I have a confession to make: I am in absolute awe of Norway. The simplistic, manageable cities, the creative cuisine, the modern infrastructure – everything about it felt well thought-out. Add in the hospitable people and the easy on the eyes scenery … and we seriously started to research what it would take to move there. Here are some of our favorite moments from our week spent in Oslo and Bergen.
Done with Stockholm, we embarked for the nordic metropolis of Oslo via rail. While it’s easy and cheap to fly there, we opted for the train in order to enjoy the view while relaxing in the comfort of a larger seat with generous leg room.
We arrived on the Saturday of Pride weekend, and the city greeted us with its gorgeous waterfront and forest ridge (2/3 of Oslo is covered in forest). The town itself was bustling, with residents out celebrating the weekend and enjoying the season of 75 degree days.
Compared to other places we visited in Scandinavia, we immediately noticed that Oslo just seemed nicer. The streets were cleaner, the homes were bigger, the people looked incredibly put together, and if they weren’t driving a Tesla, it was some other luxury vehicle.
Why, you ask? Since they discovered oil in the 1960s Norway has been the biggest oil producer in Western Europe (giving it a per capita GDP 40% higher than that of its Swedish neighbor). Their oil resources now subsidize their current push toward a greener lifestyle – ie: subsidized electric cars – and also feed into the world’s largest sovereign wealth fund (resulting in a robust foundation of social services). I won’t go on any further, but you can listen to a great Freakonomics podcast on Norway’s economy to learn more.
We stayed in the lovely Sankt Hanshaugen neighborhood at our favorite Airbnb to date. It was conveniently right next to Smalhans, a restaurant I had been wanting to try (and not just for the funny, politically timely name). Smalhans is a simple, seasonal Norwegian eatery with an amazing 6-course tasting menu. We were blown away by the fish and the vibe in general. It wasn’t too pricey to begin with, but we did hear that their menu always has a cheap single-meal “Husmannskost” offering from 4:00 to 6:00 every day.
Sankt Hanshaugen is near a park and a cemetery, Vår Frelsers gravlund, where many notable Norwegians are buried, including Edvard Munch (who painted The Scream). Walking through it, we couldn’t help but notice a serious case of penis envy on display, with some tombstones getting up to 15-20 feet high!
Bordering Sankt Hanshaugen is Grünerløkka, a trendy, artistically tagged district along the river. Grünerløkka was filled with lively cafes, cool bars, trendy restaurants and independent art galleries. Blå is a great example of the artistic vibe in Grünerløkka: it’s not just a bar but also a great daytime hangout, hosting a Sunday flea market and live music. When we were there we heard a free concert with the Frank Snort Quartet.
Like the Swedes, Norwegians love their fancy food courts, and the incredible Mathallen Oslo is a fantastic venue to try Norwegian cheese, fish and chocolate. In and around the food court, there are plenty of reasonably priced cafes and food trucks, so we took some noodles to go and picnicked.
Grünerløkka naturally attracts a slew of artists because it’s home to many of the country’s top art schools. Our favorite moments in this neck of the woods were spent just walking around and taking in all of the amazing graffiti art on the buildings. Here are some of our favorite works below.
Oslo is a small city that’s very easy to explore on foot. But why walk when you can bike? We both signed up for Oslo Bysykkel (Oslo City Bike) and took the city by storm. We heard that Oslo is best experienced near the water, so we biked through downtown toward the waterfront Oslo Opera House, a gorgeously modern piece of architecture shaped like a sheet of floating ice. Instead of stairs, the structure has a sloped roof and walkway, inviting many sunbathers on a warm sunny day. We then headed to Aker Brygge, an energetic, multi-use marina filled with condos, hotels, restaurants and designer shops. I had a coconut gelato as I admired the yachts in the harbor.
The medieval Akershus Fortress sits near the waterfront as well. This castle was built to protect Oslo, and is still a military area, but is open to the public daily. We climbed the stairs and took in the gorgeous view from above.
We serendipitously met some locals in Oslo who adopted us and showed us around. And what better way to experience Oslo than another food court? We walked to the recently-opened waterfront Vippa, where we spent hours at the outdoor picnic tables enjoying some of the freshest poke bowls, along with many pints of the local beer. And while the wind picked up as the late afternoon sun went in and out from behind the clouds, we stayed outside enjoying the “summer” weather. Because as they say in Norway: “Det finnes ikke dårlig vær, bare dårlig klær!” (“There is no bad weather, only bad clothes”)
Prior to our adventure year, my brother gifted us National Geographic’s “Journeys of a Lifetime” book. While I used it to gather ideas for much of our travel, one adventure in particular stood out to me: the Oslo – Bergen train route. With its high elevation, gorgeous mountain views, magnificent glaciers, majestic forests, and of course mesmerizing FJORDS, it is considered to to be one of the world’s most scenic railroads. It was definitely a bucket list trip for us, and I barely put my camera down. Here are some photos from our 6 hour journey:
With Rachel and Johan’s help, we secured a (gratis!) flat in Bergen, allowing us to spend more time in fjord country. Bergen is built right on the water and on the edge of mountains. It’s known as the city of seven mountains, so when you walk outside, its like you are in a secret alcove hidden away from the rest of the world. It’s definitely up there as being one of the world’s most beautifully-positioned cities (San Francisco & Seattle are on that list as well).
Walking around the old town, one of the things we immediately noticed about Bergen compared to Oslo was just how quaint it was. With its colorful, wooden Scandinavian architecture and famous Bryggen – a World Heritage-listed Hanseatic wharf – Bergen retains most of its original charm, despite being an economic powerhouse with a huge expat population.
Due to this convenient proximity to nature, people in Bergen take their hiking, trekking and general outdoor activities to another level. There are plenty of hikes to conquer, so we decided to start with Fløyen, a peak easily accessible from the center of town. After grabbing a bite at La Taqueria – “the best tacos in Europe” according to Gaetan – we decided to put our athleticism to the test and hike up instead of taking the Fløibanen funicular railway. In our opinion, this was totally worth it and we deserved our view (and our pastry!) at the top that much more.
Walking down Fløyen, we heard some music resounding through the mountains. Curious what was going on, we stumbled on a music festival – Bergen Live – in one of the nearby parks. For such a small venue, the lineup was impressive, with The Weeknd headlining. There were still tickets available, so we grabbed a pair on a whim (we are running a music blog, after all). Once we got into the show, any supposed rules around Norwegian’s sense of personal space went flying out the window, and we somehow found ourselves in a raging mosh pit of The Weeknd’s Nordic teenage superfans. That said, it was a great evening and was even topped off with fireworks since it also happened to be the Fourth of July.
The next morning, I was dying to check out the Fjords. Yes, I am aware that we saw many a fjord while we were in Iceland, but there seemed to be something special about visiting the fjords in Norway. Without a lot of time, we couldn’t go to the UNESCO World Heritage Nærøyfjord: narrowest fjord in the world flanked by thousand meter mountains above it. Instead, we did a shorter trip from Bergen to the Mostraumen fjord.
It was a really nice (albeit cold) day for a boat ride, and we saw some great scenery. That said, if I ever come back to Norway, I will definitely be taking myself to the Nærøyfjord. On the way out of the Marina, we made sure not to miss the ultra-touristy but delicious Bergen Fish Market.
Unfortunately our time in Norway was limited, so next time we would spend a few more days exploring more of Norway: backpacking Trolltunga, spending a day in the picturesque Flåm village, and perhaps seeing the Northern Lights in Tromsø.
But now, onto the next leg of our trip: Prague!