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It’s too cold. It’s too dark (at least from October until March, and then it’s too light). It’s really too expensive. When it comes to Oslo, and Norway in general, you could state all of the above and not be wrong. But Norway is also the happiest country in the world (and the most lustful) and its capital city is starting to get recognised for the cool, cultural hub it has become. Here’s why you should ignore the haters, aka anyone who complains about the weather, and call Oslo your home… at least for a while.
Don’t get us wrong, Oslo has been around since 1,000 CE. But a fire burned the city in 1624, so it practically had to be rebuilt – with the Akershus fortress as the only medieval building standing until today. So while Stockholm has its Gamla Stan which can make you feel like you’re in a living, breathing museum, Oslo is pretty much a work in progress: cranes keep appearing, the architecture keeps evolving, the skyline keeps changing. Neighborhoods that used to be semi-abandoned are becoming hip. More bars and restaurants are opening every year. In the midst of it all, creative endeavors like SALT, a nomadic festival that combines art and music with sauna culture, feel right at home in Oslo’s current state of awakening.
If you’ve read any Jo Nesbø novels, or seen the latest film adaptation of Snowman, you know Oslo (and Bergen) is as much the protagonist of the books as Harry Hole. If you want to emulate your favorite detective, all you have to do is retrace his steps around the city – and you can start by visiting the police station where he works in the books.
There’s no way to sugarcoat this: Oslo is an expensive city. This can be felt in everything, from buying groceries (Norwegians will famously go to Sweden for grocery shopping from time to time) and shopping for clothes to going out for dinner or drinks. But because of that, you’ll learn to be more aware about the money you spend and precisely where you spend it. You’ll start saving by shopping in flea markets and thrift stores and splurging on activities that actually bring you joy. And at the end of the day, you’ll feel more rich that way.
The fjords, the forests, the archipelagos… it’s no secret that Norway is one of the most beautiful places in the world. And it may be a huge country, but Oslo is the best base of operations for you to explore it. Thanks to the city’s airport, and also to its extensive network of trains, ferries and buses, you can catch all the stunning views from places like Trolltunga or Preikestolen, venture beyond the Arctic Circle for polar bears and the Northern Lights, or even cross the border to Sweden in just an hour and a half. There are some beautiful sights over there as well.
You may have heard the famous Norwegian motto: There is no such thing as bad weather; only bad clothes. Indeed, Norwegians approach clothing in a sensible, utilitarian way – they kind of have to, otherwise they won’t be able to walk outside for half the year with all that snow. In the beginning, once you get the walking-on-ice part down pat, it will be challenging to stay true to your fashion sense when the temperatures drop to minus 40 degrees Celsius. But it is not impossible. If anything, the past few years have marked an impressive uptick in the Nordic fashion scene, with fashion bloggers and social media influencers leading the way. Trust Osloites to teach you how to be warm, and look cool while doing it.
Alcohol in Norway (anything stronger than 4.7%) is regulated by the state, and only sold through state-run vinmonopolet shops. And although there are vinmonopolet establishments in almost every neighborhood in Oslo (you can find the one closest to you online), you’ll have to be aware of their opening hours – they close early on weekday afternoons, super early on Saturdays and they’re closed on Sundays. This inability to access alcohol at all times has created strange drinking habits, with Norwegians traditionally passing on alcohol during weekdays and binge-drinking every Friday and Saturday night. Whether you will join them on that liver-destroying quest or not is up to you, but one thing’s for certain: after a while, having a glass of wine with dinner on a Monday night will start feeling less like something you would do without a second thought, and more like a luxury. And that can only be a good thing.
Norwegians are very active – again, they kind of have to be. Skiing, hiking and ice-skating are things that are ingrained in them from an early age, as they have to be able to navigate the snow and also explore the outdoors when the weather finally permits it. And although you may never master slalom or cross-country skiing, after spending some time in Oslo you’ll realise you’re in better shape than ever. You can thank the many parks here that are perfect for running, or even walking. Or the fact that most flats don’t have elevators, so you’ll be taking the stairs a lot. Or your Norwegian friends, who will always want to take you hiking somewhere. After you’re done giving thanks, you’ll realise that your time in Oslo has turned you into a healthier, fitter and probably more relaxed version of yourself. You’re welcome.