Scandinavia is a part of the world which captivates me. It is a land of dramatic scenery, rich history and mysterious folklore. Its rugged, windswept landscapes couldn’t be much less like the arid expanses of Western Australian that I call home, and they also make it a photographer’s dream.
Having already been enchanted by Finland, Iceland and Sweden, I was excited to see what Norway had to offer. We traveled by rail from Stockholm into Oslo on 31 December to be there to witness the city’s New Year celebrations.
Oslo is the busy capital of Norway, and sits at the top of one of the country’s famous fjords. While it is as ancient as the other capitals in the region, a fire in 1624 destroyed the oldest parts of the city so you won’t find the medieval buildings of Stockholm’s Gamla Stan. This doesn’t make it any less attractive however, and there are plenty of grand edifices built in the centuries after the fire. By clearing out the old, the fire has also given Oslo a distinctly modern appearance in places, the glass skyscrapers that frame its skyline gave it a forward looking and pleasant feel. We had been treated to the sight of pine forests and peaceful lakes on our train journey into the city, and so the bustle of the city and the excitement and anticipation for the New Year made quite a contrast.
Having arrived by day, we checked into our hotel and visited some of the attractions before the evening’s festivities began. We passed through Oslo Central Station on our way to the Comfort Hotel Karl Johan, just a few minutes walk away. The hotel is a funky place to stay, and it is playfully decorated. We were greeted with a wall of neon pop-art lights at the reception desk as soon as we walked in. It was centrally located and was as comfortable as the name suggested. All in all, it was the perfect place to stop for two nights.
We set off to enjoy our afternoon of sightseeing, with the first stop being the Akershus Fortress where we witnessed the last sunset of the year. The fortress is one of the few buildings that survived the 1624 fire. This grand old castle sits on the waterfront, and comes complete with towers, walls and spires. While the king lives in the palace these days, many of his ancestors are buried here and the royal guard still patrol its gates. The castle is on the east side of the Oslofjord meaning that we were treated to the sight of the sun setting over the water.
From Akershus Fortress we moved on to the Oslo Opera House, a little further along the waterfront (also known as the Harbour Promenade). The opera house is an extremely interesting building to look at; its angled white exterior and sloped marble-covered roof appears to emerge right out of the water. You can even walk up to the marble-embellished roof for a bird’s eye view of Oslo. The fjord archipelago with vibrant and small traditional wooden summer houses can be seen on the right, Oslo city on the left and hills and mountains further behind. Inspired by the Norwegian nature the interior of the opera house is equally breathtaking and impressive with cavernous space fronted by a huge glass wall.
Much of Oslo’s main sights are within walking distance of each other which is handy if, like us, you are trying to fit a lot into a short amount of time. Just before midnight we followed the crowds around the corner to the Oslo City Hall where we welcomed the New Year with fireworks.
The first day of the year was our only full day in the city, so it consisted of a whirlwind of sightseeing. Luckily most of the things we wanted to see were on the same street, making it easy to get between them. Karl Johans Gate is the main artery of the city centre connecting the central station to the palace. It is also the street our hotel was located on making things even easier.
We spent the morning exploring Fjord City on the waterfront. A lot of money has been put into the area surrounding the fjord, and today it is a modern, perhaps even futuristic looking area which couldn’t be more different to the old world charm of Karl Johans Gate despite being only a couple of blocks away. The project started in the 1980’s with the Aker Brygge area where there were once shipyards and warehouses and now restaurants and shopping centres. At one edge of the district overlooking the water, is the city hall where we had watched the fireworks the night before. We walked passed it again and admired its brutalist architectural style. The city hall houses some of the great Norwegian art dated between early 1900s to 1950s, with motifs ranging from Norwegian history, culture and working life. The bells in the city hall clock tower plays a different music chime every hour.
The Royal Palace is our next attraction. This enormous 173 rooms building is home to the royal family, and set in the centre of some peaceful landscaped gardens. The palace is a relatively recent construction having been finished in 1849. That doesn’t make it any less impressive however, and it was a great introduction to the neoclassical style of architecture commonly found in Oslo.
Towards the palace end is the Stortinget, the parliament building; a beautiful winged building with a round central chamber. Just beyond it is the National Theatre which was extremely photogenic thanks to its domed roof and column flanked entrance. This is also the oldest and grandest part of town.
The next morning we embarked on the first leg in our tour of Norway, so we settled in for another good night’s rest. Next stop… Flam and Bergen by rail.
During our time in Oslo there was one place which looked too luxurious to miss – the Hotel Continental. Housed in one of Oslo’s grandest buildings it is the definition of refined European Opulence. We spent a night feeling almost as special as the king down the road in his palace, and woke up refreshed.
Winter survival tips
If you are like us who are not used to walking in ice and snow,
- Exercise with caution and assume all wet, dark areas on pavements are slippery and icy. Dew or water vapour can freeze on cold surfaces, forming an extra-thin, invisible layer of ice that can look like a wet spot on the pavement.
- Walk in designated walkways if you can. Taking shortcuts over snow piles and other frozen areas can be hazardous. Look ahead when you walk; a snow- or ice-covered sidewalk, especially if on a hill, may require travel along its grassy edge for traction.
- Bend your knees slightly and walk flat-footed and lower your centre of gravity directly over the feet.
- Leave your hands and arms free and out of your pockets to balance yourself. You can help break your fall with your hands free if you do start to slip.
- Try not to carry a heavy backpack or load, you will lose your sense of balance.
- Watch where you are stepping and go slow. This will help your reaction time to changes in traction.
- When walking on steps always use the hand rails and plant your feet firmly on each step.
- Take short steps or shuffle for stability. Stop occasionally to break momentum.
Interested to own a piece of Oslo and Norway?
My Oslo photo collection is available as prints and comes in a variety of framing options. Please get in touch to find out more. You can also browse our selection of landscape photographs from our portfolio.