The perfect 10: Oslo is designed to please

The Norwegian capital is Scandinavian style central.

BEST BAR NONE: Mingle with politicians and ­actors in the stylish Dagligstuen, the bar of the Hotel Continental opposite the National Theatre. For more inventive cocktails, head to Torggata Botaniske, where clambering plants provide the decor. Sip a Pisco Pepper Party or Oslo Teselskap (tea party) flavoured with fresh herbs grown at the back of the bar. For more action head to nearby Tilt for a great range of craft beers, pinball machines, shuffleboard and retro video games — and do try the rhubarb beer.

TASTE TREATS: Arakataka offers international cuisine with a touch of the Middle East prepared with great care by attentive chefs. If busy, try the bar food menu; halibut and raw shrimps on a bed of Icelandic seaweed with Japanese flavours is delicious. Or head to the renowned Pjoltergeist, where a mix of Scandinavian, Icelandic and Korean dishes has become legendary among locals. Most popular are bacon chips, whale (I am assured it is legitimate), squid balls, langoustine, steam buns and Korean tacos. For Viennese-style surroundings, eat at Theatercafeen in the Hotel Continental; the coconut curry mussels are excellent. For a maritime experience, dine at Skur 33, an Italian seafood trattoria overlooking the harbour.

SET IN STONE: Visit Frognerparken to see the work of world-renowned sculptor Gustav Vigeland (1869-1943), disciple of Auguste Rodin. The central path leads to a footbridge lined with lithe and muscular bronze and granite figures. Beyond are more sculptures — a writhing mass of humanity clambers to the top of a tall obelisk; around the obelisk, couples chatter and toddlers tumble over adult limbs. Opposite the southern entrance is Vigeland Museum, formerly the sculptor’s studio and home.

HEAR THIS: Head to the National Gallery for the best of Norwegian art until after World War II. Isolated, romantic figures set in wild landscapes chart Norway’s growing sense of nationhood after splitting from Denmark in 1814 and gaining independence from Sweden in 1905. Many of Edvard Munch’s best works can be seen here, including The Scream, Madonna and The Sick Child. For more of Munch’s work, head to the Munch-Museet in East Oslo. Only a few of the thousands of paintings are put on display, usually alongside one other artist. The Astrup Fearnley contemporary art gallery opened in 2012 on the waterfront in Aker Brygge and here are Jeff Koons’s Michael Jackson and Bubbles alongside other international contemporary artists. But it is the building by Renzo Piano, resembling a wooden boat and suspended on jetties and rafts, that is the main attraction.

ARCHITECTURAL ACE: The contemporary rival to the Astrup Fearnley gallery is Oslo Opera House, designed by Oslo practice Snohetta. Take a picnic on to the glacier-like roof and watch the tides lap against Monica Bonvinci’s sculpture, She Lies, as it spins and twists in the fjord below. Dominating the harbour is the red brick twin-towered Oslo Town Hall, completed in 1950. Although not loved initially by Oslo citizens, this functionalist building has become a popular landmark on the city’s skyline. Figures from Norse mythology line the entrance and socialist realist frescoes decorate the halls. The interior of Oslo cathedral, with its painted ceiling and stained-glass windows by Emanuel Vigeland (Gustav’s brother) also impresses. Emanuel is responsible for one of Oslo’s best-kept secrets — his dark barrel-vaulted mausoleum decorated with frescoes of erotic figures depicting life and death.

THE PAST PRESERVED: Most impressive of the five museums on the Bygdoy Peninsula is the ­Viking Ships Museum, which houses three ninth-century vessels. The elegant Oseberg, discovered in 1904, is thought to be the burial ship of a Viking chieftain’s wife; the sturdier Gokstad, discovered in 1888, that of a chieftain. Nearby is the Norwegian Folk Museum, with its open-air collection of more than 150 reconstructed buildings, including the 13th-century Stave church. Take the ferry to Bygdoy from the town hall or the No 30 bus. In a 19th-century mansion, overlooking the Royal Palace Gardens, is the Ibsen Museum. Check out a tour of the apartment, now restored, where the playwright lived with his wife for the last 11 years of his life. Upstairs at The Nobel Peace Centre is a fascinating miniature electrical forest in which each electric stalk or tree represents the words and deeds of the winners — from Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela to Malala Yousafzai.

ISLAND LIFE: A short ferry ride from the city centre is the island of Hovedoya, where locals and visitors alike swim off shingle beaches on the south shore or walk through the woods. Opposite the ruins of a Cistercian monastery, built by English monks in the 12th century, is a seasonal cafe. There is no camping on the island. Further south, the island of Langoyene has both sandy and rocky beaches including one designated for nude bathing. Or just stay on the ferry for a 30-minute round trip. The ferry leaves from Radhus Brygge 4, behind the City Hall, hourly from 7.30am to 11.30pm late May to August but with a reduced timetable in other months.

BOOTS AND ALL: Take the train to Frognerseteren, five stops after Holmenkollen, the international ski jump. Enjoy the view over Oslofjord from the dragon-style cafe before hiking to Sognsvannet via Ullevalseter Lodge (9km) famous for homemade cakes. Trails around Frognerseteren are popular for cross-country skiing. Walk beside the Akerselva River, which runs from Maridalsvannet through Oslo centre and into Oslofjord. This industrial area is now considered as the green lung of the city. Refurbished factories house galleries, restaurants and the popular Mathallen food market. There are places to fish and swim and two waterfalls, the highest of which is next to Honse-Lovisas hus (small, red house), which sells excellent waffles. On Sundays, cross the river at Ingens Gate for a craft market noon to 5pm and a not to be missed Sunday night performance of the Frank Znort Quartet at Bla’s jazz cafe.

TOP TIPS: Avoid taxis from Oslo Gardermoen airport to Oslo Central Station. Instead, take Flytoget, which runs every 10 minutes, or a regional train that, at half the price, goes every half hour and takes two minutes longer. An Oslo Pass from the Oslo visitor centre near the railway station allows unlimited travel, entry to most museums and other discounts for 24, 48 and 72 hours. If you don’t intend to visit museums, buy a pass that covers only travel. A new version of the city bike has been rolled out for a period of three hours or three days. Pop into one of the arty cafes such as Hendrix Ibsen to pick up a free copy of Oslo, A Poor Man’s Connoisseur to Happy Living in One of the Most Expensive Cities in the World.




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