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Exploring the Akerselva River in Oslo

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Exploring the Akerselva River in Oslo
Photo: Marie Peyre
14:56 CEST+02:00
A popular recreation area with a vibrant history, the Akerselva River is a great place to explore on a hot summer day, says our travel editor Marie Peyre.
Cutting through the city from Maridalsvannet Lake in the north to Bjørvika and the Oslofjord in the south, the 8km-long Akerselva is Oslo's green artery, once described by the New York Times as 'one of Europe's finest streets'.

Along the river, which traditionally divided the affluent western neighbourhoods and the poorer working class suburbs to the east, you will find a vast array of old industry buildings next to thriving wildlife, cosy restaurants and cafes, colourful street art, beautiful waterfalls, luxurious parks and more. 
 

Nydalen. Photo: Marie Peyre

Bridges and waterfalls
 
Nearly 50 bridges span the Akerselva, and there are some 20 waterfalls along the way. Which one of these is the most spectacular is debatable, but the waterfall at Mølla (Nedre og Øvre Vøyen Foss), located next to the  picturesque Hønse-Lovisa's house and the Beier Bridge in Sagene, is a good contender. 

Other notable waterfalls include Bjølsen Waterfall, the highest with a drop of 16 metres, Nedre Foss in Vulkan and the man-made Nydalsfossen in Nydalen.
 

Øvre Vøyen Foss. Photo: Marie Peyre
 
The Jerusalem Bridge, which opened in 2011, is one of the newest, and rather impressive, rising 14 metres over the river at its highest. 

The Åmot Bridge is another favourite. The suspension bridge, built in the early 1850s in Modum, Buskerud, was one of the first of its kind in Norway, and one of the most expensive - it cost almost four times the agreed budget. In the 1950s, the bridge was dismantled and moved piece by piece from its original location to Oslo. 

Also worth mentioning are the imposing, gothic-inspired Sannerbrua and Ankerbrua Bridge, with its famous bronze sculptures by artist Dyra Vaa - hence its nickname, the Fairytale Bridge. 
 

Åmot Bridge. Photo: Marie Peyre
 
Art on the go
 
Artists (among them famous names like Frits Thaulow and Edvard Munch) have long been drawn to life along the Akerselva, its waterfalls, bridges and factories, and the river is a recurrent motive for many. 

Today there is still plenty to see along the river for those interested in art. The ateliers at Frysja for example, home to more than 50 artists, open their doors on several occasions throughout the year - you can visit during Oslo Open, Turist i Egen By and in November, when they hold their own Christmas Market. 

There are also many sculptures along the river, from the much-loved Factory Girls on Beier Bridge by sculptor Ellen Jacobsen to Petter Hepsø's Elephant in Sagene or Ola Enstad's Divers in Grønland... not to mention the Dick Swan (yes, you read this correctly) floating in the water outside Blå in Grünerløkka.
 

The Old Factory, Akerselva by Frits Thaulow 
 
Street art enthusiasts will also be spoilt for choice. Vulkan and the adjoining area have long been a hotspot for street art in Oslo. More recently, works by internationally renowned artists like Martin Whatson, Jussi TwoSeven, Anna Woods and Julien de Casabianca have popped up further afield on both sides of the river. Watch out too for smaller pieces by Isaac Cordal or Carrie Reichardt hidden along way. All these are part of the Nuart RAD project, supported by Kulturetaten, Oslo Municipality's Agency for Cultural Affairs.
 

Street art in Vulkan. Photo: Marie Peyre
 
In, on and by the water
 
Walking along the Akerselva makes for a great day out, but there are other ways to explore and enjoy the river. Cycling, for example, is popular too. Bring your own bike, or use one of the many city bikes available. There are 200 stations scattered across Oslo. A day pass costs a mere 49 kroner. Please note that you can only use the same bike for up to 45 minutes before you need to park it at a city bike station. You may then pick up another bike at the same or any other bike station. 
 
If you plan on spending the whole day cycling, hire instead a bike from Viking Biking (from 200 kroner for 24 hours). They also have a guided tour that takes in part of the Akerselva (380 kroner per person), with guiding in English. 

Feeling adventurous? Join Mad Goats Kajakkskole for a fun couple of hours paddling on the Akerselva. While the company caters primarily for groups, they also offer tours for individuals every Friday in summer (5pm and 7pm, 690 kroner per person). Kayak down from Mathallen to Grønland, then through a 500 metre-long tunnel under Oslo Central Station (it's dark in there, be warned), and come out in Bjørvika, where you will paddle past the new Munch Museum and round the Opera. These tours are great fun, and offer a completely new perspective on the city. 
 

Kayaking on the Akerselva with Mad Goats Kajakkskole. Photo: Marie Peyre
 
On a hot day, the temptation to jump into the water will be overwhelming. The good news is - you can! Brekkedammen near Frysja (just below Maridalsvannet Lake) is one of the most popular places to go for a swim, spend the afternoon lounging on the grass or even have a BBQ. Smaller but just as packed in summer, the man-made pools at Nydalen are another good bet - a great spot for a refreshing dip in the summer heat before enjoying a drink at one of the many adjoining watering holes.
 
Did you know?
 
There was once a ski jump along the Akerselva. Nydalsbakken was 53 metres high, and the prestigious Nydalsrennet was organised here from 1914 to 1953. Crown Prince Olav even took part in the competition in 1921.
 

Nydalsbakken Ski Jump. Photo: Anders Beer Wilse/Oslo Museum
 
Elvelangs i fakkellys is a popular light festival along the Akerselva, taking place each year in September. An atmospheric walk along the river, where visitors experience different cultural events along the way in the form of lights, dance and music, both from professional and amateur performers. This year the festival will take place on September 20th. 
 
Grünerløkka Student House, aka the Student Silo (a former grain elevator) is located just opposite Vulkan on the eastern side of the Akerselva. Opened in 2000, the 19-story student housing complex houses 226 studios, and has since become a landmark in the area - it even received Oslo's Architecture Prize in 2002.
 
 
Practical information
 
Getting there: Bus no. 54 to Frysja, Kjelsås.
 
Eating: There are many places along the way to grab a bite to eat (or sit down for a slap-up dinner), including in cosy Lilleborg and modern Nydalen. Further downriver try Mathallen (Oslo's food mecca) in Vulkan and Trattoria Popolare in Grünerløkka.   
 
 
Drinking: The most popular of a broad range of choices is probably Blå (which doubles up as a concert venue) in Grünerløkka. 
 
Sleeping: A personal favourite is PS:Hotell in Vulkan, a neat budget hotel with smooth design, friendly staff and a socially responsible ethic - they only employ people who have fallen outside the normal labour market, to provide them with the skills and experience they need to get back on track with their lives.  
 
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