Norway celebrates the bicentenary of its independence from Denmark this month. It’s a land carved out by glaciers and with a rich Viking history. Perched at the brow of the magnificent Oslofjord, its capital, Oslo, is one of Europe’s coolest and most child-friendly capitals.
Scandinavia is renowned for being pricey, but there are plenty of activities that don’t require a second mortgage. Visit the Angry Boy, a statue of a furious naked baby in Frogner Park, or walk across the sloping roof of the Opera House. Oslo is also home to the Nobel Peace Center, thousand-year-old Viking ships and Edvard Munch’s The Scream, which is the look most children adopt when offered rakfisk, a Norwegian delicacy of fermented raw fish. Oslo is a surprising city with a wealth of history, friendly natives (there are few rampaging Vikings left) and is a world away from your standard city break.
Five minutes’ walk from the Royal Palace in the centre of Oslo is the Scandinavia. It’s a sleek, modern hotel that has an indoor swimming pool and sauna and family rooms that comfortably sleep four (some have a terrace). The breakfast buffet is generous enough to sate a Viking – or even a teenager. Watch the sun set from the Summit bar on the 21st floor. When it dips behind the twin towers of City Hall and bathes the fjord in gold, you’ll soon forget that round of drinks that cost more than your flight.
Price: Family rooms cost from £140 per night.
Book now: Radissonblu.com
Sixty metres high and 361m long, looking down the business end of a ski jump is not for the fainthearted. Whether you’re a fan of skiing or not, the Holmenkollen ski jump is an impressive feat of engineering. Originally built in 1894, it’s been extended several times and now juts magnificently out of the north-eastern corner of the city. Brave the lift to the top and you’ll be rewarded with phenomenal views across Oslo. In the base there’s a fascinating ski museum and during the summer months daredevils can experience the thrill of the jump by zip-lining down it instead.
Price: Adults £11, children £8.
More info: Holmenkollen.com
Norwegians, it seems, have a fondness for squeezing impossibly large boats into small buildings. If you only visit one museum in Oslo, make it the Fram. Perched on the banks of the Bygdøy peninsular (catch the ferry from the waterfront), it tells the story of arctic explorer Roald Amundsen and the Fram, the ship that was used on expeditions to the North and South Poles. Scramble up on to the prow and lie on the well-worn deck to see the Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights). Then rummage around the cavernous lower decks through cosy Victorian cabins with beds draped in seal skin.
Price: Adults £8, children under 16 £3.
More info: Frammuseum.no
To grown-ups this dark, turreted fortress on the banks of the fjord has the ominous air of a Grimm fairytale. But to anyone under 10 it’s Arendelle, the kingdom in Disney’s latest animated adventure, Frozen, which was inspired by the gothic-looking fortress. Built in the Middle Ages to protect the city from invading Swedes, Akershus has worn many guises over the past 700 years from a royal mausoleum to the national army headquarters. Check out the grand ceremonial room, where the iron chandeliers seem built for Vikings to swing from and there’s a fireplace so big you could roast a moose in it.
Price: Adults £8, children £3 (open weekends only).
More info: Visitoslo.com/en/activities-and-attractions
Forget Viking helmets and troll keyrings, the only souvenir you’ll ever need is a life-size light-up moose head. Ting is a fun and quirky gift shop that focuses on cool Nordic design. Along with moose heads, you’ll find silver jewellery by Per Vigeland and faux-leather penguins by Zuny. Check out Småting, the same concept but with children in mind, where you’ll find retro wooden toys and super-cute Marius-print onesies by Oslo children’s brand, Ugly.
More info: Ting.no
The whole of Scandinavia is a hotbed of design and you can find it all here, crammed into the glass-fronted four-storey House of Oslo. The Milla Boutique on the third floor is how I imagine Kate Moss’s house looks – a DJ booth, piles of fashion books leaning against bare-brick walls and achingly hip vintage furniture. Åhléns is a Scandi take on Bed, Bath & Beyond while DesignTorget features some seriously cool limited-edition items from up and coming designers.
More info: Houseofoslo.no
Opened last autumn, Ekebergparken sculpture park features some stunning pieces by Rodin, Renoir and Dali. It’s the real off-the-wall stuff that really brings the park to life, though. Louise Bourgeois’s aluminium masterpiece The Couple hangs, glistening like a silver twister, in the trees. Skyspace, by American artist James Turrell, is a series of spaces, including a large stone dome with a pin-hole to the sky, built to contort our perception of light and space. Kids will love Maria Abramovi?’s Munch-inspired video of screaming Norwegians. They can then perform their own screams in the iron picture frame that overlooks the fjord.
Price: Admission free.
More info: Ekebergparken.com
Norwegians take their coffee and bread very, very seriously. To enjoy proper Nordic baking first hand, head to the hip Åpent Bakeri. A bakery-cum-café by day, it transforms into a lively gourmet pizzeria in the evenings. Order mugs of good coffee and hot chocolate for the kids and feast on skolebrød, huge soft-sweet buns filled with custard and topped with desiccated coconut. At night try the reindeer pizza (sorry, Rudolph), washed down with a local beer.
More info: Apentbakeri.no