CREATIVE HUBS: OSLO
Norway is said to abide by the Scandinavian Law of Jante, the cultural compass that places society ahead of the individual. The concept is at the root of Nordic modesty and humility, dictating that you shouldn’t be ostentatious, no matter how much money you might have.
Thanks to the discovery of vast oil reserves in the late 1960s, Norway is one of the world’s wealthiest countries, with its capital Oslo being Europe’s fastest growing major city. And yet in spite of the nation’s riches, an aura of understatement pulses through people and place.
Oslo was once famously home to painter Edvard Munch and playwright Henrik Ibsen, and the city continues to provide a fertile breeding ground for artistic expression today. Considerable funding from the government ensures that art graduates make a decent living, leaving them free to focus on creating rather than worrying about making rent. As a result there are a number of improvisational galleries and nonprofit spaces making waves here. One Night Only (ONO) hosts pop-up exhibitions that last well, one night only, while Gallery 1857 is an artist-run space that occupies a former lumberyard in Grønland. Just around the corner, Pink Cube stands out from the crowd with fuchsia walls, offering an alternative to the sterile, all-white aesthetic of many more established galleries.
Oslo is also home to a thriving start-up scene, and thoughtful innovation has breathed life into many of the city’s former industrial areas. The once run-down neighbourhood of Grünerløkka is today filled with cool new cafés, bar and eateries, while development of Vulkan on the bank of the Akerselva River is home to the Hus dance centre (based in an old factory) and The Norwegian Centre for Design and Architecture (housed in a former electric works). The newest kid on the block is Sentralan, which opened in March 2016. What was once the country’s oldest savings bank is now a restaurant, performance venue and the site of Norway’s biggest co-working space for cultural producers and social entrepreneurs.
Norway’s refreshingly balanced approach to life has earned it the accolade of the world’s fourth happiest nation and its capital city works and plays in equal measure. Due to Oslo’s location on a fjord, the natural world is always close at hand, and brings with it a widespread appreciation for outdoor activities including biking, running and skiing. Many Oslo families own a cabin in the mountains, an asset that in other nations would be considered a luxury, reserved for a very wealthy few. But like many other aspects of Nordic culture, access to nature is all part of the country’s egalitarian mindset, and part of a Jante worldview.
WHERE TO STAY
In classic Nordic style, this Design Hotel avoids showiness, despite having walls decorated with Andy Warhols, interiors dressed in sumptuous copper and a guest list that includes Rihanna and Bill Gates. Don’t miss the in-house hammam and restaurant Fru-K.
Located opposite the city’s National Theatre, Hotel Continental is a beacon of luxury. Expect comfy beds, calm neutral tones, Edvard Munch prints in the lobby bar and delicious food at Theatercaféen.
Located in the newly gentrified Grünerløkka area, this is Norway’s first top-class eco hotel. The place makes use of a geothermal energy system and solar cells and recycles where it can. The lobby is a popular spot for hot-desking locals.
WHAT TO SEE
Designed by the Snøhetta architectural firm, Oslo’s Opera House is the city’s most dramatic cultural landmark. The building echoes the form of a half-submerged iceberg and houses a diverse range of performances.
Astrup Fearnley Museum
Opened in 1993, this privately owned museum is the jewel in Norway’s contemporary art crown. From the permanent collection alone, you can expect impressive works from Gilbert & George, Damien Hirst and Jeff Koons.
This former shipyard has been transformed into an upmarket dining and shopping area, which is home to brands including Scotch & Soda and Samsøe & Samsøe. The ideal spot for a leisurely stroll, the area has a seaside promenade with access to the Oslo Fjord.
WHERE TO EAT AND DRINK
Chef Mikael Svensson relocated to an open-plan space in the Vulcan neighbourhood last year. The new spot has floor-to-ceiling windows, industrial overhead lighting and a six-course tasting menu made up of locally foraged, sustainably sourced produce.
Nordic ingredients combine with Asian flavours at Pjoltergeist, which was originally a Hell’s Angels bar, and is today a popular late-night hangout for the city’s best chefs. Expect creations like soft pork avocado tacos, pan-fried duck hearts and steamed buns with kimchi.
With wood and bamboo mat walls, midcentury furniture and a folk music soundtrack, this is a popular art world hangout that serves artisanal coffee and cocktails. There’s even a gallery and shop next door.