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Beautiful Oslo. Photo courtesy of S-F / Shutterstock.com.

Looking to explore Oslo, Norway, like a local? Epicure & Culture caught up with Curtis Rojak, owner of the tour company Viking Biking, to get his take on how to get to know the city beyond the typical tourist sites.

1. For a lesser-known attraction, Oslo has beautiful coastline and unusually warm water that is in 20s Celsius (~68 Fahrenheit) throughout much of the summer. Locals take ferries to the various islands, hopping from one to another, using these public transport boats that make discovering the Oslo Fjord affordable and fun. Each island has a different feel: while one may have a 12th century abbey, on another you’ll find a nature preserve. On a third is a collection of brightly painted wooden homes. In total, there are seven islands that can be reached with the ferries. Starting in 2015, the ferry port will be in the heart of downtown, right by City Hall.

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Photo courtesy of Furtseff via Shutterstock.

2. For those wanting to experience local culture, I read recently that Oslo has more concerts per inhabitant than any other European capital. This is a town with a great live music scene, and each month the guide What’s On In Oslo gives a good overview. Norway has a surprisingly strong Jazz scene and I recommend checking out something in that genre, perhaps at the centrally located Victoria National Jazz Scene.

3. To savor the local culinary culture, go to the indoor food market, called “Mathallen“. It opened a couple of years ago and offers everything under one beautiful roof. Part of an old industrial area along the Akerselva river and situated near some impressive waterfalls, the Mathallen is an amazing blend of old industrial architecture with new glass and modern twists. And the food is amazing, offering dozens of options, communal seating, and a variety of both traditional and modern foods. I love the reindeer sausage, the incredible Norwegian seafood and some unknown cheeses from the Norwegian west coast.

4. For a truly local travel souvenir, exotic food is always fun, and Norway has plenty of options. In most every supermarket, you can find elk and reindeer dried meats. Avoid the pricey tourist shops and just go to any downtown supermarket like a Rimi, Kiwi or Rema 1000.

5. Looking for a spectacular view? Oslo has some of the best viewpoints of any city I have been to, thanks to the huge elevation difference within. While the downtown is relatively flat, it starts climbing fast. And the best way to climb is on Metro Line 1, heading westbound toward the end stop of “Frognerseteren.” At about 450 meters (1,476 feet) above the city, this area is an old farm with amazing wooden architecture. But that is not the reason people visit this site: it is for the views; not only from the top, but all along the metro ride — above ground almost the entire way. Frognerseteren is where the city stops and the forest begins, so sweeping views extend over the fjord, above the city, past lakes and thousands of hectares of preserved wilderness. It is unlike any other view of a city I have ever seen.

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Karl Johans Gate makes for a scenic stroll, but can be pricey for going out. Photo courtesy of Matthew Wilkinson
via flickr.

6. Getting tipsy in Oslo is expensive, but enjoying a few drinks is feasible. The neighborhood of Grunerlokka is the best known for going out, and offers dozens of options around and near the main square of Olaf Reyes Plass. I would avoid going out much around the main street, Karl Johans Gate, as that is often over-priced compared to what you can find in other neighborhoods. And beer is king in Norway. I like my beer strong and dark, so I order a variety called “Bayer,” which guarantees a strong brew.

7. Some interesting locals you’ll definitely want to meet are the fishermen who bring in their fresh catches of the day to the docks by the city hall, called “Rådhusbrygge.” It’s where locals go to buy local seafood. The guys on the boats are what you expect: not much chit-chat, straight-forward and mostly interested in fish. The boiled shrimp, ready-to-eat, are the most popular, but look out for some more unusual offerings too, like the Atlantic wolffish!

8. There is a lively local art and music, in my opinion in part due to the fact that the weather is not ideal for a good number of months. That means indoor activities like art and music play an important role in the Oslo scene. DogA is pretty cool — the Norwegian design and architecture center. Located in a part of the world known for its minimalist interior design and bold modern architecture, DogA is a place that gives a visitor of good overview, while in an amazing building along the Akerselva River, set right on a waterfall.

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A nice view on the trail from Sognsvann to Ullevaalseter. Photo courtesy of Kroholdt via Shutterstock.

9. Oslo is one of the world’s most natural cities. About half of the city is protected nature, basically a wilderness. The Oslo forest is called the marka, and will take your breath away. Take a metro 15 minutes, and you leave the city to enter the forest. I live near a great lake called Sognsvann, which is perfect for swimming in summer and skiing in winter. You’ll feel hours from the city, yet you are only six kilometers (four miles) from downtown. Nature is the number one reason the residents of Oslo love this city, and it is the heart and soul of the Oslo experience.

10. If Curtis had one free day in Oslo: I run a bike company, so you can imagine that I might choose to spend my free day biking. I used to do long-distance bike tours a couple of times per year, but now with young children, that hobby is on hold. But if I had one free day, I would hop on my bike, discover new villages, find some hidden restaurants, enjoy some local food and make sure to never follow a map. I would go wherever my bike leads me. I once biked from Switzerland to the Spanish/French border without a map, so that is my kind of journey!

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Curtis Rojak doing what he does best — biking!

About The Author

Curtis Rojak was born in the U.S. and received a Masters in International Law from L’Université de Lyon III in France. While his professional background included working with international organizations — most notably the International Red Cross based in Switzerland — he eventually dreamed of getting away from a desk job.  Always an avid biker, his dream slowly became reality with Viking Biking. He determined Oslo was a bike tourism company due to the green spaces, preserved nature and outdoor feel of the city, which  he had gotten to know quite well during visits with his Norwegian wife to visit her family there.

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Jessica Festa

Jessica Festa is the editor of Epicure & Culture as well as Jessie on a Journey. She enjoys getting lost in new cities and having experiences you don’t read about in guidebooks. Some of her favorite travel experiences have been teaching English in Thailand, trekking her way through South America, backpacking Europe solo, road tripping through Australia, agritouring through Tuscany, and volunteering in Ghana.

Jessica Festa

Jessica Festa is the editor of Epicure & Culture as well as Jessie on a Journey. She enjoys getting lost in new cities and having experiences you don’t read about in guidebooks. Some of her favorite travel experiences have been teaching English in Thailand, trekking her way through South America, backpacking Europe solo, road tripping through Australia, agritouring through Tuscany, and volunteering in Ghana.

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5 Comments

  1. I’m half Norwegian and somehow have never visited Norway! We are hoping to go sometime in the next couple of years so will check out Viking Biking. We love seeing cities by bicycle!

    1. @Karianne: Agreed. Love feeling the beat of the city this way 🙂 Have fun!

  2. Try to get a hold of a town bike card in Oslo. Tons of drop off places in central Oslo makes it easy and almost free (100 NOK a year) to get around by bike: http://www.bysykler.no/en-oslo .

    1. @Green: Thanks for the tip!

  3. I really appreciated all the information on this post. I enterd because i was looking for a supermarket to buy reindeer and krill and read the whole article. I m looking forward ti visit today till Wednesday all the places you mentioned. Thank you very much!!

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