On hearing my plans to visit Oslo, people reacted in one of two ways: “Oooh, it’ll be cold,” or: “Oooh, it’ll be expensive.” The Norwegian capital certainly has a longstanding reputation for exorbitant pricing, but despite this, part of me believed that all the stories about paying the thick end of a tenner for a solitary pint were exaggeration at best, pure fabrication at worst – like if your dad goes to London and claims to have shelled out £30 for a cheese and ham sandwich.
My whole travel aesthetic is generally somewhere between “Medieval cartographer” and “hipster columnist”, in that I love to a) obsessively pore over maps and b) identify the most obscure bars possible (“yeah this place is meant to be great, it’s at the bottom of a well, you have to bring your own drinks, there’s no music or light, you’ve got to crawl through caves for two hours to get out”). Yet I was unusually ill-prepared for Oslo, and consequently didn’t really know what to expect from the hometown of Expressionist painter Edvard Munch and A-ha frontman Morten Harket.
Had I done even a modicum of research, I would have stumbled across this article, which proclaims that Oslo is the most expensive place in the whole world to buy a beer in a local pub, at a blistering $9.90 (£7.35) per pint. In reality, that actually seems on the cheaper end of the spectrum;; throughout my two-night stay in the city, I rarely (if ever) paid less than £8 for a beer, and in some places it was considerably dearer.
I’m fortunate enough to have gotten inexpensively and embarrassingly drunk in some truly wonderful cities, from the Communist era bohemian bars of Budapest and Prague to the smoky Adriatic watering holes of Zadar and the legitimately cool drinking dens of Berlin. And yet – hot take alert – I can honestly say that despite bludgeoning you repeatedly and aggressively in the wallet, Oslo is one of my favourite ever pub crawl destinations. Here’s why…
1.Norwegians are just very cool
We drank in and around the former working class neighbourhood of Grünerløkka, a place routinely described as “the new Shoreditch” or “Oslo’s answer to Williamsburg” by people who care about such things (i.e. me). From experience, drinking in places like this is often not particularly fun, owing to the uneasy combination of unironic hipsters, stag and hen parties, and lots of alcohol. That just didn’t seem to be the case in Oslo, where literally every person in every bar was at least a million times cooler than me, but in an extremely understated way.
2. The stereotypical view of Norwegians is a tad unfair
Norwegians don’t have a great international reputation; the British journalist and sometime resident of Copenhagen Lisa Abend says that both Danes and Swedes view their near neighbours as “dull, backwoods hicks with an annoying amount of oil wealth”. It’s certainly true that we weren’t afforded a rapturous, Cheers-style reception every time we walked into a pub (indeed, in one place we asked if we could sit at the bar next to a small party of revelling Oslovians, only to receive a firm “no” in response), but by and large the people we met were friendly and only too willing to advise us on the next bar to visit. And they all look excellent in knitwear.
3. The bars are incredible
Every time we stepped foot in a new bar, I immediately proclaimed it to be my new favourite place. From tiny holes in the wall to cavernous, multi-room venues crammed full of old arcade machines and shuffleboard tables, the bars of Oslo are fantastic. Particularly worthy of attention are Peloton – which marries the twin Norwegian loves of cycling and laid-back drinking – and Cafe Sara, which I believe singlehandedly saved me from one of the worst hangovers of my life by soothing me with its candlelit ambience, hardwood-covered interior and heated, fairy light-adorned smoking area.
4. Believe it or not, Norwegians really know how to cut loose
Most places we visited were extremely cool in a low-key, chilled-out kind of way. That all changed when we crossed the threshold at Blå, a Grünerløkka nightclub that resembled the last days of Caligula set to a grime soundtrack. It was more or less the exact opposite of what I expected from an Oslo nightclub and I can’t recommend it strongly enough.
Top tips for visiting Oslo
If this paean to the place nicknamed the City of Tigers has piqued your interest, heed the following advice:
- Get an apartment just outside Grünerløkka: You’ll definitely want to spend plenty of time in the coffee shops, bars and parks of Grünerløkka, but the area’s trendy credentials make it all but impossible to find a decently priced Airbnb. We stayed on the nearby street of Torggata, which has plenty of nightlife of its own but isn’t (quite) as expensive.
- Do plenty of walking: A stroll through the beautiful streets of Oslo is well worth braving the cold for – particularly as it’s pretty much the only activity that won’t cost you a sizeable wedge of kroner. Seek out the River Akerselva, alongside which you’ll find some gorgeous parklands and walking trails (plus the obligatory bars, restaurants and coffee shops if you need a break).
- Visit the Munch Museum: Norway’s best-known artist lived in numerous spots around Grünerløkka, and the museum dedicated to his work is just a short stroll away on Tøyengata. Admission will only set you back a tenner (which, I can assure you, is an absolute bargain by Norwegian standards), and it’s home to more than half of Munch’s paintings. Well worth a visit – plus the coffee shop does a mean flat white.