Step aside, London and Paris. Move over Tokyo and Manhattan. There’s a new cultural capital on the map: Oslo. Granted, you can’t really call a nearly 967-year-old city “new” but with a recent boom in architecture and forward-thinking renovations of public space, it’s become the destination for those seeking sophisticated modern pleasures.
All eyes are on the waterfront. For the last decade, as part of a master plan reaching to 2020, Oslo has pumped money into transforming this once dour, industrial area into a glittering interconnected strand of inviting neighborhoods known as the Urban Fjord. The five-mile Havnepromenaden (Harbor Promenade) runs east to west like a ribbon tying the city together, with vivid orange markers guiding those who would like to follow the entire route.
One of the first finished areas was Sorenga, which boasts a public seawater pool and a lamplit tunnel that connects kayakers to the Akerselva River. Strolling down the promenade, you arrive at the new Barcode district, where shining ultramodern high-rises draw your gaze upward. Further along, the Aker Brigg Wharf is studded with cafes, boutiques, and a jetty rife with some of Oslo’s most acclaimed restaurants. One of the newest districts is Tjuvholmen, known for its romantic Venetian-style canals, and the Astrup Fearnley Museum, which has become a magnet for contemporary art lovers from across the globe.
The crown jewel of the waterfront remains the new Oslo Opera House. The 60-million-dollar beauty mixes gleaming glass with sloping white marble and granite ramps designed to mimic a glacier rising from the sea. Norwegians love strolling up the ramp-like surface all the way to the rooftop, where summertime begs for basking in the sunlight and taking in lovely views. It’s just one of the reasons the New York Times made Oslo one of the top places to visit in 2013, and called the city “ready to shine.”
Not all of Oslo’s treasures are new, of course. The Vigeland Sculpture Park is one of the great masterpieces of 20th-century culture in Oslo. The stunning outdoor collection of more than 200 granite, bronze, and wrought iron pieces is the largest sculpture park on earth by a single artist. Their creator, Gustav Vigeland, was considered a master in his own time: Back in the 1920s, the city agreed to build him a home, studio, and future museum. The result is the massive outdoor garden and a stunning indoor collection that Vigeland gifted to the city.
Perhaps Vigeland’s best known work, however, is his design for the Nobel Peace Prize medal. The Peace Prize is the only Nobel that is not awarded in Stockholm. The annual ceremony is a grand affair hosted at Rådhuset, Oslo’s City Hall, a modern-style building built in the mid-20th century. Yet its enormous clock face and carillon bell towers recall centuries-old European town halls, and the peal of the bells lends an especially timeless feel. True to Norway’s citizen-centered spirit, City Hall’s simple brick façade was meant to reflect the lives of ordinary Norwegian workers, while the stunning interior central hall is ablaze with color from the greatest Norwegian muralists and fresco artists.
With more treasures still in the making, Oslo feels like a thrilling hub of urban evolution. After nearly a millennium, travelers are finally taking notice: Oslo’s moment is now.