Oslo Harbor Promenade: Venice Beach the Oslo Way!

During our one and only full day in Oslo this summer, we explored one of the city’s newer attractions, the Harbor Promenade, known as Havnepromenaden in Norwegian. It’s a walking/biking path that stretches nine kilometers (about 5.5 miles) along Oslo’s waterfront and combines sightseeing, history, art, architecture, shopping, dining, and a little bit of adventure. Large orange information towers guide the way. (And there are plenty of geocaching opportunities along the way for those who are interested as well.)

Our adventure began at Frognerkilen (Point #1 on the map). We were greeted by the peaceful sight of docked boats and wandering ducks and geese. The first stretch of the promenade was a pleasant and leisurely walk right along the shoreline.

We enjoyed watching boats coming and going and swans searching for food. In the distance, we saw the ferry bound for Denmark leave port. On the other side of the inlet on the Bygdøy peninsula, we spotted Oscarshall, the royal summer palace completed in 1852 and open to the public since 1881.

At Kongen Marina (Point #2), a tropical themed café awaited. It was a very welcoming and enticing place, but we had plans to eat lunch later on in our outing. It was too popular for me to search for the geocache that was there. Reluctantly, we continued on.

The next stretch of the promenade, through Filipstad, was not as appealing. The path was right next to the motorway with only industrial buildings in sight. The comic book artwork on the orange towers did provide some fun diversion along the way, though. Also, at Point #3, I was able to easily retrieve a geocache since there were no people lingering.

     

There are plans underway to develop this area into an attractive residential community which will make a huge difference!

Luckily, this uninteresting stretch didn’t last too long and soon we were at Tjuvholmen which was a stark contrast to what we’d just encountered. We were suddenly surrounded by a chic, happening waterfront with bright and bold artwork, modern architecture, and an active folk life. I could have just stayed there and people watched for hours. Any thoughts of more geocaching were quickly forgotten.

We chuckled at how the area reminded us of Los Angeles’ Venice Beach! We already had the palms in mind from Kongen Marina. Now we saw huge wall murals (art by Norwegian pop artist Pushwagner, 1940-2018), an outdoor workout area (complete with bare chested men and bikini clad women!), a skatepark (though indoors and practically empty because, as you’ll see, everyone is outside swimming!), stand-up paddle boarding, sunning, and swimming.

I was mesmerized by all the people swimming and hanging out by the edge of the fjord. Oslo has been unseasonably warm and dry this summer and people were taking advantage. And this wasn’t even a weekend day. It was a Monday.

In addition to alluring outdoor spaces and fascinating architecture, Tjuvholmen is home to the modern art museum Astrup Fearnley Museet and an outdoor sculpture park. We lost sight of that with all the swimming going on, but they were there right next to the sandy beach.

I realized too late that there is a lookout tower at Tjuvholmen as well, The Sneak Peak. It has a glass elevator that takes you up 117 feet for 360º views of the city, bay, and fjord. We’ll have to remember that for next time.

We wrapped up our promenade exploration just down the way at Aker Brygge (between Points #5 and #6 on the map), the original hotspot of the harbor area. Besides dining, shopping, people and boat watching to your heart’s content, you can visit the Nobel Peace Center in this area. It was actually on my wishlist for this summer because they are hosting the exhibition Generation Wealth (until August 21, 2018) which I missed when it was here in Los Angeles, but sadly we ran out of time.

We completed about half of the promenade this time around. The remaining stretch we’ll have to do next time we visit. Maybe we’ll do that with bikes since it brings us farther from home. Exploring Oslo’s Harbor Promenade has been on my Oslo bucket list for a while so I’m glad I finally had a chance to begin.

The New & Less Traveled Oslo

new and less traveled sightseeing in OsloAre you headed to Oslo this summer, and maybe you’re looking for something besides the normal tourist sights? Here are some newer sights and hidden gems to consider.

Harbor Promenade – Havnepromenade

Oslo has a very new harbor promenade to explore. It runs 9 kilometers (about 5.5 miles) along the waterfront and hits many of the main sights of Oslo including Tjuvholmen and Aker Brygge, the inner harbor with City Hall and Akershus Fortress, and the Opera House.

I look forward to exploring this route by bike with the family. I may finally have a chance to get a close-up look at the Opera House with its dramatic architectural features. I also hope to include a swim at Sørenga Seawater Pool and a meal at Vippa (a huge warehouse recently named one of the “10 hottest new restaurants in Oslo” according to eater.com).

Hovedøya

A few years ago, a cousin of mine recommended a visit to Hovedøya, an island a short ferry ride from the city center known for its beaches, forests, and cultural heritage sights. There you can explore the ruins of a Cistercian monastery from 1147. In 1532, the monastery was pillaged and burned down, and the ruins weren’t excavated until 1840’s. You can also see two canon batteries from 1808 and two gunpowder depots from when the island belonged to the Norwegian army. It would be a nice excursion on a day with beautiful weather. Bring swim gear and a picnic (or eat at one of the cafes) and spend the day exploring. It also has plenty of geocaching opportunities (see map above with all the geocaches!) which is always a fun addition to an outing.

Viking Ship Museum’s Vikings Alive Film

I have been to the Viking Ship Museum on several occasions, but somehow we have not yet managed to take the kids. It used to be that the main attractions were three Viking ships, one of which is completely whole, along with a display of Viking Age artifacts. Now, there is a new attraction: the film Vikings Alive. It’s a film that takes the audience on a unique visual journey into the history of a Viking ship. A Viking ship is built and sails along the Norwegian fjords and on the ocean, ending its days as a grave ship for a king. The film is projected onto the vaulted ceiling of the museum. On our next visit to Oslo, this will be a must-see attraction.

Museum of Oslo

Museum of Oslo is another museum I’d like to take the kids to. It’s located right in Frognerparken which makes it a convenient bike ride from my parents’ home. It presents the city’s history through models, paintings, and photographs. The museum’s exhibitions are mainly in Norwegian, but a free audioguide of “1,000 years in 20 minutes” is available in English, French, German, Somali, Punjabi, Polish, and Arabic as well as Norwegian.

What piqued my interest in bringing the kids was that the museum offers a special family activity called City Detectives (recommended for kids age 5 to 12). It’s an augmented reality app that allows visitors to get a glimpse of Oslo’s past. The goal is to find 10 historical stations in the exhibition “OsLove – City History for Beginners”. With the app, participants visit the 2-bedroom apartment of a big family, experience the power of Aker River, and see how the main street of Karl Johan has changed over time. The app is only available on site. You can borrow ipods or download the app to your own Apple device. You do not need to know Norwegian to use the app.

Special Exhibit at Munch Museum

Every summer the Munch Museum puts on a special exhibit. This summer visitors will have a chance to experience Edvard Munch as seen through the eyes of Norwegian author Karl Ove Knausgård. The exhibit, Towards the Forest – Knausgård on Munch, will feature many paintings, graphic prints, and sculptures that have never been exhibited previously. As described on the museum’s website, “the exhibition takes the form of a journey from light and harmony through darkness and chaos – returning finally to a controllable reality.” I’ve read and enjoyed Knausgård and like Munch so I’m curious to see this exhibition, something probably done more enjoyably without my children. Exhibit is on display from May 6, 2017, to October 8, 2017.

Emanuel Vigeland Mausoleum

I learned about Emanuel Vigeland Mausoleum from the book Atlas Obscura: An Explorer’s Guide to the World’s Hidden Wonders. We are certainly familiar with the work of his brother Gustav Vigeland whose bronze and granite sculptures are on display in Frognerparken, but I did not know about Emanuel.

The mausoleum is part of Emanuel Vigeland Museum. The museum’s main attraction is a dark, barrel-vaulted room, completely covered with fresco paintings. According to Atlas Obscura, “entering the mausoleum is a solemn, even haunting, experience. Even the quietest footstep echoes across the barrel-vaulted ceiling for up to 14 seconds. A flashlight is needed to reveal the room’s dark, painted walls.” I think this “hidden wonder” is best explored without kids due to the paintings that show “life from conception till death, in dramatic and often explicitly erotic scenes.” (Note: The museum is only open to the public on Sundays. Summer hours are May 15 through September 15, 12pm to 5pm.)

Damstredet & Telthusbakken Area

Damstredet and Telthusbakken are two roads known for their well-preserved and inhabited wooden houses built in the late 1700s and the 1800s. They are located near each other in the St. Hanshaugen/Gamle Aker area in central Oslo. There are other sights in the area as well, so a visit to the area can make a worthwhile self-guided walking tour. Very nearby is the medieval church Gamle Aker kirke (Old Aker Church), oldest building in Oslo, as well as Vår Frelsers Gravlund, the cemetery where writer Henrik Ibsen and painter Edvard Munch are buried. This excursion is easily combined with visit to nearby Mathallen, an interesting food court with specialty shops and cafés. And while at Mathallen, you can see if you can spot the Vulkan Bee Garden, which is two huge beehives on the rooftop between Mathallen and Dansens Hus next door.

Stay tuned for a report on how our exploration of these new-to-us places and hidden gems of Oslo goes!