There are certain characteristics that justly typify most Scandinavian capitals. From Reykjavik to Helsinki, the region is home to cities that place a high value on public services, design, transportation and livability. Oslo checks all these boxes while owning a vibrant identity that is uniquely Norwegian. It’s certainly not the most budget-friendly city to visit, but in Oslo you’ll find that the bar for service and quality at shops, restaurants and hotels is worth the price. And if your funds are limited, there’s plenty of wilderness to explore and thanks to the country’s Allemannsretten laws (“the right to roam”), access to camping, hiking and climbing is free and unrestricted.
Conveniently located near the city center, Himkok is among Oslo’s most unique watering holes. Part distillery, part craft cocktail bar, the newly opened multi-story establishment does its best to defy categorization. With a hidden entrance, the bar and its name (Norwegian for “homecooked” moonshine) is an homage to the underground DIY days of Prohibition. At the front you’ll find an active distillery where vodka, gin and, of course, aquavit are made. Beyond the main bar, a breezy courtyard is home to a cider-specific set of taps with a dance floor, performance space and even a barbershop on the upper floors. Be sure to arrive early on weekend nights as the queue for this cutting-edge joint generally stretches down the block.
Save this one for when budgets aren’t an issue. The three Michelin-starred Maaemo features a set tasting menu with an expansive 10 courses that changes often depending on the season and what local ingredients are at their peak. It doesn’t come cheap at $300+ a head, but it’s an edible journey through the rugged Norwegian landscape where no detail is ignored and one you’ll surely not forget. After all, what you spend here on dinner you can save on hotels by camping for the rest of your stay.
With all of the natural splendor around Oslo, shopping might not be at the top of your list. But even on the endless days of summer, the weather switches often and without warning so indoor time is always welcome—and YME Universe isn’t your average high-end streetwear shop. Drawing inspiration from concept boutiques like Colette and Dover Street Market, the Snøhetta-designed shop stretches across three floors. Distinct visual identities separate sneakers from menswear, womenswear and a cozy bookstore. Expect streetwear staples like WTAPS and Norse Projects alongside local Norwegian brands like Wood Wood with a healthy dose of high fashion mixed in.
Scandinavians, in general, take their interior design seriously and Norwegians are no different. Experience the best of “hygge” at the comfortable yet contemporary fjord-front hotel The Thief. Drawing on Oslo’s rich maritime history as well the hotel’s waterfront location, deep natural ocean tones lend a seamless connection to the outdoors. Elements from local design talents like glassmaker Anne Haavind and sustainably-minded designer Runa Klock are prominently featured along international names like Tom Dixon, giving the hotel an international cosmopolitan vibe that still feels local. Stop by the rooftop bar and restaurant for local fare and fjord views.
Just 20 minutes from the city center lies Holmenkollen, an outer residential area and major recreation hub. In the winter, the area serves as the city’s ski area complete with the stunning Holmenkollbakken ski jump, where annual competitions have taken place since 1892. The comprehensive Ski Museum is the world’s oldest of its kind and even offers a ski simulator. In the summer daredevils can zip line down the ski jump, hike on the many trails or rent mountain bikes. Best of all, you’ll have a bird’s eye view of Oslo the whole time.
Lead image by Hans Aschim, all others courtesy of respective venues