Oslo has a spring in its step these days. The city is enjoying a prominent role in the books of Jo Nesbo, the latest Scandinavian crime author to top the bestseller lists.
His latest, The Leopard, was published here in January, and Working Title Films has snapped up the screen rights to The Snowman, which was hailed as one of last year's best crime novels. As Nesbo's books highlight, Oslo is a city in transition with two new areas under development – Bjorvika and Tjuvholmen – which are creating a buzz with their sleek, modern design and emphasis on contemporary art and innovative restaurants.
While oil money transformed Norway's fortunes, its restaurants and cultural scene were a bit slower to develop. In recent years, however, openness to outside influences has brought a more sophisticated feel. Oslo's chefs now do exciting things with reindeer and cloudberries, and the number of Michelin-starred restaurants has increased. Numerous festivals and quirky venues, such as Sukkerbiten (see below), have created a thriving music scene.
As dark, winter days give way to spring, it's time for shore-side picnics, boating on the fjord and people-watching over a cold beer in the waterfront Aker Brygge neighbourhood. Oslo sits at the inner end of the pretty Oslo fjord, and is flanked by the green hills of Oslomarka. For a capital, it has an impressive amount of green spaces and the locals know how to make the most of it.
A walk along Karl Johan.
Henrik Ibsen took a daily stroll to Grand Café (grand.no) on Karl Johan, Oslo's main street, and so should you. After sampling the cakes, take in the city's major sights: walk over to Parliament (stortinget.no), an imposing yellow brick and granite building from 1866. Then go past the University (uio.no) and the National Theatre (national theatret.no) and on to the Royal Palace (kongehuset.no) to watch the changing of the guards.
A boat trip to Bygdoy.
Take the harbour taxi (boatsightseeing.com) from City Hall to the Bygdoy peninsula with its quartet of maritime museums: the Fram Museum (frammuseum.no); the Kon-Tiki Museum (kon-tiki.no); Norwegian Maritime Museum (marmuseum.no); and the Viking Ship Museum (khm.uio.no/ vikingskipshuset). This last museum's ships achieved the astounding feat of reaching Newfoundland.
The Munch Museum (munch.museum.no).
Dedicated to the artist Edvard Munch, it features an extensive collection of works expressing his unique take on angst and agony. His famous Scream is in Oslo's National Gallery.
A walk on the sunny side.
Start with a quayside drink at one of the many bars and restaurants at Aker Brygge, before seeing the medieval Akershus fortress and castle (forsvarsbygg.no). Finish with dinner at Solsiden seafood restaurant (solsiden.no) while watching the sun set on the fjord.
Nesbo's Inspector Hole bemoans the loss of the old dance hall overlooking Bjorvika, but the rest of us can celebrate the elegant restoration. The seasonal fine-dining veranda reopens in May and is one of Oslo's best foodie experiences.
Henie Onstad Art Centre (hok.no).
Norway's largest collection of contemporary art. The centre enjoys a spectacular setting on a strip of land jutting into the fjord six miles outside Oslo.
The extensive redevelopment of what was once a derelict harbour area dominated by a motorway started in 2008 with the construction of Oslo Opera House (operaen.no). Three years on, you can survey new additions from the opera roof: there's the minimalist new walkway spanning the railway into the Gronland area that opened last weekend; the Kunsthall Oslo (kunsthall oslo.no) in Project Barcode is the first of many planned galleries to open; and Monica Bonvici's sculpture She Lies floats in the harbour like a giant iceberg of glass and steel. The Barcode is a new row of high-rise buildings, which takes inspiration from ice and glaciers, and will eventually host a range of boutiques and restaurants. It will be hard to beat Brasserie Sanguine (brasseriesanguine.no) by the opera, however. Facing the fjord and the new harbour promenade, it serves excellent food with a stunning backdrop.
Oslo's lofty landmark created headlines in the male-dominated world of ski jumping last year when a female jumper was given the honour of making the first official jump. Construction is now complete on turning Holmenkollen into the world's most modern ski jump, including the new Jump Tower, which offers 360-degree views to Oslo and its surrounds. Equally impressive, and terrifying, is the view the jumper faces. Feel the head rush in the tower before descending to the ski museum and the ski-jumping simulator to complete the experience. Details: holmenkollen.com
Consider Oslo's changing skyline over a drink and a bite to eat at the aptly named Sukkerbiten, or Sugarcube, a cube-shaped bar, eatery and meeting place for the trendy crowd. This seasonal bar will be erected on the grass-covered concrete island connected to the opera house by a narrow walkway. It is the brainchild of the clever people behind the annual Oya music festival in the medieval park (9 to 13 August), which this year features Kanye West and Fleet Foxes. Details: sukkerbiten.no, oyafestivalen.com
Ari Behn, now Princess Martha Louise's husband, caused a stir when he was thrown out for climbing on to the orchestra balcony in this Viennese-style café which has been a Norwegian institution and a favourite with Oslo's jet set for more than 100 years. A costly renovation has now been completed, cementing its position as the place to be seen. The high-domed ceiling has been restored to its former glory and a new bar area allows you to people-watch over a drink or a light bite. Portraits of famous patrons line the walls, and the lively and welcoming atmosphere is the best in town. Details: theatercafeen.no
Oslo's sculpture park (vigeland.museum .no) has always been a favourite with picnickers and walkers (and vandals – Sinnataggen is Oslo's most suffering statue, having endured theft, spray-painting and hacked-off limbs). The park is now the setting for the world's first iPhone game to combine fantasy and digital animation with actual surroundings. The Hidden Park – Soul of the Stone is a free app created for young families. Players must move around the park while solving puzzles and interacting with statues, one of which has a soul in need of saving.
Harald Weie, Economist
Visit Olympen, an old watering hole in Oslo's East End hidden among kebab shops and cheap hairdresser's salons. It's been transformed into an aesthetic and culinary experience with reasonably priced food and an excellent choice of Norwegian beers."
How to get there
Norwegian Airshuttle (00 47 214 90 015, norwegian.no) flies from Gatwick to Oslo from £76. First Hotel Grims Grenka (00 47 23 10 72 00, firsthotels.com), behind the Akershus fortress, is Oslo's first design hotel. Double rooms start at £174 per night.
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