Travel like a pro with Rick Steves

America’s travel guru offers updates, tips on Oslo 

Photo: Rick Steves’ Europe
Last summer, America’s favorite travel guru Rick Steves sent his Facebook followers and fans greetings from Oslo—on a bicycle.

Lori Ann Reinhall
The Norwegian American

It’s been over four decades since Rick Steves first published his now classic travel guide Europe Through the Back Door­—and he still remains on the top of his game as America’s favorite travel guru. And all this because of a family trip to Norway that filled him with the travel bug when he was teenager—and a love for the land of mountains and fjords. Recently, I connected with Rick on the phone to talk more about this and his latest trip to Oslo.

Rick usually visits Norway every year, but with the pandemic shutdown, a few years had gone by since he had been to Oslo.

“Norway did not sleep for those years,” said Rick. “They were busy doing stuff; they invested in their infrastructure and society—that’s the Norwegian way.”

Photo: Fredrik Ahlsen / Maverix Media / Visit Norway
With its 13 floors of art, not to be missed while in Oslo is the new Munch Museum, which is part of the new waterfront development.

And there certainly was a lot to see and experience: the state-of-the-art Deichman Library, the innovative Munch Museum, the new world-class National Museum, filled with Norway’s largest collection of art, architecture, and design.

“Norway is a country that knows how to invest in cultural well-being,” said Rick, and he was duly impressed. He described the new museum as “first-class” and “fabulous,” vying cultural institutions anywhere.

The new developments have all been part of an effort to revive the Oslo waterfront Bjørvika area, which began with the opening of the Norwegian National Opera and Ballet in 2008. Designed by the internationally acclaimed Norwegian architectural firm Snøhetta, the expansive white modernist structure with its walkable roof, laid the cornerstone for a comprehensive plan to give more of the city’s waterfront to the people.

Photo: Rick Steves’ Europe
A great way to see the Oslo is with a DIY bike tour. You can download an app for NOK 99 (about $10) for a three-day pass that will give you ready access to loaner bikes all over the city.

The new Munch Museum, also ultramodern in its design, is not far away. With its 13 stories, the city is finally able to display the works of Norway’s most famous painter without space constraints. Almost 28,000 pieces of art and 42,000 unique museum objects now live in a location that is much more accessible, smack in the city center, as opposed to the outskirts of town, where the old Munch Museum was located. Visitors can admire works including “The Scream” and “Madonna” and learn about them in a state-of-the-art educational facility that also includes a top-notch restaurant and café—with fantastic views over the Oslofjord.

If that were not enough, the Deichman Library offers a space where you can spend time reading, working, relaxing, meeting friends, or simply enjoying some peace and quiet. “It’s more than a library,” says Rick. with over a million books, movies, games, CDs, and other media, this library offers something for everyone to enjoy, Oslo natives and tourists alike. Another modernist architectural gem, it is worth a visit there to take in the ambience.

But perhaps the crown jewel of the new urban development projects is the new National Museum of Norway—and it gets high marks from Rick.

“I loved the old National Museum. It was elegant; I thought I would miss that,” he said. “But the new museum is the old National Museum plus a more multi-general use. You experience a great appreciation for art,” he added. “It’s good primer for any traveler.”

Photo: Børre Høstland / Nasjonalmuseet / Visit Norway
A new day dawned on Norwegian cultural life with the opening of the new National Museum, located directly behind the Nobel Peace Center.

Rick recommends visiting the National Museum in Oslo before continuing on to the countryside, as the art tells stories about Norway’s history and cultural heritage. For this reason, he sees the capital as a good gateway to Norway.

“Americans try to go too fast,” he said.  He noted that many travelers don’t get farther north than Copenhagen on their European tours. But as Rick knows, all the Scandinavian capitals—and Bergen on Norway’s west coast—are distinct. He has always taken a country-by-country approach to travel to really try to get to know and enjoy a destination, and as the entry point to Norway, Oslo ranks high on his list.

One of the purposes of Rick’s visit to Oslo was to update his popular Scandinavia guide book. The new 17th edition is now well underway, and Rick has already offered  a “sneak peek” of his unedited research notes on his Facebook page.

One of the highlights is a DIY bicycle tour of Oslo’s new harbor promenade—Havnepromenaden—taking in many of the sights we’ve already described. It is also possible to walk the route, of course, but Rick found it more fun to bike through the city.

To get started, you can download an app for NOK 99 (about $10), which includes a three-day pass that gives you access to loaner bikes all over the city. The route is set by 14 orange “info points,” shaped like shipping containers. At each point, you can review the entire route and see where you are. The points are illustrated with comic-book art that shows what the spot looked like in the 1960s and explains its history and where it fits in the urban renewal project today.

Photo: Didrick Stenersen / VisitOslo
On your tour of the harbor promenade, a visit to the home of the Norwegian Opera and Ballet is a must. Designed by the internationally acclaimed architectural firm Snøhetta, the opera house was part of Oslo’s revitalization strategy to redevelop the city’s historically industrial waterfront into an active public space. You might want to also take a break to relax and refresh yourself at one of the city’s floating saunas.

“This Havnepromenaden tour is all about the love of nature, exercise, and a fresh breeze—and embracing, through a wonderful new example, the idea that tech can make our world more accessible and fun,” says Rick. The tour is good for the environment, a great way to get to know the city, and overall, a very good deal.

In fact, these days, Rick sees Oslo and all of Norway as a great value for tourists coming from the United States. With an exchange rate that hovers around 10 kroner per dollar, you can live and eat well in a country that has for a long time been viewed as expensive.

“You can eat well for about 20 bucks,” he says. No longer a European backwater, there is a great variety of cuisines to enjoy, and according to Rick, “It’s hard to get lousy food.”

Rick encourages travelers to try out some of Oslo’s fine-dining experiences,  finding it well worth it to spend just a little bit more. One of his favorite restaurants is Skur 33—Shed 33—located along the Oslofjord. It specializes in Italian seafood and fish and offers pizza and bread that are baked on site. It also has an excellent selection of Italian wines.

Photo: Rick Steves’ Europe
No longer a backwater, Oslo offers some of the best cuisine to be found in Europe. From food trucks to Michelin-star restaurants, Oslo has it all. A great place to start is the foodcourt Mathallen Oslo (above).

There are many opportunities to get “food with a (waterfront) view” in Oslo. Solsiden, located right below Akershus Fortress, is a little more spendy and trendy but is still accessible, offering some of the best seafood you will find anywhere. Rick is fond of the new Nordic cuisine, which takes an innovative approach to traditional ingredients, with an emphasis on  purity, freshness, simplicity. He encourages visitors to the Norwegian capital to  “eat with the season, eat locally, and eat beautifully” with quality food. Oslo is now a cosmopolitan city, and with this great abundance, he sees no reason to eat like his grandparents.

Of course, that doesn’t mean you still can’t enjoy traditional Norwegian food. A beloved destination for it is the Kaffistova at the centrally located Bondeheimen Hotel. There are also food courts to explore and enjoy, all with a variety of delicious food.

Photo: Johannes Granseth / Nobel Peace Center
The Nobel Peace Center, with its dramatic curved Peach Bench, is an important Oslo landmark. The motto from Nelson Mandela engraved on the bench reads: “The best weapon is to sit down and talk.”

Rick also encourages travelers to check out the local supermarkets, “full of good choices and good prices. Visiting a grocery store is a great cultural experience.” Many have small kitchens with tasty ready-to-go courses and meals. Rick encourages Oslo travelers to put together a picnic to enjoy along the waterfront. You might even decide to hop on one of the city’s ferries (many electric) to see the city skyline from another perspective. You may even catch a glimpse of Oslo’s unique floating saunas along the waterfront.

Photo: Rick Steves’ Europe
For decades, Rick Steves Scandinavia has been the go-to guidebook for many travelers. Now in its 16th edition, it is being updated again.

“Going to Norway is a great way to get inspired,” says Rick. He believes that if Americans all traveled, we would see less conflict in the world. “There are those with passports and those without,” he says. For Rick Steves, travel is about building bridges, not walls, and he always enjoys the opportunity to meet and talk with the locals to get their perspective on the world.

At the end of your day touring Oslo, you might want to sit down on the curved Peace Bench in front of the Nobel Peace Center with its quote by Nelson Mandela:  “The best weapon is to sit down and talk,” And as Rick says, don’t forget to “keep on travelin’!”

Also see: Innovative, meaningful travel with Rick Steves

This article originally appeared in the February 2024 issue of The Norwegian American.

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Lori Ann Reinhall

Lori Ann Reinhall, editor-in-chief of The Norwegian American, is a multilingual journalist and cultural ambassador based in Seattle. She is the president of the Seattle-Bergen Sister City Association, and she serves on the boards of several Nordic organizations.