My first night in Oslo, amidst a sweltering early June heatwave, and I lie in bed coverless, closely cradling a two-litre Pepsi bottled filled with iced water. An ingenious idea from my Norwegian hosts, apologetic for the temperature of their flat: a tastefully decorated space designed to retain heat, rather than stave it. Oslo doesn’t really do heatwaves – the city rarely sees the sun from November to January. But despite the heat-saturated air, my weekend in a city unaccustomed to such copious amounts of sunshine is a revelation.
After landing, I go for my usual “getting my bearings” stroll as the baking afternoon heat slowly descends from its peak. The entire city seems to be working summer hours with every corner, bar, restaurant and grassy patch abuzz with locals and visitors alike in jovial spirits. Summer days are long here and the sky hardly darkens at night; I can see why no one wants to retreat inside.
In spite of the weather I’m craving coffee and I’ve heard whisperings about the great Tim Wendelboe, a roastery and espresso bar on a quiet corner of the Grünerløkka neighbourhood. The impeccably knowledgeable and helpful baristas happily help me choose a blend from their menu which supports small scale producers. I’m hesitant to follow their suggestion of taking no milk and sensing my trepidation, I’m served some on the side. But throwing caution to the heat, I try it black and realise that in my relatively short two-year history of coffee drinking, this may be the finest I’ve tasted. It’s full of subtle depth and flavour, milk would detract from it, and as I sit contentedly outside on a shaded bench, Oslo is making an outstanding first impression.
Next, to the city’s impressive harbour promenade which stretches 9 kilometres along the waterfront and today teems with people. There’s a welcoming, slightly cooling sea breeze as I walk to the popular Tjuvholmen area, home to Oslo’s finest hotel, The Thief, plus ample luxurious apartment blocks and my destination, the Astrup Fearnley Museet. The museum is a striking architectural triumph with its curved glass roof and slender steel columns with cable rigging, an ode to the style of a sailboat. A private collection of contemporary art is housed across the museum’s three buildings – Damien Hirst, Francis Bacon, Jeff Koons and Cindy Sherman are just some of the iconic names to have work in residence. Inside, the galleries are joyously cool and spacious with ambient natural lighting as well as views of the surrounding sea and the small city beach nearby, filled with locals taking refreshing dips – an enticing prospect.
Evening takes me to Arakataka, a modern dining space serving seasonal Nordic cuisine from its open kitchen. Without a reservation I nab a seat in the bar area, choosing a selection of small plates including king crab, cod tongue and duck ceviche, along with quite possibly the most delicious homemade dark rye bread served with whipped butter: a dangerous delight for a solo diner.
The next morning I meander to Vigeland Park, one of Oslo’s most popular attractions and home to the world’s largest sculpture park dedicated to the work of a single artist, Gustav Vigeland. There is an impressive collection of over 200 granite, bronze and iron sculptures all created within a circle-of-life theme. After passing the main bridge and the infamous Angry Boy sculpture which is flanked by visitors armed with selfie sticks, I discover the park’s real crown jewel. The Monolith is 14 metres tall and carved from one ginormous granite block into numerous figures, each clambering and climbing upwards over the other while at the same time holding each other up. At the furthest end of the park sits the Wheel of Life, a simple circle of entwined figures signifying never-ending momentum and motion.
The afternoon draws me to the sea once more and I return to the Astrup Fearnley complex for lunch at the museum café, Vingen, which boasts a scenic residency at the outermost point where the city stretches into the fjord. The atmosphere is low key, the coffee is sublime and their light seasonal menu and homemade sweet treats are the idyllic accompaniment to the view.
As I arrive at the city’s architectural playground and to its most iconic building, the Oslo Opera House, an odd amalgamation of clouds form overhead for the first time during my visit and I welcome a little respite from the blaring sun, although I daren’t speak such thoughts loudly: the locals are in their element. The Opera House thrives not only as a hub for the arts but also as a feat of Scandinavian design, with its truly Norwegian price tag to match. The roof, known as the carpet, is a broad, all-encompassing expanse that offers an excellent vantage point and its summit is primed for memorable photography opportunities and nirvana for selfie lovers.
Later at Kamai, a tiny sushi restaurant back in Grünerløkka, I’m in foodie bliss after one bite of their signature bao. My waitress is delighted to hear that Oslo is having better weather than London, “It’s unbelievable, Norway rarely has heat like this, we’re happy” she tells me, as I angle myself towards the open restaurant door to avail of a small breeze. As I walk back enjoying the evening dip in temperature and the pink hue of the sky, my curiosity is caught by Bass, a small neighbourhood restaurant filled with cheery locals enjoying dinner. The barman motions for me to come in as I stop outside and although I tell him I’ve already eaten, he doesn’t take long to tempt me into ordering their dessert of the night, a delicately satisfying almond cake with caramel and berry coulis. I promise to return on another trip for dinner and as I watch their small plates roll out from the kitchen, I’m sorry I don’t have one more evening in Oslo.
The next morning I take a cruise from the main harbour and I’m buoyed by the refreshing breeze circling my seat at the front of the boat. We sail for two hours around Oslo’s fjord, taking in the cityscape and some of the quant homes dotted around the inlets. Afterwards I visit the Munchmuseet, home to an impressive display of works from Norway’s most famous artist and a pioneer in expressionism, Edvard Munch.
Before I fly home, I stop by Mathallen Food Hall and with more than 30 speciality shops, cafés and restaurants under its roof, I find myself spoilt for choice. It’s a fantastic indoor market, offering a space for collective dining and socialising that is in sync with the growing popularity of food halls emerging in other European cities. Oslo really is the city that is always on trend, doing things brilliantly before others catch on – it even had a heatwave before the rest of the continent. And yes Oslo doesn’t really do heatwaves, but it suits them all the same.
Until next time…