Looking for a city break with small children in tow? Oslo would definitely be in my top three destinations. I have recently returned and would like to share my experience and inspire you to visit
Having recently spent a weekend in the capital of Norway with my two year old daughter, I was pleasantly surprised at how welcoming this city is for children and how much there is to do.
Although cheap and plentiful, there is no need to be getting on and off the buses, trains and trams. Oslo can easily be discovered on foot. From Gardermoen airport (www.osl.no/en/osl) the ‘flytoget’ (www.flytoget.no/eng) will take you straight into Oslo central station for 170 NOKs (about £14). If you use the ticket desk they charge an extra 30 NOKs, but there are loads of machines which are very easy to use. We managed which says it all! Under fives are free on the ‘flytoget’ as well as all other public transport and museums in Olso.
The ‘flytoget’ is great, but don’t forget to use one of the pram ties or once the train picks up speed your pram (with or without baby) is likely to disappear down an aisle. Any other parent or a guard will show you how they work. At the central station we were greeted by live music and shops selling much needed snacks after a long journey.
Things to do
We visit lots of cities and it’s often a balancing act between keeping the children amused whilst also seeing some of the history, architecture and culture. In Oslo everywhere is suitable for all ages. Emily (the two year old) loved peering through the bars of the Kirkeristen and waving at passers-by on the streets below, whilst I perused in the small shops. This walled corridor which winds around the cathedral (www.visitoslo.com/en/oslo-cathedral) was the slaughterhouses, but now house cafes and craft shops. The cathedral underwent some renovations for the Crown prince’s wedding in 2001, these are still ongoing and the cathedral itself is currently closed. The cathedral is due to re-open on the 18th April 2010 and between then and 23rd May 2010 there are several concerts, services and cultural events planned to mark the event.
Further along Kark Johans gate (heading away from the central station) is the Parliament building, behind which is a park that plays host to an ice-skating rink in the winter. There is a lovely festive atmosphere in December and the ice rink is surrounded by a low fence, so young children can stand and watch. Karl Johan’s gate ends at the Royal Palace, a formidable structure in the middle of the Slottsparken. The first thing that strikes you is the space, an oasis of calm in the centre of the capital city. Aside from a small area at the back, the entire gardens surrounding the palace are open to the public.
At the front is a huge statue of King Karl Johan surveying the city on horseback. The second thing that strikes you is how close you can get to the palace. Although the royal family were in residence you could go right up to the front door. We didn’t, the rifle wielding guards were a little off-putting. These soldiers were much more friendly than usual; one smiled and held out his hand for my daughter to touch. A must for any child is the changing of the guards which happens daily at 1.30pm. It lasts about 20 minutes and they seem oblivious to any people. There are no barriers and the guards march through the centre of the crowds if necessary!
If time allows whilst in Oslo, it’s worth a walk along Josefines Gate. The Homan brothers purchased the land in 1853 and the villas set the standards for all later architecture. Uphill from here is the Vigeland sculpture park (www.vigeland.museum.no/en/vigeland-park, Nobels gate 32, tel. +47 23 49 37 00). Gustav Vigeland (1869-1943) created over 200 sculptures around the park including the ‘Wheel of Life’. It’s easy to see why the park is the most visited attraction in Norway; there are extensive views across the city, a large duck pond, children’s play area and cafe.
Other places of interest include the opera house. Opened in April 2008, the ship like building ‘floats’ on the water. You can walk up the roof and experience a lovely view of Oslo and the Fjords.
If you are visiting Oslo during the first two weekends in December, you must go to the folk museum. Unfortunately the boats stop for winter so the only way to get there is on the number 30 bus. Although cheap and easy (20 minutes from outside central station), it was far from comfortable. The rule on buses is that as long as the doors close, it isn’t too full!
The Christmas fare at the folk museum (www.norskfolkemuseum.no/en/, Museumsveien 10, Tel: (+47) 22 12 37 00) is the largest pre-Christmas event in Oslo. There are over 100 stalls selling handmade Christmas decorations, local crafts and traditional food and drink. Throughout the day concerts and folk dancing performances are held, Santa himself is often seen dancing or wandering around. The historical houses are decorated according to the traditions of the inhabitants; Emily loved running in and out of the houses and warming her hands on the various open fires. Santa’s workshop allows children to help the elves make wooden presents and for 30NOK there is an activity room full of crafts to make. The only thing Emily disliked was the traditional Christmas beer she was given in the brewery, although she did sleep for an hour afterwards.
At 70 NOKs per adult it was a lovely traditional day out and a must for anyone visiting at the appropriate time.
It's worth noting that I wouldn’t recommend Oslo for the shopping. There are several large shopping centres including Oslo City which is near the train station and Aker Brygge which is near the Nobel Peace Centre. The main shopping street, Karl Johans Gate is pedestrianised and runs from the train station to the palace. However, most of the stores we came across can be found in the UK, with a better range at a cheaper price.
Points to consider
All public transport (trains, metro, buses and trams) have certain sections which allow prams, they have a picture of a pram near the door.
In winter, it’s cold in Oslo! On arrival it was minus 9 and things didn’t improve much. Toddlers need an all-in-one snowsuit, hat, waterproof mittens and sturdy boots. We took some wool gloves for Emily, but had to buy some waterproof ones.
You need a sturdy pram with large wheels. A standard buggy will struggle to cope with the cobbled and uneven streets. There is also likely to be snow on the ground.
Milk or juice can be warmed in any cafe. The steam is used from the coffee machines, this only takes a few seconds and little ones will benefit from a warm drink.
Take some moisturiser out and about with you. Young children tend to dribble and can get a sore chin very quickly. I usually apply some cream at morning, lunch and bedtime to noses, cheeks and chin which stops them getting sore.
Several sections around the harbour do not have barriers; I would recommend some reins or a backpack with a handle for toddlers.
If the cold weather proves too much there is an indoor play centre in the middle of Oslo (www.childplanet.no Middelthunsgate 21A, 0368 Oslo, Tlf: +47 23 33 06 44)
Where to eat
There are loads of places to eat in Oslo, from fast food chains to 5 star restaurants. One restaurant I must recommend is Brunello Pizzeria and Ristorante (www.thonhotels.no/Show/Brunello-Pizzeria--Ristorante/, Stenersgaten 10, 0184 Oslo, tfl +47 22 42 05 65) For 400Kr (approx £42) in total we had pasta dishes and a glass of the house wine. They also had a three course set menu for 410Kr (approx £43) per person. As with most Italian restaurants they were very friendly and welcoming for children. They happily made Emily a basic pasta dish and charged 50Kr (approx £5) . The restaurant is within the Thon Hotel near the central train station.
Where to stay
We stayed at the Clarion Hotel Royal Christiana (Biskop Gunnerus’ gate 3, NO-0155 Oslo). The hotel is in a good position opposite the central station and the rooms are spacious which is great for families. Unusually for Oslo the hotel has a pool. It’s only a small pool but its fine for a quick splash and Emily loved it. The buffet breakfast is fantastic with a range of local and international food. The best thing about the hotel for children was the glass lifts. Going up and down in the lifts became a favourite part of each day.
If cheap and cheerful is what you are looking for then the Oslo Budget Hotel (Inngang v/ Prinsensgate 6, 0152 Oslo S) is right by the central station.
If money is no object then it has to be the Continental Hotel (Stortingsgaten 24/26). A top class hotel in the prime position.