Norway’s capital has long been dismissed as Scandinavia’s sober sister, but there’s been a concerted effort to reinvent the city’s staid reputation in recent years – from financing ambitious architectural projects such as Oslo’s Opera House and the Barcode, to reinventing formerly run-down neighbourhoods along the waterfront and the Akerselva River. It’s kicked off a new wave of innovation and creativity in the city, and many young Osloites have embraced the change with gusto – founding craft breweries and bike shops, establishing coffee roasteries and New Nordic bistros, or setting up retro clothing stores and vintage record shops.
Bike racks in Oslo's Barcode district © B.Aa. Sætrenes / Getty Images
The change is palpable, and while there’s still a way to go, there’s no doubt that Oslo is a city whose hipster credentials are growing fast.
A guide to Grünerløkka
If you’re looking for hipster central in Oslo, there’s one neighbourhood you need to head for – and that’s Grünerløkka, or ‘Løkka, as it’s known to locals. This rectangular block of streets, bordered roughly by the Akerselva River to the west and Sofienbergparken to the east, was once a solidly working class neighbourhood, but like many post-industrial areas, it’s slowly been reclaimed by students, artists, designers and creative types (Edvard Munch was an early Grünerløkka convert), and it’s now by far and away Oslo’s trendiest postcode.
Centring around the pleasant square of Olaf Ryes Plass, Grünerløkka’s grid of streets is made for wandering. Markveien and Thorvald Meyers gate are good bets for independent shops and vintage clothing stores: standouts are Velouria Vintage, which stocks everything from collectible Levis to Hermes scarfs, and Robot, where you can rummage to your heart’s content in search of check shirts, denim jackets, vintage dresses and retro collectibles. Fransk Bazaar is another trove that’s well worth a delve: it’s packed with desirable design pieces and antiques amassed by its French expat owner.
Industrial Grünerløkka is now a trendy collection of microbreweries, burger bars and vintage clothes shops © Andrea Pistolesi / Getty Images
If vintage isn’t your thing, there are plenty of temples to the modern side of Scandi design: check out Ensemble for high-class womenswear and Dapper, a painfully hip menswear boutique that also incorporates a barber’s and bike shop. Another address that’s popular with Grünerløkka bike buffs is OsloVelo, a cafe where you can get your bike repairs done while you sit down for brunch and barista-brewed coffee.
Eating out in Norway is never cheap, but it’s still possible to find an affordable meal, even in groovy Grünerløkka. Every hipster neighbourhood worth its salt needs its own boutique burger joint, and in ‘Løkka it’s Nighthawk Diner. Named after the iconic Edward Hopper painting, it’s a studiously authentic take on a classic American burger bar, complete with booth seats, juke boxes and ‘50s décor. Munchies is another good bar-crawl burger haunt, with six classics to choose from, plus a burger of the month. Tapas is also a good way to eat on the cheap in Grünerløkka – Delicatessen offers a delicious selection of classic dishes, while Txotx specialises in Basque-style pintxos.
Further up the price ladder, Markveien Mat & Vinhus is a stalwart for Norwegian comfort food, with hearty dishes like lamb shank, clipfish and meatballs served with hand-picked wines by the glass. Le Benjamin offers French bistro dishes like cassoulet and fondue, while Villa Paradiso serves fine wood-fired Italian pizzas. SüdØst Asian Crossover serves a spicy blend of Asian-inspired dishes like crispy wonton, sushi rolls and ‘crazy duck’ pancakes. Pila is another address to watch: it’s a modern Norwegian diner that blends creative flavours with locally sourced ingredients, serving dishes such as sautéed reindeer stew and lamb with roasted root veg, all with a surprising twist.
Drinking & Nightlife
Grünerløkka is awash with places to find a drink – although as ever in Norway, you’ll need deep pockets. For craft beer, Grünerløkka Brewery makes a range of handmade home-brews, including ales and wheat beers. Terretoriet is the address for oenophiles, a stylish wine bar with a selection of vintages by the glass, and highly knowledgeable staff who can help tutor your tastings. For cocktails, make a beeline for Bettola, where the mixologists craft their bespoke, brightly-coloured creations in a Scandi-style speakeasy.
For live music, Blå is one of Oslo’s best venues, while the legendary Parkteatret occupies a special place in the hearts of music fans – it’s long been the place to play for emerging young bands and indie acts from across Norway and further afield. If you feel inspired to take to the stage, head down to Syng for their regular karaoke nights.
Other areas to watch
On the western edge of Grünerløkka, along the banks of the Akerselva River, this winding street was once a centre of heavy industry, but it’s been reinvented thanks to an ambitious urban regeneration project that’s turned the run-down buildings and old factories into eco-friendly apartments, offices, design studios and boutique hotels.
It’s also home to the city’s fantastic new food hall, Mathallen – a cavernous space filled with more than thirty food stalls, selling everything from Norwegian cheeses to Asian street snacks. Nearby is über-quirky Hendrix Ibsen, a coffee shop which also doubles as a record store and craft beer bar.
Vulkan is also home to one of Oslo’s premier addresses for New Nordic cuisine, Restaurant Kontrast – a veritable temple to experimental flavours and outlandish presentation, complete with the requisite foams, ices, jellies and foraged ingredients. Its creative, boundary-bending cuisine has won it a shiny Michelin star – proof that Vulkan’s renaissance still has room to run.
Halfway between Grünerløkka and the centre, this old city square has found a new lease of life, with new bars, clubs and venues springing up in recent years, extending along the nearby streets of Torggata and Møllergata.
The centrepiece is Kulturhuset, a catch-all cultural venue that stages gigs, theatre and art exhibitions, and also has a great bar. Bands gravitate to Cafe Mono, another of Oslo’s legendary live music venues, and for drinks, there’s Oslo Camping, where you can play a round of minigolf with your beer, and the superbly-named Den Gamle Skobutikken (The Old Shoe Shop), which serves killer cocktails. Best of all is HIMKOK, a renowned craft distillery and cocktail bar that’s pitched somewhere between a science lab and a speakeasy, and makes its own vodka, gin, and aquavit. It’s tricky to find, but then again, that’s all part of the fun.