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Only Have a Couple Days for Oslo and Copenhagen? Here’s What to Do

If you only have a day or two in these popular Scandinavian cities, here’s what to do, where to stay, and what you absolutely can’t miss in Oslo and Copenhagen.

“I won’t do it,” I mutter to myself, eyeing the gray-blue waters stretching out ahead of me. And yet, here I am in a swimsuit, shivering against the Norwegian chill, readying myself to jump off this small wooden ledge and into the Oslofjord.

Time slows down when you find yourself jumping into the icy waters of Norway in the dead of winter. I can almost count the seconds I’m suspended in the air before I crash into the water, completely enveloped by the cold temperatures. In a moment, I’m scrambling out of the fjord, desperately clawing my way to the warmth of the nearby sauna, which—thankfully—is mere steps away. The cold gives way to a warm embrace of steam, and surprisingly, I find myself thinking, “Yep, I could do that again.”

This is the magic of KOK Oslo, a floating sauna experience that brings you out onto the Oslofjord, offering stellar views of the Oslo skyline, where you alternate between jumping into the icy fjord waters and warming up in an onboard sauna powered by a wood-fired stove. This quintessentially Nordic experience boasts numerous health benefits, from easing pain to increasing endorphins, and leaves me feeling more invigorated than an overpriced coffee would back in New York.

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Oslo’s Thief Island Transformed

Once the little floating sauna docks, I walk the short distance through downtown Oslo (donning nothing but an oversized coat, boots, and a swimsuit) towards The Thief, located fittingly on “Thief Island.” Once upon a time, this island—dubbed Tjuvholmen or “Thief Island” in the 18th century—was a place where Oslo’s unsavory characters met their demise. It’s a dark history; however, you dress it up, but one that Norway has chosen to embrace rather than hide from. Today, Thief Island has been reborn as a hub of Norwegian culture, art, food, and entertainment, and leading the charge is the beautiful Thief Hotel.

This luxury waterfront hideaway—self-described as a city-meets-peninsula stay—combines carefully curated art with a gorgeous spa (replete with a Turkish hammam bath) and a lovely bar serving creative cocktails by a warm fireplace. I immediately love The Thief for its ambiance and location, offering guests a short stroll over a bridge to downtown Oslo.

The Thief

A Taste of New York in Norway

While The Thief feels like a cool Norwegian hideaway, Amerikalinjen has a different feel entirely, one that New York City has inspired greatly. Like The Thief, Amerikalinjen has breathed life into a historical landmark with a storied past. Amerikalinjen is housed within the former Norwegian America Line headquarters, which has been transformed into a boutique hotel that pays homage to NYC at every turn.

To understand why elements of New York are everywhere at Amerikalinjen—from the cocktails to the Harlem-inspired jazz club—you need to know the history of the Norwegian America Line. This once thriving (and now defunct) shipping line was founded in 1910, offering transatlantic service from Norway to the United States. This hotel was once a place where Norwegians would gather, suitcases tucked under their arms, ready to board a ship bound for NYC and whatever life awaited them there.


Today, Amerikalinjen honors that Norway/New York connection with its underground jazz club, cocktails named for New York City icons and neighborhoods, and an American bistro that feels like you’ve grabbed a plush seat at New York’s Balthazar in Soho. My stay at Amerikalinjen and Oslo is brief before I find myself headed to Snø for one quick activity before I fly to Denmark.

Indoor Ice Climbing in Oslo

Snø is an immense indoor facility where you can go skiing, snowboarding, and ice-climbing before warming up with hot cocoa at the indoor café. Compared to other cities in Norway, such as in the Trøndelag region, Oslo tends to be wetter and receives less snow, making places like Snø especially exciting for city dwellers keen to enjoy winter sports.

I arrive at Snø and am given a rented pair of crampons, two ice picks, a warm jacket, thick waterproof gloves, a hat, and a helmet. From there, I meet with my instructor and crunch my way along snow and ice before reaching the two towering ice-climbing walls. I’m not the best at ice climbing, but much like that ice plunge with KOK Oslo, the experience leaves me invigorated and wanting more, proving the perfect activity before I fly off to another country.


From Oslo to Copenhagen

Oslo and Copenhagen feel drastically different. While both are beautiful, I find downtown Oslo quieter, with stark architecture that feels modern and minimalist, as though the entire city were recently built. On the other hand, Copenhagen feels like Amsterdam and Paris had a love child. The city is a list of contradictions: old but modern, classy but laid back, busy but not overwhelming.

After a less than two-hour flight aboard Scandinavian Airlines, I arrive at Copenhagen Airport and am surprised to find a seamless mode of transportation from the airport to the city center. In New York, airport transport is a hassle; however you slice it, but here you have the efficient train that runs every 10 minutes and drops you at Copenhagen Central Station. Right across the street from the central station is my next hotel, Villa Copenhagen. Like Oslo’s Thief and Amerikalinjen, Villa Copenhagen occupies a historic landmark, in this case, the century-old Central Post and Telegraph Head Office, which dates back to 1912.

Villa Copenhagen is grand in every sense of the word, from the architectural marvel that is its crisscrossed glass ceiling in the lobby atrium to the ornate meeting rooms that evoke visions of Versailles. There are many reasons to stay at Villa Copenhagen: it’s eco-conscious, across the street from the train station, walking distance from the main Strøget shopping street, and close to the popular Nyhavn Harbour. But one of the main draws of this iconic landmark hotel is how it’s directly across the street from one of the city’s biggest draws: Tivoli Gardens.


Before Disney, There Was Tivoli

Known simply as “Tivoli,” this antique amusement park not only pre-dates Disneyland but is said to have inspired Walt Disney when he visited the park in 1951. Tivoli is one of the oldest amusement parks in the world, having opened in 1843. Today, Tivoli is a veritable hub of entertainment and culture, drawing musical acts and travelers worldwide to its antique rides and culinary scene. If only Disneyland had taken a page from Tivoli’s fare because here you won’t find the funnel cakes and fried Oreos that typically mark an amusement park meal. Instead, you’ll find restaurants like Michelin-starred Gemsye, serving creative veggie-based dishes.

My time in Copenhagen is short-yet-magical; a blur of colorful Dutch homes lining shimmering canals and the twinkly lights strung across Tivoli. I join a Hey Captain boat tour of the city, which sails along the canals to give me a view of Copenhagen from the water. Onboard, mulled wine (glögg) and hot tea are served as the wooden boat cuts through the dark canals, passing underneath stone bridges and towering Dutch homes painted in yellow, red, blue, and green hues.

I miss Copenhagen before I find myself back on that train, headed for the airport and my return flight to New York. It’s the sort of city that keeps calling to you like a siren, promising there are more neighborhoods to explore and meals to try. The sort of city—like Oslo—that has you planning a return trip the moment you land.