Let’s be honest here, when you think of drinking destinations, do you think Norway? I mean, sure, Scandinavia has always looked cool, they have a great word for “cheers,” and I have seen every episode of Vikings more than once (Clive Standen, will you marry me?). But I never thought I’d be leaving the U.S. for the first time in almost 3 years headed to Oslo. I had my eye on going back to Cognac, or Islay, or Oaxaca… Let me please write a travel guide centered around sunshine and mezcal! Alas, here I am with a winter coat over Easter weekend on my way to the land of aquavit to stay with my sister.
You see, my little sister is pretty amazing and was awarded a Fulbright grant for her art involving microplastics and beach trash in 2020. So, in 2022 she finally got to go work with specialists in Norway to continue her conservation and artistic endeavors. She volunteers with the Fjord Clean Up in Oslo, free diving to remove abandoned scooters, bikes, cell phones, and even a toilet from the waterways. Norwegians like to drink, you see, and things can escalate rather quickly… I have compiled a list of some the best places to drink and things to do in Oslo, but please, no matter how much you imbibe with the locals, don’t throw your scooter in the fjord, tusen takk.
Before You Go…
If you happen to be coming from the US and perhaps, an area that is not NYC, check out The Social Guidebook to Norway. Why did I specify outside NYC? Well, us New Yorkers give people space and mind our business. Unless it looks like someone needs something, we don’t randomly strike up conversations while waiting for things (like the train), and we know to wear shoes you can walk in. In Norway there is a saying “there is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing.”
WEAR GOOD SHOES, YOU WILL BE WALKING.
Yes, people are friendly and polite but no, don’t try to chat them up on the bus, it’s rude. It’s totally normal for them to leave their babies outside the cafe (yup, the babies sleep in the cold and like it). If you forget your phone somewhere, you’ll get it back. Seriously, this is a proven phenomenon. This is a society that takes care of one another. Everyone shares a mutual respect and obligation to those around them, even if it looks like they are ignoring you. They aren’t, they are just being polite.
Although my sister owns the aforementioned book, we neglected to do ample research on Easter. It is a huge holiday in Norway—many of the museums, restaurants, and shops close and many people leave the city and go to their cabins. This is also true for the month of July, most people have the month off, so maybe don’t visit then. Luckily, we were able to find some great places that were open and serving!
Check local holidays before you travel—grocery stores and the Vinmonopolet (the only store allowed to sell booze higher than 4.75% abv) will also close for holidays. Yes, you read that right, THERE IS ONLY ONE CHAIN OF LIQUOR STORES. They have a fantastic selection of wine, I found several from Brutal, a natural wine collective I fell in love with in Barcelona. The fabulous bar and restaurant there called Bar Brutal has its own labelings.
Don’t bother with cash
No one uses it. Get a travel credit card with no foreign fees. At bars, you can ask to add a tip when they present you with the card swiper. Then, you enter the final amount before they charge your card (check the decimal points, or ask for help).
Booze is expensive in Oslo and beer at bars is usually the price of cocktails, you’ve been warned. Staying with a Norwegian host? Maybe bring them some craft agave distillates or a bottle of bourbon, imports from our side of the Atlantic are expensive. I rolled in with mezcal and tequila minis, as well as a bottle of Havana Club 7 from duty free.
Side note: most places tend to use Facebook pages over websites.
Sometimes you wanna go…where everyone yells your sister’s name upon arrival. This was a new one for me, as I tend to be the barfly of the family. Albatross is a cozy joint with great cocktails and staff. It’s a favorite of my sister’s friend group, most of whom comprise the record label Die With Your Boots On. As a long time regular (and employee) of a bar named after a bird, I would totally become a regular here if I lived in Oslo.
I asked for Bartender’s Choice with aquavit and presented with an absolutely stunning celery sour with cracked pepper. There is no photo because it did not last long, my apologies. For my second cocktail, they shook me up a Naked And Famous—which made me smile since my sister and I both know Joaquin Simo, the man who created it for Death & Co in NYC.
Bars Named for Birds Not Your Thing?
The word translates to “moonshine” and it’s an appropriate name for the distillery and cocktail bar located behind a nondescript blue door bearing a snake entwined with the letter H. There are several bars located within the venue, you want to sit at the downstairs bar. Trust me. Bartenders in white coats expertly throw cocktails with finesse and ease. They should, they’ve won multiple awards and are on the World’s 50 Best Bars list.
Himkok is also recognized for their efforts in sustainability, over 80% of what they use is made or distilled in house. They make their menu from recycled plastic trash and each page is a work of art. I opted for the Beetroot, which was earthy and delicious; my sister had the Cloudberry, inspired by a local fruit, made using birch water. We also sampled some of their house aquavits: the sherry cask aged and the seaweed are not to be missed.
Sweat It Out
Floating saunas are everywhere along the fjord! You can reserve a private sauna for your group or take your chances with the public ones. The floating docks also are adorned with beanbags so you can sun yourself after a dip in the fjord. You can opt to slowly lower from a ladder or plunge from the roof of the sauna, full Viking mode. Up to you! This New Yorker did indeed take the plunge…gingerly…and then ran right back into the sweat lodge while my sister laughed at me.
After our most refreshing dip on a 45 degree day, we walked to the opera house (which was closed, because Easter), then attempted the Deichman Library (also closed for Easter) before arriving fifteen stories up at the Munch Museum. Everyone says the iconic view is from the roof of the opera house, but the museum towers over it and you can see the vast expanse of the city all the way to the mountains. From our advanced height, my sister spotted an abandoned scooter at the bottom of the fjord!
Once the sun finally comes out in Oslo, everyone races for an “utepils”, quite literally “outside beer”. We do this in NYC, only sub margaritas and less clothing because it’s warmer than 60° out. You can procure your utepils just about anywhere with a bar. Most of them have a few outside tables, some have full fledged patios. On the first nice day, you best believe those patios are BUMPING. Please note, while I’m using the phrase “nice sunny day”, that does not translate to t-shirt weather unless you happen to be Scandinavian. Bring a jacket.
Once you’ve had your utepils (you should note that if you order a “beer” anywhere, they will hand you a pilsner), maybe you want a little more beer variety. Head on down the stairs to Schouskjelleren Mikrobryggeri at the former Schou Brewery. Schou was the oldest Norwegian brewery when it shut down in 1981. The location now operates as a microbrewery and craft beer haven; it also features a funky selection of cider and mead.
High backed wooden booths line the sides of the stone domed basement, a cozy little fireplace sets the mood (there is no music) with beer selections listed proudly on chalkboards and Untappd. Tommy, the dude who runs the bar, is more than happy to talk you through them. There is also a nice variety of board games, should you feel competitive. My sister and I asked Tommy for two flights: a classic and something funky. Looking down at my labeled paddle, I knew immediately that the “pastry sour” was going to be divisive. So I did what all older siblings do: I made my sister try it first.
We had many favorites among our beer flights, and, truth be told, we could’ve spent way more time in that cozy basement and done some damage on those local meads. As it was, we were already running late for a Norwegian traditional dinner with friends: Taco Friday.
What is there to say about Taco Friday? I think you need to experience this for yourself and I don’t want to spoil any little second of it. I will, however, recommend that you divorce yourself from the definition of what is in a taco as you know it and how it is *usually* assembled. Most of The Crafty Cask team hails from areas with large Mexican populations, we are v familiar with tacos and these, well, these are not those tacos and that’s all I’m going to say. I also recommend you arrive with beer or wine.
Our Taco Friday experience involved natural wine, plenty of pilsner, aquavit, and a local cider:
Ring 3 Lovløs made from fallen apples. Does it seem like our libations ran the gamut? That is totally normal in Norway. My hosts kept asking what I was “drinking next” and they didn’t mean more of the same, mixing is the name of the game. Variety is the spice of life. Taco Friday.
Craving a creative twist on a burger? The newly opened Ugress in Torshov had some great options, including plenty of vegetarian alternatives and some seriously naughty truffle fries. They also whip up some tasty cocktails behind their airy bar and I really dug their beer list. The brown ale here was a delightful complement to the burger. With a deep nutty brown color and delicious caramel notes, it was suprisingly light and drinkable on it’s own.
There are many beautiful upscale restaurants in Oslo, many of them do tasting menus that look tantalizing. They are all quite pricey. There are some with Michelin Stars, there’s one on an island in the fjord you have to take a boat to, and heck, Marcus Samuelsson has even opened a place near the Munch Museum. I got pretty psyched looking at menus to pick one until I went to make a reservation…
All of them were closed for Easter.
You know what wasn’t shut down for Easter? The Inferno Metal Festival. Every year people flock to Oslo to “paint the town black” and thrash to metal for a weekend. It is, in fact, the largest metal festival in Norway. Knowing this now, my connecting flight from Iceland to Oslo makes total sense. Being from NY, my wardrobe is 85% black; I fit right in.
Also open during the Easter holidays, Oslo Street Food has something for everyone, coupled with a side of great people watching and DJs. My sister met a nice dog and, as two gals who grew up in Daytona going to Bike Week, we saw enough tattoos and leather to make us feel right at home. You order from your vendor of choice via an app and then collect your food and pick a seat. We went for Thai food with Utepils under the patio heaters, but the pasta made in a wheel of cheese was also really tempting.
If you’re looking to go Norway and party it up sans metal fest, you should plan a trip around their constitution day The 17th of May.
Feel like doing a little shopping? Head to Grünerløkka for my fave vintage pick Frøken Dianas Salonger. The area is full of great little shops and the beautiful thing about Norwegian fashion is that the items are made with the planet in mind.
Or, take a stroll through the Botanical Garden, which has a Scent Garden designed specifically for the blind and made accessible for individuals in wheelchairs.
You could always take a page from our travels and head on out to Huk on the Bygdøy peninsula. The Viking Museum on the way is closed for renovations, but the Norsk Folkemuseum is open and the cafe makes a mean carrot cake. Walk past it all and find yourself on the beach where my sister and I went nurdle hunting for her art…
A lovely path winds through the woods along the cliffs and on the way you’ll see a sign for a “Naturist Beach.” If you are a shy person, best to not cross that sign, my friend. If you’re a touch more freewheeling, take a stroll and maybe drop trou and dive on in! Yes, it was a brisk 48 degrees and, yes, there were plenty of lounging naturist locals the day we went. Norwegains are really cool with the cold. And nudity.
Even though Easter in Norway was an off time to visit, I really fell in love with Oslo. It was also nice to have a little quiet after coming from New York City. I was told several times that I must go back to experience it all, which could be possible due to a pretty rad new direct flight from JFK to Oslo that debuts this summer… bring on the aquavit! Tusen Takk to everyone who took me out and showed me a great time!
What are your favorite things to do in Oslo?
There’s certainly things I missed, especially given I was there over Easter. Let us know in the comments below! For more travel tips and all things craft alcohol, follow us on Instagram!
Jena is an event host & contributing writer for The Crafty Cask, as well as an award-winning bartender, cocktail educator, Cicerone Certified Beer Server, and Executive American Whiskey Steward. Based in NYC, Jena has been working in the craft alcohol world for the last 15 years with recipes appearing in Manhattan restaurant/bars & multiple publications. She is the 2019 Nikka Perfect Serve Global Runner Up and a 2020 Cognac Connection winner.