Oslo’s Clarion Hotel Royal Christiania
By Monique Burns
At first glance, you might think there’s nothing special about the Clarion Hotel Royal Christiania in the Norwegian capital of Oslo. It’s not the newest hotel in town. Nor is it the hippest. Those honors would go to The Thief, the edgy design hotel opposite Renzo Piano’s three-year-old Astrup Fearnley Museum in Tjuvholmen, Oslo’s fjordside arts district.
The Royal Christiania isn’t Oslo’s grandest hotel either—if, by “grand,” you mean a centuries-long history bolstered by crystal chandeliers and gilt-edged landscape paintings. That accolade goes to the aptly named Grand Hotel, where 19th-century Norwegian dramatist Henrik Ibsen and famous contemporaries like artist Edvard Munch once lunched, and where Nobel Peace Prize laureates stay before being feted at Oslo’s City Hall.
But the Royal Christiania has its charms—and they are considerable. Most obvious is its excellent location across from Oslo’s Central Station. That’s where Flytoget, the sleek airport express train, stops after a speedy 19-minute ride from Oslo’s Gardermoen Airport. Central Station, or Sentralstasjon, is also a major hub for the subway, as well as for trains to cities like nearby Lillehammer, site of the 1994 Winter Olympics; Bergen, western gateway to the fjords, and northerly Tromsø, home of the Arctic Cathedral. Outside the station, networks of blue-and-white city trams converge.
Oslo’s compact downtown can be crossed on foot in 20-30 minutes. So, choosing a hotel near Central Station might seem unnecessary. But, after a long international flight, it’s great to find your hotel only a three-minute walk from the city’s main Flytoget stop. Once settled, catch a tram or subway to sights beyond the city core. Like leafy Vigeland Park with more than 200 Functionalist-style works by one of Norway’s most famous sculptors. Or Holmenkollen Ski Jump, featuring a racy downhill-ski simulator, the world’s oldest ski museum and an observation deck overlooking all Oslo.
Surrounding the Clarion Hotel Royal Christiania are some of Oslo’s most popular sights. The Opera House, offering fabulous views of the Oslofjord from its climbable roof, is about three blocks away. Two blocks away is Karl Johans gate, the city’s main shopping street, site of Oslo Cathedral, and several blocks of boutiques and eateries. A block away, along Dronningens gate, there’s toothsome ethnic fare at well-priced restaurants like Risbolle Thai Café and Mister India.
Book a room at the Royal Christiania, and you’ll find yourself muttering “location, location, location” in your sleep. But the Royal Christiania has other excellent attributes as well.
For those who insist that their hotel have some kind of “wow” factor—to justify their trip’s expense or to show off at cocktail parties—the Clarion Hotel Royal Christiania has that, too. Opened in 1952 as the Hotel Viking, the Royal Christiania was designed by one of Norway’s premier 20th-century architects, Knut Knutsen, known for such landmarks as the 1954 Munch Museum in the east Oslo neighborhood of Tøyen and the 1965 Grieg concert hall in west-coast Bergen.
Knutsen, who regularly shows up in modern-architecture anthologies alongside heavy-hitters like Mies van der Rohe, enjoyed a long professorship at the Oslo School of Architecture. One of the first 20th-century architects to champion the notion of “sustainability” in his writings, Knutsen also was among the first to consciously design buildings in harmony with the landscape. That came in handy when designing fjordside summer houses and woodland log cabins for himself and clients. But it also applies to the Royal Christiania. With a 30-story red-brick facade, decorated with sand-colored horizontal and vertical bands, the Royal Christiania looks like a serious big-city hotel tailor-made for one of Oslo’s busiest sections.
The Clarion Hotel Royal Christiania has long been a downtown landmark. In the years after the Nazi occupation of Norway ended in 1945, the hotel was among a spate of new buildings to emerge in the resurrected Norwegian capital. In its heyday, the Royal Christiania was probably as celebrated as, say, New York’s Waldorf Astoria. Vintage postcards with colorized photos of the Royal Christiania can still be found in Oslo’s second-hand boutiques.
These days, as you come through the Royal Christiania’s revolving doors, pass a comfy seating area and climb a couple of steps, you’ll see big black speakers playing what you’d least expect—hip American music. That might seem incongruous in a Norwegian hotel, but when you’re miles from the good ol’ U.S.A., a touch of home can be surprisingly comforting. Across from a charming café—where you can linger over coffee, tea and fresh pastries—the long front desk is staffed with one of the friendliest, most accommodating and most multicultural staffs in town. What’s more, they’re efficient and well-trained, and will check you in in no time.
You’ll also arrive swiftly at your room via the glass atrium elevators. Did I say “atrium”? Yes, this building has an atrium, a popular feature in ancient Rome that had its heyday in the U.S. between the 1950s and 1980s, and that survives to this day in hotels like Dubai’s Burj Al Arab, and the Luxor Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas, which claims to have the largest hotel atrium by volume—an interesting, though somewhat odd, fact. If you like atriums and glass elevators, you’ll find the Royal Christiania’s interior design particularly appealing. If you don’t, they might offend your aesthetic sensibilities, but they certainly won’t spoil an otherwise lovely stay.
The Clarion Hotel Royal Christiania, which celebrated its 60th birthday three years ago, has fully modernized rooms that are comfortable, well-appointed, and sport trendy color combinations like brown, maroon and purple. Every room has free Wi-Fi—as do the hotel’s public rooms. Besides single rooms and various double-room categories, there are several types of suites, including the Family Room with a separate bedroom, a living room, a sofabed and space for two rollaway beds.
Most rooms have balconies, great for people-watching, especially at night, when the square around Central Station is lit up, and throngs of people are hurrying home from work, or heading to local bars and restaurants. Surprisingly, once you’ve closed your balcony door, you won’t hear a bit of street noise. Whether it’s that sturdy 1950s brick architecture or contemporary soundproofing, who knows? But it works. In the center of one of Oslo’s busiest areas, you’ll sleep like a baby.
In a European capital known for high prices, room rates at the Clarion Hotel Royal Christiania are surprisingly reasonable. At the time of this writing, rates started at 1,880 Norwegian kroner (NOK), or about $215. Sign up for a special package like “Romance in Oslo,” and, after the first night, the rate for subsequent nights is cut almost in half.
Included in the price of most Oslo hotel rooms is the morning meal, which can range from a coldly efficient continental breakfast to a full-fledged buffet with hot and cold dishes. In the Royal Christiania’s atrium, easily reached by escalator from the lobby, the hotel’s spacious buffet dining room offers breakfast in grand style, with an impressive array of fruits, juices, yogurts, cheeses, crudités, eggs, bacon, sausages, pickled herring and smoked salmon, and other delights on pristine, well-maintained stainless-steel steam tables. There’s also a station for omelets, which a chef will stuff with your choice of meats and veggies.
So popular is the Royal Christiania’s breakfast, one Oslovian told me, that local citizens go there for meals with friends and family—not just for meetings with business colleagues. The lunch buffet enjoys a similarly high reputation. If you’d prefer an à la carte lunch or dinner, there’s The Point, the hotel’s well-regarded lobby restaurant..
Across from the buffet restaurant, the Atmosphere Bar is a cozy space with comfy chairs and brightly colored 70s-style graphics on the walls. There’s also a long terrace for outdoor dining or drinks in good weather, a regular feature of spring, summer and fall in Oslo, Scandinavia’s sunniest capital. And, in the hotel’s ground-floor arcade, there’s an American-style TGI Friday’s restaurant, which also supplies the hotel’s 24-hour room service.
When you tot up the Royal Christiania’s charms, they are indeed considerable. But don’t forget to add underground parking. A business center with copiers, fax machines and Apple iMac computers. Same-day laundry service. Friendly and efficient staffers. A concierge who can tell you where to rent bikes, point out landmarks on the hotel jogging map, and get you tickets to the Norwegian National Opera & Ballet, a five-minute walk away. And one thing more: A spacious fitness center with a heated indoor pool, a sauna, a Turkish steam bath, top-rated Technogym exercise machines, and spa treatments. All this wrapped up in a 1950s landmark building.
Just about the only feature the Royal Christiana lacks is a pretty location across from the Oslofjord or next to a tree-lined park. Step out of the hotel, and you’re right in the middle of Oslo’s version of Times Square—a good bit smaller, of course, but, comparatively speaking, just as busy.
But here’s the thing: This is Oslo, one of the planet’s most nature-filled capitals. Walk 5-10 minutes past Central Station, and you’re looking at the sparkling blue Oslofjord from street level or the Opera House roof. Another 10 minutes, and you’re strolling through Ekeberg Park, with woodlands graced with some 30 outdoor sculptures by 19th-century artists like Rodin, and contemporary sculptors like Louise Bourgeois, whose sensuous aluminum work, “The Couple,” sways gently from a big leafy tree anchoring an idyllic meadow.
All this….just 10 or 15 minutes from your hotel. The Royal Christiania’s nature-loving architect, Knut Knutsen, surely would have approved—and so will you.
IF YOU GO
Clarion Hotel Royal Christiania, Biskop Gunnerus’ gate 3, 0106 Oslo, Norway; (47) 23-10-80-00. www.nordicchoicehotels.com.