Oslo in the summertime

Woman diving into the Oslo Fjord with the opera house in the background.

There’s no denying it—our winters are long.  But in Oslo, we try to keep things in perspective. After all, it is a pretty long way to the Arctic from here.

Sure, it gets cold. But at least we’re not dripping wet from rain all winter long like our friends in Bergen. Oslo is a skiing and sledding mecca. The snow on the ground brightens things up and lets us pretend we have more hours of daylight than we really do.

There’s no getting around it, though—come February, most of us are counting the days until the arrival of summer. Some of us are busy booking trips to islands in the Mediterranean. But most of us know that there’s nothing quite like summer in Oslo.

Yes, you read that correctly. The capital of Norway, a country located in the far north of Europe, has amazing summers. Even if they don’t last quite as long as we might like.

They write songs about us

Don’t just take it from us. The indie-pop group Of Montreal, who come from the warm-weather city of Atlanta in the United States, were so impressed by what they found when they visited that they composed a song about us:

Oslo in the summertime
Nobody can fall asleep
Staring out the window from my bed

At 4 a.m. the sun is up

Look, the sky is peppered with sea birds

And with crows all cackling

Pretty people everywhere
Sun-lamp tans and flaxen hair
Just tell the American not to stare 

 Lyrics by Kevin Barnes / Of Montreal

Akershus fortress with an outdoor restaurant in front, filled with people in the sun.

The soundtrack of our summers—a bustling city on the fjord. Photo: Benjamin A. Ward / OsloMet.

So how do locals spend their summers when not staring out the window at the birds flying by or the pretty people walking past them on the street? Here are some of our favourite ways to spend a summer day in Oslo.

Care for a swim?

A lot of cities are located beside rivers, lakes and oceans. Not that many are located at the mouth of a fjord. Not only is the Oslo Fjord pretty to look at—it becomes the whole city’s enormous swimming pool every summer.

Thanks to this nifty thing called the Gulf Stream, air and water temperatures in Oslo are a lot higher than you’d expect for a city located so far north. With the water temperature in the fjord usually hitting 20C/68F by July, you can go for a swim and feel refreshed rather than frozen.

A stretch of sandy beach behind some big trees, people on benches looking out on the water.

Find your peace on a beach. Photo: Benjamin A. Ward / OsloMet.

Fjordside beaches

Another thing about the Oslo Fjord—it’s clean. We’ve done our fair share of traveling to other big cities where the water isn't so clean, so we know this might be kind of hard to believe. But take our word for it—it’s different here. 

The Oslo Fjord has beaches for every kind of beachgoer:

Freshwater lakes that don't smell funny

Are you more of a freshwater swimmer? Oslo has got you covered. The northern stretch of the river that runs through the middle of Oslo turns into an urban beach every summer and is just steps away from restaurants, cafes and bars.

Or maybe you’re looking for a little more solitude? Just take the metro or the bus to the massive forests located immediately to the north and east of the city. You’ll have your pick of lakes large and small, kid-friendly and virtually deserted. With pine trees as far as the eye can see, it won’t take you long to find your happy place.

A small sandy beach in an Oslo Fjord bay.

Take a quick dip on one of Oslo's most popular summer spots at Huk beach. Photo: Benjamin A. Ward / OsloMet.

A small stretch of sand, wooden stairs and people enjoying the fjord in front of an urban apartment building.

If you prefer a more urban vibe, Sørenga has it all. Photo: Benjamin A. Ward / OsloMet.

Park life

Oslo isn't just a maritime city. It's a city filled with green spaces, including dozens of public parks. 

Unlike in some countries, our parks never close. This is extra handy in the summer, because the long summer evenings never get old and a patch of grass in the park is the perfect place to lie back and enjoy the changing evening light.

A park for every personality

Oslo has different parks for different kinds of people.

We’re only just scratching the surface here—suffice to say that in Oslo there’s a park for everyone.

Three students throwing frisbee in a park.

Having fun in the park. Photo: Benjamin A. Ward / OsloMet

Boats and islands

That fjord of ours isn’t just for looking at or swimming in. Taking a ride on a boat is the best way to appreciate the beauty and sheer size of the Oslo Fjord. Maybe you’re lucky enough to know somebody who owns a boat of their own—good for you. For the rest of us, there’s a perfectly good alternative: public ferries.

These double-decker vessels connect the city to about a dozen islands sprinkled around the fjord, each with their own unique personality. The ferries all have open decks from which you can watch the city recede from view as you motor out into the open water.

The best part? The ferries are integrated into the Oslo public transport network, meaning they are covered by your monthly transit pass. Which means you can hop on and off as much as you decide which island is your favourite (ours is Gressholmen).

How about getting a workout while you glide across the water? Kayaking in the Oslo Fjord has exploded in popularity over the past few years. There are beginner’s courses to help you learn the ropes and several places you can rent kayaks cheaply for a few hours or a full day out on the fjord.

Two people paddeling on their knees on stand up paddle boards in the middle of the fjord.

Activities on the fjord are attracting more and more people. Photo: Benjamin A. Ward / OsloMet.

Camp under the stars

Norwegian nature is pretty spectacular. Even in Oslo,  it’s easy to find a tract of forest or a spot along the fjord that you can have all to yourself.

Whereas in many other countries sections of forest and long stretches of coastline are privately owned and off-limits to the public, allemannsretten, or “the right to roam,” ensures virtually unrestricted public access to nature.

This means you can camp more or less anywhere—by the side of the fjord, overlooking a lake, or deep inside the forest. All you have to do is pitch your tent at least 150 metres from the nearest inhabited house or cabin and you’ll be all set.  Just make sure not to overstay your welcome—under Norwegian law you can spend up to two nights in one spot.

A hiker and a jogger on a path in the forest, surrounded bt large, green trees.

Hiking or running in the wilderness—inside the city limits. Photo: Benjamin A. Ward / OsloMet.

Stay in a cabin

Some of us prefer having a roof over our heads when we spend the night in the middle of nowhere. 

That’s where the Norwegian hytte, or cabin, comes in. Nearly everyone who lives in Norway either owns a cabin or knows someone who does. These simple, typically wooden, structures are typically found in the forest, by the water or in the mountains. In other words, a cabin with a view is almost guaranteed.

A taste of the simple life

While some Norwegian cabins have indoor plumbing and electricity, many offer a return to a simpler time when people made dinner by candlelight, played cards with sunlight streaming through the window, and spent entire evenings talking.

Until you secure your first invitation to a Norwegian colleague or friend’s cabin, you have no shortage of options as you try your hand at cabin life:

All of these organisations keep prices low to ensure that everyone has the chance to get away from it all for a night or three. If you get hooked on cabin living, you might even want to consider becoming a member—both Oslofjord kystled and DNT rent out cabins to members at a discount.

A small, red building surrounded by green trees.

Most of the cabins available for rent in Oslo come with pretty amazing nature, weather they are on the fjord or in the forest. Photo: Benjamin A. Ward / OsloMet.

Experience the city on your own two wheels

Oslo has one of the most efficient and comprehensive public transit networks in Europe. But in the summer, it can be tempting to ditch the stuffiness of the metro for your own two wheels. While we’re no Copenhagen (yet), Oslo becomes a more bike-friendly city with every passing year. Our status as the European Green Capital for the year 2019 is proof of how far we’ve come.

Bike lanes are appearing everywhere, we have a popular and fast-growing city bike system and compared to most cities, our drivers don’t behave like jerks. All of this makes biking a great way to navigate our compact city while getting some fresh air—and working on your leg muscles.

Up for a challenge

Unless you have an electric bike, you’re going to have to do some biking uphill.  Oslo is shaped kind of like a giant bowl. As long as you stick to the centre of town, you’ll be cruising along the flat bottom surface of the bowl. But to make it out to the outlying suburbs or into nature, you’ll need to work your way up the sides of the bowl.

Not feeling up to the challenge? You and your bike can take the metro, tram or bus for a small fee while you catch your breath. Or you can finally invest in that electric bike you’ve always wanted.

Man on a bike in front of Oslo City Hall.

Spend a day on your bike exploring the city or use it to get around. Photo: Benjamin A. Ward / OsloMet

See and be seen at an outdoor café

Is all this talk of swimming and biking tiring you out? Us too. Oslo may be a Scandinavian city in a lot of ways—measured in terms of size and proximity to nature, clean air and water —but in some important ways, this is still a European city. Summer in Europe is all about sitting outside and savouring an iced coffee, a cold beer or a glass of wine, and Oslo is no exception.

From the moment the thermometer hits 10C (50F), most restaurants, cafes and bars in Oslo dust off their outdoor furniture and open their patios and terraces for business. Some places get a little over-excited and start serving customers outside as soon as temperatures hit a sweltering 5C (41F) in late February or March.

No matter when the outdoor café season begins, parking yourself at an outdoor café is a great way to combine high-quality people watching with the beverage of your choice.

A man and a woman eating at an outdoor cafe next to the fjord.

Grab a snack in the city with your co-workers or friends. Photo: Benjamin A. Ward / OsloMet

The concert capital of Scandinavia

With more concerts than Stockholm or Copenhagen put together, Oslo’s live music scene punches far above its weight. When summer rolls around, the action moves from concert venues small and large and into parks and other green spaces:

Other kinds of culture don’t take the summer off in Oslo—you can still go to a book panel or theatre performance in Oslo during the summer months. But if you’re keen on combining an indoor cultural experience with the great outdoors, we’ve got you covered. 

Go see an opera, orchestral or theatrical performance at the iconic Oslo opera house. Then just step outside, walk up the path to your left and enjoy the panoramic views of the city and the Oslo Fjord from the roof of the building. The interior of the opera house is pretty impressive, but the view from the top is downright spectacular.

Silhouettes of people on the opera house rooftop in front of an evening sky.

Do as many others, take a look at Oslo from the opera house rooftop. Photo: Benjamin A. Ward / OsloMet

Enjoy a sauna session 

We may not be as sauna-obsessed as the Finns—not by a long shot. But sauna culture is taking root here in Oslo, and around here we like our saunas with a view and with a body of water nearby. Spending a few hours in a sauna with floor to ceiling windows facing the fjord might even be the best way you can spend an overcast or rainy day in Oslo.

How do you like your saunas? Do you like them small, homemade and located on-board a boat? How about sleek, modern and reserved just for you and your friends? You can find all of these options and more located right beside the fjord just a stone’s throw from the opera house.

No matter what kind of sauna experience you decide on, you’ll be glad you have the fjord to cool you off in between sauna sessions. 

Afternoon sun filtered through green and red leaves next to the tower of a historic building.

You might discover new sights while relaxing in the park. Photo: Benjamin A. Ward / OsloMet.

Relax—you have plenty of time to

There are loads of ways to spend a summer day in Oslo. You might even be wondering how you’re going to manage to squeeze in all these activities between going to work and getting enough sleep. We have good news for you—as an employee at OsloMet, you can look forward to five weeks of paid holiday and a strong emphasis on work-life balance.

Work-life balance is something we take very seriously in Norway. It’s also practiced quite strictly—if your colleagues see you hunched over your desk past 4:30pm during the summer months, they may just physically escort you from your office and force you to go outside and enjoy the fresh air.

Does all of this sound a bit strange? Too good to be true? You’ll get used to it soon enough, and the longer you spend working in Norway, the harder it will be for you to go back to wherever you came from. Work-life balance like the kind we enjoy in Norway is pretty addictive.

View of Oslo from the Ekeberg hill.

Photo: Benjamin A. Ward / OsloMet

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