The idea of a museum crawl isn’t necessarily what I have in mind when exploring a new city.
I usually concentrate my time on the architectural highlights, culinary specialties of the chocolate type and perhaps a stroll in a scenic park if Mother Nature is kind enough on that day. Museums though? Not my thing.
Even when I lived in London – one of the many fine museum cities of the world – I barely ever set foot in these houses of knowledge. Too far. Too intellectual. Too boring. Any reason’s a good reason when your mind is set on something else, right?
With that in mind, I headed to Bygdøy a bit reluctantly. You see, Bygdøy is a Norse word that means “built district island”, and is now the Oslo Museum island, where 6 of them are located. Mentally beating myself up for being such a whiny bitch when in fact, it was a gorgeous autumn day, and I was in one of the cities I was looking forward to discovering the most.
And on I went, thinking that if the museums were boring, the boat ride in the harbor would as least be worth it. And to say that I was blown away isn’t an understatement.
Crazy what a sun-soaked boat ride can do to one’s mood, right? Hello, vitamin D and endorphin. How nice of you to join me. Care to hop on a museum crawl in Oslo’s prettiest peninsula?
I only had time to visit two of them because I have very poor time management skills and ended up spending much longer than expected in them. Not that it’s a bad thing – it just goes to show how interesting there are!
FRAM – The Polar Ship Museum
First on my list was the renowned FRAM polar ship museum. Recently renovated, the oddly shaped building houses the 19th ship that traveled all the way to the Arctic and Canada, and later on to Antarctica in the early 1900s. That is correct. From Norway to Antarctica!
It’s the strongest wooden ship ever built, and still holds the world record for sailing farthest north and farthest south. What makes the museum so interesting though is that you can board the ship and see how the crew lived and managed to survive in the coldest and most dangerous places on earth at the time. Fascinating!
The Viking Ship Museum
A short 15 minute walk will take you to the other side of the island, where the Viking Ship Museum is. Ladies, get off your hormonal horses: there are no actual vikings on site. If there were, they would be old enough to be your great-great…..-great grandpa. Not so sexy anymore now, eh!
The museum displays the world’s two best-preserved wooden Viking ships built in the 9th century (!), as well as a collection of Viking household and equipment items. The boat pictured below is called the Oseberg Ship, which was discovered in a burial mound in southern Norway, and is often regarded as being one of the finest pieces to have survived the Viking Age.
Not that I beg to differ – it is absolutely outstanding, and breathtaking.
Other Oslo Museums Worth A Visit
In all honesty, I didn’t get the chance to visit these museums myself, sadly. But considering just how captivated I was by the first two, there is no doubt in my mind that these other 4 museums are just as interesting, if not more, and well worth a visit.
- Kon-Tiki Museum: This museum is home to Thor Heyerdahl’s finest treasures, from vessels to artifacts. He gained worldwide fame and recognition when he crossed the Pacific Ocean on the Kon-Tiki ship in 1947, and quickly became one of the world’s most appreciated scientists, adventurers and environmental campaigners.
- Norwegian Folk Museum: One of Europe’s largest open-air museum that relates the daily Norwegian life of the 1200s, with over 150 wooden houses, traditionnally dressed reenactors and a lot of insight on the Sami culture.
- Norwegian Maritime Museum: An interesting museum on all things navy! Learn everything there is to know in terms of fishing, ship building, shipping as well as marine archaeology. The exhibition also includes Norway’s oldest ship, the Stokkebåten.
- Holocaust Center: Norway was also taken over by the Nazis during World War II, and this center, who used to be the home of the Norwegian Nazi leader, relates the history of the Holocaust not just in Norway but all over Europe, and the poor treatment of minorities around the world.
- National Gallery: Norway’s largest public collection of paintings, drawings and sculptures is found in the National Gallery, established in 1837. This is where you’ll find big-ticket items like Edvard Munch’s The Scream and Madonna, and paintings by Cézanne and Manet. Free entry on Sundays!
What Else Can I Do On Bygdøy?
And, being the architecture lover that I am, I couldn’t help but wander around the lovely residential neighborhood of the island, which feels slightly unattainable – it is one of the most upscale parts of Oslo – but certainly dream-inducing. A must-do when hopping from museum to museum.
Well, hindsight is always 20/20, while part of me wishes I’d stopped whining earlier and spent more time on Bygdøy, I’m really glad I decided on going despite my lack of initial interest. I would have missed out on crucial Norwegian heritage, a boat ride around the harbor and a gorgeous late-afternoon walk.
Bygdøy really improved my perspective on museums and taught me just how important it is to visit at least a few of them whenever I’m in a vibrant city like Oslo. They’re such a big part of the city’s tourism and identity, it would be crazy to skip them altogether.
I won’t be making that mistake again anytime soon.