I came to Oslo from Stockholm via a train that goes straight across Sweden and delivers you from capital to capital in about six hours. Certainly a flight would be faster, and probably comparable or even cheaper in price, but trains in Europe truly are about the journey, and not the destination, and I got six hours of lovely scenery between the two countries.
That said, coming from Stockholm, Oslo felt a little bit... underwhelming. Oslo is a younger, more rustic city, less regal and opulent than Stockholm, but certainly not without its own appeal and unique culture unto itself.
Oslo Central Hostel
Oslo (and Norway as a whole) is not lauded for being affordable, and you will find this to be true of most accommodation choices. I stayed in the Oslo Central Hostel, as it was as the name suggests, very central, and had a high rating on HostelWorld. A single bed in a girls only room goes for $50-58 USD, and while cheaper than a hotel by a good bit, still not a deal to most travelers. While the hostel was very clean and comfortable for sleeping, it wasn't very social, the bathroom situation was a little odd (one women's shower on the entire floor) and it had a fairly sterile feel about it. More hotel than hostel, and not a good choice if you intend to do a lot of cooking for yourself.
FOOD & DRINK
Aku-Aku Cocktail Bar
bar // $$$
I would never have expected to find a tiki bar in Norway, let alone a good one, but Aku-Aku is both. And this is coming from someone who lived through and cherishes the glory days of NYC's PKNY, easily the best tiki bar this side of Hawaii (R.I.P.). Given that Norway is already expensive, and a well-made tiki drink contains only the freshest fruit and juices, be prepared to spend a pretty penny on cocktails here. But, if you're a devotee of the tiki scene, you'll appreciate the care and quality put into these drinks and find they are well worth it. Enjoy the authentic beachy decor (taxidermied blowfish included) and be sure to try the Missionary's Downfall.
food hall // $$-$$$
Oslo is a city that is clearly becoming trendy, and the Mathallen Food Hall might be the best evidence of this. Translating quite plainly to "meal hall," this large, airy, gourmet food court has numerous options for eating on the scene as well as purchasing high-quality, fresh ingredients for cooking at home. Whether you're shopping for fresh fish or meat to grill, souvenir cheeses, or a tasty dessert, there's something for everyone as long as you show up hungry.
Crow Bar & Bryggeri
beer bar // $$
I have a last-minute friend to thank for this one. I met Asmund at my hostel and he showed me this absolute gem - a hip but low-key craft beer joint with over a dozen brews on tap, ranging from classic to creative. I tried a blueberry infused beer that was absolutely delightful, and the atmosphere reminded me of many brewery/bar hybrids found in Brooklyn. Food is also available, served from a little window in the back of the bar.
Asmund also brought me to Kulturhuset, just to take a peek, as it's more of a hub for politicizing than socializing. The night we stopped in, there were some local pundits speaking on issues in a sort of live radio format.
bar // $$
Bla is a down and dirty, semi-loud, rock bar located in the hip neighborhood of Grunerlokka. If you like live music and dive bars, and aren't afraid of getting close to strangers in a smoke-filled space, Blå is for you.
ice cream // $
There are several little ice cream kiosks located on the harbor in Oslo during the summer, and I just happened to choose this one. After indulging in a classic waffle cone with scoops of strawberry and creme brulée, I definitely recommend.
convenience store // $
I know, I know. It's a 7-11. BUT, when staying somewhere that ain't cheap, sometimes you just need a bite without dropping $20. While I'd never normally eat convenience store hot dogs in the U.S., I became a huge fan of the "baconpølse," which is just a bacon-wrapped hot dog, and a delicious one at that. It's cheap, it's hot, the ketchup is free, and they even griddle the bun. Do not be afraid.
SIGHTS & ATTRACTIONS
Oddly, this museum dedicated to the expeditions of the Fram polar ship was one of my favorites. I had no previous knowledge or interest in polar ships, or the arctic, but this is one well put together museum. With exhaustive information from the crew to the dogs to native peoples and wildlife, you'll leave with a new appreciation for arctic exploration.
I can't resist an open-air or living history museum, I just can't. For one, it's a great thing to do if you're alone, and two, combines being outside in the beautiful weather with learning. Oh hell yeah, learning. Nordiska Folkemuseum is really quite big, with outdoor exhibits of dozens of kinds of Scandinavian settlements and farms. Chances are you won't be able to tell much difference between them though.
Viking Ship Museum
Honestly, I'd say skip this one, unless you're really, really into vikings and super old artifacts. A small museum, I was more impressed by the throngs of rude, pushy aging tourists than of the ships themselves. They are cool, and well-preserved (I guess?) but all look fairly similar and bare.
Astrup Fearnley Museum
I didn't get to see this one with my own eyes, except from the outside. At the end of the harbor, the exterior of the building it impressive on its own, and there's a neat little man-made beach and swimming area just next to it, populated with kids and families in nice summer weather. And while I didn't tour the inside myself, my new friend Asmund recommended it highly, as do many guide books and the New York Times.
Vigeland Sculpture Park
I actually didn't make it to The Vigeland Sculpture Park in my first tour of Oslo, but fortunately had a 6-hour layover there between Bergen and Amsterdam, so used that time to come back into the city and check it out. It's another very popular tourist destination, but for good reason. The many, many sculptures on display are really beautiful and evocative, and communicating an impressive array of human emotions, conditions, and relationships.