I recently received a surprise email from my Sweden-based friend Becky, who was heading to Oslo for work and wanted to know if I fancied flying out to join her for a weekend. As you might imagine, I’d booked my tickets within minutes: not only was it a chance to explore and catch up, but the dates happened to fall over the summer solstice – a major cause for celebration in many Nordic countries.
I’ve spent a lot of time in other parts of Scandinavia over the years, but Oslo was an entirely new destination for me. The first thing that struck me as my plane swooped in over the city was its beautiful setting. It’s clustered around a deep, mirror-like fjord and ringed with wooded hills; from the air, it seemed to have more water and trees than buildings.
In fact, the sea and forest came to dominate my stay. Oslo has all the world-class museums and galleries you’d expect from a European capital, but the lure of balmy June temperatures meant they went largely ignored. Instead, Becky and I spent our days meandering through groves of alliums in the royal gardens, sipping coffee at pavement cafés, and guessing at the meaning behind the rather macabre (and entirely naked!) statues in 20th-century artist Gustav Vigeland’s open-air sculpture park. We also hopped on the metro and twisted up through the hillside suburbs to the Holmenkollen ski jump, which looms above the city and offers dizzying views out in every direction.
Like the British, the Scandinavians tend to flock outside as soon as warm weather hits, and wherever we went we saw sunbathers sprawled out on lawns and children splashing in fountains. And we were accompanied not by the usual din of city traffic, but by birdsong, soft breezes and the gentle sploshing of the fjord.
Our evenings gravitated towards the harbour, where old and new buildings mingle together. We wandered around the rambling medieval ramparts of the Askershus fortress, which guards the entrance to the docks, and tucked into mounds of fresh seafood in the restaurants that now occupy the former warehouses. And we stopped for a drink at the striking marble and granite opera house, which juts up from the quayside and was designed to resemble an iceberg.
But by far the highlight of the weekend was the solstice itself, which we spent floating around the fjord on a cruise aboard a traditional wooden boat. We wove through a maze of pine-clad islets scattered with cabins, past mast-filled marinas and tiny churches perched on rocky outcrops. Every now and then, delicious smells wafted across the deck from one of the midsummer barbecues taking place on the shore, and near-24-hour daylight meant we were bathed in a lovely glow. It was a magical end to an all-too-brief trip, and the last rays of sunshine were still glinting off the water when we disembarked at 11pm.
As for all those museums and galleries – well, they’ll just have to wait for another time (and a rainy day…).
Photography by Abi Dare
A big thank you to Oslo-based blogger So Soft Sunday, who gave me some fantastic tips for exploring her home city!