Oslo is rapidly ascending the list of destinations for cultural and design-minded visitors. The enormous National Museum – currently home to a playful Laure Prouvost installation – opened in June 2022, less than a year after the newly relocated Munchmuseet, home to a top-floor cocktail bar that offers views onto the Snøhetta-designed, glacier-like opera house, towards the sculpture-filled Ekebergparken, and across the Oslofjord – the shoreline of which is home to the sublime modernist Henie Onstad Art Centre.
Beyond the visual arts, design saturates the city, and can be experienced throughout the culinary and cocktail scene; with emerging sustainable fashion designers; and as ever in the quality of Scandinavian furniture and products.
Regular Wallpaper* contributor Will Jennings stayed at The Thief, next door to and borrowing art from the Astrup Fearnley Museum; an Antony Gormley sculpture greets visitors at the entrance, a Richard Prince hangs in the lobby, and even more exquisite art is spread throughout the hotel’s corridors and bedrooms.
Oslo tour: our design-led guide to the city
The Thief spa
The Thief has its own spa in an adjacent building on the Tjuvholmen peninsula, though guests at the hotel have their own private passage to avoid going outside – a glass lift connecting the hotel to an atmospheric underground corridor that emerges into the spa complex. Once there, relax into your preferred treatment or massage, or simply luxuriate in the pool, sensorial showers, steam rooms and sauna – I had a facial treatment with ZO Skin Health products, deeply cleansing then exfoliating with magnesium crystals, before oils and creams were massaged in to replenish the skin. With a new face, I retired to the spa, flitting between hot and cold, refreshing myself ahead of the city to come.
thethief.com (opens in new tab)
Fully revitalised, I headed to a cocktail bar bedecked in plants and foliage. Not only does nature hang from the ceiling and walls, turning the space into a floral grotto, but it also finds its way into the menu. I started with a Torgatta Botanical in a Bottle, fusing mint, lemongrass, and a lemony rum which felt like a naughty smoothie. The Fig Old Fashioned which followed was a stronger, more robust taste of the natural world. Described as ‘a classic served with a botanical twist’, the fig was warming and deeply boozy, perfect preparation for the chilly walk back to the hotel.
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Lulu is a restaurant with trust instead of a menu. No excruciating dilemma of what to choose from a dish list that all sounds too delicious to pick from, here the chefs take ownership, presenting a series of seasonal small plates based on whatever culinary ideas they have brewing. The salty horseradish oil which drenched the scallops of my first plate was so delicious I had to down what was left. As I sat at the bar watching the chef create the next dish, hake ceviche with crunchy plantain crisps, he struck up conversation and told me it was ‘a tribute to Japanese influence in Latin America’, a theme underpinning Lulu’s creations. After that, the sublime mussels on top of a mussel butter-soaked Japanese milk bread, topped with pickled fennel and mussel purée, left me a mussel fan – and wanting to return for more.
lulu.no (opens in new tab)
F5 concept store
Three creative brothers – Emil, Benjamin and Alexander Krystada – are behind this store, created not only to sell their own brand of sustainable designer clothing, but also to support other local designers of their generation including ILAG and IBEN. It’s a small but carefully formed shop with a curated range of woollen, woven and crafted fashion, hung and sat on display furniture the brothers personally designed through F5 Agency, the interior and furniture element of their creative ecosystem which also publishes a magazine to showcase Norwegian creative talent.
f5conceptstore.com (opens in new tab)
Alessandro D’Orazio and Jannicke Kråkvik created Kollekted By to offer the public a curated mix of the design, furniture and products used in their interior styling business, Kråkvik&D’Orazio. They have created a sequence of rooms reflecting domestic spaces, fitted out to offer the latest and highest-quality designs for your home, including statement Swedish Fogia ‘Bond’ shelving, Japanese Hasami Porcelain, Italian Lumina lights, and a whole range of Frama (opens in new tab) products from delicate scents to the massive marble and cork ‘Sintra’ (opens in new tab) dining table. The owners also support the design ecosystem and emerging designers – I was shown around by Bjørn van den Berg, an Oslo designer previously selected by Wallpaper* as one to watch, and who has pieces for sale in the store.
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Tone Dalen used to curate art for cruise ships and corporate environments before deciding to follow her heart and set up Inventarium, a tiny and delightfully eclectic vintage shop just a short walk from Kollekted By, but with an entirely different browsing experience – though no less artfully curated. Dalen spends her free time tracking auctions and attending sales to find a unique range of lighting, posters, decorative arts and design to resell at affordable prices. In summer months, the shop spills into the street, but if you can’t make it along in person, you can browse the everchanging offer online.
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While digging foundations for the Barcode development adjacent to Oslo Opera House, builders encountered the buried remains of a 400-year-old cargo boat. Called Vaaghals (which means ‘daredevil’), it lent its name to this Michelin-listed restaurant, the first restaurant to open in the design-led district, and which has been packed daily since. Head chef Christer Rødseth (who has become something of a celebrity, regularly appearing on Norwegian TV) presides over unpretentiously refined seasonal dishes, generous in size and perfect for sharing. Something as simple as a chunk of cabbage transforms with pan-fried barley and BBQ sauce. A chicken salad elevated with Jerusalem artichoke crisps and Haukeli goat cheese. And a pan-fried turbot with oxtail ragu was a welcome twist on surf and turf. You may even just want the homemade bread with chicken liver pâté and rich, salty butter, which I could have eaten all day long. The restaurant is immaculately refined with an interior by Radius Design, which softens the glass and steel shell through natural wood and warm lighting, while a wine-laden staircase leads guests to the first-floor views towards the fjord.
vaaghals.com (opens in new tab)
Himkok is a perfect place to finish your Oslo trip. An understated speakeasy setting with an in-house distillery (viewable from the bar) used to create gin, vodka and Scandinavian spirit aquavit, all of which fuel its unique cocktail selection. I started with a drink called Bun which had – floating on top of bourbon, Cocchi Americano and sherry – an actual waffle-mix-and-coconut bun. It’s a play on a treat familiar to all Norwegians who once took one to school daily, though this version was altogether boozier and more grown-up. The Smokey Beetroot which followed was equally as intriguing – a beetroot distillate (created in-house) mixed with mezcal, sherry and a reindeer lichen wine reduction combined into a flavour the likes of which I’d never had before. That last ingredient, formed from a kind of moss, illustrates an experimental playfulness that is imagined in a small room at the top of the Himkok building, where state-of-the-art scientific equipment concocts new flavours from the most unlikely sources.
himkok.no (opens in new tab)
Will Jennings is a writer, educator and artist based in London and is a regular contributor to Wallpaper*. Will is interested in how arts and architectures intersect and is editor of online arts and architecture writing platform recessed.space and director of the charity Hypha Studios, as well as a member of the Association of International Art Critics.
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