Olso was founded around 1048 by King Harald Hardråde according to the Norse sagas. The city has been the capital since the reign of King Håkon V (1299–1319); the first king to reside here permanently, he began the building of the Akershus Fortress. During the union with Denmark the capitol moved to Copenhagen until 1814, after which Norway was again governed from here. The The original name of Oslo was restored in 1925 after being known as Christiania or Kristiania for 300 years.
Oslo is a melting pot of cultures and people; 28% of the population is non-Norwegian, making many people members of one minority or another - and immigrants' numbers are increasing. The city is gay-friendly, and the GLBT community here has it all, from sophisticated art exhibitions to year-round dance parties. As in the other Scandinavian capitals, there are fewer specifically gay club, hotels or restaurants for a city of this size, but hotel staff won't blink as you and a partner check into your room with one bed to share. For romantic evenings on the town, there are few better places in the world.
That said, the majority of gay and lesbian community social life takes place at the center of town, and clubs and parties that attract a majority gay and/or lesbian crowd are mostly located here, along with two gay bathhouses. See our map & listings page for these. But crowds of gay, lesbian, transgender, bisexual and straight party people mix it up all over town and you might run into the former chairman of the city council, Erling Lae and his partner, Jens Torstein Olsen, a priest. Norway was the second country in the world to legalize same-sex partnerships, and in 2009 granted marriage equality to same-sex couples. Oslo Pride each June, features ten days of celebrations that include film festival screenings, concerts, art exhibits, shows, political debates & a huge festival at Rådhusplassen.
Bogstadveien is a major shopping street at the center, with many small restaurant options at reasonable prices. The nearby borough of Grünerløkka, a post-industrial neighborhood of many small cafés, pubs and parks, is very popular with a younger generation -- vibrant and full of life, day and night.
Oslo Airport, Gardermoen, in Ullensaker, is 29 miles (47 km) from Oslo city center. Trains, buses and taxis can get you there. The Flytoget express train runs every 10-20 minutes into the center, taking just 19 minutes. Swipe your credit card to pay at the machine, before getting on board - fares run around US$28. Standard NSB train service is a little cheaper, and takes only half an hour. Five different bus companies have service to and from the airport. Flybussen is an express coach that takes about an hour, costing around US$25. Other options are listed on the Airport website. All means of transport offer discounts for students, seniors and such - see their websites.
Walking or cycling are each a part of Norwegian life, so grab a map or your iPhone, and start exploring. The Ruter# website has info on trains, the metro system, tram cars, buses (day and night) and boats all around the region; plus apps for both the iPhone and Android systems, and access for any cell (mobile) phone that can get online, whatever the brand or model.
The Oslo Pass gives free entry to over 30 museums, swimming pools, the Tusenfryd Amusement Park; unlimited free travel by bus, tram, subway/metro, boat and local trains within zone 4, on the Ruter and NSB networks. Daily passes cost about US$40, or three-days for $72. Students and seniors pay less than half those rates.
Europe, economics, currency and banking
In referendums of 1972 and 1994 Norwegians rejected membership in the European Union (the EEC then) by small majorities. By special agreement Norway has access to EU markets, and they are included within the Schengen Area (open borders), and participate in the European Defence Agency. Well integrated with Europe in most ways, Norwegians are still bitterly divided on the issue of full EU membership. Most remain content to cooperate with the EU, while avoiding the perceived threat to Norwegian sovereignty. Forty years of off-shore oil and gas production in the North Sea put Norway among the world's top energy producers for a time, and the economy boomed. Oil output has declined this past decade, as fields are depleted, but gas production is holding steady and the country provides for most electricity needs with a network of hydroelectric power plants.
Norway's currency has been the Krone since 1875, divided into 100 øre. Lately the Krone has increased in value compared to the US dollar, with a dollar buying just 5 to 6 kr in latter years of the decade, compared to the 8 or 9 kr in the first years after year 2000. Websites such as XE have the latest rates. Expatistan says Oslo is cheaper than New York City for most things; and while the Economist pegged Norway at $7 in their most recent Big Mac Meal Index, that probably means you're better off eating more local food.
Bring credit cards with chips and pin numbers to use machines, and buy tickets, and let your bank know of your travel plans so transactions go smoothly. ATMs are everywhere, but for free or reduced fee debit card withdrawals, find which bank's machine might be a partner of your home bank - ask at home. Also keep non-800 numbers handy in case of loss -- US 800 numbers don't usually work outside North America but many US banks will accept overseas calls without charge to you.
Media & resources
Blikk is the Norwegian gay magazine.
For goings on in the Oslo bear community, see the Norway Bears website.
QX is a Swedish site with gay info in English, for all of Scandinavia and much of the world.
Visit Oslo tourist information offices are open daily at Central Station (Jernbanetorget 1), and at City Hall (Fridtjof Nansens plass 5). There's also one at the cruise ship terminal, open when the ships arrive.
Bob's Pub (Grønland 1), gay-friendly relaxed mixed crowd pub, inexpensive drinks, outdoor seating.
Brighton Pub (Lille Grensen 7), English country-stye pub and lounge, beers/wines, snacks, karaoke, cinema.
Den Røde Mølle (Brugata 9), Indian/Pakistani restaurant at the center, pub, terrace; popular with bears.
Elsker (Kristian IVs gate 9), at the center, mixed men/women crowd, daytime lunch cafe/bar, dinner, DJ sets, theme parties.
Fire Club at Villa (Møllergata 23-25), dance club, gay and straight mix, "creative & open minded people."
G Club (Fridtjof Nansens plass 8), boys who like boys + friends, lounge and pop dance club.
London Pub (C J Hambros plass 5), famous gay bar, men and women, internet, jukebox, pool games, karaoke.
Mekaniske Verksted (Tøyenbekken 34), classy-industrial-style pub, young mixed crowd, live music.
Saunahuset Hercules (Storgata 41), men's sauna, steam room, Jacuzzi, cabins, maze, cruise area, solarium, snacks; open 3pm-2am weekdays, 3pm-8am weekends.
SLM | Scandinavian Leather Men (Rådhusgata 28), alternate Saturdays levi, leather, fetish, rubber, and uniform club.
SO (Arbeidergata 2), ages 20+ girl for girl bar, quiz nights, theme parties.
Taxi Take Away (Maridalsveien 2), nightly bar, guest DJs, electropop, alternative mixed crowd.
Tea Lounge (Thorvald Meyers gate 33b), fine coffees, many kinds of tea, cider, cocktails, whiskies.
Underwater Pub (Dalsbergstien 4), water theme, fish tanks, live Norwegian Opera evenings, student nights, games, variety of cuisine and drinks.