As this year’s designated European Green Capital, it’s no secret that Norway’s largest city has been pushing the boundaries when it comes to projects championing eco-conscious but sustainable living, in real-time.
From a thriving urban farm located on repurposed land near Oslo’s central train station to a city-wide initiative to transform former parking zones into public green spaces and family-friendly play areas, Oslo is redefining what it means for a global capital to be green. There are few more impressive case studies than Oslo’s postcard stamp-sized Vulkan neighborhood, a former riverfront industrial area that’s been transformed into one of the city’s must-see destinations and is a model for green urban living.
Two Words: Mathallen Oslo
A food hall that rivals any in Scandinavia—including Torvehallerne in Copenhagen and Östermalm in Stockholm—Mathallen Oslo is an epicurean’s delight. In addition to produce stalls, seafood purveyors, bakeries and many other ogle-worthy shops, Mathallen has a bounty of saddle-up-and-eat stalls and restaurants, ranging from Spanish pintxos at Barramon to some of the region’s best seafood served in simple and fresh presentations at Vulkanfisk.
INSIDER TIPWord to the wise, come hungry—and early if you want to beat the lunch rush. (Or else, plan to visit on the later side of lunchtime to miss the queuing masses.)
Also: Handwerk Bakeri
Just up a flight of stairs from Mathallen, in the direction of the Scandic Vulkan hotel, no trip to the neighborhood would be complete without a visit to Handwerk Bakeri, which is beloved by locals and visitors alike for its certified organic sourdough breads and sticky buns, the latter of which come in such traditional Nordic variations as currant and cardamom, in addition to classic cinnamon. A so-called “day-bakery,” the team has fresh baked goods emerging from the ovens from the afternoon onwards, although they’re stocked for the morning rush, too.
…And Then There’s Restaurant Kontrast
There are fewer unfussy fine-dining restaurants to be found than Restaurant Kontrast, the vision of chef Mikael Svensson, which received its first Michelin star within one year of opening, in 2016. Located adjacent (in fact, attached to) Handwerk Bakeri, Restaurant Kontrast is also one of the city’s greenest Michelin-starred restaurants, offering multi-course prix-fixe dinner options as well as a la carte small plates. But don’t expect to find a current menu online; offerings are driven by hyper-seasonality, down to the best-of-the-best ingredients that are available each day, as sourced from the restaurant’s organic, direct-from-the-farm (and ocean) purveyors.
There Are Hotels Here, Too—Two of Them
In a testament to its cool cache—desirable location, tons of great local eats, within walking distance to some of Oslo’s most sought-after (larger) neighborhoods—tiny Vulkan has not one but two hotels, the main property being the 149-room, ultra-eco, design-centric Scandic Vulkan, which is heated and cooled by geothermal energy. (The hotel was Norway’s first to be awarded an official “Class A” energy rating from the Nordic Swan Ecolabel.) While not luxe by any means, Scandic Vulkan is energy efficient with plenty of modern comforts, including complimentary breakfast and Wi-Fi.
Hotel No. 2: PS:hotell
With just 31 rooms—including economy twin and triple rooms— PS:hotell is ideally suited for travelers seeking a budget-friendly stay in a desirable location that’s a few notches up from hostel accommodations. (Every room here has its own private bathroom and shower.) The minimalist micro-hotel contributes to Oslo’s bigger-picture sustainability goals in its own way; owned and operated by Oslo Kollega, which partners with Norway’s labor department to provide jobs and skills training to those who need them the most, staff here have the chance to work across various departments within the hotel as step one towards a better future.
Vinyl and Caffeine? Yes, Please
A cheeky play on the name of Norwegian playwright Hendrik Johan Ibsen, infused with a dose of rock n’ roll flair, hybrid coffee shop/cafe and vinyl record store Hendrix Ibsen is yet another gem of the Vulkan micro-neighborhood. Equally suited for a quick coffee break to start the day or lingering for untold minutes, fighting the good fight against jet lag and strategizing for the day’s adventures, Hendrix Ibsen has ample picnic table-style seating, some delicious baked goods and casual cafe fare, a killer soundtrack and crates of vinyl worth perusing, of course.
Speaking of Music…
One of Oslo’s most beloved indie venues is located within easy walking distance from the Vulkan neighborhood, just a bit further down the riverfront. Hosting everything from weekly bingo and literary events to weekend jazz sessions and proper electronica club nights—as well as a slew of touring concerts, including international rock and metal bands, indie musicians, and record label parties—Blå is a fixture in Oslo’s cultural scene. While most performances are scheduled for the evening hours, weekends tend to have events going on both day and night.
Peep at Some of Oslo’s Best Street Art
There are a few more reasons to make the stroll down the river from Vulkan during daylight hours, namely, some of Oslo’s most impressive street art pieces and the graffiti-filled walls around Brenneriveien and Ingens gate, a trailblazing district for Oslo’s street art scene. A chandelier strung across the narrow laneway adds a fitting dose of industrial glamour to this small spot, which is a riot of color and creativity.
INSIDER TIPStreet art lovers should check out this interactive map of locations for the best street art and graffiti in Oslo, as organized by a local art collective on behalf of the city’s tourism board.
Plus, Scandinavia’s Longest Bar
Downstairs from Mathallen, in a reclaimed industrial production facility that formerly turned out steel train tracks, gastropub Smelterverket is a beer aficionado’s delight, pouring Norwegian craft brews as well as rotating international taps, too. Even if craft beer isn’t your scene, Smelteverket is worth a gander for its bar alone — a repurposed bowling lane that claims to be the longest bar in all of the Scandinavia — as well as for the convivial atmosphere and scenic river views.
INSIDER TIPCheck out Smelteverket’s Facebook page for upcoming events, which may include improv comedy, karaoke, trivia nights, concerts, movie nights and more.
Defining the Neighborhood
Vulkan is shaped on one side by the curves of the Akerselva River, which means riverfront dining, yes, as well as bountiful green spaces and easy access to cycling and pedestrian trails, and on the other side by Maridalsveien, a main city road and primary entry point to the micro-neighborhood. (Note that Scandic Vulkan lends bikes on a complimentary basis to its guests.) Picturesque Kuba Park borders Vulkan to the north and there are no less than four pedestrian bridges criss-crossing the Akerselva in the area, affording picturesque views and also easy access to Grünerløkka, one of Oslo’s trendiest neighborhoods.
Hip 'Løkka' Is Just Across the Way
Equally popular for its boutique shopping and cafe culture as for its bar scene and late-night eats, the only time Grünerløkka (or “Løkka,” for short) isn’t abuzz is during the morning hours on weekends, when much of the neighborhood—with the exception of some exercise enthusiasts and pooch-walking pet parents—catches some extra zzz’s after last night’s shenanigans. But it’s only a matter of time until the local coffee shops and cafes begin to hum again, and another day revs up in Oslo’s funky, youthful epicenter of cool. Conveniently for anyone staying in Vulkan, Løkka’s just a bridge crossing away.