Oslo Travel Guide
When it comes to both culture and location, the Norwegian capital claims an enviable position indeed. Surrounded by the low mountains that inspired Edvard Munch’s masterpiece, The Scream, and wrapped around the crystal-clear waters of Oslofjord, there is an enormous number of things to do in Oslo both outdoors and in. The compact city is a cultural wunderkind, and green space is never more than a 15-minute walk from any point. Beyond its museums and parkland, Oslo has a thriving entertainment scene—in the capital of one of the world’s most liberal nations, this scene is so accepting that gay and straight party together without the need for an explicit gaybourhood. What else would you expect from a country whose king recently declared, ‘Norwegians are girls who love girls, boys who love boys, and boys and girls who love each other’? For your definitive Oslo gay guide, you’ve come to the right place.
The best hotels in Oslo
Let’s start this gay Oslo travel guide with a roundup of the best hotels in Oslo. Designed by Magnus Poulsson, the architect behind the more modern red brick frontis of Oslo City Hall, Lysebu reflects the Norwegian tradition of constructing in wood—a material Norway has no shortage of. Garnering its architectural inspiration from the turn-of-the-century country houses of the region’s civil administrations, it fits unobtrusively into its Tryvannshøyden Hill location, offering unsurpassed views across the city from the clean lines of its spacious, neutrally-hued rooms. The modernist chic of The Thief promises a secluded stay right in the heart of downtown Oslo, on Tjuvholmen. Tjuvholmen, or Thief Islet, was known in former years as a safe haven for smugglers and other ne’er do wells. Its fine location—standing proudly beside the beach and Astrup Fearnley Museum of Modern Art, and just five minutes’ walk to the restaurants of the fjord-side Aker Brygge neighbourhood—is only the start of its charm, however. Its interior has been decorated with specially-chosen designer furnishings, as well as works by internationally-recognised artists, meaning you might never want to leave the elegant rooftop terrace.
The nearby Hotel Christiania Teater, within reach of one of Oslo’s most important streets, Karl Johans Gate, boasts a more eclectic style, yet one that still manages to recall the early years of the twentieth century, when this converted theatre was first constructed. Featuring unique wallpapers and retro furniture, even the smallest of rooms include the usual four-star facilities, while the grand theatre space is now reserved for award ceremonies and gala dinners, should you be lucky enough to be invited to attend. Also at the heart of the action is the ecologically-minded Thon Hotel Rosenkrantz, whose brightly coloured interior will brighten your day whatever the weather. With a stay incorporating both sumptuous buffet breakfast and, more unusually, an evening meal in the exclusive eighth-floor guest lounge, the Rosenkrantz really can become your home away from home. Another eco-friendly option is Oslo Guldsmeden, which promises its guests a bespoke stay, starting with the organic breakfast and continuing into the uniquely-styled designer rooms—combining Indonesian- and indigenous Sami-inspired furnishings—a Turkish bath, and sauna.
Exhibits at the Viking Ship Museum include the world’s best-preserved Viking ship—the Oseberg ship—a vessel that’s nearly 1,200 years old
Things to do in Oslo
When deciding what to do in Oslo, don’t let the plain village hall exterior of the Viking Ship Museum on the Bygdøy Peninsula dissuade you from exploring the breath-taking finds within. Exhibits include the world’s best-preserved Viking ship—the Oseberg ship—a vessel that’s nearly 1,200 years old. There’s also a stunning series of artefacts which counter the narrative of Vikings as simple-minded warrior-heathens. Swapping one of the oldest Oslo tourist attractions for one of its newest, Oslo Opera House has rapidly become a popular hangout for residents and visitors alike. This is thanks largely to its unique angular design: its roof sweeps down to ground level before being absorbed into the surrounding promenade. This makes the main auditorium an excellent draw for its views of Oslofjord and its islands even when one of its world-class musical performances isn’t scheduled.
The slopes continue in Oslo Winter Park, the largest ski resort in the Oslo area. Just half an hour from the city centre, the park contains 18 slopes and 11 lifts across four zones, which range from a beginner’s area in Tommkleiva to peaks with a black rating in Wyller. You’ll need to be visiting Oslo in the winter months to take advantage of this attraction; the season commences each year with the first snows of November and December and usually runs right up until Easter. For summer visitors in search of an attraction whose opening hours do not depend on snowfall, the Nobel Peace Centre keeps its doors open year-round. The permanent exhibit explains the importance of the Peace Prize, the only Nobel Prize chosen in Oslo rather than Stockholm, and focusses on its past winners—luminaries that include Nelson Mandela, Barack Obama, and Malala Yousafzai. But if you’d rather get a little more heated, check out SALT Urban Sauna. A place to dive headfirst—almost literally—into a sweaty Scandinavian tradition, SALT consists of three different sauna rooms looking out towards Oslofjord. Beginners should start out with a two-hour session in Árdna, one of the world’s largest saunas, which reaches a toasty 60-70°C, leaving more experienced to brave the temperatures of up to 100°C in some of the barrel saunas.
Things to see in Oslo
Stretching south of the capital for 60 miles, the idyllic waters of inner Oslofjord are as much a part of the city as Karl Johans Gate and the king’s palace, with many of its major sites located on or about it. Its nearest islands are also popular; they are easy-to-reach retreats from the city that is known for a tradition of picnicking, swimming spots, and distinctive individual characters. The closest is Hovedøya, a forested island with monastic ruins dating back to 1147, while Langøyene is the place to head to if you’re looking to enjoy a day at the beach, thanks to its long arc of sand. Among other Oslo points of interest are the twenty waterfalls and mixed industrial heritage of the city’s River Akerselva, which is classified as a wild river despite running through the capital. Fish, amphibians, and hundreds of bird species can be spotted from its five-mile hiking and cycling trail, while many of the old textile factories and mechanical workshops now house trendy cafes and galleries in which to happily while away an hour or two. The Losæter town farm, by contrast, blends art with urban food production. The brainchild of art collective Futurefarmers, the space incorporates land utilised by Oslo’s first city farmer, in addition to a sculptural bakehouse events space. Visitors are welcome to stop by and plant a seed or two in the exquisitely maintained allotments on the Bjørvika waterfront.
Sculpture fans, meanwhile, won’t want to miss Vigeland Park, featuring more than 200 bronze, granite, and iron statues designed by the Norwegian sculptor of the same name. The pièce de résistance is perhaps the impressive central fountain, initially intended for the Norwegian parliament building, or Storting. However, follow the paths around the fountain and you’ll discover the equally impressive Monolith totem, a structure that could well take the genesis for its epic carved cylindrical form from Trajan’s Column in Rome. Alternatively, there’s Ekeburg Sculpture Park, which cultivates a more international flair within its own collection, filled with sculptures by Salvador Dali, Auguste Rodin, and Pierre-Auguste Renoir. A national heritage park to boot, it’s the landscapes of Ekeburg that gave Edvard Munch the starting point for his famed series of portraits collectively known as The Scream.
Maaemo’s innovative menu makes use of ingredients grown or foraged almost entirely within the Oslo area
Where to eat in Oslo
One of Scandinavia’s most in-demand restaurants, Maaemo’s innovative menu makes use of ingredients grown or foraged almost entirely within the Oslo area; its langoustine roasted in pine butter, for example, is a critical darling. Their painstaking attention to detail has resulted in the restaurant being awarded a maximum three Michelin stars. Also claiming a Michelin star is Statholdergaarden, serving classic cuisine in the rooms of a seventeenth-century house whose ornate decorations, including stucco work, chandeliers and antiques, date back centuries. Unifying Norwegian and Spanish flavours is tapas restaurant Bon Lío which, with only 35 seats, definitely requires pre-booking in order to sample its relaxed ambience and the ten amazing courses of the set menu.
If Bon Lío’s ten-course menu sounds like a little too much to handle, the gourmet Grefsenkollen’s three- and five-plate menus, culled from Norway’s best seasonal ingredients, may be more to your liking. Here you can try the likes of scallops with quince, almonds and brown butter, and duck breast with fermented beetroot and potato cream, all with sublime city views. For a more casual dining experience, try the sharing platters at Vaaghals in the city’s Barcode area (close to the central station), which is a great place to sample traditional Norwegian dishes made with both flare and care.
For over a century, Kaffistova in the Hotell Bondeheimen has also been serving generously-portioned Norwegian favourites, including raspeballer (potato dumplings), boknafisk (dried and salted cod), and rømmegrøt (sour cream porridge). It also boasts a counter brimming with a constantly-rotating list of homemade cakes. But for the best of the city’s ubiquitous coffee culture, you will need to order a cup at Tim Wendelboe, where some of the world’s finest baristas import, roast, and grind exotic bean blends in house. Coffee in hand, be sure to then swing by the Food Court of Mathallen to discover the best food producers in Norway. Stop by for a single cake and you’re more than likely to leave with an armful of other delicacies too!
Shopping in Oslo
If you’re looking to start your shopping spree with clothing rather than food, look no further than the exclusive range of menswear at Hoyer, occupying the upper floors of Eger, Norway’s largest high-end fashion store. Dapper, in the trendy Grünerløkka area, is a little friendlier on the wallet and an excellent place to find everything for your inner hipster, from beard oil to…bicycles. Also in Grünerløkka is Luck, a concept store stocking vintage items, second-hand goods sourced from around the world, and a handful of carefully chosen home-grown contemporary brands too. Far from contemporary, Naturens Mangfold sells some of the oldest objects in the universe—fossils, minerals, and meteorites—among an idiosyncratic collection of conversation starters, such as conch shells, exotic butterflies, and amber bracelets. The equally quirky vintage store Fransk Bazar exudes a definite Francophile vibe, specialising in retro French homeware, objet d’art, and clothing picked out by the welcoming Franco-Norwegian owners.
Named one of the top 20 bars in the world, Himkok distils much of its alcohol on site before twinning it with unusual ingredients, such as the country’s famed brown cheese
And now for Mr Hudson’s Oslo gay scene guide. Located next to the Oslo Court House, César Bar & Café is a new gay bar with offerings that extend from lunches to evening drinks throughout the week, while Friday and Saturday nights also feature live DJ sets. To get a sense of Norway’s Arctic without leaving the capital, the Magic Ice Bar Oslo is maintained at a more-than-chilly -5°C—the same as your home freezer—and serves its drinks in tumblers cut from the ice of the River Torne in northern Sweden. But don’t worry: A cape and gloves can be picked up at the door to prevent the chill setting in. Named one of the top 20 bars in the world, Himkok distils much of its alcohol on site before twinning it with unusual ingredients, such as the country’s famed brown cheese, to create avant-garde cocktails available nowhere else.
Though Oslo has largely moved beyond the need for dedicated gay spaces, the London Pub continues to draw crowds more than 30 years after opening its doors. Considered the centre of Oslo’s gay scene, it’s open daily, with weekly events ranging from karaoke to comedy. Alternatively, Elsker Club hosts a variety of drag-themed affairs; RuPaul’s Drag Race viewing parties are particularly popular with the young gay and lesbian regulars.
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Photo: Eirik Skarstein
Photo: Art Lasovsky
Photo: Erik Odiin