Eight ways to experience Norwegian culture in Oslo

An alley covered in grafitti and street art.

Don’t let Oslo’s space-age architecture fool you - Norway, while by most measures a very modern country, has a rich culture rooted in traditions.

Many of the activities most loved by Norwegian people centre around being outdoors, spending time with friends, and enjoying the local cuisine. Here are some ways to spend your free time like the locals do.

1. Take a hike in Oslo’s forests, Oslomarka

Part of what makes Oslo special is its proximity to wild forests that are easily accessible from the city centre. On weekends and even at the end of the workday, locals often walk, bike, ski, or ride the subway into the wilderness to reconnect with nature.

Dotted throughout the network of trails are a few simple cafés where you can stop for a coffee and a snack. Norway also has a unique law called "allemannsrett" that allows camping anywhere in the forest, which can make for a fun and inexpensive weekend getaway. 

Two women jogging in the forest

If you’re taking public transit, some of the most accessible hiking spots are: Sognsvann (a beautiful lake with trails perfect for walking and hiking), and Grefsenkollen (trails through the forest and a panoramic view of the city). For tips in English to help you find a great hiking spot, check out the Outtt app and website.

 2. Grill your dinner in the park

On warm, sunny days, young people flock to the city’s many parks to meet with friends and enjoy a casual dinner outdoors. For a special kind of Norwegian al fresco, bring a small grill and a pack of hot dogs or any other grillmat (grill-friendly food) of choice. 

Some popular picnic spots among locals include St. Hanshaugen Park, Birkelunden square in Grünerløkka, and Torshovparken. However, most parks in Oslo will serve as a great setting for a scenic, urban outdoor meal, and you’ll soon find your local favourite. 

3. Give cross-country skiing a try

Cross-country skiing isn’t just a popular sport in Norway - it's something of a national obsession. There’s even a saying that Norwegians are “born with skis on their feet.” But don’t worry - anyone can ski! It’s a great way to exercise and experience the picturesque Norwegian landscapes, all while soaking up the local culture.

If you really want to pass for a Norwegian, pack an orange and a pack of chocolate called Kvikklunsj - it’s a classic snack when hitting the snowy trails.

Woman smiling and skiing in a snowy forest.

For ski rental and lessons, check out Oslo Vinterpark, located just north of Oslo and accessible by subway. If you have your own skis, there are hundreds of groomed trails around the city, with something for everyone of all experience levels.

4. Grab your sunglasses and go for an utepils

An utepils is a beer that you drink outside in the sunshine. It’s a simple ritual that was in no way invented by Norwegians. However, the fact that they have a word for it means it’s a special part of the culture.

The most important utepils is the one you drink on the first warm day of spring. After the long, dark Norwegian winter, you’ll want to join the locals in lining up for a table in the sun to celebrate the return of warmer days.

A few spots with plenty of outdoor seating for enjoying an utepils are: People’s in Youngstorget, Fyrhuset in Kubaparken, and Grisen in Torshov.

People enjoying the sun at a restaurant on the pier.

5. Invite friends over for coffee and waffles

While in many countries waffles are served for breakfast or as a snack from a street vendor, in Norway they’re usually served at home as a sweet afternoon snack. Favorite toppings include jam and sour cream, brunost (traditional Norwegian goat's cheese) or butter with sugar sprinkled on top. Served with coffee, it’s a classic way to warm up after a day spent outdoors.

If you’re not in the mood for cooking, warm waffles are served at many cafes around town and along the trails in the forest. For a hip twist on this classic snack, stop by Harald’s Vafler in Grünerløkka.    

7. Learn to embrace pålegg

Eaten for breakfast, lunch, or a snack, this local twist on the sandwich is at once tasty, simple, and easy to transport. To make the classic Norwegian open-faced sandwiches, start with a slice of whole grain bread and top it with, well, whatever you like.

Common pålegg (sandwich toppings) can be a slice of cheese, hard-boiled egg, salami or other cured meat, and sliced vegetables. If you like seafood, try your bread with fresh shrimp, smoked salmon, or pickled mackerel. For the more adventurous foodie, try some Norwegian grocery store specialities like leverpostei (liver pate), or caviar in a tube.

To prepare a traditional Norwegian breakfast, slice up some freshly baked bread and enjoy it with eggs, bacon, and an array of pålegg toppings.

6. Taste some traditional Norwegian food

Norway’s cuisine reflects its massive shoreline, abundance of nature, and the country’s history as a relatively poor nation of farmers and fisherman. Some classic dishes include kjøttkaker (meatballs) with potatoes and gravy, steamed cod or fiskeboller (boiled balls of cod), and lapskaus (meat stew).

Around Christmastime, try ribbe (pork ribs), pinnekjøtt (salted sheep meat), and the infamous lutefisk, which is such a traditional example of Norwegian cuisine that you might just have to give it a try. When sampling local food, don’t forget the aquavit, Norway’s national spirit.

To taste some of these local specialties, check out restaurants like Lorry in Frogner, Olympen in Grønland, and Restaurant Schrøder in St. Hanshaugen. For something a bit more modern, Smalhans serves up traditional Norwegian food on their affordable lunch menu.

A cabin by the lake surrounded by forest.

8. Go on a weekend cabin trip

Ask any Norwegian: the hyttetur (cabin trip) is one of the most sacred and adored traditions in Norwegian culture. It’s a chance to escape everyday life and reconnect with nature. If it’s within your budget, do as the locals do and plan a weekend getaway from the hustle and bustle of Oslo.

You don’t have to go far to escape into the great outdoors; cabins can be found just a short train, bus or boat ride from the city. For rentals, try DNT (the Norwegian Trekking Association), Airbnb, or Oslofjordens Friluftsråd, which offers seaside cabins.

Spend your days hiking, skiing or swimming, and in the evening, bundle up in a wool sweater, gather around the fire, and share some food and drinks with friends. 

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Published: 09/10/2020 | Ariana Hendrix