Oslo Opera House in the city's Bjrvika neighborhood.

Photographer: Wilfred Y. Wong/Getty Images

Forget Vienna, Oslo Is the European Cultural Capital to Visit Now

From world-class restaurants to cutting-edge museums, see the best of the Norwegian capital in three days.

Check into The Thief, a 118-room, canal-side property owned by Norwegian billionaire Petter Stordalen in Tjuvholmen. The hotel (rooms from $351; +47 2400 4000) joins a neighborhood that’s become an art world destination as part of the Fjord City urban renewal project on the Oslo waterfront.

The lobby at the Thief hotel in Oslo
Photographer: Mattias Hamrén

Next door, the Astrup Fearnley modern art museum (Strandpromenaden 2; +47 2293 6060) shows pieces by Jeff Koons, Damien Hirst, and, in February, Takashi Murakami, the artist’s first show in Scandinavia. Grab a Neapolitan espresso from Paradis Gelateria (Lille Stranden 4; +47 2283 8300), and explore Tjuvholmen’s booming experimental art scene with a visit to Galleri Haaken (Tjuvholmen allé 23; +47 2255 9197), where Norwegian rising-star painter Tone Indrebø is showing his whimsical landscapes this winter.

For dinner make reservations at the longtime Oslo favorite Maaemo. It’s just earned a third Michelin star for its 20-course dinners, which include langoustines with pickled spruce juice and Trondheim scallops with fermented honey ($280; +47 221 79 969). Its new spinoff, Kolonihagen, is a more casual alternative in a farmhouse-style space that serves reimagined Scandinavian fare such as fire-grilled reindeer.

From left: Interior of Maaemo and scallop cooked in its shell with celeriac
Photographer (from left): Bandar Abdul-Jauwad; Tukka Koski

Instead of hitting the slopes, start your day at the Holmenkollen Ski Museum, which is partly set inside the 1952 Olympic ski jump facility and home to a first-of-its-kind simulator that lets you tackle the world’s most difficult terrain via virtual reality. Smelteverket (Maridalsveien 17; +47 21 39 80 59), a gastropub with a huge selection of craft beers and a comically long communal table, makes an excellent lunch. Get the fårikål, a Norwegian mutton-and-cabbage casserole, with a bottle of Aass Bock dark lager from Drammen, a 30-minute trip outside the city.

Then head to The Well, Scandinavia’s biggest spa and bathhouse, to luxuriate in one of its 30 pools, saunas, steam baths, or cave showers (full-day passes from $60; +47 480 44 888). Afterward, visit Grand Hotel Oslo’s glamorous Palmen Restaurant (Karl Johans gate 31 - 0159; +47 23 21 20 00). Order the prawns and wild salmon, then get a nightcap at the hotel’s storied Grand Café. Once a haunt for Edvard Munch and Henrik Ibsen, it’s open again after a yearlong renovation.


The Astrup Fearnley Museum in Oslo
Photographer: Folio Images/Alamy Stock Photo/Alamy Stock Photo

Pay a visit to one of the world’s leading baristas, Tim Wendelboe, at his eponymous coffee shop in hip Grünerløkka, where he brews rare single-origin beans via AeroPress (Grünersgate 1; +47 4000 4062). Then gawk at the hypermodern architecture in the Bjørvika neighborhood on the waterfront. You can catch a matinee of Così Fan Tutte at the Oslo Opera House or just walk up the building’s angled, white marble roof, which doubles as a scenic lookout with dramatic fjord views (Kirsten Flagstads pl. 1; +47 2142 2121).

A room at The Thief hotel
Photographer: Jim Hensley

From there, sample Norwegian IPAs—and even Juleøl, a dark Christmas beer—at Grünerløkka Brygghus (Thorvald Meyers gate 30B; +47 966 22 831), a popular spot among young professionals. But save space for a seafood-centric dinner at The Thief’s Fru K, where Maaemo alum Johan Laursen puts the spotlight on sustainable fisheries (tasting menus from $107). The standout dish is Jølster trout in a cured ham sauce, topped with Finnish caviar, proof that this once-austere city has figured out how to indulge.

Karl Johans gate, the main street in Oslo
Photographer: Max Galli/Laif/Redux