After Part I, which was all about discovering Oslo on a beautiful day out, now comes Part II, in which we find that Norway’s capital boasts so many fantastic museums and exhibitions that bad weather is absolutely no let-down. The only problem might be that you don’t even know where to start. But have no fear: we are not going to let you stand in the rain!
Let us introduce you to the most popular museums of Oslo in order to get an idea of what to expect – here are our recommendations:
The Museum Island
A 20-minute bus-ride away from the city centre lies the peninsula “Bygdoy”. It is called the museum island because there are in total six museums on it. Let’s begin with three of them which basically all stand beside each other: the Fram Museum, the Kon-Tiki Museum and the Norwegian Maritime Museum!
The Fram Museum
The Fram is a polarship that was built in 1892 and has starred in several polar expeditions. The most famous was probably the one of Roald Amundsen between 1910 and 1912, during which he became the first person to reach the south pole. His competitor, Englishman Robert Falcon Scott, arrived 35 days later.
Around the famous vessel (as well as on and inside it) you can learn all about this expedition, and about the arctic, the Antarctic, the north and the south pole. On the three levels surrounding the ship are a multitude of exhibits, ranging from clothing and medical gear to nautical instruments, which demonstrate the circumstances under which the expedition crew was travelling.
Notes, reports, life stories and other documents provide an additional insight. Even Scott’s expedition is part of the exhibition – admittedly the one that illustrates what incredible challenge these explorers had set themselves, and the horrific consequences they faced when things didn’t work out as planned.
You can easily spend a few hours here without getting bored – there are also interactive bits, like the polar simulator or the northern lights show. Some metres outside of the museum are standing the statues of the expedition crew looking over the water in the distance – a good spot to contemplate for a couple of minutes after your visit. For example, how much better any crazy expedition would be that didn’t involve the risk of freezing to death. Which brings us to the next museum:
The Kon-Tiki Museum
One day in 1947 in Peru, Norwegian explorer Thor Heyerdahl planted his butt firmly on a traditionally built float that he had named Kon-Tiki, and, together with five more men, set sail towards Polynesia. Did I mention he couldn’t swim?
Heyerdahl wanted to prove his theory that Polynesia could have been settled from people coming from South America – and he did! He really made it across the Pacific Ocean – and the documentary that was filmed aboard won an Oscar.
It remains to this date the only Oscar Norway has received, and you can admire it in the museum, as well as watch the film each day at noon. But that’s not what you have come for, have you? You have come to see the Kon-Tiki itself.
We of course managed to visit during the time the float was undergoing renovations, but since Thor Heyerdahl was quite the adventurer and explorer, there were many more projects to take a look at; for instance another sea-based expedition with a boat made from papyrus, the Ra II.
The museum is not an enormous one, but is an excellent example for experimental archaeology, and for how interesting and exciting science can be.
By the way: the story of the Kon-Tiki has been turned into a movie in 2012, which also received an Oscar nomination – another way to learn about this expedition!
The Norwegian Maritime Museum
We didn’t have the time to visit it, but that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t! This is the place where you can learn about the marine history and coast culture of Norway. Among the exhibits are ship models (the biggest being a three-masted schooner from 1916), fishermen gear, archaeological sea findings and even paintings. If you go, make sure to watch the video “Maritime Norway” – we’ve heard it’s pretty amazing!
Next we walked over to the Holocaust Centre, which is a distance of 1.5km – but you can also take the bus there.
The Holocaust Centre
When the Germans occupied Norway during WWII, they put Vidkun Quisling, a fascist Norwegian politician, in charge as a Minister-President. To this day his name stands for collaboration and treachery. Using a questionnaire to locate all Jews in the country, he organised their transport to Auschwitz.
The Holocaust Centre is an institution that focuses on the Holocaust and Religious Minorities in Norway. It is located in the villa where Quisling used to live from 1941 to 1945. On its facade is displayed a prizewinning art-installation called “Innocent questions”, referring to the aforementioned questionnaire and to how the collected data was misused in the most perfidious way possible.
The exhibition itself documents the fate of the Norwegian Jews during WWII and ends with reminding the visitor to never forget, and stresses the responsibility to not let it happen again.
It is mostly in Norwegian, with a lot of the exhibits originating from Germany, but there is also an English audio-guide available.
Our next stop is…
The Viking Ship Museum
The three Viking ships that can be found here are the best preserved worldwide. They date from the 8th and 9th century AD and were discovered in separate burial mounds.
Not only can you admire the ships from every angle, but also the treasures and burial gifts that were found inside them – all indicators to the status and life of the buried people. Should you be tempted to think: “Oh, burial gifts, how EXCITING! A few coins and pots that had food in them, yeah?”, you are not quite hitting it. Just the fact that the dead were buried in not so tiny ships could be a give-away, but it still doesn’t prepare you for the Viking must-haves in afterlife: sleighs, horses, dogs, beds, boats, weapons – oh, and a servant, of course. And that’s not everything yet!
Further information (and speculation) galore regarding the ships, the excavation and the Viking people, add the final touch to a worthwhile visit of this great museum.
If afterwards you feel intrigued to find out even more, you can: the Historical museum in downtown Oslo hosts a Viking collection (complete with the largest Viking gold treasure of Scandinavia), as well as other exhibitions that deal with the life of the Norwegians from the Stone Age to the Middle Ages.
How to get there
Take bus no 30 to “Bygdoynes” (the stop for the first three museums), or “Bygdohus” (for the Holocaust Center), or “Vikingkipshuset” (for the Viking Ship Museum). During summer you can also take a boat (no 91)!
Fram Museum: 80 NOK
Kon-Tiki Museum: 80 NOK
Norwegian Maritime Museum: 60 NOK
Holocaust Center: 50 NOK
Viking Ship Museum: 60 NOK
The sixth museum on the island of Bygdoy is the Norsk Folkemuseum which we already covered in our first post about Oslo. For the really thorough there’s another attraction: the Royal Castle Oscarshall (built in the 19th century). It opens its doors for the public from mid-may on, which is why we didn’t get to visit – but maybe it’s something you would like to do!
Now for the rest of our tour we head back downtown, where we will mainly focus on the famous sons of the city. The best-known one is probably painter and graphic designer Edvard Munch.
The Edvard Munch Museum
The artist himself bequeathed many of his works to the City of Oslo – so many, indeed, that the museum houses the biggest collection of Munch’s works.
This information leads the odd tourist to make a wrong conclusion (we’re guilty of that, too): this collection is not on display. To cite our little Oslo-Pass-Guide: “The Munch Museum switches between different thematic exhibitions 2-3 times a year, based on selections from the collection.”.
So although the museum focuses on Munch’s art, it will use different exhibitions to highlight various aspects of it, as well as Munch’s role as a pioneer of expressionism. For example, we went to see an exhibition that included seven rooms (and an additional one that had only “Munch” in it), where the artist’s works made out only part of it.
The exhibition was still very good; we were just initially slightly confused whether we had come to the ‘right’ museum.
You should also make sure, in case your main aim is to see the painting “The scream”, that it will be on display during your visit – as that is not always the case.
More of Edvard Munch and other Norwegian artists can be found in The National Gallery, where you will also find “The Scream” (Munch created four versions of the famous painting) and “Madonna”.
How to get there
By subway/bus no 20 to “Toyen”
Edvard Munch Museum: 95 NOK (may vary)
The Henrik Ibsen Museum
The entry to this museum gives you access to the apartment where the Norwegian dramaturge and writer spent the last ten years of his life, as well as to an exhibition that deals with Ibsen’s life and work.
It was suggested to us to take a guided tour through the apartment (a feature that is included in the entry fee, anyway) which starts every full hour. I very much recommend to you to seize the opportunity, too. Without the guided tour you probably wouldn’t get very much out of your visit of the flat, while the different rooms and the objects in them become alive when details get pointed out to you and you listen to all the entertaining facts and anecdotes related about the inhabitants.
Of course the fact that got stuck in my head as being worthy to remember is that Ibsen was the first Norwegian EVEN BEFORE THE KING to have a water closet installed in his apartment! But seriously: we found it to be both really interesting and fun.
How to get there
By tram (no 13 & 19)/ bus (no 30 &31) to “Slottsparken”
Henrik Ibsen Museum: 95 NOK
The Nobel Peace Centre
Although Alfred Nobel was Swedish, the Nobel Peace Prize is awarded each year in Oslo’s City Hall. Only a short hop away, in the building that used to be the Oslo West railway station, lies the Nobel Peace Centre.
The exhibitions here focus on the laureates and their work, as well as topics such as war, peace and conflict resolutions. They include photographs, films, and other digital and interactive installations.
In 2012 the Nobel Peace Prize went to the European Union – a decision that was controversial, since the EU is in the middle of its biggest crisis to date. The corresponding exhibition manages to demonstrate though the achievement it is to have formed a community out of different people who throughout history were more or less constantly at war with each other, and create an environment where the idea of war among them is unthinkable of.
How to get there
Take the tram to “Aker Brygge”
Nobel Peace Centre: 80 NOK
And you’ve made it: we’re done with our program! That isn’t to say that there are no more museums; not at all… In fact, I’m pretty sure that Oslo has a museum for nearly every taste: art, design, architecture, technology, culture, music, movies, history – hell, even soccer! So go out there and have fun!
For our time in the city the tourism office from VisitOslo provided us with Oslo-Passes which we found REALLY helpful. After all, Norway is not only known for its attractions, but also for its prices. A 24-hour Oslo-Pass which gives you access to over 50 attractions will cost you 270 NOK, so once you’ve been to three or four museums, it has already paid for itself.
And don’t forget that public transport is also included! In short: it’s well worth it. All the museums in this post are free with the Oslo Pass (except for the Royal castle Oscarshall on the museum island).
There are also museums and exhibitions where the admission is free: the film museum, the Norwegian Center for Design and Architecture, the National Library, the Oslo City museum, the Intercultural museum IKM and the Norwegian customs museum. In addition, some museums will not charge entry on Sundays.
We advise you to check out the tourist information between the National theatre and the City Hall, where you can get a free city guide that lists all attractions as well as their prices and opening hours – including the ones which are free (on sundays or in general).
And last but not least we would like to shout out a big “Thank you!” to HostelBookers who put us up in the centrally located and cosily warm “Cochs Pensjonat” – it was really nice!
So, these were our tips for Oslo – we hope we could inspire you a bit! As always, if you’ve got something to add or a question about our explorations – get in touch using the comments below!