Find your own winter wonderland in Oslo
PUBLISHED: 14:35 03 December 2015 | UPDATED: 11:54 15 December 2015
Close your eyes and imagine a perfect Christmas scene. If it features pine trees, log fires and a smattering of snow then Norway is the perfect festive getaway for you.
The capital Olso is just a two-hour flight from London, and is surrounded by calm water and fir-tree-covered mountains. If that sounds magical, you won’t be surprised to hear that the castle inspired the Disney film Frozen.
The Scandinavians take Christmas very seriously, and their favourite festive family destination is Hadelund Glassverk, an hour out of the city. This picturesque village was founded in 1762 as a glassworks, and from mid-November it transforms into a Christmas wonderland.
Skilled craftsmen still make glass the traditional way there today – and they’ll even let you have a go! Although it’s quite daunting to be presented with a glowing blob of molten sand, the friendly glassworkers make it easy, and you can make a truly memorable keepsake to take home.
As well as glassblowing, you can stock up on Christmas decorations and gifts, send the children off on a sleigh ride, and sample the traditional caramelised almonds – or ‘brentemandler’ – they make on-site.
You can even enjoy a traditional Norwegian Christmas dinner on the charming restaurant overlooking the lake. Forget turkey, though: in Norway, they tuck into pork belly and meatballs served with boiled potatoes served with sauerkraut and prunes, followed by riskrem – a kind of rice pudding served with a red berry sauce.
The perfect base for a snowy Christmas getaway is the mountaintop hotel Lysebu. With spectacular views over Oslo, it’s just a short Metro ride into the city. This chic yet cosy hotel won ‘Luxury traditional hotel of the year 2014’ at the Luxury Hotel Awards, and it’s easy to see why.
Surrounded by pine forests and nestled next to ski slopes, Lysebu feels like a Christmas card – and for 21 Christmases, artist Jette Frölich has been responsible for decorating it with her fairytale ornaments. Her festive creations have even adorned the tree in Harrods, and you can treat your tree to her baubles in Lysebu’s dedicated Christmas shop.
Don’t be put off Oslo if you’re a complete Scrooge, though. This multi-facetted city has something for everyone.
Nature-lovers can head out into the surrounding forest, whilst shopoholics will love the Aker Brygge mall in trendy Tjuvholmen. Forget cavernous shopping centres like Westfield; Aker Brygge feels as if someone took a street of classy boutiques and put them indoors.
While you’re in Tjuvholmen, take a peek in The Thief hotel. It has the highest insurance premiums of any hotel in the world – because it hosts an achingly cool modern art collection which visitors are more than welcome to look around. And whilst you’re there, you really should sample one of the fun cocktails in the downstairs bar. The signature drink comes served in a giant copper pineapple…
Art lovers should also check out the Munch Museum, dedicated to the painter of The Scream and Norway’s most famous artist. If you want to get out in the fresh air, you might prefer the Vigeland Sculpture Park. Built by Munch’s friend-turned rival, it combines stunning statues with beautiful scenery.
As with London, the coolest areas are in the east. Vulkan and Grünerløkka are where the young creative types hang out - and the best places to experience Oslo’s nightlife. Crowbar on Torgatta is the place to go if you love craft beer. Continuing the hipster theme (yes, they have the word ‘hipster’ in Norway!) Markveien is a great street to explore vintage clothes shops, and caffeine addicts need to visit Wendelboe.
Good to know
Norwegian Air flies from London Gatwick several times a day and prices start from £44.90 one way.
The easiest way to get from the airport to central Oslo is the Airport Express train. It takes just 19 minutes and costs 180 NOK - about £14. There’s no need to prebook - you can just swipe your contactless credit card at the gate.
Although Oslo is small enough to walk around, the Oslo pass is a must. Not only does it get you unlimited public transport in the city, it also gets you free entry to most attractions and museums, and discounts at some restaurants too.
For everything else you need to know, Visit Oslo has a wealth of information about the city.
This coffee shop and roastery is known as the best in Oslo, but it’s very different to your average London café. For a start, it has just two tables because Norwegians prefer to stand while they drink their brew.
Barista Ben said: “We keep the shop small so we can focus on coffee.” It’s a successful formula; they even send coffee to Prufrock Coffee on Leather Lane. Just don’t expect a flat white: Norwegians take their coffee black, and served at a low temperature so they can appreciate the complicated flavours better. Coffee snobs will love it, but Starbucks fans might want to go somewhere else.
Norway might seem like an unlikely foodie destination, but countryman Ørjan Johanessen won the Bocuse d’Or last year – a competition to find the world’s best chef. But you won’t find him in the kitchen of an expensive restaurant. The culinary star works at Mathallen, a unique ‘food court’ in Vulkan that houses both his Hitchhiker restaurant and a market that sells the finest ingredients. It’s a great place to eat and shop, with everything from sushi to beer to fresh pasta on offer.
With something for all tastes, Mathallen is a bit like Oslo itself. The city could be your winter wonderland, or a great escape if you can’t stand tinsel!