From waterside buildings by star names to lesser-known modernist and art nouveau masterpieces, make the most of Norway’s capital with our insights from local design insiders
Photography by Einar Aslaksen featuring Deichman Bjørvika Library
Words by Harriet Thorpe
First established by the Vikings in 1040 and located on the northernmost point of the picturesque Oslofjord, Norway’s capital Oslo harbours top-notch cultural institutions worthy of daylong visits, scenic views, idyllic parks and charming neighbourhoods.
You certainly shouldn’t miss the architectural and cultural hits along the city’s regenerated waterfront: the Oslo Opera House (Snøhetta); the Munch Museum (Estudio Herreros); the Astrup Fearnley Museum (Renzo Piano) and the Nasjonalmuseet (Kleihues + Schuwerk). Nor a stroll in the remarkable Vigeland Sculpture Park, coffee-fuelled walk by the Akerselva River, or sauna and dip at the convivial Sørenga seawater pool.
This guide offers some lesser known and new design-led destinations, as informed by creative locals, from art deco interiors to modernist villas and cutting-edge contemporary concepts.
Photography courtesy of Sorgenfri
Founded by two stylish designer friends, Ingrid Bredholt and Vaar Bothner, this shop-gallery-café- design-studio hybrid in the pleasant Majorstuen neighbourhood curates collectible, bespoke and locally crafted Norwegian design (everything from cassette tapes to ceramics).
Browse the cave-like basement gallery, then relax at the pink marble bar or on a Terje Ekstrøm chair with a vegan bite or glass from the seasonal wine menu; you probably won’t want to leave, so why not sleep over at the new Sorgenfri Apartment. Sorgenfrigata 16, 0365, Oslo, sorgenfri.store
Socialise amid Norwegian design history at Sommerro hotel’s four restaurants, three bars and Vestkantbadet wellness centre, which unfold across a magnificently restored 1930s former electricity company HQ.
The neoclassical, modernist and art deco building features original lighting and metalwork, monumental mosaics by artist Per Krohg and opulent interiors by design-world darlings GrecoDeco to drink in alongside your martini. Sommerrogata 1, 0255, Oslo, sommerrohouse.com
A masterpiece of modernist architecture, this 1930s villa by Norwegian architect Arne Korsmo (1900–1968) combines clever functionalist details with a playful colour scheme of yellow, green and blue.
Designed for financier and art collector Rolf E Stenersen, it was intended as a family home and gallery; light is filtered by glass bricks and a skylight of 625 circular blue glass cylinders.
Donated to the Norwegian state in 1974 and opened to the public in 2014, Villa Stenersen is undergoing a piecemeal renovation. Tuengen allé 10C, 0374, Oslo, nasjonalmuseet.no
Photography courtesy of Café Platz
Emanuel Vigeland mausoleum / Tomba Emmanuelle
The atmospheric high- vaulted mausoleum of painter and sculptor Emanuel Vigeland (1875-1948) hosts a dramatic fresco titled Vita, depicting often strange and erotic scenes of the circle of life in Jugend and art nouveau style.
Working during the interwar period, Vigeland (younger brother of sculptor Gustav of Vigeland Park) was influenced by Christianity, the Italian Renaissance and Darwinism.
A visit is a ‘special, sacred experience’, says design- loving local Richard CG Øiestad, founder of the art and design collective Pyton. For more art nouveau interiors, he recommends the 1915 Sjøfartsbygningen maritime building (Kongens gate 6) decorated by the cubist Thorvald Hellesen. Grimelundsveien 8, 0775, Oslo, emanuelvigeland.museum.no
While exploring the central waterfront neighbourhood of Oslobukta, pause at the Snøhetta-designed Café Platz at fashion brand Holzweiler’s flagship store. Founded by siblings Susanne and Andreas Holzweiler, with Andreas’ wife Maria, who pride themselves on family values, Café Platz honours their grandfather’s 1950s café of the same name.
In Holzweiler style, the interior is minimalist, yet warm and vibrant, with curved walls and floating wooden roof lamellas. Dominic Gorham, guest relation manager at Sommerro hotel, loves it for its simplicity and great menu with organic, high- quality ingredients. Operagata 61D, 0194, Oslo, holzweilerplatz.no
Mona Jensen launched Tom Wood jewellery in Oslo in 2013 with a collection of modern signet rings. Today the new flagship displays simple yet exquisite collections inspired by nature, architecture and heritage framed by stripped-back, brutalist interiors by Specific Generic. Savour the smooth mirrored surfaces, sleek metal cabinets and hand-carved wooden bench by Swedish artist Niklas Runesson. Øvre Slottsgate 8, 0157, Oslo, tomwoodproject.com
Photography by Einar Aslaksen featuring Deichman Bjørvika Library
Just south-east of the centre, in the sylvan Ekebergparken sculpture park peppered with works by the likes of Louise Bourgeois, James Turrell and Sarah Lucas, stop for lunch at the Ekebergrestauranten. The modernist 1929 restaurant was designed by Lars Backer, architect of Norway’s very first modernist building in 1927 (now demolished).
‘A hallmark of Norwegian functionalist architecture, it’s a wonderful place to enjoy views of Oslo from smart white tablecloths inside or the casual terrace outside,’ say Oslo and San Francisco based architects Casper and Lexie Mork-Ulnes. Kongsveien 15, 0193 Oslo, ekebergrestauranten.com
Free to visit, the red brick City Hall built between 1933-50 boasts an interior of colourful frescoes and exquisitely crafted design. In the main hall, the first of many impressively decorated ceremonial rooms, paintings by Henrik Sørensen and Alf Rolfsen depict the culture and life of interwar Oslo.
The building is the home of the city council and host to the Nobel Peace Prize, as well as marriages that take place beneath Edvard Munch’s painting Livet (Life). Carillon concerts (the eastern tower has 49 bells) play songs from Greig to Grease. ‘Even if you show up after opening hours, you can enjoy the building’s exterior with impressive frieze-relief by
Dagfin Werenskiold depicting events from the Poetic Edda, an anthology of old Norse mythological poems,’ say the Mork-Ulneses. Rådhusplassen 1, 0037, Oslo, oslo.kommune.no/radhuset
Deichman Bjørvika Library
Between the Central Station and the Opera House, this modern library and meeting place (designed by Atelier Oslo and Lundhagem; opened in 2020) is another impactful yet human-oriented piece of contemporary architecture on Oslo’s waterfront.
Beyond the glazed, gridded and cantilevering facade, three skylights cast daylight into the layered central atrium – a concrete honeycomb unfolding over five storeys holding 450,000 books and many creative, social spaces including a cinema, recording studios, a café and more. Anne-Cath, Vestlys plass 1, 0150 Oslo, deichman.no