There is nothing quite as glorious as Oslo in the summertime when temperatures often hover in the mid-70’s and the sun is up nearly around the clock. Officially, the sun stays out about 19 hours a day in June, but the sky never really fully darkens. What’s more, from pretty much everywhere in Oslo, the water is visible in various shades of blue, visually reminding Norwegians of their Viking roots.
Oslo is a beautiful city with an abundance of city parks, beautiful architecture, and world class museums and restaurants. With a population of just over a million, Oslo is easily maneuverable and has some of the world’s best public transportation. Though I normally prefer taking a cab from the airport, Oslo’s 'Flytoget,' is quicker and easier, taking just 19-minutes while spotless and comfortable. It’s also far easier and quicker to get around town and environs by walking, taking the tram, or T-Bahn.
An Art Deco Home With Electrifying Beginnings
From its nondescript brick exterior, prepare to be pleasantly surprised when entering Sommerro House Hotel. Its chic lobby and art deco touches are reflective of its 1931 heritage. Sommerro opened last September following extensive renovations. It’s original building was part of the former electric company where Oslo residents once came to pay their bills in the area currently occupied by its Exhibition Hall Restaurant. Sommerro’s Vestkantbadet Spa, which also has access from the street, used to be a public bath. This lovely, centrally located property near Oslo’s National Theater has 231 rooms in the main hotel and the 11-room Villa Incognito next door that can be rented out partially, or in full.
Rooms are all in art deco style with lovely, frosted light fixtures. My comfortable king size bed had excellent high-count cotton sheets and the frame was a marvel of light wood with inlaid darker woods in a geometric design. A retro phone and stereo speaker, high sculpted ceilings, patina painted walls, and brocade drapes lent additional art deco panache. No detail was missed, down to the in-room safe discreetly placed inside a waist-level drawer amid swanky, amber glass drawer pulls and knobs. Mod cons were everywhere with in-room CaffeItaly machine, teapot, refrigerator, 60-inch flat screen television, and an abundance of closet space.
The bathroom boasted a wonderful massive, high pressure 12-inch rain shower and environmentally friendly amenity dispensers containing top shelf Byredo Bal D’Afrique products. While the elevators are card key activated, I still found myself desperately searching for nonexistent buttons. Sommerro also has a large fitness center with state-of-the-art equipment, an indoor and outdoor pool, and infrared sauna.
Guests won’t go hungry as Sommerro has the lobby’s Kafe Lucy, Spanish tapa bar Barramon, Japanese street food restaurant Izakaya, Thai cuisine Ahaan, and Tak Nordic serving Japanese fare with a Norwegian twist and a sea view.
The daily breakfast buffet at Sommerro’s Expedition Hall was excellent with fruit, yogurts, muesli, meats, eggs, cheeses, and all manner of breads and pastries, along with a made-to-order a la carte menu which will likely make lunch superfluous. You’ll definitely want to try the beetroot hummus on sourdough with organic eggs.
During summer with the sun hidden only for a few early morning hours, many Norwegians go on their boats into the evening after their workday has ended. From Sjømagasinet Restaurant & Vin Bar’s lovely patio near the Strandpromenaden – just a 15-minute walk from Sommerro – this watery bliss can be thoroughly enjoyed. Especially while devouring Chef Paulius Lukauskis’ flash seared tuna tataki with citrus and green chili emulsion, Josper-grilled langostines served with a salad bursting with flavor – no doubt due to Sjømagasinet’s internal hydroponic garden – and a marvelous plant-based risotto. This is seed-to-fork cuisine at its finest in a fantastic atmosphere. You may wish to control yourself with the house made bread – admittedly difficult – and instead save room for the lemon basil tart with mango sorbet. You can thank me later.
If feeling carnivorous, head over to Atlas Brasserie & Café in the Amerikalinjen Hotel. Here you can have a perfectly cooked, flavorful entrecôte prepared by Chef Angelos Kokalis that will leave your knife seriously bored. The creamy, house made caffe latte mouse and ice cream sitting in cookie crumbles exploded with taste and had me swooning in delight.
For a neighborhood spot with a pleasant outdoor patio Forest & Brown Bar has fresh salads, pizzas, and sandwiches, and of course, brews and wines. At Listen to Baljit, diners can enjoy modernized, traditional Indian street food and craft cocktails in a comfortable locale.
Museums For All Tastes
Oslo has so many great museums, it’s hard to select where to go first. I Intended to go to Fram Museum first as I’d traveled to Antarctica twice late last year and fell hard for Roald Amundsen, the prominent Antarctic explorer who disappeared in 1928 while flying in the Arctic on a rescue mission. However it was nearly noon and a large sign fronting the Kon-Tiki Museum announced its 73-minute film narrated by Thor Heyerdahl, one of history’s most famous emplorers, would soon commence. In addition to the history and challenges of the epic 4,300-mile, Peru-to-Polynesia, 1947 voyage led by Heyerdahl on the balsa log Kon-Tiki vessel, this great museum has a whale shark replica, Easter Island stone sculptures, and a replica of Ra II that sailed in 1970 from Morocco to Barbados.
Next door at the Fram Museum one can actually step onto the reconstructed Polar Fram ship and channel one’s inner Amundsen along with the others who paved the way for continued polar exploration. The Fram reached Antarctica in January 1911 and 11 months later, Amundsen and his group of five were the first to reach the South Pole under truly unimaginable conditions. Frankly, it’s hard to fathom greater courage than these brave men possessed.
Across the way is the Nordic Maritime Museum where until November 26th, visitors can see Karl Erik Harr’s painting exhibit, “Demons of the Deep.” Continuing the watery theme, I jumped on the ferry a few feet away that operates from April to September for the short ride from Bygdøy to City Hall and drops passengers off near the The Nobel Peace Center. Though it’s closed until August 14th, there are usually guided walking tours at noon. A few feet away from Nobel is the not-to-be-missed, fabulously curated National Museum where until August 20th, some of cubist Thorvald Hellesen’s work is exhibited. This genre’s pioneer was completely forgotten for over 100 years following his disastrous first Oslo exhibit in 1919. Hellesen left for Paris in 1923 where he remained for the rest of his life. There’s also an excellent exhibit of gowns and shoes worn by Norway’s two disparate Queens, first Maud then Sonya, as well as an interesting exhibit on Norway’s contemporary fashion scene, including wunderkind Per Spook.
Several ice cream stands on the five-mile Oslo Harbour Promenade along the seafront provide sustenance for a long walk. Cafés, restaurants, boat docks, and hip buildings line this marina where industrial modern chic marries Norway’s maritime past and present. At the end, near the Astip Fearnley Maritime Museum and the massive turquoise anchor statues rests a lovely manmade beach that was full of Oslo's beautiful people enjoying the fine weather.
Visiting The Rose Castle - which didn’t appear on my GPS – was one of the most moving experiences I can recently recall. Less a castle and more an outdoor museum high atop a hill where massive, haunting original paintings by Vebjørn Sand and installed by his brother Eimund Sand in 2020 reflect the heartbreaking stories and unimaginable sufferings of those involved in Norway’s resistance during World War II. One is constantly reminded that who lives or dies during war and resistance is often left to mere chance. It also serves to viscerally remind us that humanism, the rule of law, and democracy are core values to be profoundly cherished and protected.
For great views of Oslo and surrounds, I took a stroll around Akershus Castle. Built in 1290, Akershus is a medieval stone fortress originally constructed to protect the city and provide a royal residence. Today the Prime Minister’s office is nearby and buildings once used as former military barracks and prison are now being renovated to serve as military services screening.
The Lessons Learned
Whether you are looking for a cool, Scandinavian city to learn more about Norway’s maritime past and contributions to worldwide exploration, along with excellent accommodations and dining experiences, or are headed to further exploration in Svalbard and onward, passing several days in lovely Oslo will be memorable indeed. Happy travels!
Julie L. Kessler is a journalist, attorney, and the author of the award-winning memoir: “Fifty-Fifty, The Clarity of Hindsight.” Her work has appeared in several major publications, including The LA Times, The SF Examiner, The Asia Times, The Jerusalem Post, and The Honolulu Star-Advertiser, among many others. She can be reached at Julie@VagabondLawyer.com.
Written by Julie L. Kessler
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