When I took the advice to visit the sculpture park in Oslo, I’m not sure what I expected; maybe a collection of statues of historical figures associated with the city or an eclectic mix of modern art fashioned by some of the up and coming Norwegian sculptors. But what I found was neither of these.
Located just minutes by public transport from the city centre, the Vigeland’s Sculpture Park – Vigelandsparken – within Frogner Park, is a relatively small green and wooded area tucked into a largely residential suburb. But despite the fact that, as one local told us, the park was designed more as a place for the residents of the city and was never designed to be a tourist site, this is no suburban park.
You enter through large majestic wrought iron gates to face two small tree lined boulevards that lead you towards Frogner Pond. On either side of the pond are well tended open grassy areas that are no doubt crowded with picnickers on summer days or those waiting for the open air concerts that take place here. However, it is the bridge that straddles the pond that is the main attraction here, for it is here that you will find sculpture after sculpture after sculpture sitting high on the parapets lining the sides.
These bronze sculptures are the creation of Gustav Vigeland who started this project in the 1920s (sadly its 20-year duration was not completed in his lifetime). They all adhere to a theme – men, women and children in various physical or emotional states: some are running, jumping, playing or embracing; others have been placed in a meditative or pensive stance, or seem to be happy, angry or sad. Whatever the pose (my favourite was the little pot-bellied toddler stamping his feet and having a tantrum), every one of them is striking: maybe because of the sheer size of them towering over the onlookers below.
Yet more sculptures can be found away from the bridge. In a small open plaza, more figures appear, holding a large circular pot high in the air and surrounded by small bronze twisted trees. But this is not the main spectacle, as when you look up, you see what the park has been drawing you towards: a massive, intricately carved stone obelisk, reaching high up into the sky.
This is where the work involved in sculpting was really brought home to me: every single inch of this obelisk is carved with interlocking bodies which climb upwards towards the summit which is decorated with writhing babies. The detail is breathtaking and best viewed whilst standing alongside the giant figures flanking the base of this monolith.
I visited this park on a cold, blustery, winter afternoon. Over a hot chocolate in the café at the entrance to the park, I reflected on what I had seen and whether it was a trip to be recommended. There’s no doubt to me that this should be high on the list for a short trip to Oslo – not only is the park a lovely place to wander, but the sculptures dotted around the park are unique and fascinating. Far from being works of art that serve merely to look back on the past, there’s a real feeling of life with these, with every type of emotion on show here. Even on a cold winter day, it’s hard not to leave feeling a little bit uplifted.
Read on for further ideas for a short break to Oslo and practical information…
Getting to Vigeslandsparken: You can reach Vigeslandsparken in less than ten minutes on the number 12 tram from the city centre. The cost (as of November 2016) was the equivalent of less than £3.50 each way. It is free to go into the park.
Other things to see and do: Oslo is a very compact city, with the main sites easily walkable within a day. Take a trip to the Opera House, with its space-age structure and opportunity to climb onto the roof for amazing views of the city over the harbour.
From here, you can walk up the main shopping street, Karl Johans, past the Cathedral and down to the parliament building, along Stortingsgata and to the National Theatre. A short walk away from the National Theatre is The Royal Palace in Slottsparken. This is a lovely place, surrounded by trees and set on a slight incline, offering excellent views back down to the centre.
You should also visit the harbour. The area of the harbour nearest to the City Hall has recently been revamped with great bars and restaurants that look over the water’s edge and onto the ships that dock here. You can take trips to the fijords from here. On the other side of the harbour from here sits the Akershus Fortress.
For more active visitors, you can drive or catch the bus to Holmenkollen ski jump and slopes. Here, you can experience a ski simulator if you’re not brave enough to take a jump off the real thing.
Oslo also has a wealth of museums to explore, reflecting both its maritime and cultural history. A boat trip across the water will take you to Norwegian Maritime Museum, Fram Polar Ship Museum and Viking Ship Museum. There is also the Munch Museum, the Vigeland Museum, and the Ibsen Museum. There are, however, many more, catering to all tastes and too numerous to list here…
Getting there: The main airport in Oslo is Gardermoen. There are regular flights from London and regional British airports with carriers such as Ryanair, British Airways, SAS, Finnair and Norwegian Air. There are also frequent flights to the city from across Europe. The abundance of flights makes a short trip to the city easy – if you can arrive by early afternoon on a Saturday and catch a late Sunday evening flight home, no time off work will be necessary. The express train from the airport to the central station takes less than 20 minutes and runs frequently, even on Sundays.