Following in the footsteps of playwrights, prize-winners and politicians, Felicity Cousins explores the Norwegian capital.
1. THE IBSEN MUSEUM
One of Oslo’s most famous inhabitants was playwright Henrik Ibsen. From 1895 until his death in 1906 he lived in an apartment opposite the Royal Gardens, which has been reconstructed and is now part of the Ibsen Museum. There are tours every hour by enthusiastic guides who describe how Ibsen lived, and the influence his wife Suzannah had on him. When Ibsen wrote A Doll’s House, he was concerned that the ending was too controversial. Protagonist Nora famously leaves, slamming the door behind her and leaving her family; Ibsen rewrote it so that Nora shouts her last lines and then faints. When Suzannah read this alternative ending she said: “If Nora stays, I leave.” So Nora left, and audiences across Europe were shocked by the depiction of her independence and strength. Open 11am-4pm in winter (to 4pm in summer), closed Mondays; visit ibsen.net.
02. THE ROYAL PALACE AND THE NATIONAL GALLERY
Opposite Ibsen’s apartment are the gardens of the Royal Palace (when he was unwell after a stroke, the playwright was given a key to the gardens so he could take his walks without being disturbed). Today the Royal Gardens are open to the public and you can watch the changing of the guard at the Palace at 1.30pm daily. There
is a huge gravel path leading up to the Palace and if you look back from the top you can get good views of Oslo’s main street. Walk through the gardens to the bottom lefthand corner at University Gate and find the National Gallery. Inside is
the largest collection of Norwegian art worldwide (open daily 11-5pm), which includes the world-famous Scream by Edvard Munch and works by Rolf Nesch, Reidar Aulie and Arne Ekeland. (If you are a real Munch fan, head to the Munch Museum by jumping on an east-bound metro to Toyen-Munch-Museet.) Visit nasjonalmuseet.no.
03. THE GRAND HOTEL
There are several well-known hotels in Oslo – the Grand and the Continental are the oldest, while more modern landmarks include the Radisson SAS and the stunning new design hotel Grims Grenka, which features a rooftop terrace and bar (opening March 1). The Grand Hotel is home to the Grand Café, which Ibsen visited every day to take a break from writing. He arrived at the hotel at exactly 11.55am and would sit behind his newspaper trying to be inconspicuous. There is a great mural on one of the walls by Per Krohg, painted in 1928. It shows the Grand Café packed with customers, from the hotel manager to Edvard Munch and playwright Bjornstjerne Bjornson, and on the left Ibsen can be seen arriving with his top hat and cane. The Grand Hotel also hosts the Nobel Peace Prize dinner and the winner stays in the Nobel Peace Suite and waves from the balcony to the crowds below.
04. THE WATERFRONT
From the Grand Hotel, cut straight down to the waterfront. Up a steep hill to your left is the Fort, and it’s worth the climb to the top for great views across the 100-kilometre Oslo Fjord and of the boats coming in – 144 cruise ships visit Oslo over the summer and there are three ferries to Denmark a day. Taking a cruise around the fjord is one of the city’s most popular tourist attractions, and there are options to suit every schedule. The standard 50-minute tour is a great introduction, but if you have an evening spare it’s well worth taking a three-hour cruise on a traditional wooden sailing ship with a Norwegian prawn buffet. Visit boatsightseeing.com for times and prices.
05. THE NOBEL PEACE CENTRE
From the controversial win of Henry Kissinger to last year’s decision to honour Al Gore, the Nobel Peace prize has been generating headlines since its inauguration in 1901. This museum is a fantastically modern introduction to everything to do with the prize. It is an interactive experience, so be prepared to lose yourself for at least an hour, as each room has an innovative way of displaying information. For example, on a table in the centre of one room is a huge virtual book which tells the history of the prize: Albert Nobel was a bomb-maker experimenting with nitroglycerin (his brother was killed in one of his experiments), and it is thought he invested in the prize because he was in love with a woman who persuaded him to do something good with his money. Entry is free with the Oslo Pass (closed on Mondays). For more information visit nobelpeacecentre.org.
This 80-acre park is filled with 212 bronze and granite sculptures by Gustav Vigeland, who also designed the layout and structure of the park. It was a massive undertaking and he had to enlist the help of other artists to finish the life-size sculptures. Sadly, they were not all completed until around 1950, by which time Vigeland had died. From the main entrance, the first thing that strikes you is the bridge, which is flanked by statues showing the different relationships between parent and child, friend and lover. The most famous is the angry little boy Sinnataggen, who has been stolen and returned several times. At the end of the bridge is a fountain surrounded by intricate stone carvings of trees, with figures telling the story of life from childhood to love, marriage, old age and finally death. From here, a short flight of steps leads up to the Monolith, a mind-boggling pillar of interlinked bodies. Admission to the park is free, and it is open 24 hours a day.
Oslo Pass provides free entry to museums and sights, use of public transport, free parking and discounts on tours, car rental and restaurants. Price for a 24-hour pass: £18.90; 48 hours: £27; 72 hours: £35. Visit visitoslo.com.