Oh OSLO! Norway’s capital is a design, culture, cuisine (and Viking!) hotbed on a fjord—cosmopolitan, green and showcasing more of that Nordic cool.
Oslo is Norway’s cultural heart, beating strong and fast in a new era that’s flush with art, culture, design…and Michelin stars. The now-iconic building that seems to have spurred this boom is the OSLO NATIONAL OPERA AND BALLET HOUSE (operaen.no) (also featured on our cover and in the “Norwegian cool” story). Designed by internationally renowned Oslo-based firm Snøhetta, it rises out of the harbour as a series of stark white angles that double as ramps for rambling and easy access to the roof for grand views of fjord and city, including a series of sky-scrapers called the Bjørvika Barcode that look much like their collective name—a barcode—and are more proof of the city’s gutsy and bold architectural projects.
Also on the harbour is the ASTRUP FEARNLEY MUSEUM (afmuseet.no), a Renzo Piano showpiece and the culmination of a refurb of Thief’s Island.
Once a no-man’s-land where criminals were executed, this interconnected “isle” is now Aker Brygge, a hot ‘hood with modern art galleries, must-stay boutique hotel, The Thief, and the extensive private collection of contemporary art that’s the Astrup Fearnley Museet (you’ll find Damien Hirst and Jeff Koons among modern-day Norwegian artists). Outside is the Tjuvholmen Sculpture Park, a prime seaside picnic and lounging spot on long summer nights.
Follow the waterline farther west and you’ll eventu-ally get to the tony neighbourhood of Bygdøy, also known as the “museum peninsula.” The Kon-Tiki Museum is all about the intrepid Norwegian spirit that impelled Thor Heyerdahl to cross the Pacific in 1947—on nothing more than a balsawood raft. Next door is the Fram Museum, another celebration of the Nordic thirst for exploration in which you can tour the first ship to navigate the entire Northwest Passage. But perhaps most mind-blowing is the VIKING SHIP MUSEUM (khm.uio.no) where three original Viking ships inspire awe as you walk around and almost beneath them, trying to grasp the reality that a vessel like the Oseberg was used by the Vikings to cross the North Atlantic centuries before Columbus claimed to discover the New World.
Another reminder of Oslo’s rich history is Akershus Fortress, a medieval castle and fort that dates back to 1299 and King Håkon V. This bit of ancient Oslo is pre-served right within the city centre, and on these grounds overlooking the fjord is FESTNINGEN RESTAURANT (festningenrestaurant.no)—part of the same restaurant group as two-Michelin-star Maaemo —where Norway’s seafood and “new Nordic” cuisine is the centrepiece.
And just outside the city centre is the most beautiful park you’ve probably never heard of…Oslo’s Vigelandsparken or VIGELAND SCULPTURE PARK (vigeland.museum.no). It’s the largest such park in the world, the masterwork of beloved Norwegian artist sculptor Gustav Vigeland, who conceived and designed this monumental sculpture collection to depict the epic human cycle of life.
Other must-visit cultural spots: the Nobel Peace Center (celebrating international human rights stories and initiatives), Oslo City Hall (where President Obama received his Nobel Peace Prize), Holmenkollen National Ski Arena (a design-worthy ski jump and the world’s oldest ski museum), and, of course, the Munch Museum (where The Scream by Edvard Munch is one of the world’s best-known paintings). Just say tusen takk. — Barb Sligl