almost like caramel. You make it by boiling down whey and adding cream to it. Not everyone likes it because it is sweeter than you expect cheese to be, even though there is no sugar added. I imagine boiling the whey does something to the lactose that activates the sweetness. But I think brunost is perfect on a sturdy brown cracker. Certainly you can’t leave Norway without a little brunost.
2) Meat Tasting
The second stop in Mathallen was for this gorgeous meat sampler. It featured special Norwegian charcuterie: cured lamb, lamb salami, moose salami, and reindeer hearts. I felt a little guilty eating the reindeer hearts, like I had jammed my fist into poor Rudolph’s chest and shown him his still-beating heart before his little red nose blinked out forever. But then I stopped feeling guilty because his heart tasted delicious. I’m heartless that way. (In a different way, Rudolph is heartless too now.)
Being from New York City, I’m used to kosher beef salami and Italian pork salami. I had never met a lamb salami before. But it makes sense that Norwegians would be expert at curing meats since they needed to make the food last during those endless Norwegian winters. Traditionally Norwegians spent this time hiding in caves from roving bands of hungry trolls. So some hearty moose salami would come in handy at that time.
We washed down all that meat with a glorious Norwegian beer. (Not the last beer we’d have that day by a long shot.) I divide countries into beer countries and wine countries, and Norway is definitely a beer country. It doesn’t have the right climate for growing grapes, naturally.
Now we come to one of my favorite chocolate companies in the world: Summerbird. I’ve sampled their goods in Norway and Denmark, which is where they are originally from. Their chocolates are seasonal, organic, and most importantly, delicious. We got to sample some of their disks of plain milk, white, and dark chocolate. These sumptuously dissolved in our mouth like the dreams of a cocoa bean.
Then it was time for the larger tastings. We each got a chocolate covered almond coated in licorice and a seasonal chocolate dipped in fresh strawberry powder. Scandinavians are renowned for their love of licorice, but if you are a licorice novice, trying it for the first time mixed in with nuts and chocolate is a great baby step. I also love the idea of companies using fresh produce to create seasonal chocolate. Although I do wonder what their seasonal winter chocolate is because I don’t think anything grows in Norway in the winter except snow and troll noses.
4) Sampler Plate at Rorbua
As much fun as Norwegian meat and cheese are, fish have always been a staple of the Norwegian diet. There are certain types of Norwegian seafood are not commonly found in other countries. To sample these delicacies, we stopped at a fisherman’s themed restaurant on the harbor called Rorbua. The theme is easily visible from the decor, which includes a real boat and photographs of Norwegian fishermen.
Rorbua serves specialties from North Norway, like reindeer pate and smoked whale. That sounds like I’m trafficking in stereotypes about rural Norwegians, but really that is what we ate. I had never consumed whale before because it is illegal in the United States, but in Norway it is a delicacy. It was quite fatty, which makes sense because I got the impression from Moby Dick that a whale is like 90 percent blubber. I wasn’t sure whether I should eat my smoked whale or use it to light a 19th century streetlamp.
5) Amundsen Brewery
Did I mention that the Norwegians love their beer? Well, if you do too, you should stop at the Amundsen Brewery, which makes craft beers using local products. Are there craft breweries that make beers using non-local products? Do they advertise by bragging about their terrible carbon footprint because they import their wheat from far-off lands where it’s picked by underpaid and exploited workers? But I digress.
We sampled three beers: a light pilsner called Run to the Pils, a hoppy IPA, and a stout made with local honey. If you’re interested in a quick beer primer, here goes. A pilsner is a lager style from the Czech Republic. An India Pale Ale is an ale style that originated with British officers who needed a beer that could travel with them to India. The difference between a lager and an ale is during the fermentation process. The yeast in a lager ferments on the bottom of a barrel, and the yeast in an ale ferments on the top. (There are resulting differences in taste and color too, of course.)
24 Hour Treasure: Street Art
One bonus on the food tour was getting to see the wacky street art sprinkled all around Oslo. This tragic display was created by an insane murderer who lopped off ears and noses from unsuspecting tourists, covered them in bricks, and sprinkled them around the city. (I’m guessing.)
I admire this woman’s hat and shoe game, but I feel like she’s going to be really embarrassed when someone tells her that she left her clothes at home.
24 Hours in Oslo
Late Afternoon: Oslo Opera House
We’ve just finished an extensive food tour, so if you’re anything like me, you’ll want to wait a couple of hours before dinner. So let’s continue our 24 hours in Oslo with a stop at Oslo’s most iconic landmark: the opera house. If you’re really stuffed, you can attempt to attend a performance here instead of having dinner. But even if nothing is on, you can spend a glorious afternoon here enjoying the views of the Oslo harbor.
The design of the Oslo Opera House allows you to actually climb on the roof from the outside. No ticket needed or anything! It will be a little crowded on a warm day, but it’s a perfect day to sit and read and enjoy the rare Norwegian sunshine.
The interior of the Opera House resembles some magical, minimalism Scandinavian forest. It’s free to go inside, even if you don’t have a ticket to a show, so don’t miss it!
24 Hours in Oslo
Evening: Dinner at Mamma Pizza
We spent the whole afternoon sampling traditional Norwegian food, so for our dinner, let’s visit a different country. Mamma Pizza is run by Italian immigrants to Oslo, so it’s both authentic and delicious. Don’t worry you’re going to get some oddball concoction covered with brown cheese and whale meat.
I selected the Diavola Pizza, which was sprinkled with diabolically spicy slices of sausage. It was also delightful to pair this with a glass of Italian red wine. Because I was traveling around Scandinavia for the summer, I had been mostly sticking to beer. As I mentioned, Scandinavian countries don’t really produce wine. Also imported wine is heavily taxed in many of these places, so the vino is crazy expensive. Don’t try to smuggle wine in either. You might get arrested, though I’m pretty sure jail in Norway just consists of a lot of Norwegian grannies looking disappointed with you.
That’s a Perfect 24 Hours in Oslo!
What would you do with 24 hours in Oslo? Are you ready to start booking your hotel in Oslo right now? Have you ever eaten whale blubber or walked to the top of an opera house? And did Munch think the sky turned to blood because he murdered his two poor friends and sprinkled their blood around the Norwegian countryside? Please leave your thoughts below!
Note: If you want to know how I put my travel itineraries together, just click here. Keep in mind that while each article is about how to spend 24 hours in a place, that doesn’t mean you should ONLY spend 24 hours in Oslo. If you have another 24 hours in Oslo, try this itinerary.