So integral is the great outdoors to Norwegian life that the right to roam, or allemannsretten, has been enshrined in law for nearly 60 years and there is a dedicated word – utepils – for having a beer outside. And nature is present to varying degrees during every part of a two-day visit to Oslo, Europe’s fastest-growing capital city. Even before the plane lands, on the bmi regional service from Aberdeen, the striking countryside is visible, with wintery snowcapped peaks in sharp contrast to the bright sunshine that greets us on landing.
After a quick journey on the ultra-modern Flytoget (flytoget.no) airport express train into the city centre, we walk past the tranquil Oslo Fjord on the way to the Thon Hotel Oslo Panorama. My room has a stunning view across to the water, with vast windows and a balcony. Its combined kitchen and living area is also spacious enough to eat in comfortably if you want to keep costs down. The hotel is in one of Oslo’s oldest districts, the Kvadraturen, which translates as “the quadrature” due to the rectangular street pattern of Danish-Norwegian king Christian IV’s renaissance town. Legend has it that he decided to base the town here after a big town fire in 1624.
Nearby are the ramparts of the Akershus Castle and Fortress. Building started in 1299 and centuries later King Christian, evidently an early Grand Designs-style architectural visionary, had it modernised and converted into a Renaissance royal residence. The Fortress area is now a popular venue for major events, including concerts, holiday celebrations and ceremonies.
Dinner is at the Festningen Restaurant (www.festningenrestaurant.no/english) just beyond the fortress walls, with great views of the port as the sun sets, and striking dishes from the chef’s menu. These include snow crab from Svalbard with tarragon and Amafli lemon, skate from Kristiansand with pearl barley and cauliflower, and Norwegian edel pork with Savoy cabbage, quince and red wine sauce.
The next day, it’s time to make use of the Oslo Pass (www.visitoslo.com/en/activities-and-attractions/oslo-pass/), a convenient accessory to a break in the city. Valid for 24 (£38 adults, £20 children), 48 or 72 hours, it provides free entry to more than 30 museums and attractions, plus free travel on all public transport, as well as discounts on climbing, ski and bike rental, and special offers in restaurants and shops.
Oslo Pass-holder can also get a 15 per cent discount on a two-hour sightseeing boat tour with Norway Yacht Charter (nyc.no/en_fjordcruise.php) on the Oslo Fjord, which affords views of idyllic islands with brightly coloured summerhouses.
The café on the ship also seems to embody the Scandinavian lifestyle, covering practicality (with a vast supply of blankets), stylish décor and impeccably polite staff, who magically rustle up piping hot waffles and coffee almost instantly.
The tour gives us a view of the Oslo Opera House, which opened in 2008 and was designed to appear to be rising from the waters of the fjord. It was dreamt up by architect firm Snøhetta, which wanted to make the roof a platform accessible to everyone year-round, and create a new public space in the centre of Oslo, uniting the beauty of the fjord and the city. We climb on to the white rooftop, crafted from Italian marble, and admire the views across the water and, on the other side, over the rooftops.
We get closer still to nature later that afternoon, with a gentle hike in the forest surrounding Oslo with local guide Sigrid Bellamy. Born and bred in Yorkshire, she moved to the Scandinavian country looking to spend more time outdoors and improve her work/life balance. Since 2007 she has worked as a volunteer tour leader for the Norwegian Trekking Association DNT (Den Norske Turistforening, english.dnt.no/about/) and takes us on a lakeside stroll, bringing essential hiking equipment of coffee and a Kvikk Lunsj bars, the Norwegian equivalent of KitKats.
Reaching our walking route only takes a short train ride from the city, and I can see why the outdoors is so central to Norwegian life, especially as there can be more than 19 hours of sunlight a day in the height of the summer. The easy accessibility also means it’s feasible on a short trip to Oslo, giving you more bang for your kroner by offering the chance to see the countryside during a city break.
We then return to the centre of Oslo and head by tram to Trattoria Popolare (www.popolare.no/index_en.html), which uses seasonal ingredients from both Norway and Italy, and is as popular as its name suggests, with a queue growing as we arrive.
Our last day arrives and it’s time for another tour, this time by bus, with sites including the Vigeland Sculpture Park, which is the world’s largest devoted to a single artist, Gustav Vigeland. There are more than 200 sculptures, the most spectacular of which is the Monolith, which comprises 121 figures, stands more than 17 metres tall and is carved from a single piece of granite. It’s then time to see the Holmenkollen ski jump, the most modern of its kind and constructed using 100 tons of steel. A quick ride in an exhilarating but terrifying simulator is enough to show me that ski jumpers’ nerves must be just as steely.
Returning to the city, there’s a quick glimpse of the stunning murals inside Oslo City Hall, where the Nobel Prize ceremony takes place every 10 December.
As I peer out of the window at boats moored in the harbour, I wonder if there’s a Norwegian word for the nostalgia, before I’ve even left, for the calm pace of a manageably compact city that combines the scenic and historic with the highly modern.
bmi regional flies daily to Oslo (except Saturdays). Fares start from £93 one way. All fares include 23kg hold luggage, drinks and snacks. From Aberdeen bmi regional also flies to Esbjerg in Sweden, Norwich and Bristol.
Travellers can also hire a private jet with bmi regional for £15,000 per day – or £300 per person if all seats are booked.
Thon Hotel Oslo Panorama, rooms start from £82 per night, ww.thonhotels.com/hotels/countrys/norway/oslo/thon-hotel-oslo-panorama).
Oslo Pass, valid for 24 (£38 adults, £20 children), 48 or 72 hours, see www.visitoslo.com/en/activities-and-attractions/oslo-pass