Two nights in… Oslo

The destination

Norway has been a regular port of call over the years, and Oslo holds a special place in my travel history as the first place I visited with my own passport. But it is somehow six years ago that I last passed through, and since then the city has gained a few attractions – and a new airline, Norse Atlantic. The chance to join their very first flight from London to Oslo was hard to resist, and a friend did not need much convincing to add another country to their list.

Tied to the specific Saturday morning debut departure, then needing to head back on Monday for work (me) or further exciting travel (Kate), this would be a sub-48 hour hop. However, that should be enough in a familiar city to revisit some old favourites, and maybe discover new ones.

The flights

Norse Atlantic are hoping to succeed where Norwegian could not, offering low cost transatlantic flights on their ‘longships’ – a fleet of widebody Boeing 787s. Unlike Norwegian, they won’t be building out a shorthaul network, but until they get legal approval, London – New York services have to operate under fifth freedom rights by starting from their home base in Oslo. So, for just a couple of months, it’s possible to board a big plane for a small flight – something I’ve long been a fan of, most recently (and ridiculously) travelling to Madrid on an A380!

Part of the appeal of such antics is that you get a far better seat than typically found on narrowbody aircraft. Whilst Norse doesn’t have a business class, their ‘Premium’ cabin has 8 rows of 2-3-2 seating with a huge 46″ pitch. This is far more generous than the 38″ offered on my recent Delta Premium Select flights all the way to Salt Lake City – for the couple of hours to Oslo, it’s a ludicrous amount of space:

Norse Atlantic Premium seating on a 787 ‘longship’

Attractive introductory prices also made this an easy choice: one-way ‘Premium Light’ fares were less than £90 each. This included a couple of perks – notably, a cabin bag, which is missing from economy light – but not seat selection. I was unsurprised to find us assigned spots in a 3-block rather than one of several vacant window pairs… Unlike on BA, we weren’t able to shift at check-in for free either: it would cost $15 to escape the middle middle. Fortunately after take-off there was no problem with moving – and with less than a quarter of the seats occupied, there were plenty of good options for admiring the view or fully testing the recline.

Premium includes a couple of meals for longhaul, but for this short trip the complimentary offerings only extended to a pre-departure glass of water or orange juice, and then a tea or coffee once aloft. (We had planned ahead, with a substantial breakfast courtesy of Priority Pass at Grain Store, and lunch/snacks picked up elsewhere in the terminal). There is also IFE, on a good quality screen that folds out from the armrest – but this lacks a moving map, so I didn’t realise until later that we’d overflown where I grew up:

LGW-OSL took me over my home town – looking very parched from the heatwaves.

As a new airline, there would naturally be teething troubles; just a couple of days out, all the Saturday flights were rescheduled to leave 90 minutes later. Ours was further delayed – although the aircraft had arrived from New York early in the morning, we had to wait for the crew, who were ferried over from Oslo. Sadly, there was no indication that this was a first flight – cake and other celebrations had happened the day before, for the start of LGW-JFK service.

Still, a freshly-fitted premium cabin on a good-as-new Dreamliner, with a friendly crew full of new airline enthusiasm, made for an excellent flight. Unfortunately this made the contrast with our return, OSL-LHR on SAS, all the worse. Although another first for me – somehow I’ve closed in on 200 flights without ever using a Star Alliance airline – economy on an A320 was never going to compare well. But we ended up in the very last row, 31: I didn’t know seats go that far back, and it turns out the windows, overhead storage and legroom do not…

Enough said on that. But I will note the airport experience, at all three, was far smoother than media reports had led us to fear. Admittedly, we had gone hand-baggage only, checked in online, and were flying in to, rather than out of, Heathrow. But there was no sign of hour-plus queues or baggage chaos: slowest was ten minutes for Schengen exit control at Oslo.

The tourist attractions

Kate discovered that Oslo was playing host to the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series; lacking a suitable cliff, they had placed the terrifying 27m dive platform at the end of an equally nerve-wracking 30m walkway attached to the Opera house. Our delay meant we only caught the last few dives, but this discovery is being filed away for a future trip as it offers similar peril-at-height thrills to the climbing I’ve been following around the world!

Other new – and rather more permanent – additions to the Oslofjord shoreline include a pair of enormous galleries: the Munch Museum holds 13 floors of exhibitions, but even this is dwarfed by the new National Museum complex, displaying 65,000 items from a collection of 400,000. Since that includes a selection of Munch’s own artworks – most notably, the first copy of The Scream – it seemed the better pick given limited time. Supposedly it is a museum of art, design and architecture, but the latter two (which are more my cup of tea) were less well represented, I feel. Nonetheless, I spent a good couple of hours happily roaming its endless halls.

The National Museum’s Munch collection was by far the busiest room

Continuing the art theme, I introduced Kate to the bizarre Vigeland sculpture park, with its monolith of writhing bodies and a series of statues that suggest Gustav had a few issues with children… Armed with a handy map from VisitOslo, we also tracked down the city’s best street art in Tøyen.

(With company I try to be less annoying in my endless photo taking, and on my return to Bristol I managed to wipe all the raw images, so I couldn’t edit my less successful shots. I’ve put together a gallery anyway, which is here.)

The hotel

On a trip this short, my top priority in a hotel is convenience, and it’s hard to get more convenient than the Radisson Blu Plaza, Oslo – a couple of minutes walk from the central station and just a few more to the Opera house. My Radisson Rewards status from a long-since cancelled Amex Platinum card is still good for a few months: although we didn’t score an upgrade it did entitle us both to free breakfast each morning, plus an assortment of sweets and bottled water at check-in. I couldn’t get the website to accept a booking, but on switching to the app I found the price there was notably better. 3000 bonus points also hit my account for some reason, so this was a good option loyalty-wise given the relatively limited presence of my usual brands in Scandinavia.

The meal

Everything we ate on this trip was good – which is a relief given the prices! So whilst I could happily recommend Mamma Pizza‘s Osteria or the Freddy Fuego burrito bar, I think I have to give the nod to Barcode street food. Collecting together over a dozen stalls under one roof, there should be something for everyone – from tacos to a Japanese-Peruvian kitchen! Red Bull had booked the entire venue for Saturday night, but I’m glad we tried again on Sunday. I picked a Portugese-style portion of fish and chips from Bacalao til Folket, whilst Kate went for the chick’n burger from Dirty Vegan; both were great!

Cod to the people!