From the world’s first fashion research library, floating saunas by the fjords, to the city’s first underground wine bar, here are the best things to see, eat and drink in Oslo
Visions of rolling fjords, quaint fishing villages and snow-capped peaks often spring to mind when you think of Norway, but it’s high time for Oslo to undergo a reputational reassessment. The capital, while generous in nature, has in recent years advanced and followed in the footsteps of its siblings, Copenhagen and Stockholm. The birth of Oslo Runway in 2015 put the spotlight on the Nordic fashion industry, encouraging an influx of visitors from across the globe. And a year later, when the restaurant Maaemo won three Michelin stars for its modern approach to Norwegian cuisine, the city finally gained a new sense of appeal. Like the newly renovated Munch Museum in 2018 and Nasjonalmuseet in 2022, Oslo has been getting an upgrade; finally, it’s a metropolis in miniature.
With a population of one million across 15 districts and a surface area of over 454 square kilometres, the city is vast but without the rush and bustle of other capitals. So if you haven’t already, perhaps it’s time you paid Oslo a visit. While you’re there, here are some places worth visiting.
While Oslo’s newly reopened Nasjonalmuseet rightly deserves a place on the itinerary for its immersive approach to history and art, around the corner is the city’s most innovative, must-visit destination for locals and tourists alike, the newly founded International Library of Fashion Research.
Situated in the central docket of Aker Brygge, the handsome ivory-brick building, which was once a westbound railway station is now home to over five thousand pieces of contemporary printed matter including books, magazines, lookbooks, show invitations, illustrations and ephemera in abundance. Stimulating may it be, the three-story building is a calming oasis on a weekday afternoon. Bring a book, browse the shelves, or join founder Elise By Olsen for a guest salon.
As a city renowned for fjordside views and cultural nuggets, Henie Onstad Kunstenter ticks both boxes. Located on the Høvikodden peninsula, a mere 15 minutes from central Oslo, the Henie Onstad art centre opened its doors 1968, with the aim of combining photography, avant-garde, modernism, contemporary art and music all in the same place. In recent years, the centre has gained attention for acquiring the infamous Hymn of Life installation by the Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama. The calibre of art is rather quaint with a focus on avant-garde. Even the cultural connoisseur can expect to be surprised.
Henie Onstad is also renowned for its sculpture park which spans 140 acres of land, and nestled between tall pines, pebbled sidewalks and beach views are artworks by Henry Moore, Claes Oldenburg, Per Inge Bjørlo and more. Come rain or shine, art spotting on the peninsula encapsulates the very essence of Scandinavia, and for those with a tight itinerary, Henie Onstad is the ultimate Oslo day trip.
Many often ruminate on the concept of friluftsliv, which in Norwegian translates to the love and commitment to “outdoor life”. It should therefore come as no surprise, given Norway’s reputation for its natural wonders, that sauna culture has become an important part of urban life in the capital.
Located in central Oslo, a stone’s throw away from the Opera house, Oslo Badstuforening offers a unique floating sauna experience with lush, panoramic views all while floating on the fjord. Take cool dips in the water and unwind in the hot sauna, and again on repeat. Book in advance for a private sauna of your choice or visit spontaneously for a drop-in session.
If you find yourself strolling through Slottsparken after taking a glimpse at the Royal Palace, be sure to stop by Litteraturhuset, a mere five minutes away by foot. While the neoclassical facade is rather ordinary, the literature house itself is the first of Norway’s kind; a four-story celebration of literature. On the ground floor, there’s a bookshop, café and plenty of private rooms dedicated to debates, lessons and podcast recordings. Upstairs in the attic is a haven for writers and creatives who utilise the space as a makeshift office. The building itself comprises neoclassical and art nouveau details adorned with art, old and new.
And if you visit with an empty stomach, Cafè Oslo, Litteratuhuset’s resident cafe, will satisfy any craving. The daytime menu offers warm drinks (the coffee is considered some of the best in Oslo) and many sweet and savoury bites. During the week, the cafe is open until 11pm where hot dishes (including three-course meals) are served in abundance. Featuring fresh ingredients sourced from around the country, the cuisine might borrow from France and Italy with its Nicoise salad and burrata, but at heart it’s humble and undeniably Scandinavian.
There’s a justified hype around Grünerløkka. The up-and-coming district in eastern Oslo, which was once an industrial melting pot, is now a lively borough lined with sepia-tinted boutiques and cafes with plenty of photo-worthy views. While tourists might flock to cafes surrounding Olaf Ryes Plass, if you ask a local, you’ll likely find them a few streets away on Rathkes Gate, perched inside (or outside) Kuro, a small neighbourhood coffee shop.
Inspired by Japanese culture, the cafe itself is small and intimate, but the communal feel adds to its charm. For a daytime visit, locals recommend a hot matcha latte (sweetened with Norwegian honey) paired with one of their baked goods courtesy of a Japanese pastry chef, who on Instagram goes by the name Oslonley. If you’re in the area come nightfall, enjoy a cold glass of natural wine against the soft sound of jazz and chatter. The menu, albeit small, is one of the best in town for a simple evening tipple.
Kuro is housed together with F5 concept store, an intriguing family-run boutique founded in 2013. On the shelves you can expect to find an array of treats, from organic bed linens, crafted leather bags, all the way to skincare.
As with its museums, Oslo is home to an abundance of restaurants, from traditional Norwegian eateries to modern cuisine where the sensory experience is key. Ekspedisjonshallen represents the latter, and is nothing short of charming. This all-day brasserie can be found inside Sommero, the city’s most coveted art deco hotel. Picture this: sweeping staircases, gem-toned frescos, neoclassical ornaments, tall swinging doors and waiters clad in black tailoring.
The restaurant often fills up quickly for the dinner rush or weekend brunch. Busy though it is, the ambience of live jazz stirred with the gentle tête-à-tête makes for a calming yet stimulating experience, one that transports you back to 1930s continental Europe. Yet somehow, despite the fanciful details that puts Ekspedisjonshallen on the map, it’s far from frivolous.
Brunch favourites include eggs benedict, chicken Milanese and portobello mushrooms on a bed of sourdough toast. For an evening meal, locals recommend the crispy Jerusalem artichoke and the baked cod.
Also located in Grünerløkka is Bass Oslo, a reliable neighbourhood bistro known for laid-back dining. The restaurant opened back in 2016 when founders, Aksel Steen and Torstein Voksø Eek, noticed a striking gap in the market for a restaurant combining contemporary cuisine, quality wine and laidback surroundings.
Small-plate dishes permeate the menu, encouraging guests to engage not only in conversation but also food. When the seasons change so does the menu, creating an unreplicable dining experience. Locals currently love the gnocchi with tarragon cream sauce, arctic char served with cantaloupe and a creamy sauce, and for the sweet-toothed among us, the apple, caramel and cream dessert.
Dapper is an independent multi-brand concept with two stores dotted in central Oslo, best known for blending cafe culture with retail. The store offers the best of Norwegian design and demonstrates pride for its heritage, creativity and innovation. Here you can browse an impressive selection of responsibly-produced jewellery by Tom Wood which, after ten years of business, remains a customer favourite thanks to their star-studded customers including Karpe and Sigrid.
Other exciting finds include Saloman trail shoes, APC candles and Cra-yon perfumes, lest forgetting the delicious pastries from Gladbakst in Dapper’s resident cafe. Not to mention, if a haircut is on your to-do list, visit the on-site barber shop for a spot of grooming.
The Three Fifty is the perfect place to finish your Oslo trip. Despite Norway’s stringent alcohol regulations, in recent years the country has evolved into one of the most cosmopolitan markets in the world, with wine lists that rival those of southern Europe. Good wine can be enjoyed in most independent restaurants, but for an unforgettable wine experience, join cultural pioneers for a night The Three Fifty, Oslo’s first and exclusive underground wine club. Nestled in the basement of Kastellet’s, indulge in a curated selection of vintage, rare finds and undiscovered names, promoting both prestigious labels as well as undiscovered regions. Despite its success, conversations surrounding the establishment remain rather hush, making a trip to the club an exhilarating feat.