Oslo: City of The Midnight Sun

Norway’s sleek, youthful capital has considerable contemporary flair and a relaxed lifestyle that especially comes into its own during its long summer days.

Words by Brian Johnston

Norway is a country happy to fulfil stereotypes: expect plunging fjords, winter wonderlands, blonde inhabitants in knitted sweaters, reindeer and chic furnishings.


What’s less well associated with Norway is summertime, and yet the summer months are just when the country is seen at its best, and Oslo emerges in greenery and high spirits. Locals strum guitars on the waterfront, tuck into pancakes with fresh Arctic cloudberries and make merry long into the pale northern evenings, which last until the sun sets close to midnight.

Oslo is a city of fine pleasures: park filled, water loving and comfortably sitting in its natural surrounds. Teenagers jump off rocks into the chilly fjord, boats skim across the water, and suburbanites cultivate tidy gardens and hike through wooded hills. Trees shimmer with summer finery, and dragonflies flit. Best of all, you can make the most of a visit thanks to seemingly endless daylight. This cool, Nordic beauty of a city is bathed in pale light from the time you awaken until after you hit your hotel. It’s also the smallest of the Scandinavian capitals, making it easy to navigate on foot and providing small-town charm despite Oslo’s many big-city cultural assets and long history.

CW2BDR Vigeland Sculpture Park Frogner Park Oslo Norway Scandinavia

Oslo is inextricably linked to the sea, and has been since its founding by an 11th-century Viking king; even its contemporary wealth comes from undersea oil. Oslofjord, on which it sits, extends its watery finger some 100km out of the city to the open sea. You’ll find some worthy sights along its shoreline, not least the Henie-Onstad Kunstsenter, a wonderful collection of modern art with an open-air theatre. You can hike across Hovedøya Island and inspect monastery ruins a thousand years old, and explore historic settlements along the fjord’s eastern shore, such as Fredrikstad and Halden. Oslo folk flock to the fjord in summer to fish, boat, windsurf, swim and flop on warm rocks; Bygdøy Peninsula is home to one of its most popular beaches at Huk.


Hop on the right ferry for the short ride across to the Bygdøy Peninsula for some of Oslo’s best museums. The Norwegian Maritime Museum displays a polar vessel, three-masted schooner and traditional fishing boats. Take in the museum’s film screening about Norway’s attachment to the ocean; aerial shots of Norway’s fjord and rugged coastline are stunning. Best of all, though, is the peninsula’s Viking Ship Museum, displaying three Viking longships, one of which is nearly intact. The treasures, tools and clothes preserved in the ships provide an incredible insight into Viking society.


Down on the city’s harbour front, yachts dance on the water, seagulls swoop overhead and ferries chug back and forth. You can buy bags of just-caught shrimp in front of the town hall, cooked by the fisherman and making a delicious nibble as you check out the harbour activities. Adjacent Aker Brygge, once a shipbuilding district, has been transformed into an upscale residential neighbourhood alive with restaurants and bars. As soon as the summer sun emerges, there are people everywhere, slurping ice creams, enjoying cocktails and sitting along the raised walls of flowerbeds and fountain rims.

DHEFHF Akershus fortress and harbour, Oslo, Norway, Scandinavia, Europe

Above it all looms Akershus Castle, under which the city was rebuilt after a devastating early-17th-century fire. The castle has a rich and rather violent history, but also fine apartments still used by the Norwegian government for official functions. Its biggest asset, though, are the panoramas of the city and fjord from its ramparts; locals lie out on grassy terraces and soak up the sun.

Beyond Akershus Castle and the city’s old core, Oslo’s most significant buildings are mostly early 20th century, built when it became the capital of an independent nation: the royal palace, parliament, town hall and national theatre, among others. Mind you, the capital’s most striking building is its 2008 opera house, which sits like an iceberg in marble and glass on the edge of the harbour; you can even take a stroll across its roofs.


The city’s cultural activities are particularly fervent over the winter months, when the dark, cold weather pulls residents indoors. However, ensembles of folk musicians often give summer recitals, and free jazz concerts play around town; there’s an annual jazz festival in August, as well as a chamber music festival in the castle. Summer also brings music onto the streets, with hundreds of buskers plying their trade, especially in Stortorvet market square and along Karl Johans gate, Oslo’s main shopping street (gate confusingly meaning ‘street’ in Norwegian). This avenue also features several open-air beer gardens at their best in July and August, when drinkers sit chatting long into the night. A little further on near the palace, Studenterlunden (students’ grove) near the university is another summer socialising spot, and just the place to raise a glass to Oslo.

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From Colours May 2016

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5 Senses – Touch

What was it like sailing out on a late-19th-century wooden ship to explore polar oceans? Step into the Dark Walk at this museum and find yourself at –10°C on a heaving deck that creaks ominously under your feet. Just beyond the simulation stands the real Fram, used by famous polar explorers Fridtjof Nansen and Roald Amundsen, whose crew was icebound for three years. Clamber around the ship, and study exhibits outlining the thrilling story of polar exploration.