Waterfront walk to a royal retreat
August 6, 2010
EXCURSIONS: Anyone passing through Oslo has likely seen the fairy-tale-like castle perched on the slopes of the Bygdøy peninsula, just across the water from the busy E18 highway. It’s called Oscarshall, it re-opened to the public last year and can be the historic goal of a regal walk along Oslo’s waterfront.
The little castle, called a “lystslott” in Norwegian, was built purely for the pleasure (lyst) of the Swedish King Oscar I, when Norway was part of a political union with Sweden. He never lived in it after its completion in 1852 — the royals already had their palace at the top of Karl Johans Gate in Oslo and another summer retreat on Bygdøy, while King Oscar mostly resided in Stockholm — and it was opened to the public as early as 1881.
It since has been both opened and closed, in line with various restoration projects and special events (the royal family can still use it for their own purposes, and it’s become the site of concerts as well) but has been open most of this summer and is due to remain so at least on weekends (barring a few more special events) until September 26. Queen Sonja, for example, planned to host a reception and concert there on August 11, in connection with her annual international music competition.
Oscarshall can be admired from across the water while walking along the coastal path that begins just west of the Color Line terminal, at the Frognerkilen marina. It’s a fine walk, despite some traffic noise, later skirting the end of the fjord and continuing up along the royal fields at the entrance to Bygdøy. Turn left on the first dirt road you come to and follow signs to Oscarshall.
The castle underwent a major restoration that cost taxpayers NOK 115 million and took four years to complete. Visitors have to pay another NOK 70 to take the mandatory guided tour and stroll around the grounds, but many have been doing so and Oscarshall has become a popular attraction.
Its architecture is unusual in Norway, influenced by southern European and German “new gothic” design that was considered “modern and trendy” at the time, according to Liv Bog of the Royal Palace who’s been responsible for the Oscarshall project. She told newspaper Aftenposten recently that the castle is “special” because of its continental influence, noting that Oscar I was born in Paris and his wife Josephine’s father was a Bavarian duke.
The castle was clearly designed for summer use, with its dining room separate from the main building, thus necessitating a trip outdoors to reach it. Once there, visitors can admire wall paintings by Joachim Frich and Adolph Tidemand, displaying Norwegian landscapes and rural life.
More paintings are found inside by Hans Gude in addition to the carved woodwork and stained glass.
Views ease admission sting
The views over the water and back to town are arguably worth the admission price, although the guides can have a tendency to hurry visitors along so there’s not much time to linger on the roof-top terrace. But you’ll see Oslo and the hills up to Holmenkollen from a unique angle, not to mention all the maritime traffic on the fjord.
There’s no limit on how long you can can stroll in the gardens, or sit on the benches there on a sunny day. There’s a small gift shop in the annex where tickets are sold.
The Norwegian Folk Museum and its bus stop back to town are only another short walk away, along the same trail, or visitors can turn around and stop for refreshments at the also-recently renovated Rodeløkken Café (Oscarshall’s nearest neighbour) on a return walk to town.