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Oslo, City of Art and Design

The Thief Hotel, Oslo (Photo: Anne Banas)


From Viking ships to sustainable Vulkan living, Norwegian capital Oslo honors its cultural history and traditions but is forever pushing the boundaries as an urban hub. Where else can you can walk on the rooftop of an opera house or stay on a designer fjord-side island that was once crawling with thieves and scoundrels? With burgeoning neighborhoods, brand-new hotels and museums, and the anniversary celebration of a famous artist, art and design is ever on trend in Oslo.

Munch 150

There’s plenty to “scream” about in Oslo (in a good way), as 2013 marks the 150th anniversary of Edvard Munch’s birthday. Considered the father of modernism and expressionism, Munch is Norway’s most revered artist, and his best works—both famous and more obscure—are on display throughout the year. Go beyond The Scream, his most haunting and well-known masterpiece (of which there are several versions), and explore the landscape of the soul through his other paintings centered on angst-ridden themes like death and love. The celebration began in June at the Munch Museum and National Gallery and continues through December with special exhibits including “Masters Meet. Ibsen-Munch” and “Munch’s Mothers.”

Tjuvholmen Waterfront District

While the city has a history of artistic masters, its reputation for contemporary design is ever present today. Nowhere is this more true than Tjuvholmen, a trendy new borough on Oslo’s urban waterfront. Set on a peninsula (formerly called Thief Island), the neighborhood makes fjord-side living look better than ever. Once a hideout for unsavory characters in the 1800s, it’s now a haven for big-name architects (such as master planner Niels Torp) who continue to show off their talents though new museums, hotels, residential spaces, and even a manmade beach.

Walk over designer bridges into a car-free zone where water trickles softly through quiet canals and park benches angle perfectly toward evening sunsets and the harbor. A swift ride up to the top of The Sneak Peak, a glass lookout tower, leads to the best views of Oslofjord, and a stroll through Tjuvholmen Alle reveals some of the city’s best galleries, such as Galleri Brandstrup and London-based Stolper + Friends.

If you’re getting hungry, the adjacent Aker Brygge—a former shipyard now transformed into a buzzing seaside promenade with restaurants (many with outdoor seating), bars, and shops—is a few short steps away.

Astrup Fearnley Museum of Modern Art

One of the biggest draws to Tjuvholmen is the new Astrup Fearnley Museum of Modern Art, designed by architect Renzo Piano (of Centre Georges Pompidou fame). Opened in September 2012, the building itself is a work of art. Set on the edge of the peninsula on a sculpture park, two kite-like sections connect via bridges and appear to hover over the water. With an organic wooden feel, the construction allows for plenty of natural light and is integrated into the fjord; it’s not unusual to see kayakers paddling below.

Inside, the museum’s collection focuses on international artists. Find rotating and permanent exhibits with works such as Adam and Eve Exposed by artist Damien Hirst or his Mother and Child Divided, two cows split in two and suspended in see-through blocks.

The Thief Hotel

At The Thief, you just might want to steal away some of your precious vacation time and hole up indoors. Opened in January 2013, this sustainable art hotel, designed by Mellbye Architecture Interior, is perfectly positioned across from the Astrup Fearnley Museum and practically functions as its own gallery. Common areas are peppered with installations at every turn (some on loan from the museum), and each of the 118 rooms features bespoke artwork handpicked by the hotel’s own curator.

But form doesn’t necessarily come before function. Everything at The Thief is “smart” and appeals to your creature comforts: Radiant heat warms bathroom floors, separate bathtubs and rainforest showers offer convenience and relaxation, and a bedside console allows you to design your own lighting concept (while tucked comfortably under the sheets). In the evening, toss any extra oversized pillows onto the ultrasoft rug, then settle in to enjoy a turndown service of tea and shortbread, all while calming music—accompanied by video art—plays on the flat-screen TV (controlled by your very own Samsung tablet, of course).

Modern Gastronomy

In Oslo, even the food has a flair for design. And while much of the city’s cuisine errs on the modern-international side, preparations incorporate Norwegian and Scandinavian culinary traditions, and the use of local produce and fresh seafood is paramount. The presentations are exquisite, too.

New on the scene, Fru K (Mrs. K), located in The Thief, sources ingredients from within a few miles and emulates natural flavors from Executive Chef Kari Innera’s childhood on a farm. Sink into one of the contemporary dining room’s large, upholstered armchairs for simple but artfully styled dishes such as ramp soup with a poached egg or cauliflower three ways: grilled, cooked, and pureed.

At Tjuvholmen Sjomagasin, a seafood restaurant with its own market, the food is a visual feast above all else. While mains are fired up on a charcoal grill, other dishes get a bit of modernist manipulation (mango that’s been textured and rolled into goat cheese-filled “cannelloni”) or are purely conceptual (a dessert meant to represent “spring,” with praline “dirt,” a “snow dusting” of powdered frozen yogurt, and an herb standing in for an emerging seedling).

The one downside to dining in Oslo is the high price you pay for meals, so plan your budget wisely.

Other Designer Sights

When it comes to art and design, there’s so much to do in Oslo that you’ll need several days to see it all. And many of the attractions are relatively new. Built in 2008, the Oslo Opera House, with its walkable roof, is now a landmark building in the old harbor area. DogA, the Norwegian Center for Design and Architecture, was established in 2005, and Vulkan Oslo, a new neighborhood defined by sustainable architecture, aims to be completed by the end of 2013.

Can’t choose between art, architecture, and design? Oslo Escape Routes will help you decide, with walking tours focused on each. And if you’re planning to see multiple sights during your stay, the Oslo Pass offers free entry to most of the city’s museums and attractions, plus discounts at the opera.

Have a question for Anne about her trip to Oslo? Planning a trip yourself and need advice? Want to share your own Oslo experience? Leave a comment below!

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(Photos: Anne Banas; Astrup Fearnley Museum of Modern Art by Tjuvholmen KS)

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