Finding the Edge of Oslo on an Alternative Tour

 
Have you ever visited a city and felt like something was missing? You’ve toured the touristy areas, you’ve seen the sights, but somehow you’re not sure how it all fits together, what’s between those landmarks and what ‘lies East’. Or maybe, you haven’t captured the atmosphere of the city, how it grew and the way the locals actually live, work, and play.

Basically, you haven’t scratched beneath the surface.

This is what happened to me in Oslo.

It was my second time in the city but I still had pretty much everything left to discover. My first visit had been in winter to celebrate New Year’s Eve with a group of friends, and given the snowy/freezing weather, the lack of daylight (night fell around 2-3pm) and our lazy festive mood, aside from a day of sightseeing along the Aker Brygge harbour area to take in the Museum of Modern Art, the old sea fortress, and the opera house, I had spent most of my time helping watching my friend prepare reindeer steaks (really!) and chocolate mousse for our NYE meal, and drinking aperitifs by the fire.
 

Oslo in winter
Memory of that day we braved the cold…

So, I was glad to have a second opportunity to explore the city, and I spent my first day back in ‘the North’ completing my rounds of Oslo’s must-sees.

I made the most of the splendid weather by walking around Vigeland Park, one of the world’s largest sculpture parks, which features sprawling green lawns and more than 200 sculptures by Gustav Vigeland representing the ‘human condition’ at various stages of life.
 
View of Vigeland Park, Oslo

Overview of Vigeland Park art

Basically, it’s both a great place to relax and an open-air museum.
 

Vigeland Park Oslo Norway

Vigeland Park Oslo sculpture of woman pulling hair
This was my favourite sculpture

I then walked to Bygdøy Peninsula to visit the Viking Ship Museum – which, as its name suggests, houses three Viking ships unearthed by a local farmer. The ships were used as graves, and the stories of the bodies they guarded and of the objects found inside are shrouded in mystery and rather fascinating.
 
Oseberg Viking ship

Viking Ship Museum, Oslo

Yet, after all this sunny sightseeing, it seemed like I hadn’t really got a ‘feel’ for the city.

We tend to think of Scandinavian countries as the (slightly annoying) ‘perfect students’ who top the livability, happiness, and other ‘social progress’ rankings – modern, proper, rich, expensive…and, well, maybe a bit too square. But was there another side to Oslo?

I decided that the best way to find out was to join an alternative bike tour of Oslo with AlternativOSLO.

AlternativOSLO is the smallest company offering city tours of Oslo, and the only one that proposes bike, tram, and walking tours. As it provides a more personal treatment and focuses on off-the-beaten-path areas, it seemed like the perfect fit for me and I was quick to say yes when the owner suggested I join the Akerselva Bike Tour scheduled for a few days later!

I was well-inspired to grab my rain coat on a last-minute impulse, as it started pouring down as soon as I met our guide Graciela outside Oslo’s main train station. From there, we caught our bikes and jumped on a train to Maridalsvannet, Oslo’s drinking water reservoir and the start of the Akerselva river.
 

Maridalsvannet train station, Oslo
The Maridalsvannet train station is a good example of traditional Norwegian timber house-building techniques

The concept of the tour was simple: follow the course of the river over 8km from source to mouth, passing through industrial history, waterfalls, recreation areas, fishing spots and forests along the way, and taking in some of the bordering neighborhoods. Cycling down the Akerselva is also a journey through time, from the 19th-century factories to the modern buildings on the banks of the Oslo Fjord.

After donning our biking and rainproof gear, we entered the river area, which is now a big Ecopark.
 
Akerselva river park, Oslo

Akerselva river Ecopark, Oslo

Our ride in the park was punctuated by brick factory buildings and some of the 23 waterfalls on the Akerselva.
 
Akerselva Park waterfall, Norway

Did you know that before the Norwegians discovered oil, Norway was a rather poor country whose economy was dominated by the wood industry? Tree trunks were transported on the Akerselva and processed in factories around the river, and those factories and mills also used the current from the river as a power source. The workers were housed in nearby residences, eating and sleeping in collective areas.

Akerselva waterfall close-up, Oslo

Akerselva park waterfall and factories, Oslo

Some of the abandoned factories and old workers’ quarters have now been taken over by artists, and are being used as workshops, galleries, and cafes.
 
Old Akerselva buildings in Oslo

Akerselva factories in Oslo

Old industrial buildings in Oslo Akerselva area

After a few kilometres of cycling next to the Akerselva, we left the river and Oslo’s industrial past behind to explore the young, bohemian boroughs of St Hanshaugen to the West and Grünerløkka to the East.

These areas are home to design collectives, music venues, and Nordic microbreweries. Stops included the trendy Vulkan Mathallen covered market to sample local cheeses, squats converted into ‘art factories’ and street art, as well as preserved, stuck-in-time little streets. Unfortunately, my camera was drowning by then, so the photographic evidence kinda dried out (pun intended).
 
Vulkan covered market in Oslo, Norway

Street art in Oslo

Coulourful houses in Oslo

Rejoining the river, we reached central Oslo via Grønland, an ethnically diverse immigrant area with markets and restaurants, to end up at the very modern iceberg-shaped Oslo National Opera House, our last stop on the tour.
 
Oslo National Opera House

After a last group picture, we all headed home for a well-deserved hot shower!

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Overall, the Akerselva Bike Tour was a great way to connect different offbeat sights and to learn more about the other sides of Oslo thanks to the wealth of information distilled by our guide. Although by no means physically challenging (the biking was almost 100% downhill!), the 4 hours of cycling still provided a bit of a workout and a fun way to spend a half-day… and I won’t spoil it all for you, but Graciela’s anecdotes really brought the city to life for me!

Disclaimer: I received a small discount from AlternativOSLO to take part in the Akerselva Biking Tour. However, I only partner up with companies I am genuinely excited about, and all opinions are solely my own!

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What do you think of Oslo’s different facets? Do you like to dig deeper when exploring a city? Have you been on an alternative tour? Let me know in the comments below!

If you would like to follow the rest of my adventures, consider subscribing to the blog to receive all updates by email, and connecting with Camille in Wonderlands on Facebook, where I regularly post snapshots and musings that haven’t made it onto the site.
 
 

Camille

Hey, I'm Camille! I quit my life to travel the world in 2013 – and I haven’t stopped since! I have visited 40+ countries as a location-independent travel/lifestyle writer and digital marketer. I like hammocks, scooters, eating, and scaring my mother trying adventure sports! I was chosen as a top travel influencer by Influence.co, and have co-founded Helipad Marketing to help travel & lifestyle brands soar with killer online marketing.

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21 thoughts on “Finding the Edge of Oslo on an Alternative Tour”

  1. Très joli, verdoyant, coloré. Et un récit qui donne envie de suivre à son tour cette promenade commentée, à bicyclette et en descente…

  2. Since markets, music venues, and microbreweries are a few of my favourite things, I’d love to explore St Hanshaugen and Grünerløkka! I generally picture most Scandinavian cities to be perfectly manicured, spotlessly clean and modern, so it’s refreshing to read about these more industrial and trendy neighbourhoods.
    Ashley recently posted…Expat in Edinburgh: Month 2My Profile

    1. I’m exactly the same as you Ashley, I like these things too and I had the same impressions of Scandinavian cities, so I really enjoyed discovering this other side of Oslo. Also, I realized that we don’t know much about those countries’ histories before they became the wealthy and socially-advanced countries that we know them to be today, so it was fascinating to find out about Norway’s industrial past. There were a lot more anecdotes that I didn’t recount in here – I learnt a lot!
      Camille recently posted…Wanderlust Instagrammy Awards: Myanmar in 30 Amazing PicturesMy Profile

  3. Seems like you really found the proper edge of Oslo. I’ve been there myself a couple of times but never wandered far from the city center. I will for sure try one of those bicycling tours if I find myself in Oslo again 🙂 Riding a bike is definitely one of the best ways to discover a new place while travelling.

    Btw. I envy your style of writing, it’s both witty and sharp, yet so informative!
    Andri Wilberg recently posted…Your dream hotel in Myanmar Sule Shangri-laMy Profile

    1. Thanks Andri, you really made my day with your comment, this is one of the best compliments I’ve ever had! I think cycling is a particularly great way to discover Scandinavia as it is also the locals’ favourite means of transport, so you feel like you’re exploring the ‘typical’ way! 🙂
      Camille recently posted…Blown Away at Torres del Paine, ChileMy Profile

  4. What an awesome idea for a tour. I love bike tours, but this one seems to really dig deep. I prefer when I can really sink my teeth into a city (food aside, of course..) and I definitely feel like something is missing when I can’t. I felt this way about Florence, Italy a lot. I did a lot of sightseeing, but I didn’t really “get it.” I think that’s why I prefer to either take longer trips or seek out tours like this. So cool! Thanks for sharing.
    Amanda | Chasing My Sunshine recently posted…2015 Travel PlansMy Profile

  5. Interesting. Thanks for bringing up different sides of Oslo. I visited there but like a conventional tourist mainly went around to see mid-night sun. But in next visit i ll keep in my list the ‘alternates’ you uncovered. Good luck for future travels……..

  6. The alternative bike tour sounds good, I like these hands-on (or rather feet-on) experiences. And I enjoyed your photos from the Vigelund park because it was raining when I was there and your photos look so colourful and lively compared to mine 🙂
    Patricia recently posted…BumblebeeMy Profile

    1. This happens to me in a lot of places, Kacy. Most of the time I feel like something is missing if I don’t get to meet locals and see the city through their eyes…otherwise, it can sometimes feel like I’ve just ticked off a list of sights without really engaging! Luckily, I had a number of chance encounters in Buenos Aires that really made my stay – you can read about it here if you’re interested (just ignore the formatting problems, it’s an old post that I haven’t yet updated!): https://www.camilleinwonderlands.com/buenos-aires-encounter-palermo/
      Camille recently posted…Wanderlust Instagrammy Awards: Bolivia in 30 Amazing PicturesMy Profile

  7. I wish I’d taken this tour when I was in Oslo! Even after visiting all the city’s main attractions, I still felt like I’d barely scratched the surface. Maybe it’s because it was over Easter weekend and all the locals had left town, but like you after your first visit, I felt like something was missing. Guess I’ll just have to go back!
    Heather @ Ferreting Out the Fun recently posted…10 Highlights of the LouvreMy Profile

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