Three days ago the New York Times was offering its readers a tour of all the amazing things one can do in 36 hours in Oslo. It says that “The Norwegian capital is filled with art and stunning architecture, but nature, too, is an integral part of urban life”. Is that enough to make Oslo the coolest city of Scandinavia? Let’s see what the city has to offer.
When I moved to Oslo in 2010 it did not feel that beautiful, with its construction work almost all over the place. I had just been living one year in Copenhagen, which felt much more inspiring. I remember cycling in the middle of the night, coming home from a party, with snow flakes falling on my face and passing by swans silently swimming in the many lakes the city counts. Copenhagen is definitely a tough one to beat in terms of coolness. Danes are known for their more liberal alcohol regulations, great bicycle lanes and hyggelige cafés. Stockholm is also hard to beat, with its edgy fashion, its archipelago in front of the city and its exciting night life.
But Oslo is the fastest growing capital city in Europe, and it shows. The ugly construction work has metamorphosed the city in a beautiful butterfly (best to come is when everything will be done in 2020), and has everything one needs and more. More museums, more cafés, more people, more start ups and more good restaurants. But the heart of Oslo lies in how Norwegian people organise their daily lives. Basic principles of Norwegian society are reflected in the way they made transformed their capital city: equality is key, and led to accessible and free or cheap culture, functionality and effectiveness are reflected in lots of public transportation. Climate-friendly, with the best climate budget for Oslo in 2019.
But what does this mean in practice? Let me ask you, where else in Scandinavia or even in the world can you:
- A public library in front of a fjord
In Oslo from 2020 you will be able to access a 13,000 m2 library with free internet, books and temporary art and hop for a swim in the fjord across the street.
The Deichman Library is being constructed in Bjørvika, just across the street from the Opera House as well as from an area where one will be able to swim in the fjord. Now this library is not just any library. Its front will be partly transparent, and it will be embracing a modern take on culture. The building is made to cut 50% of greenhouse gas emissions compared to a regular building, and is over 5 floors with unbelievable view on the fjord and its islands.
2. A city in nature, rather than nature in the city.
In Oslo forests, fjords and skiing slopes are all free, all accessible in less than 20 minutes from the city centre.
No offence to Denmark, but their highest peak at 170 m above sea level or the cute Amager beaches or even the many Swedish lakes cannot compete with the nature surrounding Oslo: the fjord, the forest, the mountains. All of it is very highly accessible, mostly because work-life balance is extremely important to Norwegians, as well as something they call friluftsliv, an outdoor philosophy. This means that Norwegians find it completely natural to work all day in their office, and pop a pair of skis on their feet to enjoy the snow all evening. Or take a boat for 15 minutes in the summer and grill some food and bathe all evening on the islands in front of the city in the fjord.
In Oslo nature is not accessible from the city, because the city is rather a guest in nature, where forests account for more than half of the municipality of Oslo (63% to be precise).
3. Waterfalls in the middle of the city.
The first time a friend gave me a meeting spot “the waterfalls” I thought she had made a mistake. “We are talking about meeting in the city, right?”. Yes we were. Meeting right here, by Mølla.
Akerselva is a river sailing across the city. Walking up the river, you will see not only waterfalls at the level of Mølla, with lighting effects in the winter evenings, but also many very cute cafés, from Blå to Månefisken, an art school, and a river shore which is great to run on. Here is the famous café Blå where one can enjoy free jazz concerts every Sunday afternoon.
4. Public buses running on the inhabitants own compost.
Climate change is real, and Oslo is tackling the issue. This is not just about city bikes, but also about Oslo has been elected European Green Capital for 2019. Oslo’s goal is to reduce its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to 36% below 1990 levels (the year the Kyoto Climate Protocol came into force and thus a widely-used base year) by 2020. These are not just political promises which won’t be kept, they are backed up by an climate and energy budget with measurable and realistic targets and how they will be put into place.
What does it mean in practice? Public transportation running on compost which is basically scraps of our food collected by the municipality and turned into fuel, with an aim at a zero emissions public transportation by 2020, aiming at less cars in the city centre, 5% increase in public transportation and much more.
Mark Watts says that “There is no other major city where the mayor has set such an ambitious near-term goal that they will be personally mandated to deliver. By 2030 the goal is to have cut emissions by 95% from 1990s levels, which again is off the scale of most cities’ aspirations”.
5. A national opera with a fjord view with tickets as low as 9 Euros?
Yes, Oslo offers cheap or even free entertainment and access to culture. I know what you are thinking: what on Earth is she talking about? Oslo is super-expensive. Sure, a sandwich is expensive. But you can get access to culture and entertainment for cheap or even for free. The new buildings and recreation areas such as the Opera House (roof accessible for free at anytime, and tickets to see a world-class show from 9 euros), Sørenga (“beach” made of wood which is free to access), islands in the Oslo fjord (accessible by boat included in a regular city bus ticket). Many more museums are being built right now in Oslo, such as the National Museum and the Munch Museum. You can already enjoy a coffee and fantastic exhibitions at Astrup Fearnley Museum on the fjord. All this is putting Oslo on the map in terms of culture and art.
6. All the koselig and Viking vibes (and food, and cafés) of the Norwegian culture.
Norwegians are not just modern, forward thinking and climate-friendly. They also like old stuff such as Viking ships which one can see at Viking ship museum in Bygdøy, Oslo; and walking around the city you will be surprised by small typical Norwegian wooden houses with lots of colours.
There are so many old and new cool places to hang out, from Litteraturhuset, to Kulturhuset to write in peace. Botaniske for an amazing cocktail, Peloton for a laid back meeting, Egget café for a nice brunch, Dattera til hagen for a chill Summer night, and the new hip food hall Vippa with its view on the fjord and its amazing variety of foods and beers.
So is Oslo becoming the coolest capital city in Scandinavia? Absolutely. Just like Norwegian society and culture, its capital city is practical, down to earth, yet offering everything you need and more. Oslo offers, as the New York Times points out, fantastic architecture combined with forests and accessible nature. Living in Oslo is like getting the best of both worlds: you are in a capital city with everything attached, from an opera, a national theatre, world class museums combined to the feeling of feeling in a small place with such an accessible fjord, forests and even ski slopes. So, what are you waiting for to visit Oslo?
PS: I have not been paid to say all these nice things about Oslo. I do not own the rights to the pictures either, hoping Visit Oslo won’t be too difficult with me using their pictures 🙂