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How to Visit Oslo, According to Someone Who Spent 6 Years in Scandinavia

The mere idea of a summer day in a place like Oslo — home to subzero waters and black-metal music — might seem like a mirage. But the summers here are famously light and hot, with the Norwegian capital being an ideal playground for sunbathing, swimming, fishing, and hiking, replacing the darker months’ skiing, ice bathing, and roaring fireplaces.

Beyond its outdoor pursuits, Oslo‘s eco-conscious efforts exceed most cities. In 2016, it introduced a “climate budget” with a goal of reducing emissions by 95 percent by 2030; two years later, 1,000 trees were planted for the Future Library project; and in 2019, the city was crowned the European Green Capital.

Oslo’s young professionals and creatives may scatter themselves among the hip, diverse neighborhoods of Grünerløkka and Tøyen, or the more upscale Frogner and St. Hanshaugen (picture Parisian-like facades and tree-lined streets with mansions), but the main thing
this city’s dwellers have in common is their commitment to time spent in nature. Visitors will find eco-friendly hotels committed to eliminating waste and championing reusable materials, restaurants that support third-world communities, and spas and saunas dispersed between the city’s central harbor and the dense surrounding forest.

At a time when travelers are becoming aware of how their leisure choices impact the environment, it’s interesting to see Oslo’s dedication to learning about and introducing the bigger ideas behind eco work. September’s Oslo Innovation Week, for example, is largely digital, with the aim of solving real global challenges through entrepreneurship, innovation, and green tech — the subjects of its panels include energy, circular economy, and life-science investment. For anyone interested in such, its panels and events make it a good time to visit.

For me, having spent six years in Scandinavia, and long summers and winters in Norway, Oslo became a base for months at a time. Most favor Danish and Swedish coastal cities for their accessibility. Like any capital, the Norwegian city is fast-changing and home to global diasporas that help shape the identity of this fjord-laden delight. 

Top 5 Can’t Miss

  • Any trip to Oslo calls for a bracing ice dip and sauna session.
  • History buffs might note the elaborate original fixtures of Sommerro, a former electricity factory
  • Restaurant Alex is the newest place to see and be seen, yet it’s ultra-welcoming.
  • Marvel at Vigeland, a park displaying nude sculptures.
  • Go cross-country skiing or hiking, or simply enjoy the view from the top, at Nordmarka.

Best Hotels and Resorts

Francisco Nogueira


Not long after Sommerro’s fall 2022 opening, the hotel and spa made its way on Travel + Leisure’s list of the 100 best new hotels in the world. Its electricity factory history is felt while the mid-century interior design and moody lighting offer a polished feel. The 231 rooms of various sizes include annexes, sloped ceilings, and exquisite upholstery, plus top-tier amenities and service. Don’t miss the newly opened Izakaya, which serves a Nordic-Japanese menu.

Villa Inkognito

The next-door sibling property of Sommerro, Villa Inkognito is housed in a former private residence dating back to 1870. It was transformed into offices for the city’s first electrical company, and later served as the Algerian embassy. The 11-room retreat is also available on a full buyout basis for an ultra-special trip, and each room is meant to feel like a home away from home.


This revved-up former Norwegian America Line headquarters toots its own stylish horn. The cheery staff resurrects the bustling energy of the storied spot, which is decked out in snappy tailoring from Norwegian fashion favorite Holzweiler. Guests can also expect a chic library, original elevators, and ceiling stuccos that remain across the rooms.

The Well Spa & Hotel

The Well Spa & Hotel provides a holistic approach to health — meaning uniform bathing suits and gowns, a zero-digital policy in restaurants and communal areas, excellent menus, relaxing treatments, and a decidedly tranquil feel in the stunning sculpture garden. Located in Sofiemyr, about 20 minutes from Oslo’s city center via its own shuttle, the impressively vast property makes for a divine solo sojourn or a social spa trip.

Clarion Hotel The Hub

Located close to Oslo Central Station, Clarion Hotel The Hub stands out with its magnificent lobby showcasing marble features, a sumptuous bar, and refurbished rooms.

Best Things To Do

Taylor McIntyre/Travel + Leisure


With rugged natural terrain skirting the entire city, it’s no wonder most extra-curricular activities here revolve around getting outdoors. A winding, 20-minute tram ride up Nordmarka takes visitors to the place where the trees for Future Library are planted. Take the lift to ski jump Holmenkollen, then stop by Holmenkollen Restaurant for tartare, a hot toddy, and mountaintop views.

Sauna and Swim

In the winter, the adrenaline rush is rewarding, and come summer, the waters are refreshing. At Badstuforening, it’s $25 for a two-hour communal seat; enjoy the peaceful camaraderie (and views) of this sweet setup. Just make sure to bring a towel. Alternatively, try Salt, a sauna and art space that’s set opposite the Snøhetta-designed opera house and hosts concerts, plays, and exhibitions.

Museum Hopping

Explore the intricate history of explorer life at the Fram, which contains the reconstructed remnants of the ship that raced to the South Pole, headed by Norwegian adventurer Roald Amundsen. In the center of town, check out the Nobel Peace Center for its permanent and roving collections of significant human rights accomplishments. An unsung gem is the Emanuel Vigeland Museum, complete with frescoes and gong bath concerts. Tip: Plan in advance planning due to the location’s unusual opening hours.

Silent Fjord Cruise

Take a silent electric fjord tour on the Brim Explorer, with multiple options to suit your mood. There’s yoga on the deck, an elegant brunch, or a dinner cruise. Other perks of this slick and small liner include less crowds and an intimate setting for your crew.

Best Restaurants

Courtesy of Restaurant Alex

Restaurant Alex

An overnight success with everyone from students to billionaires, this restaurant calls for advance reservations. Emerging chef Alexandra Ek guides a well-priced brasserie-style menu, while the resident DJs don’t frown upon dancing on tables after hours.

Sabi Omakase

Japanese cuisine this far from East Asia has a terrific head start thanks to the abundance of cold sea. At Sabi Omakase, guests can expect a carefully composed seasonal menu that’s served in a harmonious, low-lit space. Interestingly, the chef used to be a surgeon — the locale and its offerings are not remiss of precision, and, yes, you’re safe in his hands.

Solsiden Restaurant

Solsiden is a fail-safe institution for seafood on the water, dapper and light-filled with its glass structure. Put on a pretty dress or shirt and enjoy the harbor breeze at this summer-only restaurant. Order the renowned shellfish tower and the Champagne.


It’s no secret Norway can whip the wallet. This fresh and lovely Asian noodle joint is a way of preserving splurges for another day while still giving you the opportunity to eat well. Plus, every purchase feeds a child in Africa, where founder André Evju spent lots of time.


Plant-filled with kitschy white tiles and pink lighting, Njokobok offers Senegal-style community dining. Order the jollof rice, grilled dorada, or whole lamb and indulge in the location’s famous onion sauce three ways. Oslo has a sizable African diaspora, so you’ll find good Ethiopian, Eritrean, Moroccan, and Somali restaurants throughout the city.

Best Time to Visit

Christopher Larson/Travel + Leisure

While winter is for snow and snuggles, summer in Oslo is all about swimming and seafood.

Spring (or shoulder season), meanwhile, is ideal for soaking up art, history, opera, and the boutique shops. June through September sees music festivals such as By:Larm and Øya, and winter is prime time for ski tournaments, cozying up in a cabin, and cold-weather rituals like ice bathing and relaxing in a sauna.

The main thing to consider is winter’s darkness — there are nearly 20 hours under cover, compared to summer’s two-hour nights.

How to Get There

Flying into Gardermoen is ideal for easy access into the city — it’s about 20 minutes via speed train. Arriving at another airport means a long bus ride to the city, so don’t be duped by the cheaper inter-European flights to Torp Sandefjord Airport. Another way to arrive is by cruise — check out eco operators such as Hurtigruten. You might also consider the spectacular, nearly eight-hour, cross-country Bergen Line route — often dubbed one of the most beautiful train rides in the world. If you’re arriving from elsewhere in the country, domestic airline Widerøe is a great option.

Best Neighborhoods

Andrea Pistolesi/Getty Images


This east-of-central pocket is having a resurgence, thanks to the introduction of some trendy bars and restaurants, but its leafy, suburban feel is enduring. In addition to its waterside location, there are gorgeous local bistros, Frogner Church, grand foreign embassies, and lots of indie cinemas here. Plus, you’re still a stone’s throw from the theaters, palace, Litteraturhuset (House of Literature), and Vigelandsparken (Vigeland sculpture park).


The peninsula of Bygdøy has not only amassed some of the capital’s best museums and relics, but it’s also home to idyllic beaches — Huk, Paradisbukta, and Bygdøy Sjøbad — for swimming and picnicking. For something a bit more cultural, browse the collections at the Fram, Norwegian Maritime Museum, Oscarshall, or Norwegian Museum of Cultural History. The Gol Stave church is also a must-see.

Day Trip to Drøbak

The wider area of Oslofjord is full of small towns, and picturesque-as-they-come Drøbak is a wonderful jaunt for the day. Just a 40-minute drive (or 90-minute scenic ferry ride) outside of Oslo, Drøbak is home to the dramatic Oscarsborg Fortress, great shellfish in cute old buildings, a summertime opera, and even a quirky year-round Christmas shop.

How to Get Around

Once you arrive in Oslo via the Flytoget airport transfer, walking is doable and preferable to most. An Oslo Pass is handy for riding the tram, train, bus, and ferry. E-scooters can be less arduous than biking if you need to dash somewhere, but locals prefer a more relaxed and measured approach to getting around.

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