Insider Itinerary is an occasional series here at Dandelion Chandelier that shines a light on the best places to see, stay, and dine in some of the hottest luxury travel destinations worldwide. Our far-flung correspondents are sharing their inside tips on how to best experience their chosen cities, including the best restaurants, especially if you’re visiting for the first time. Consider it your local luxury GPS. You’re welcome!
After years of living in the shadows of neighboring capital cities, Stockholm and Copenhagen, Norway’s capital, Oslo, is finally receiving the recognition that it deserves. Named one of the 52 Places to Go in 2018 by The New York Times, Oslo has been quietly undergoing a transformation for years and is now primed and ready for its time in the sun. With an expanded waterfront promenade that connects the eastern part of the city with the west, it has never been easier to explore this historical and happening city. Along this 9 kilometer waterfront route, and throughout the city, you will find sightseeing, history, art, architecture and a little bit of adventure all reflective the energy and spirit of what is called The Tiger City.
During the spring, summer and early fall months, Oslo is filled with warmth, light and energy thanks to its long sun filled days. You will find an alluring gastronomic destination thanks to daring chefs like those at Michelin starred Maaemo and architectural icons that ask you to not only look, but to touch, climb and explore at destinations like the Opera House and Vigeland Sculpture Park. And while Stockholm and Copenhagen have long been hailed as Scandinavian design destinations, Oslo offers a quirky mix of cutting edge, modernist and historical design – from its fashion to art to home decor. Eating, shopping and exploring here are sure to leave you wondering: why didn’t you visit Norway sooner?
While there’s really no bad time to visit, the next few weeks are a great time to go. The month of August plays host to end of summer concerts, events and exhibits including the Passion for Ocean Festival on August 25th, the International Ibsen Festival, which opens the autumn season at The National Theatre of Norway and the opening of Tchaikovsky’s Queen of Spades at the Oslo Opera. And if you hurry you can still catch Lauren Greenfield’s groundbreaking Generation Wealth exhibit at the Nobel Peace Center (closes Aug 20) Need more convincing? Read on.
Why Oslo? What made you want to go there?
I actually go to Oslo a few times a year. My husband is from there and that is where his family lives. Although even before he and I were seriously dating, I had gone to visit Oslo with my father on vacation because my family background is Norwegian as well, and we went to explore the homeland of our family.
How long did you stay? How long is the ideal first visit?
On my very first visit to Oslo I stayed for 3 days. On my most recent trip this summer, I was also there for 3 days and I really do think that is the perfect amount of time for this city. For this summer’s visit, we followed most Norwegians and headed down south on the coast, away from the city. The summer months are generally very quiet in Oslo as native Norwegians take their summer vacations very seriously. It’s a great season to visit, the temperature is mild with low humidity and the sun is up for almost 20 hours. Fall is also a great time, but there’s a greater chance of rain.
What hotel(s) do you recommend?
Generally when I am in Oslo, we stay with family. That being said, there are also a lot of great hotels to stay in. A few years ago Norway’s first design hotel, The Thief, opened up. Overlooking the Oslo Fjord waterfront, The Thief is located in Tjuvholmen and only steps away from the chic restaurants and bars along Aker Brygge harbor and 15 minutes walking from the city center. This modern art themed hotel is packed with lots of great amenities including an amazing spa and even unlimited free entry to the nearby Astrup Fearnley Museum, whose galleries include works by Damien Hirst and Jeff Koons. The rooftop bar here is another great feature with sweeping waterfront views and delicious cocktails.
If you’re looking for something a little more classic, then I suggest Grand Hotel. This centrally-located hotel is the choice of visiting heads of state, rock musicians and Nobel Peace Prize winners alike. Notable past guests include the famous painter Edvard Munch and playwright, Henrik Ibsen, who used to visit the Grand Café twice a day, to read newspapers and enjoy a beer. Here you will find a blend of historic and modern design as well as views of Karl Johans Gate.
What are the 5 most important “must see” sights – natural wonders, museums, etc?
One of my favorite places is Vigeland Sculpture Park where everyone from locals to tourists come for sunbathing, picnicking or just to wander the beautiful grounds. There are 212 bronze and granite sculptures from the park’s namesake, Gustav Vigeland. Vigeland himself was responsible for the design and architectural outline of the park which includes 6 main areas. Some of my favorites (and probably also the most famous) to see are The Angry Boy (Sinnataggen in Norwegian), The Monolith (Monolitten) and The Wheel of Life (Livshjulet).
I also suggest heading to the neighborhood of Bygdøy (via ferry is most picturesque, though if you travel by bus or car you will get a chance to see the King’s Summer home as well as a quick peek at an original Stave church). Here you will find a number of museums including the Norwegian Museum of Cultural History, Kon-Tiki Museum, Fram Museum, Norwegian Maritime Museum and the Holocaust Center. If that’s not enough, you can also head to one of my personal favorites, the Viking Ship Museum – home to the world’s best preserved Viking ships and finds from Viking tombs around the Oslo Fjord exhibiting the discoveries from the Gokstad, Oseberg and Tune ships.
For a great view over the city, head to the Oslo Opera House. Located right at the harbor in the Barcode neighborhood, with an angled, white exterior that appears to rise from the water. The styling of this building invites visitors to climb its roof and enjoy panoramic views of Oslo and the fjord, all year round. Designed by the Norwegian architecture firm Snøhetta (who also has designed the September 11 Memorial Pavilion), the building features large scale windows that provide glimpses of the workshops and rehearsals taking place inside.
You can’t be in Norway and not see The Scream, so head to The National Gallery for Norway’s largest public collection of paintings, drawings and sculptures. In addition to The Scream you will find an ample collection of some of Edvard Munch’s other famous works, including Madonna, The Sick Child and The Dance of Life. Afterwords you can stroll past the Royal Palace and/or take in the nearby Nobel Peace Center.
My last suggestion would be to head to Akershus Castle and Fortress in the center of the city. This fortress has been in continuous use for more than 700 years. For most of that time, its primary purpose was to defend the city from foreign invaders – something it did well, as no foreign military ever managed to capture it by force. Today, Akershus Fortress is home to Norwegian Resistance Museum as well as two great restaurants that overlook the fjord – Solsidan, a delicious seafood spot with a solid wine list and Festningen, a bustling brasserie. The fortress also hosts seasonal cultural events, concerts and exhibitions too, including one from Knut Steen – one of Norway’s most internationally renowned and controversial sculptors – starting this September.
Is there good shopping? If so, where?
There is amazing shopping in Oslo. Everytime we visit, I need to set aside atleast one full day for shopping. One of my favorite places is Steen & Strøm, Norway’s biggest and oldest department store. This mega store is home to many well known Norwegian, Scandinavian and international brands, though my favorites are always the Scandinavian ones located on the third floor. Brands to shop here include Maud, Envii, Line of Oslo, Arnie Says: and Designers Remix. While I tend to shop for women’s fashion, the store also carries clothing for men and children, as well as toys, food, wine and places to eat and drink. Outside of Steen & Strøm on the surrounding blocks you will find lots of traditional luxury shopping spots including Burberry, LV, Hermes and Mulberry.
Another great spot I love to shop in is Aker Brygge, just a few minutes walk from The Thief. Here there are lots of great little shops including Milla Boutique, You & I, Aspeli and Mark & Brandy, all of which carry trendy Nordic and international brands seen on many of instagrams it girls. When you are done shopping you can relax and take in the views alongside the harbor at a restaurant or even catch ferry or fjord tour around Oslofjord.
Last but not least, one of my go to shopping stops is Bogstadveien in the Majorstuen neighborhood. This is a long street through the heart of the neighborhood and is really where the locals head to shop. Here you will find classics like Gunnar Øye, which features lots of chic suits and sportswear for the men as well as Lille Vinkel Shoe, which carries local cult favorites like Nude of Scandinavia. Other great shopping spots that line the block are Acne Studios, Ganni, Tiger of Sweden, Samsøe & Samsøe, Kähler and Marimekko to name a few others. Before you hit the end of the road (yes, there is a literal end to this road), be sure to turn off one block to stop by the Norwegian Design mecca of Pur Norsk. Each time I visit I leave either with something I have never found before or lusting after new items until my next visit. The service here is amazing and will accommodate requests to help you bring your purchases home not matter how big.
Which restaurants do you suggest trying?
The food scene in Norway has evolved so much over the past 11 years I have been visiting. Every time I visit there is a new spot to try with fresh takes on food and not limited to classic Scandinavian cuisine whatsoever. Ling Ling in Aker Brygge combines a cantonese menu from Hakkasan with the local ingredients of Norway. On our last visit we couldn’t get enough of their flavorful and equally colorful rainbow dumplings. The vibe here is chic and fun with DJ’s visiting Thursday-Saturdays.
Another great spot to dine at it Kolonialen Bislett, a cozy modern bistro not far from the stadium. Owner Pontus Dahlstrom is a former co-founder of Maaemo (one of the most in demand restaurants in Norway and basically all of Scandinavia which has been awarded 3 Michelin Stars) so you can be sure this place is good. The menu here changes with each season, but often includes the likes of oysters, cured meats and Norwegian classics that have been brought up to date.
The super stylish Teatro is another great spot for food and wine with the focus on pizza. You are probably thinking to yourself, pizza? In Norway? And yes, you should try pizza in Norway because this isn’t your regular NYC pie. Here you will find white pizzas with toppings like whitefish roe, cured halibut and cheddar with chili, while on red pizzas there’s tenderloin, truffle salami and chorizo. Before you begin, do yourself a favor and dig into some truffle crisps to start the meal off right.
If you are looking for something a little more traditional than try Holmenkollen Restaurant. The menu is based on traditional Scandinavian cuisine but it has been infused with touches of international inspiration. The restaurant is located near the city’s famous ski jump and is perched high over the city so that you have magnificent views over Oslo and the fjord below. The location and atmosphere (the interior here is like that of a modern alpine chalet straight out of a Restoration Hardware catalogue) come together to make Holmenkollen Restaurant a truly unique experience.
Of everything you have done on your visits, what was the one most memorable thing?
One of my favorites is always Vigeland Sculpture Park. Nearly every time we visit, we head there. The kids love it too – it’s wide open and they can run around easily. Sure, it may induce some giggles from them – they are naked sculptures after all – but we love to visit the classic statutes they have come to know year after year for our annual pictures. Plus if you visit during the summer all of the roses are in bloom and it is just absolutely breathtaking.
What would you take a pass on if you had it to do again?
This is a hard one to write because I love skiing, but if you don’t love skiing then I would suggest skipping Holmenkollen – the home to the Oslo’s ski jump and the Ski Museum. One of the main draws here is the view and zip lining during the summer, so if you don’t like skiing or zip lining then I think you could safely skip because there are plenty of other places you can take in sweeping views of this lovely city. Plus the ski jump itself is visible from most places throughout the city, so you can always say you saw it – if even from a distance.
What’s on your list to see next time that you you haven’t had a chance to visit?
I’m really looking forward to the opening of the new Munch Museum in 2020 but since I know I will be travelling there a few times before then, I would love to do a guided tour of the of the Royal Palace which is open to the public during the summer months, as well as visit TusenFryd Amusement Park – Norway’s answer to Tivoli Gardens. Given that I have three girls under the age of 10 it’s amazing we haven’t gone there yet!
Is this a good vacation for families with kids? Teenagers? Romantic partner? Solo traveler? Any or all of the above?
I would say all the above. Families can have a great time here just as easily as singles and couples can. It’s such a lively city, especially in the summertime when the days are long and the sun hardly sets. Kids, parents and couples alike are all up late playing, dining al fresco and having fun.
Describe the city in three words:
Energetic, light and modern
Jillian Tangen is the Head of Research at Dandelion Chandelier and a former Senior Research Analyst at McKinsey & Co and Analyst at Shearman & Sterling. She is an avid fan of Nordic design, having owned an independent lifestyle store and sales agency focused on emerging Scandinavian design. Jillian lives in NYC and is married with three young children and loves cross country skiing, the New York Rangers, reading, travel and discovering new brands.