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An aerial view of a large brick building with two identical towers on its roof, sitting along a waterfront lined with trees and shorter buildings. Getty Images

The 20 best things to do in Oslo if you love design

Must-see cultural spots and scenic viewpoints in a city finding its flow

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Set in a natural amphitheater between forest and fjord, and cut across by the Akerselva River, Oslo’s fascinating urban patchwork sees functionalist civic buildings and industrial-age relics sitting cheek-by-jowl with striking Gothic churches and ornate 18th-century housing.

Meanwhile, a large-scale revamp of Oslo’s harbor is dramatically reshaping the city’s identity, with a skyline being transformed by statement-making projects like the angular, Snøhetta-designed opera house at its heart.

Pure architectural ogling aside, there are plenty of local attractions for the aesthetically minded to enjoy in this increasingly pedestrian- and bike-friendly city. A new wave of creatives are turning formerly unloved corners of the city into destinations for design, dining, and culture. Sorted from west to east, these are the sculpture parks, innovative galleries, cutting-edge retail, and hip harborside hangouts worth visiting right now.

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1. Henie Onstad Kunstsenter

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Sonja Henies vei 31
1311 Høvik, Norway

A short journey west of the city, this contemporary art museum with fjord views was opened in 1968 by art collectors Niels Onstad and Sonja Henie (who was also a national figure skater and film star). Its permanent collection includes works by Picasso, Matisse, and Joseph Beuys, while a summer event series sees performance art and music take over its scenic grounds.

2. Villa Stenersen

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Tuengen allé 10C
0374 Oslo, Norway

Villa Stenersen, one of Norway’s foremost examples of modernist architecture, was designed by Arne Korsmo for the financier and art collector Rolf E. Stenersen. Completed in 1939, this International Style residence is characterized by its material palette of polished concrete, steel, and glass. From May through October, free guided tours are available on Sunday afternoons (no advanced booking required) and private tours are available throughout the week for a fee.

3. Vigeland Sculpture Park

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Nobels gate 32
0268 Oslo, Norway

This vast green expanse to the west of the city features more than 200 works by Norwegian sculptor Gustav Vigeland. Among his offbeat depictions of the human condition are “The Fountain”—a series of statues representing different stages of human life—and the 56-foot-tall “Monolith” at the heart of the park.

People walk around an open outdoor space lined with trees and sculptures. Shutterstock

4. Utopia Retro Modern

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Bygdøy allé 60
0265 Oslo, Norway

Oslo’s upmarket and urbane Frogner neighborhood lies in the western part of the city, and its picturesque streets are home to a range of elegant bistros and boutiques in keeping with the area’s well-heeled residents. Among them is Fabio Carlesi’s midcentury haven at Utopia Retro Modern, which showcases an alluring selection of pieces by Scandinavian designers past and present.

5. Astrup Fearnley Museum of Modern Art

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Strandpromenaden 2
0252 Oslo, Norway

The focal point of the Tjuvholmen redevelopment, this Renzo Piano-designed contemporary art museum was completed in 2013 and has a spectacular setting, jutting out into the fjord. While the museum is worth a visit for its striking curved form alone, its permanent collection also includes big-hitters like Francis Bacon, Jeff Koons, and David Hockney, alongside Norwegian favorites including abstract expressionist Olav Christopher Jenssen.

A wooden path with railings leads to a large building formed by two volumes with curved rooflines. Shutterstock

6. Oslo City Hall

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Brynjulf Bulls plass 1
0250 Oslo, Norway

Thanks to its two imposing towers, Oslo’s red-brick city hall is among the city’s most recognizable landmarks. Designed by architects Arnstein Arneberg and Magnus Poulsson and completed in 1950, the building is adorned with works by local sculptors on the exterior. Meanwhile, its oak- and marble-clad interior has sufficient splendor for the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony held here each December.

A boxy brick building features two rectangular towers extending from its roof. An open plaza with a sculpture fountain is in the foreground. Shutterstock

7. Paleet

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Karl Johans gate 37 - 43
0162 Oslo, Norway

This three-tiered shopping center on Karl Johans gate was remodeled in 2014, adding a much-needed sense of dynamism to Oslo’s retail scene. Look out for one of Oslo’s first concept stores, bringing together outerwear experts Norwegian Rain, local menswear label T Michael, and a worthy selection of 20th-century vintage homeware by Modern Tribute.

8. The National Museum – Architecture

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Bankplassen 3
0151 Oslo, Norway

While most elements of Oslo’s national museum are temporarily closed ahead of being amalgamated in 2020, this architectural hub on Kongens gate has remained open, showcasing Norway’s built environment through a forward-thinking diary of themed exhibitions. And with the Oslo Architecture Triennale kicking off in September 2019, expect to find a major series of events hosted here.

9. Fuglen

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Universitetsgata 2
0164 Oslo, Norway

While its location on a busy central thoroughfare might seem uninspiring, Fuglen’s vintage interiors are anything but. Showcasing the best of midcentury Nordic design, all the 1950s and 1960s pieces found throughout this charismatic cafe and cocktail bar are available to buy. Those converted by Fuglen’s coffee blend can also visit its roastery on the fringes of the Old Town.

10. SALT

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Langkaia 1
0150 Oslo, Norway

Just a short walk from the Oslo Opera house, SALT is a mixed-use space that combines several Norwegian passions. Across a series of striking triangular structures based on traditional stockfish drying racks, visitors will find saunas, exhibition spaces, and food stalls; to boot, the outdoor seating is the prime spot to take in the fjord’s comings and goings.

11. Amerikalinjen

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Jernbanetorget 2
0154 Oslo, Norway

A recent addition to Oslo’s growing roster of design hotels, Amerikalinjen opened in early 2019 in the former headquarters of cruise ship company Norwegian America Line. Original colors and Neo-Baroque details illuminate the building’s heritage, while elegant rooms are fitted out with midcentury pieces. A buzzy lineup of bars and eateries mean it’s rapidly becoming a destination for locals and visitors alike.

An open-air courtyard features orange-yellow wall, wooden tables set for dining, trees, and a glass ceiling. Courtesy of Amerikalinjen

12. Kulturhuset

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Youngs gate 6
0181 Oslo, Norway

Kulturhuset began as a pop-up in a building slated for demolition and has since evolved into a city-center institution after relocating to a multi-story townhouse in 2013. Combining cafes, bars, recording studios, and a cozy courtyard, Kulturhuset offers a cutting-edge schedule of debates, exhibitions, concerts, and club nights, making it a major player on Oslo’s creative circuit.

13. Blå

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Brenneriveien 9c
0182 Oslo, Norway

Make time to explore the Akerselva River, which winds through former industrial areas now firmly at the heart of the city’s creative scene. While in the past decade the Grünerløkka district has shifted from up-and-coming to fully gentrified, among its graffiti-tagged warehouses is a riverside cluster of vibrant bars, galleries, cafes, and street-food trucks that remain as popular as ever. Music venue Blå sits at its heart, with gigs, DJ sets, and alfresco ping-pong drawing crowds until late.

14. Oslo Opera House

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Kirsten Flagstads Plass 1
0150 Oslo, Norway

A major source of national pride, Oslo’s striking, Snøhetta-designed opera house rises up from the waters like a glacier at the head of the city’s fjord. Intended to connect land and sea, the white granite and marble building slopes gently upward, giving visitors the chance to scale the roof and embrace its commanding harbor views.

A white bridge carries people across the water to a striking angled building. The white granite-and-marble form slopes gently upwards, and visitors can climb to the roof for harbor views. Shutterstock

15. Standard

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Waldemar Thranes gate 86
0175 Oslo, Norway

Follow the Akerselva River up from central Oslo and you’ll reach a gallery that has done plenty to fly the flag for Norwegian art. Since founder and art historian Eivind Furnesvik set up shop in the former motorcycle repair shop in 2005, the Standard has grown to represent a coterie of emerging and mid-career artists from Scandinavia and beyond.

16. Barcode Project

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Dronning Eufemias gate
Oslo, Norway

Best seen from the sea or the Acrobatten bridge spanning Central Station, this contested section of Oslo’s harbor development comprises 12 high-rise buildings of different heights and widths in a uniform monochrome palette—giving rise to its name. While some might feel it doesn’t mesh with the city’s vernacular architecture, the Barcode Project has, at least, encouraged dynamic dialogue among the city’s design community.

A waterfront view of multiple boxy skyscrapers in blues, grays, and whites. Cranes work on construction on the buildings. Shutterstock

17. Ekebergparken Sculpture Park

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Kongsveien 23
0193 Oslo, Norway

Set in the hills above Oslo, the serene Ekebergparken was originally intended to provide the city’s poorer eastern districts with outdoor space. It’s since evolved into a world-class sculpture park with pieces by the likes of Louis Bourgeois, Auguste Rodin, and Salvador Dalí, plus spectacular lookout points (including the very view that inspired Edvard Munch’s The Scream) and a restored 1930s modernist restaurant with the perfect terrace for watching the sunset over the fjord.

A sculpture in white marble sits on a stone patio surrounded by green grass and trees. In the distance you can see the fjord waters and various islands.
The sculpture “Anatomy of an angel” by the artist Damien Hirst.
Shutterstock

18. Kollekted By

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Schous Plass 7
0552 Oslo, Norway

This sophisticated store in Grünerløkka is the brainchild of Oslo-based stylists Alessandro D’Orazio and Jannicke Kråkvik. The pared-back space serves as a studio store for Danish design brand Frama and also showcases a Scandinavian-focused selection of homeware, furniture, and craft pieces by local artists.

19. Munch Museum

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Tøyengata 53
0578 Oslo, Norway

Next year is a landmark moment for one of Oslo’s favorite sons, Edvard Munch. While the world’s largest collection of the expressionist pioneer’s work—including paintings, prints, and drawings—currently sits in a modest gallery in the Tøyen district, 2020 will see the museum take up residence in a monolithic new space on Oslo’s waterfront.

20. Mortensrud Church

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Helga Vaneks Vei 15
1281 Oslo, Norway

Some of Oslo’s most striking architecture lies in its wildly diverse churches. South of the city, Mortensrud Church was consecrated in 2002, and architects Jensen & Skodvin won awards for their melding of nature with a slate, glass, and steel structure. Elsewhere, St. Hallvard’s Catholic church (Enerhauggata 4) in Tøyen might appear run-of-the mill from the outside, but its Brutalist concrete interior reveals a stunning inverted dome.

1. Henie Onstad Kunstsenter

Sonja Henies vei 31, 1311 Høvik, Norway

A short journey west of the city, this contemporary art museum with fjord views was opened in 1968 by art collectors Niels Onstad and Sonja Henie (who was also a national figure skater and film star). Its permanent collection includes works by Picasso, Matisse, and Joseph Beuys, while a summer event series sees performance art and music take over its scenic grounds.

Sonja Henies vei 31
1311 Høvik, Norway

2. Villa Stenersen

Tuengen allé 10C, 0374 Oslo, Norway

Villa Stenersen, one of Norway’s foremost examples of modernist architecture, was designed by Arne Korsmo for the financier and art collector Rolf E. Stenersen. Completed in 1939, this International Style residence is characterized by its material palette of polished concrete, steel, and glass. From May through October, free guided tours are available on Sunday afternoons (no advanced booking required) and private tours are available throughout the week for a fee.

Tuengen allé 10C
0374 Oslo, Norway

3. Vigeland Sculpture Park

Nobels gate 32, 0268 Oslo, Norway
People walk around an open outdoor space lined with trees and sculptures. Shutterstock

This vast green expanse to the west of the city features more than 200 works by Norwegian sculptor Gustav Vigeland. Among his offbeat depictions of the human condition are “The Fountain”—a series of statues representing different stages of human life—and the 56-foot-tall “Monolith” at the heart of the park.

Nobels gate 32
0268 Oslo, Norway

4. Utopia Retro Modern

Bygdøy allé 60, 0265 Oslo, Norway

Oslo’s upmarket and urbane Frogner neighborhood lies in the western part of the city, and its picturesque streets are home to a range of elegant bistros and boutiques in keeping with the area’s well-heeled residents. Among them is Fabio Carlesi’s midcentury haven at Utopia Retro Modern, which showcases an alluring selection of pieces by Scandinavian designers past and present.

Bygdøy allé 60
0265 Oslo, Norway

5. Astrup Fearnley Museum of Modern Art

Strandpromenaden 2, 0252 Oslo, Norway
A wooden path with railings leads to a large building formed by two volumes with curved rooflines. Shutterstock

The focal point of the Tjuvholmen redevelopment, this Renzo Piano-designed contemporary art museum was completed in 2013 and has a spectacular setting, jutting out into the fjord. While the museum is worth a visit for its striking curved form alone, its permanent collection also includes big-hitters like Francis Bacon, Jeff Koons, and David Hockney, alongside Norwegian favorites including abstract expressionist Olav Christopher Jenssen.

Strandpromenaden 2
0252 Oslo, Norway

6. Oslo City Hall

Brynjulf Bulls plass 1, 0250 Oslo, Norway
A boxy brick building features two rectangular towers extending from its roof. An open plaza with a sculpture fountain is in the foreground. Shutterstock

Thanks to its two imposing towers, Oslo’s red-brick city hall is among the city’s most recognizable landmarks. Designed by architects Arnstein Arneberg and Magnus Poulsson and completed in 1950, the building is adorned with works by local sculptors on the exterior. Meanwhile, its oak- and marble-clad interior has sufficient splendor for the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony held here each December.

Brynjulf Bulls plass 1
0250 Oslo, Norway

7. Paleet

Karl Johans gate 37 - 43, 0162 Oslo, Norway

This three-tiered shopping center on Karl Johans gate was remodeled in 2014, adding a much-needed sense of dynamism to Oslo’s retail scene. Look out for one of Oslo’s first concept stores, bringing together outerwear experts Norwegian Rain, local menswear label T Michael, and a worthy selection of 20th-century vintage homeware by Modern Tribute.

Karl Johans gate 37 - 43
0162 Oslo, Norway

8. The National Museum – Architecture

Bankplassen 3, 0151 Oslo, Norway

While most elements of Oslo’s national museum are temporarily closed ahead of being amalgamated in 2020, this architectural hub on Kongens gate has remained open, showcasing Norway’s built environment through a forward-thinking diary of themed exhibitions. And with the Oslo Architecture Triennale kicking off in September 2019, expect to find a major series of events hosted here.

Bankplassen 3
0151 Oslo, Norway

9. Fuglen

Universitetsgata 2, 0164 Oslo, Norway

While its location on a busy central thoroughfare might seem uninspiring, Fuglen’s vintage interiors are anything but. Showcasing the best of midcentury Nordic design, all the 1950s and 1960s pieces found throughout this charismatic cafe and cocktail bar are available to buy. Those converted by Fuglen’s coffee blend can also visit its roastery on the fringes of the Old Town.

Universitetsgata 2
0164 Oslo, Norway

10. SALT

Langkaia 1, 0150 Oslo, Norway

Just a short walk from the Oslo Opera house, SALT is a mixed-use space that combines several Norwegian passions. Across a series of striking triangular structures based on traditional stockfish drying racks, visitors will find saunas, exhibition spaces, and food stalls; to boot, the outdoor seating is the prime spot to take in the fjord’s comings and goings.

Langkaia 1
0150 Oslo, Norway

11. Amerikalinjen

Jernbanetorget 2, 0154 Oslo, Norway
An open-air courtyard features orange-yellow wall, wooden tables set for dining, trees, and a glass ceiling. Courtesy of Amerikalinjen

A recent addition to Oslo’s growing roster of design hotels, Amerikalinjen opened in early 2019 in the former headquarters of cruise ship company Norwegian America Line. Original colors and Neo-Baroque details illuminate the building’s heritage, while elegant rooms are fitted out with midcentury pieces. A buzzy lineup of bars and eateries mean it’s rapidly becoming a destination for locals and visitors alike.

Jernbanetorget 2
0154 Oslo, Norway

12. Kulturhuset

Youngs gate 6, 0181 Oslo, Norway

Kulturhuset began as a pop-up in a building slated for demolition and has since evolved into a city-center institution after relocating to a multi-story townhouse in 2013. Combining cafes, bars, recording studios, and a cozy courtyard, Kulturhuset offers a cutting-edge schedule of debates, exhibitions, concerts, and club nights, making it a major player on Oslo’s creative circuit.

Youngs gate 6
0181 Oslo, Norway

13. Blå

Brenneriveien 9c, 0182 Oslo, Norway

Make time to explore the Akerselva River, which winds through former industrial areas now firmly at the heart of the city’s creative scene. While in the past decade the Grünerløkka district has shifted from up-and-coming to fully gentrified, among its graffiti-tagged warehouses is a riverside cluster of vibrant bars, galleries, cafes, and street-food trucks that remain as popular as ever. Music venue Blå sits at its heart, with gigs, DJ sets, and alfresco ping-pong drawing crowds until late.

Brenneriveien 9c
0182 Oslo, Norway

14. Oslo Opera House

Kirsten Flagstads Plass 1, 0150 Oslo, Norway
A white bridge carries people across the water to a striking angled building. The white granite-and-marble form slopes gently upwards, and visitors can climb to the roof for harbor views. Shutterstock

A major source of national pride, Oslo’s striking, Snøhetta-designed opera house rises up from the waters like a glacier at the head of the city’s fjord. Intended to connect land and sea, the white granite and marble building slopes gently upward, giving visitors the chance to scale the roof and embrace its commanding harbor views.

Kirsten Flagstads Plass 1
0150 Oslo, Norway

15. Standard

Waldemar Thranes gate 86, 0175 Oslo, Norway

Follow the Akerselva River up from central Oslo and you’ll reach a gallery that has done plenty to fly the flag for Norwegian art. Since founder and art historian Eivind Furnesvik set up shop in the former motorcycle repair shop in 2005, the Standard has grown to represent a coterie of emerging and mid-career artists from Scandinavia and beyond.

Waldemar Thranes gate 86
0175 Oslo, Norway

16. Barcode Project

Dronning Eufemias gate, Oslo, Norway
A waterfront view of multiple boxy skyscrapers in blues, grays, and whites. Cranes work on construction on the buildings. Shutterstock

Best seen from the sea or the Acrobatten bridge spanning Central Station, this contested section of Oslo’s harbor development comprises 12 high-rise buildings of different heights and widths in a uniform monochrome palette—giving rise to its name. While some might feel it doesn’t mesh with the city’s vernacular architecture, the Barcode Project has, at least, encouraged dynamic dialogue among the city’s design community.

Dronning Eufemias gate
Oslo, Norway

17. Ekebergparken Sculpture Park

Kongsveien 23, 0193 Oslo, Norway
A sculpture in white marble sits on a stone patio surrounded by green grass and trees. In the distance you can see the fjord waters and various islands.
The sculpture “Anatomy of an angel” by the artist Damien Hirst.
Shutterstock

Set in the hills above Oslo, the serene Ekebergparken was originally intended to provide the city’s poorer eastern districts with outdoor space. It’s since evolved into a world-class sculpture park with pieces by the likes of Louis Bourgeois, Auguste Rodin, and Salvador Dalí, plus spectacular lookout points (including the very view that inspired Edvard Munch’s The Scream) and a restored 1930s modernist restaurant with the perfect terrace for watching the sunset over the fjord.

Kongsveien 23
0193 Oslo, Norway

18. Kollekted By

Schous Plass 7, 0552 Oslo, Norway

This sophisticated store in Grünerløkka is the brainchild of Oslo-based stylists Alessandro D’Orazio and Jannicke Kråkvik. The pared-back space serves as a studio store for Danish design brand Frama and also showcases a Scandinavian-focused selection of homeware, furniture, and craft pieces by local artists.

Schous Plass 7
0552 Oslo, Norway

19. Munch Museum

Tøyengata 53, 0578 Oslo, Norway

Next year is a landmark moment for one of Oslo’s favorite sons, Edvard Munch. While the world’s largest collection of the expressionist pioneer’s work—including paintings, prints, and drawings—currently sits in a modest gallery in the Tøyen district, 2020 will see the museum take up residence in a monolithic new space on Oslo’s waterfront.

Tøyengata 53
0578 Oslo, Norway

20. Mortensrud Church

Helga Vaneks Vei 15, 1281 Oslo, Norway

Some of Oslo’s most striking architecture lies in its wildly diverse churches. South of the city, Mortensrud Church was consecrated in 2002, and architects Jensen & Skodvin won awards for their melding of nature with a slate, glass, and steel structure. Elsewhere, St. Hallvard’s Catholic church (Enerhauggata 4) in Tøyen might appear run-of-the mill from the outside, but its Brutalist concrete interior reveals a stunning inverted dome.

Helga Vaneks Vei 15
1281 Oslo, Norway