With its rich culture and food and drink scenes, Norway’s compact capital has come in from the cold to join the ranks of its trendy Scandi siblings.
But what makes Oslo really special is the sparkling water of its fjord, the 60-mile inlet from the open seas. If the locals aren’t sipping on craft beer and knocking back oysters in fjord-front restaurants, they’re swimming in its waters or lounging on a floating sauna.
Even though it’s been voted the most expensive city in the world three times, there are plenty of options for those without bottomless pockets.
Oslo has been voted the most expensive city in the world three times but it is possible to visit it on the cheap
Where to stay
Comfort Hotel Xpress Central Station
Check in at this modern hotel situated only 100 yards from the Central Station, which has frequent fast trains to and from the airport. The simple but well sound-proofed rooms feature decent showers and flat-screen TVs. The multilingual staff are friendly and eager to hand out tips on offbeat things to do, and where to find the best breakfast. Doubles from £71 (nordicchoicehotels.com).
Saga Hotel Oslo
In a leafy corner of Oslo, this boutique hotel is a five-minute tram ride from the Central Station. Though the furniture is a little worn, the cosy rooms are spotlessly clean and well equipped. Ask to stay on one of the top floors to avoid noise from the (exceptionally good, but expensive) basement sushi restaurant. Doubles from £73 (sagahoteloslo.com).
Radisson Blu Scandinavia
With impressive views over the city and the fjord, this 499-room hotel is steps away from a tram stop with regular links into the city centre. The spacious rooms have incredibly comfortable beds, fluffy robes and Nespresso coffee machines. The breakfast buffet is extensive. Doubles from £96 (radisson-blu-scandinavia.hotels-in-oslo.com).
Set in an impressive Victorian building, these stylish, self-catering apartments close to the Royal Palace feature high ceilings, large windows and fully equipped kitchenettes. A packed breakfast, including pastries and orange juice, from a nearby bakery is available to be delivered to the apartment. Doubles from £70 (frognerhouse.no).
Where to eat
Boiled wiener sausages are served from this tiny, graffiti-clad roadside kiosk with lashings of unusual toppings, such as thick potato pancake, mashed potato, potato salad and crispy onions, all grown in owner Erlend Dahlbo’s garden (from £1.70).
Erlend, who’s been serving hot dogs for 28 years, claims to recognise 2,000 of his regulars, so he can instantly spot a tourist or first-timer. Address: Maridalsveien 45
This rustic restaurant is all about skifte, a Norwegian tradition where sharing plates of fresh, locally sourced ingredients are passed around the table. Watch the smartly dressed chefs sweat it out in the open kitchen as you make your way through the incredibly generous eight-course set menu (£85 for two), offering plates of fried celeriac and pickled lemon, and succulent sweetbreads of veal with apple sauce (vaaghals.com).
Mathallen Food Hall
Located by the river in trendy Grunerlokka, this buzzy former iron factory is now packed with food and drink stalls. It’s easy to fill up while walking around, picking on samples of macaroons, salty sausages and hard cheeses. But if you’re after something more substantial, go for the sticky sesame tofu steamed buns from Bao Bonanza (£7, mathallenoslo.no).
Red chequered tablecloths dress the nine tables in this cosy French cheese restaurant. Listen to the locals chatter (you’re likely to be the only tourist) to the backdrop of slow jazz, before ordering from the chalk board menu hanging on the wall. Go for the Chevre Chaud (£14) — goats’ cheese in a light filo pastry topped with honey and walnuts and served with green beans, sugar snap peas and pomegranate seeds — and a glass of Chablis (£6, ostebutikken.com).
What to see and do
Walk on the roof of the Opera House
Star attraction: Oslo’s Opera House hosts varied ballet and opera shows
Jammed against the harbour like a crashed iceberg, Oslo’s Opera House hosts varied ballet and opera shows (operaen.no). Even if the arts aren’t your bag, it’s still worth a visit.
The building’s impressive interior (anyone can walk around) is all oak, and visitors are invited to stroll along the sloping roof, which offers views across the city to the right and fjords to the left.
Sip coffee in trendy Grunerlokka
Oslo is packed with spots for a relaxing cup of coffee, and there’s no better place than Tim Wendelboe’s coffee shop (timwendelboe.no).
The award-winning barista regularly visits farms in Africa and Latin America to find the best beans for his hip hangout, which is all black wooden floorboards and bare brick walls.
Shots of water are served to clear the palate while the barristers get to work on the silky coffees (£2). Afterwards, take a caffeine-fuelled wander around the nearby shops selling beautiful Nordic knits.
Hang out at one of the world’s best bars
Enter Himkok and you’ll find young men dressed in clinical white lab coats shaking colourful cocktails made with spirits distilled on-site (himkok.squarespace.com). No wonder this trendy spot has made the list of The World’s 50 Best Bars.
From the outside, it looks like a rundown backstreet store, but inside there’s twisted copper pipes and cool low lighting.
Though the inventive drinks — think oats and raspberry and caramelised-milk cheese and aquavit — are pricey (£12.50), the servings are generous and strong.
Join the locals in a giant sauna
SALT, above, is home to four large wooden structures where you can warm up beside wood-burners and gaze out at the water
Although saunas originated in Finland, they’re huge in Norway. SALT, across the water from the Opera House, is home to four large wooden structures where you can warm up beside wood-burners and gaze out at the water — the largest can take 120 people (salted.no).
If communal sweating isn’t your thing, instead enjoy the peace of a private floating sauna at KOK, just 50 metres away.
Here, you can listen to your own music as you top up the stove with logs and jump in to the refreshing fjord (kokoslo.no).
Ryanair Stansted to Oslo return is from £38. The Oslo Pass (£38 for 24 hours, visitoslo.com) offers free public transport and museum entry, plus discounts.