You can’t beat a bit of local knowledge. I spent two nights in Oslo, Norway, staying with friends. In those short 48 hours, they introduced me to a glut of Scandi-cool experiences, which I’d never have discovered by myself.
So now, I’m passing on their wisdom. Here are some tips on fun things to do in Oslo. Some of them are even free!
Look around an international food market
Located in Vulcan, one of Oslo’s new development projects, Mathallen is a fiesta of international food and drink. Without the grunginess that you sometimes find in European food markets, Mathallen is bright and fragrant with the smell of superfood smoothies and spicy street food. It’s open from Tuesdays to Sundays, with regular country ‘takeovers’. Italy was holding court when we visited. Next up is Portugal, who are offering tasting tours, and the chance to win flights to Lisbon.
These pintxos at the Barramon bar and deli caught my eye, but there was enough at Mathallen to inspire a day of feasting. A French-inspired grilled cheese sandwich at Smelt for breakfast, then lunch at Champagneria Bodega tapas bar, overlooking the river. An afternoon snack from Mixto Latino Street Food, followed by dinner at Atelier Asian Tapas. And the day wouldn’t be complete without trying some high-end Norwegian cheeses fom Ost & Sånt.
Is your stomach groaning already?
Go bee spotting
When you’re in Oslo, don’t forget to look up. I took the picture below outside Mathallen, at Vulcan. Those stumps on the rooftop at the right of the picture, next to the taller chimney? They’re beehives.
Norwegians are fiercely protective of nature, and that includes bees. To make sure Oslo’s bees have a safe passage across the city, from the mountain to the fjord, city planners encouraged businesses and individuals to put beehives at strategic points along a ‘pollinator passage’. This Highway for bees means you’ll find hives in all sorts of unexpected locations – like the roof of the opera house, or the top of the Deloitte building.
Hire bikes, and cycle along the fjord
You can hire bikes in Oslo through
Hang out at the harbour
If you only have time to visit one area in Oslo, the harbour is THE place to go. From end to end, it runs for nine kilometres. It’s a diverse place: culture vultures can marvel at the design triumph that is the Opera House, while nature-lovers can stroll along the coastal paths at the tips of the harbour’s promenades. There’s shopping and restaurants at Aker Brygge Wharf, and the park area of Sørenga Bridge is modelled on New York’s Highline. In the harbour’s upmarket quarter of Tjuvholmen you’ll find Venetian-style canals and the Astrup Fearnley Museum of modern art.
Take a dip in the fjord
Despite the somewhat chilly temperatures of the fjord, those Norwegians do love a dip. They make it look so enticing, it’s impossible not to want to join them. At Sørenga Seawater pool (below), women in bikinis, children with rubber floats and Oslo residents in their seventies were all basking in the August sunshine, with the occasional plunge into the fjord. For those seeking a more pebbly shore, there’s also Tjuvholmen City Beach.
The Norwegian Trekking Association’s new outdoor activity centre at Sørenga, Friluftshuset, hires out canoes to those who’ve reached a certain level of proficiency. When I was there in August, the fjord was peppered with colourful kayaks.
Visit a museum
Oslo has a large number of world-class museums, and I’ve posted about some of them here. Top of the list would be the Munch Museum, with an impressive collection of the artist’s works; the Viking Ship Museum, where three boats are on display after being buried for almost a millennium; and the Natural History Museum, set in the city’s beautiful Botanical Gardens.
An Oslo Pass gives free entry to over 30 museums, as well as discounts at restaurants and free travel on public transport. A 48-hour Pass is 595 NOK for adults, 295 NOK for children.
Try caramelised goat’s cheese
Brunost, a semi-soft brown cheese, is one of Norway’s best-known food exports (after seafood, that is). It tastes very little like the cheese eaten on Continental Europe – and as it’s made by boiling a mixture of milk, cheese and whey, technically it’s not a cheese at all. Norwegians almost unanimously include it in their lunchboxes, and use it as a topping for waffles and biscuits. It’s very sweet, but the version made purely with goat’s cheese has a distinct tang – so be warned. I found it delicious, and enjoyed tucking into a brunost ice-cream I found at Sørenga.
Eat at Tunco
It’s not easy to find inexpensive places to eat in Oslo. One gem that I discovered (with the help of my friends) was Tunco. Set in the St Hanshaugen district of Oslo, the lively restaurant/takeaway serves healthy, freshly-cooked food with Asian flavours, vegan options and child-friendly portions. The food was delicious, and not too badly priced: 149 NOK – about £14 for a regular portion, and 119 NOK – about £11 for a small. Best of all, for every meal you buy, the restaurant donates one to a child in Kenya.
Chill out at the city farm
Close to the waterfront at Bjørvika, Losæter is an urban farm set on formerly derelict land. With allotments, a calming sensory garden built with people with dementia, and a Bakehouse whose award-winning design is based on a Viking ship, it’s worth walking the ten minutes from the Opera House to experience this burgeoning community space.
Drink Norwegian craft beer
There’s no denying it: the alcohol in Norway doesn’t come cheap. But, if you can bear parting with 80-100NOK for a beer, there are plenty of fine Scandinavian ales to choose from. We sat in the harbourside sunshine to drink beer in two places: Vippa, a new hip warehouse collective of pop-ups set right by the port; and Kongen Marina, a tropical-themed bar popular with the sailing set.
Sample gourmet coffee
Norwegians take their coffee very seriously. If you’re part of the ‘slam, bang, thank-you, ma’am’ school of coffee-on-the-go, you’ll be disappointed. Baristas take their time here. But the resulting brew can be savoured like a fine wine – and, indeed, at gourmet coffee house and barista training school Tim Wendelboe, the drink is served in wine or cocktail glasses. The coffee there was superb, and didn’t quite have the same steep Oslo mark-up as other food items. It came to 75NOK for two drinks, which is practically London prices.
Tim Wendelboe is in Grünerløkka. Also excellent (and similarly priced) is Supreme Roastworks, a micro roastery on Thorvald Meyers gate.
Notice the differences
One of the best things about visiting a new city, is strolling the streets, discovering the things that make it a distinct, unique place. Like the hundeparkering in the picture above. Norwegians are a dog-loving nation, and in Oslo they like to take their hounds with them everywhere. The dogs go into these special kennels when it’s time for their owners to dine.
And where else in the world would you find a ramshackle sauna like this, just across the water from an iconic Opera House (hidden in this picture by a temporary stage)? You can even just about make out the blur of naked flesh through the window.
Some things aren’t too different, though. On Brenneriveien we chanced upon this mural by Sheffield street artist Phlegm. A housing crash in 1899 stopped lots of building work around the city, so rows of houses were left unfinished. The result is that there are more gable ends than usual in Oslo. Perfect for street artists.
Walk in the forest
I don’t think you can have the complete Oslo experience without a trip to the Nordmarka forest. It’s only twenty minutes away from the centre, and offers a whole new dimension to the city. Restaurants, museums and fjordside lounging are replaced with pine trees, the crunch of feet on a dirt track, and the chance of spotting an elk.
To get to the Nordmarka, a train ride takes you through the picturesque Oslo suburbs to several stops with forest access. The T-bane Metro runs to Holmenkollen, Frognerseteren, Sørkedalen, and Sognsvann, all of which are good starting points. You can read more about walking in the Nordmarka here.
Have you been to Oslo? Any tips?
To read more about other cities in northern Europe, check out our best things to do in Riga Latvia.