There are few places in the world where I don’t stick out like a sore thumb when traveling. Visiting Norway solo was a treat not only for the obvious reasons — the beauty, friendliness and safety for which Scandanavian countries are known — but also for the fact that I could walk around and blend in, with my fair hair and skin and light eyes. There are very few places in the world where I’m not an obvious tourist, and it allowed me to see what it might be like to live there.
There are also very few places in the world to which I would seriously consider moving — I’ve waited most of my life to live in Colorado — but Oslo, Norway, is a contender. Maybe it helps that my cousin already has; she lives there with her wife and their now 2 year old (who arrived after I did). But it’s also a gorgeous part of the world, with practices and philosophies that made me feel particularly welcome as a woman and as a person who thinks the way I do.
Visiting Norway in Winter
I traveled to Norway in March. There are a few downsides to that. First it’s very, very cold. I lucked out and enjoyed lots of bright sun and blue skies. But it was cold. Did I mention that it was cold? It’s also icy, and because Oslo cares about plants and the earth and human health, the city doesn’t salt its sidewalks. Layers of ice stack up with each storm like decades of brittle wallpaper, thickly fused and posing great danger to pride and backsides. If you have microspikes for your boots, bring them.
But if you visit Norway in the winter, you’ll also avoid the crowds that go during the brief, blissful summer months, when the islands are open and the ferries run. You’ll also save a significant amount of money on airfare and lodging by traveling during the Norwegian winter. Heather has visited in the winter as well: check out her eight-day itinerary visiting three parts of Norway.
Public Transportation in Oslo
Getting from the Oslo airport to Oslo Central Station in the heart of the city is a breeze with the aptly named Flytoget Airport Express train. It’s sleek, clean, fast and cheap. As a frequent solo female traveler, I pride myself on being a good sign reader, but I missed the correct exit from the airport for those with prepaid tickets the first time and stood in line unnecessarily, so keep your eyes open.
And don’t dilly-dally on your way back to the airport at the end of your trip to Norway. The train leaves Oslo Central Station exactly on time, and it takes 19 minutes to get to the airport; if you try to squeeze in alllll the things until the moment your plane is boarding, like I do, you want to be on the right train.
If you’re staying in central Oslo as I did, you can access the downtown area’s highlights easily by walking. It’s surprisingly compact and pedestrian friendly, and it felt very safe for a woman visiting Norway solo. There are ample shops and restaurants, as well.
The city’s progressive public transportation system is stellar, as expected. Ruter includes the city and regional buses, trams, undergrounds, local trains and ferries. It operates under one seamless ticketing system and includes a mobile app. Seriously, it could hardly be easier. Cleaner. Faster. Cheaper. It’s what every city planner in the United States dreams about in those hazy, happy moments before the alarm goes off in the morning. I used it for everything!
Solo Accommodations in Oslo
As a solo female traveler, I like to stay centrally in a district with lots going on, good access to public transportation and a distinct affordability, since the cost is all on me. The Comfort Hotel Xpress Central Station may have been one of my favorite hotels of all time, short of the Peninsula in downtown Chicago and the Ritz Carlton in Aspen. No joke!
I can’t tell you how much I loved this little no-frills, spotless room with all of its kind messages here and there explaining how things worked. No closet, but pegs on the walls right inside the door for your coat, purse and bags. A teeny shower that turned my bathroom into a wet bath, but a heated floor that meant it dried instantly and felt luxurious. It would be hard to accommodate two, but it was perfect for visiting Norway solo.
There was even a drawer under the charmingly built-in twin bed with a message encouraging guests to leave behind clothing that they no longer wanted; the hotel would wash it and donate it. (I love to travel with and then leave behind clothing that I plan to get rid of anyway, if there’s a way to make sure that it doesn’t become a burden or trash.) Staying at this Comfort Hotel was like living in a socially conscious IKEA.
I also appreciated the comfortable, cheerful lobby with its self-check-in, a staffer manning both a desk where you could ask questions or have tickets delivered, as well as a little market with fruit, snacks and cocktails.
Best of all was the location: right across the street from Oslo Central Station, and next to a Ruter train stop, amid boutiques and restaurants, within walking distance of the Oslo Cathedral and the Oslo Opera House. All this for right around $100 a night. I’d move in.
Things to See and Do in Norway
Of course, there was way too much to see and do in Norway to spend any time lounging about my cute little apartment … er, hotel room. Minus a 14-hour sleep the first night when jet lag ran over me like an earthworm on an expressway, I packed every single minute in Norway with Scandanavian wonders.
The Oslo Opera House, Akershus Fortress and the Oslo Cathedral
Though I was visiting Norway solo, I was very lucky to know someone there: my cousin Megan. She’s lived in Oslo for nearly a decade with her partner, Santina, a native Norwegian. They were the very best tour guides, and I felt so lucky to be able to spend time with them.
Megan met me near my hotel shortly after I arrived and checked in. I was glad to have worn a long, thick coat, heavy boots, a hat and gloves, because it was frigid, and we would be walking. (To me, this would be a trip impossible for carry-on only luggage, simply due to the sheer bulk of warm clothing necessary.)
The first is a feat of architecture, gloriously modern and unique. To get to the entrance, you can walk (or, in winter, slip/slide/stumble) down the roof, which follows the hill toward the Oslo Fjord. Inside, the blond wood and bright, airy spaces seem to defy the icy landscape; we were a bit like fish swimming under a frozen-over pond. You could attend a guided tour of the opera house or get tickets to a concert, ballet or opera — a great way to spend an evening as a solo female traveler in Norway.
Akershus Castle and Fortress is as old as the opera house is new. Surrounded by stone walls, it was completed in the 1300s as a strategic lookout and barricade right on the shore of the fjord. In the late 1500s, King Christian IV converted the fortress into a Renaissance castle and royal residence. Today, the vast grounds are a gorgeous space in which to tour, rest or picnic in the summer.
But because it was winter, Megan and I ducked inside the toasty Norges Hjemmefrontmuseum (Norway’s Home Front Museum). Her fluency in Norwegian was supremely helpful, because it was just 15 minutes until closing time, so we had to ask permission and promise to pass through quickly. The museum details the German occupancy of Norway from 1940 to 1945; even with such a short visit, it was moving. Here, as in Milan and elsewhere in Europe, I’m reminded of how much more viseral, personal and damaging World War II was for those living within the battlegrounds.
Our walk through the city that day took us past the Oslo Cathedral, where we paused for a moment so that I could admire the baroque interior, dating to the 1600s. It’s a welcoming place and a lovely stop.
It had been a fascinating day. It had also been a full day, following a full night of travel from Denver. So I was grateful for Megan’s guidance on my first day in Oslo; she relieved much of the stress of navigating as a solo traveler when I was still road- and flight- and train-weary.
The National Museum
I got to meet Santina for the first time here, when she joined Megan and me for an evening tour on my first day in Oslo. In addition to being Norwegian, she is something of an art expert, so I was in good hands.
When I visited, this collection of classic and contemporary art, architecture and design was housed in a charming brick building in the heart of the city. It felt cozy, perhaps because of the winding gallery spaces within and the dark cold outside. In 2022, however, the museum moved to a new building. You’ll have to tell me what the new vibe is like.
Of course I had to see Edvard Munch’s famous painting “The Scream.” When Mia was a little girl, she and I carved a pumpkin to look like the ghastly figure in this painting. It was fascinating to see the Norwegian painter’s career extended into his other works there as well.
One of my favorite galleries was the Fairy Tale Room. Folk tales hold a significant place in Norway’s historic identity. And as a girl who voraciously consumed fairy tales and who owned a four-inch-thick hardcover copy of Danish author Hans Christian Anderson’s works, I have a special place in my heart for them as well. The presentation is nothing short of delightful, with illustrations of creatures placed inside peepholes carved into “trees” or other hidey-holes. Don’t miss this room!
And thus began the theme of my trip to Oslo: I only wish that I had more time — to see the National Museum, to see it all. Five days wasn’t enough, and I hated wasting time for sleep. But after traveling all night and going all day, plus cocktails with Megan and Santina at Himkok, a swanky hidden club and distillery, I collapsed into a sleep that would last a mind-boggling (but restorative) 14 hours.
This stop could easily fit into a small window of time … or at the end of a day during which you’ve done nothing much but sleep.
Oslo celebrates its famous native with an entire museum devoted to Edvard Munch. I find art museums to be fascinating not only for the works within, but for the creative presentation of history and culture that they offer, and the Munch Museum was no exception.
I further enjoyed an exhibit there on Post-Impressionist painter Paul Gauguin, whose work I had first seen in the States presented with Vincent Van Gogh’s paintings in an exploration of their troubled relationship.
That abbreviated day, I also did some shopping in the boutiques along Karl Johans Gate. I’m not much of a shopper, but I did need to purchase some souvenirs. I also bought dinner at a small deli along the way. It was an easy walk and felt safe in the early evening, even though it was dark by dinnertime; my hotel was right at one end of the street, near Central Station.
The Viking Ship Museum, The Fram Polar Exploration Museum, The Norsk Folkemuseum
I had planned a single day in which to cram some of Olso’s major cultural museums and of course, it wasn’t enough. But I can whittle it down for you!
I took the bus from my hotel downtown. (Did I mention how seamless Oslo’s public transportation system is?) The peninsula on which all of these museums are situated is stunning and quaint. My first stop was the Viking Ship Museum.
This destination was magical. Part of what I loved was the space: The building itself was a work of art; small, in the shape of a cross. Each simple, whitewashed wing housed a real, live Viking ship, three in all from the years 800–900 and 90 percent authentic.
Two were tombs buried in mounds for high-ranking men and women, and the rich artifacts which with they were buried also were on display. The third ship was a warship, its fragments reminiscent of the ribs of a carefully reassembled dinosaur skeleton.
Further feeding the imagination of magnificent Viking feats, a video presentation in the warship wing regularly turned the room into a stormy sea, with slides and illustrations to tell the stories of the Vikings’ history.
But the museum closed in 2022 to expand to a larger space; it will reopen as the Museum of the Viking Age in 2026. You should still check out the images on the Viking Ship Museum website as long as it lasts.
The Fram Polar Ship Museum’s greatest feature for me was the grounds. It was a bluebird bright sunny day when I visited, and the maritime museum is situated right on the Oslo Fjord. The memory of standing on the peninsula, watching the flag snap in the wind, still brings joy to my heart.
The museum inside is, depending on your perspective, a treasure trove of facts about frozen expeditions and intrepid explorers, or an onslaught of data. It was an overwhelming amount of diaries, accounts, reports and other reading material, as if several books about the expeditions exploded onto the walls. I’m one who loves to read every placard in every museum, and even I was completely overwhelmed.
Perhaps it was the fact that the building was crowded with families; perhaps it was the dark interior in contrast with the bright exterior; perhaps it was the noise echoing through the cavernous main room. Perhaps it was the reams of notes displayed on every wall from people whom I’m sure I would admire for their bravery and fortitude. But it was a bit much.
If I can offer you one piece of advice for your trip to Oslo, it is this: Allow a full day for the Norsk Folkemuseum.
(Or perhaps this is again a benefit of solo travel. Because I was visiting Norway solo, I could indulge *my* enchantment at the Norsk Folkemuseum. Your interest might vary!)
There’s an indoor museum with exhibits celebrating Norwegian folk costumes, stunning painted and carved furniture over the centuries, folk art, church art, toys and the indigenous Sami culture. Norwegians still wear their bunads — folk costumes — on May 17, Norway’s Constitution Day; the baby costumes are especially adorable.
I wanted to linger inside, but I’d already been to two museums that day and there remained for me what would be the highlight: the outdoor museum. There are more than 160 historic buildings on the grounds, ranging from the 1500s to present time, moved mostly from villages and farms around the entire country. Some are open inside to explore life as it was then, and a few included re-enactors.
Highlights included smelling bread baking and coffee beans roasting; learning that developing fireplaces with chimneys instead of a pit/hole in the roof allowed for windows and painted furniture; buildings on platforms prevented rodents in the grains; that there were many logical orders to the arrangement of cow barns, hay bins and fields; and that there were lots of “lofts” with beautiful carvings for guests.
Soon, however, the re-enactors left, along with the other guests, and I was left to wander alone.
The detail and craftsmanship of the earliest buildings appealed to me most, and I trudged through the snow in the growing dusk, peering into wonderfully shaped little windows and admiring shapes. The Gol Stave Church from around 1200 is a must-see, of course. I only dashed past the more modern buildings, because it was truly dark and cold by then, and the bus would run less frequently. I wished for more time.
I went out to eat alone several times while I was visiting Norway solo. But my favorite meal by far was the one made by Santina in her and Megan’s home. Of course there was fresh seafood — we were in Norway, after all. I missed a photo of the first dish, salmon tartare with fresh dill, lemon and red onions. It was followed by scallops with sweet potatoes and spring onions and a glaze; halibut with green beans on a butter bean purée; and I believe a panne cotta with fresh strawberries.
I’m missing some ingredients, but it was incredible and quite labor-intensive. There was candlelight, good music, delicious wine, artful presentation and wonderful company. It transformed my solo trip to be welcomed so warmly.
You can’t go to Norway without sailing a fjord. I think that they reject you at customs if you don’t come home with several pom beanies made in the mountains of Norway.
Sunday began my 22-hour round-trip journey west across Norway. I booked the Norway in a Nutshell self-guided tour online through Viator; tickets were delivered to my hotel. I started early in Oslo with a five-ish-hour train journey to Myrdal, where I boarded the famous Flåm railroad for approximately an hour.
I’ll fully admit to dozing off for much of the five-hour ride, as much as I wanted to stay awake. Highlights: WiFi and foot rests on the train; a waffle with brown cheese and jam, per Norway tradition, in the dining car while escaping my stinky seat mate; a chance to hop off and see a frozen waterfall; and watching people kite skiing across a broad swath of snow.
My smile permanently froze to my face on Sunday afternoon, and not because of the cold. That was the beginning of my two-hour cruise from Flåm on the Sognefjord, Norway’s deepest. We only traversed a wee bit of the fjord, to Gudvangen, breaking the ice toward the end. It was spectacular, everything that you think a fjord cruise would be, with peaks and waterfalls and tiny colorful houses in tiny remote villages.
The boat was surprisingly large and filled with tourists, including many families. Because I was traveling solo, I was able to move about the boat easily, and spent as much time as I could tolerate on the outside decks. The scale of the cold, gray fjord in contrast with the bright little houses trapped by ice and snow made me feel isolated at times. I think I’d like to re-experience it with summer’s green.
The whole tour disembarked in quiet Gudvangen and took a 1.5-hour charter bus to Voss. Those of us on the Norway in a Nutshell self-guided tour collaborated to find our way to the train station in town, expecting a train to take us from Voss to the cosmopolitan city of Bergen on Norway’s western coast. But it seemed to be undergoing maintenance, according to a sign on the window of the empty ticket booth, so we trudged back down the hill to find another bus.
The 1.5-hour bus ride deposited us at 8:30 p.m. on a dark street in Bergen with no guidance — no word on where those of us who were returning to Oslo that night should meet. Even the bus driver didn’t know. Everyone quickly dispersed, so I wandered off alone and found a bus station, where I got walking directions to the wharf and some food.
I lucked into a great restaurant named Olivia, though it was Italian and not seafood as I had hoped for in this seaside city. I finished eating and strolled back to the bus station, though I couldn’t appreciate how pretty Bergen is said to be in the dark.
With ample time to get to a bus that would return me to Voss at 10:43 p.m., I took some photos and made my way back to the bus station. No sign of a bus to Voss. I found an unmarked charter bus and driver on the same dark street where we were dropped off. He said I should head toward the train station and kindly pointed me in the direction with limited English.
I found the train station, but no bus to Voss. I bought a water inside, wandered out to another dark street, and happened upon a charter bus loading up. I asked the driver if he were going to Voss; he confirmed that he was, though when I asked if the bus left at 10:43, trying to confirm that it was the right bus, he said that he would leave whenever the bus was full. I hopped on and, sure enough, it took off at 10:31.
I was so, so glad to be headed to Voss, where I could catch the train returning to Oslo overnight, instead of stuck in beautiful Bergen with no hotel and no ride. I don’t know whether others on my tour were left behind or lost, or whether they all had booked the tour that provided several nights in Bergen. I made it back to Voss and to the train to Oslo with minutes to spare, sleeping off and on and arriving back in Oslo with the sunrise Monday morning.
The best adventures give one a real sense of place. Visiting Frognerseteren with Megan and Santina was one of those moments.
Norway relishes friluftsliv, or outdoor life, regardless of the temperature or light. So when the three of us took a tram from Oslo to the top of the ski mountain in Nordmarka Forest just north of Oslo, it was filled with rosy-cheeked and boisterous families carrying sleds for the famous Korketrekkern toboggan run. You can slide down the hill, jump on the tram to the starting point, and repeat as often as the threat of frostbite permits.
We were headed to the top for the delights of Frognerseteren. The lodge-style facility includes a sit-down restaurant, Restaurant Finstua, with white tablecloths amid a spacious room full of wood and substantial furniture. They specialize in traditional Norwegian dishes carried over from the end of the 19th century, when hunters would bring fresh catch to the door for the day’s service.
Instead we ordered Frognerseteren’s famous apple cake from Cafe Seterstua within and carried it up to the most cozy, charming, fairy-tale-like wooden booth tucked into the peak of the lodge on the second floor. We had views of the winter wonderland outside while I did my best to eat the massive slab of freshly baked delight. It was hard to imagine feeling more historically Norwegian anywhere else.
My final evening in Oslo was sunny, so I took the train to Ekebergparken, a park above the city that in summer is home to concerts, ice cream stands and trails through the woods. It’s also home to astonishing statues by Rodin, Renoir, Dali and more.
When it’s freezing and it grows dark early, Ekeberg Park is a lovely spot in late afternoon, when the sun’s rays grow long and golden over the city and the fjord. I extended my stay with a solo dinner at the Ekeberg Restaurant, its floor-to-ceiling windows designed to maximize the view. It was early, so I was alone in the restaurant with one small family and the staff. I was glad that I wasn’t taking up precious real estate later in the evening, because it was also pricey, so I just had a bowl of exquisite Jerusalem artichoke soup with bread and a glass of wine before catching the tram back down the hill to my hotel doorstep.
Ekeberg could be a full day trip in the summer. It’s an easy tram ride to the park overlooking Oslo, filled with sculpture art including statues by Rodin and Dali. There are programs on the grounds in warmer seasons, as well as hiking trails through the woods with more art along the routes.
Stone is known to be hard and cold. But Gustav Vigeland has a way of using it that conveys warmth, softness, joy, tenderness and a range of human emotion.
His life’s work (more than 200 pieces in all) is on display in granite, bronze and wrought iron at Vigeland Park, which he also designed. His sculptures are larger than life — in most cases, much, much larger.
Making the most of every last minute in Oslo, I got up early and headed across the city to the park on my final morning there. Vigeland Park is the world’s largest sculpture park made by a single artist. Opened in 1907, it’s currently under construction (like much of Oslo), and walkways are covered in ice (again, like much of Oslo). But it was a gorgeous sunny morning, with birds singing and children going to school, and I found moving beauty and humanity in Gustav’s work.
While it was less enjoyable the day that I visited because of the frigid temperatures, the construction around the park’s centerpiece and the treacherous walking conditions, I could imagine how inviting and lively the space would be on a bright summer’s day in Norway.
This was my final morning in Norway, so I didn’t dawdle. There was still more to see! I met with Santina and Megan downtown one last time. We walked one of the oldest (and perhaps steepest and iciest) streets in Oslo, the cobblestone Damstredet separating brightly painted wooden houses from the first half of the 19th century.
We passed some of the sites of the 2011 shooting rampage that ended in the slaughter of dozens of teens and children, immortalized in the movie “22 July.” After hearing Megan and Santina’s first-person accounts of the terror, I can’t bring myself to even watch the preview of the film on Netflix.
Finally, shaking off the chill of those sad scenes, we admired some of the newest street art in the city as well, strolling along the Akerselva River, which in the summer is busy with diners and shoppers at the many spots along its banks. Santina pointed out one mural painted by her brother-in-law; I supported the cause by eating a ton of this brand of chocolate. Then the three of us parted ways.
The Nobel Peace Center
Allow so much more time for the Nobel Peace Center than I did.
When I visit a museum, I like to read all the panels, to the dismay of everyone who ever goes to a museum with me. But I had to race through the first-floor gallery, so I took photos of about 30 panels from Lauren Greenfield’s exhibit on Generation Wealth. I read them with pleasure on the plane.
I also had to zip through Ban the Bomb, an exhibit about the 2017 Nobel laureate, the group International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons. I brought home the booklet with all of the panel descriptions. Time! (Also, I felt my worlds colliding, as much resonated with my visit to the Museum of Nuclear Science in Albuquerque, New Mexico, a few weeks earlier.)
My ultimate goal was to see the room featuring the Nobel Peace Prize winners. I passed through a space with ethereal music in the background, as well as a docent giving a tour to a bunch of high school students. (Imagine this as your field trip!) In this alcove is the coolest giant book; as you flip pages, the interactive elements change. Like Harry Potter. I didn’t get to use it. Time.
I entered the closed-off room housing the Nobel Peace Price gallery, expecting simply photos on a wall. To say I was stunned by the presentation, with voices, screens and lights, is an understatement. It was moving.
Each laureate has a screen. As you approach each screen, the photo turns into sparkles, that turn into a description of the winner. At certain moments, all the screens flip to one, and a segment of the winner’s speech is broadcast.
I recognized many names and paused to reflect on each as long as possible. I didn’t realize that organizations could win until I spotted Doctors Without Borders, one of my favorite organizations in the world. I also didn’t realize that there is not a winner every year.
Peace is so important to me that I have it tattooed on my arm. This was a meaningful place, a moving experience. I recommend allowing at least three hours.
It’s such a vast country that my trip to Norway only scratched the surface. In the course of my normal reading, I find myself frequently hearing about innovative initiatives in architecture, social services and environmentalism in Norway, advancements and places that I’d love to explore. I know that the weather would be difficult for me; the darkness would weigh like a cloak on my sun-loving soul. But the mountains, the friluftsliv and, most importantly, the spirit of rational humanity and cooperation, make it an appealing choice if I were ever to jettison my country of birth.
More than feeling safe when visiting Norway solo, more even than feeling welcomed, I felt like I could blend in. It’s rare for me to experience a foreign country without standing out as the tourist — try as I might to always fit in — and being obviously different changes the experience. It suits my introverted extrovert self; filled up by busy public spaces, but only by observing without engaging.
Five days certainly wasn’t enough. Spend a week. Spend a month. Go twice, in different seasons. Read fairy tales, take ferries to the islands, take boats down the fjords, take tobaggans down the mountains. Eat lots of salmon, and be charmed by Norway.
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