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Annie Hamilton’s 5th Trip to Oslo in 5 Years

Lush parks, Norwegian pilsner, and a sauna by the fjord.

Photo-Illustration: The Strategist; Photo: Courtesy of Annie Hamilton
Photo-Illustration: The Strategist; Photo: Courtesy of Annie Hamilton

Everyone knows that person who spends weeks sniffing around travel blogs, going deep into Tripadvisor rabbit holes, collecting Google docs from friends of friends, and creating A Beautiful Mind–style spreadsheets to come up with the best vacations/itineraries possible. In this recurring series, we find those people who’ve done all the work for you and have them walk us through a particularly wonderful, especially well-thought-out vacation they took that you can actually steal.

“Everything in Oslo is weirdly idyllic,” says Annie Hamilton, a New York–based actor who first visited the Scandinavian city in 2017 with her Norwegian then-boyfriend. She’s been back four times since then, returning for vacation and to visit the many friends she’s made in town. The actor — who’s appeared in Dickinson and A Marriage Story and has a Substack — loves Oslo to the point of even missing the local cheap pilsner when she’s not there. “You wake up in the morning, walk outside, and everyone appears to be happy,” she says. “Their dark humor is a nice surprise.” Hamilton’s most recent trip was serendipitous: She was there on location filming a still-untitled horror film for just over a month in 2020. Here, she shares her favorite places to swim (legally and illegally), order lobster rolls and banana splits, and party with the bartender.

Day 1

8 a.m.: Arrive, head to the “Upper East Side” of Oslo

Go to Oslo in the spring or summer. In July, the sun sets around 10 or 11 p.m. You are out fully partying in broad daylight. There are only five hours of darkness. It feels really disorienting and exciting. Winter there is a nightmare, and I think everyone is so relieved when it’s over that they take great advantage. I fly Norwegian Air from Los Angeles to Chicago, Chicago to Copenhagen, Copenhagen to Oslo. It’s better to connect in Copenhagen than Munich because it’s a nicer airport. There’s a smoking room, which is really my favorite thing. So before the flight to Oslo, I smoke. It will be your last Parliament for a while. In Oslo, they have really shitty and very expensive cigarettes. From Gardermoen (Oslo’s airport), you take the train for 22 minutes to Oslo Central Station. There are cabs right outside of the station, but I usually walk because I want to smoke.

I like to stay near Vigeland Park in an Airbnb. It’s like staying uptown, like when you go to the Upper East Side and it feels like your lungs are fuller. Absolutely classy. The park is great for a morning run. I drop my bags off and immediately go to REMA 1000. There are three big grocery-store chains. One is called Joker; that one sucks. It’s like 7-Eleven. REMA 1000 is a great grocery store and there’s one right where I’m staying. I get Wasa bread, cucumbers, and garlic-and-chive cream cheese; it’s the only thing I “cook” when I’m in Norway. Go back to the Airbnb, shower, and eat the supplies.

11 a.m.: Shake off jet lag with coffee in the park

Not one time in my life have I sat in a hotel room after arriving at a new place. I get so excited to pretend to be a different person in a different life. I’ll put on a nice T-shirt and a beautiful sweatshirt, which is very much the vibe here. I always carry around a canvas tote — no one wears nice handbags unless they’re Prada nylon handbags — and pack a small blanket or a sweatshirt to sit on to read in St. Hanshaugen Park. It’s a 40-minute walk from where I’m staying, but it’s where I’ll be spending the rest of my day. I walk everywhere in Oslo. It’s not very big and the weather is so nice. Get a coffee at Java (Ullevålsveien 47) by the park entrance and then spend time reading in the park, which is really lush; it feels like everything has been hydrated forever. There are children running around with beautiful young parents, just living a laid-back existence. The park is also a great way to meet people. When I travel alone, it’s really important to go out of my comfort zone and approach someone. In Oslo, I can walk up to someone and ask, “Can I have a cigarette?” or “Where should I go shopping?” I met someone who has become a good friend of mine in this park. It’s very social.

3 p.m.: Order small plates and the local pilsner

I like to get a nice lunch at Smalhans (Ullevålsveien 43), a five-minute walk from Java. It’s the one place they don’t really speak English. There’s not an English menu. The way the menu works is there’s a special on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays, and a few small platters. The menu is seasonal, and ordering three things is necessary because the plates are really small. I had tuna tartare and carpaccio. They have good potatoes there, too. You can eat on the street, which I love doing in a new place so you can smoke and drink a Carlsberg-Ringnes. It’s probably their equivalent of a Coors Light, but I just think it’s the most delicious thing in the world. I miss it.

6 p.m.: Take a synagogue selfie, head to an izakaya

I inherited a habit from my mother, which is that no matter where you are, you must go find your fellow Jews. I go to the Oslo Synagogue (Bergstien 13) and send my mom pictures. At this point, I’d usually go back to my Airbnb, but Vigeland is far away. The Litteraturhuset (Wergelandsveien 29) are these beautiful little libraries surrounding the park. If I’m in a pinch, I do my makeup there. I always pack my makeup bag. Then go to dinner at Izakaya (St. Olavs Gate 7). It’s a 20-minute walk from the park. It’s a really sexy spot that’s dark and wooden and feels like the beginning of a party. To a local, it would still be considered a hidden gem. I order most of the menu. Load up on steak sticks and rice and really great kimchi, bang bang chicken, and gyoza. You cannot go wrong.

10 p.m.: Make fast friends at Merkur Bar

I’ve never been to Berlin, but this is what I think it would be like. Merkur Bar (Bjerregaards gate 5A) has a beautiful tiled floor. The door to the bathroom looks like what would be on a ship. If you go to Merkur, you will absolutely meet friends and if you don’t meet one, the bartender is more than willing to tell you where you can go party with him afterwards. He’s a really friendly guy. Merkur’s clientele is exciting, and as a single person, it was a nice place to go. It’s very small, so it’s not for the shy. If you want to blend in and not be American, go to a bigger place like Oslovelo (Seilduksgata 23A) in Grünerløkka. But if you want to mingle and out yourself, it’s a great place to go. They have a great natural-wine selection.

12 a.m.: Sneak in a swim

On the way home, right by my Airbnb, there’s a public pool called Frognerbadet (Middelthuns gate 28) that’s open in the summer. You need a key to get in, but I’m the type of person who would wait outside this public pool and stalk the premises until you see some people do it themselves. I really believe in the power of meeting strangers in Oslo. I first got this idea while watching Joachim Trier’s Oslo, August 31st, then did it myself.

Day 2

8 a.m.: Get Instagram-bait coffee and browse a bookstore

Wake up, walk all the way to Tim Wendelboe (Grüners gate 1) for coffee, even though you’re not supposed to go, because it is corny and Instagram-y. My Oslo friends think it’s very uncool. Sacrifice your reputation and energy and walk the 50 minutes because the coffee is so good. Take the coffee to go and walk all the way to Tronsmo (Universitetsgata 12), my favorite bookstore. It’s huge and most of the books are in English. I find really special books there. Spend at least an hour here noodling around.

11 a.m.: Swing by the theater

The National Theatre (Johanne Dybwads plass 1) is a ten-minute walk away and in a really beautiful, weird neighborhood. It’s probably considered touristy. I read all of [Henrik] Ibsen’s plays before I went for the first time. His plays were performed there, so it feels really special as an actor. It’s just a jewel box, like a smaller-scale Lincoln Center. At night it’s lit up and it has grand curtains inside. You can just walk in unless a show is going on. After getting a taste for the theater, I go to Theatercafeen for lunch, a special place next to the National Theatre where all the old theater and culture people and journalists still apparently hang out. It’s kind of like the Odeon or Sardi’s. I go and have a coffee and begrudgingly have a grilled cheese there, which is what they’re known for, even though they honestly feel too rubbery. It’s just nice to be there and people-watch.

2 p.m.: Drink more pilsners in the park

Stop at a REMA 1000 to get some pilsners and go to Slottsparken allé, the park. (Also, while you’re at REMA, stock up on its lovely cheap roll-on deodorants. I don’t know if they work, but the smells are so lovely.) The royal palace is in the center of it, surrounded by guards. It’s much bigger than St. Hogshousen, which is a neighborhood park. It’s worth walking to the royal palace, where there are benches below the bridge where you can sit and read.

4 p.m.: See a matinee

Go see an afternoon movie at Cinemateket (Dronningens Gate 16), which is like their Metrograph. They have candy in bins you can scoop from and popcorn for a snack. They play old and new movies and all of Trier’s movies. I’m dying to see his new movie, The Worst Person in the World.

7 p.m.: Eat a lobster roll, drink beer in a graveyard

Go to Gapet (Ullevålsveien 9A) for dinner and drinks. It’s warm and glow-y. Black lacquer with pops of pale yellow. They have really nice oysters, wine, and a cheese platter. It’s really good there. I would recommend it to anyone. I had a great lobster roll there that I thought was perfect. After, grab beer at REMA 1000 (Fredensborgveien 24B) and bring it to Our Savior’s Cemetery (Akersbakken 32) across the street, where Edvard Munch is buried. A boy first took me here. You can drink a beer and see the city twinkle. As a kid who grew up in New York City, that suburban vision of being in a graveyard at night with friends and being mischievous is exciting to me.

11:30 p.m.: Dance to disco

A ten-minute walk from the graveyard is the Villa Dancing (Møllergata 23). It’s closed indefinitely because of the pandemic, but when it’s open, you can dance all night to old hits from the 1970s and ’80s like Diana Ross and “Love My Way.” I usually leave by 2 a.m. and go to a friend’s house for an after-party.

Day 3

8 a.m.: Have coffee and read at the library

Pack a bathing suit for later in the day and walk 30 minutes to Litteraturhuset to have some coffee and read more of your book. The library also does readings, and the café there is a beautiful place to read and have food (soups, salads, and sandwiches) if you’d like.

12 p.m.: Visit the Eckhaus Latta of Oslo

10/10 (Markveien 32A) is a screen-print and embroidery workshop that does small runs of merch with local artists and cultural institutions. It’s a store and also an art gallery. They also have apparel that’s hand-dyed and printed in Oslo. It’s really an Eckhaus Latta situation, by which I mean Jostein Wålengen, who runs it, always has his finger on the pulse of what’s happening. It’s just as much about the beautiful clothes and art as it is about the scene of people there. I bought my favorite tee of all time here, with a graphic of two shrimp enjoying a meal together. Had I not had an inside view of Oslo, I wouldn’t have found it.

2 p.m.: Take a fairy-tale walk

Walk along the Akerselva River to the Grünerløkka neighborhood. This is a beautiful path that feels like being in “Little Red Riding Hood.” It’s so fairy-tale. Take this walk for 45 minutes. Then have lunch at Liebling (Øvrefoss 4), which has big windows and nice colors. Their peanut butter banana toast is so good, and another favorite is their Parma sandwich. Then get a beer at Oslovelo (Seilduksgata 23A) for an afternoon drink. It’s a bike-repair shop on one side and a café on the other where all of the hipsters and skater boys hang out. You watch people walk by and come into the bar. Their hair is beautiful and long and thick, and they’re wearing navy mascara and no makeup. If you’re a single lady looking for men, it’s the best place.

4 p.m.: Dig for vintage in Grünerløkka

This is the Silver Lake of Oslo. There are three vintage stores: Velouria Vintage (Thorvald Meyers gate 34), Uff Vintage (Prinsens gate 2 b), and Fretex (multiple locations). Vintage in Oslo is a lot of athleisure and laid-back clothes. I got these fancy Hogan suede red sneakers I adore at Fretex and a Calvin Klein raincoat. I love the memory of buying something and remembering where I bought it.

6 p.m.: Squeeze in a quick sauna

Bathing is big in Oslo. Head over to Salt (Langkaia 1) for a public sauna before dinner. Admission starts at $27. Salt is not the Russian Bath House. The main building is a big triangular glass house on the Oslofjord, where you can bring a beer in and they sometimes have concerts. I’ve seen someone play an electric guitar in there. It’s really lavish. You can sit in one of the smaller glass houses for a quieter experience, or in a barrel right on the water and jump into the fjord when you need to cool off. It feels like you’ve accomplished so much by sitting in the sauna even for 15 minutes, which is the longest I can really stand it before I need to cool down in the fjord.

8 p.m.: Eat noodles and the best banana split

After shopping, the sauna, and swimming, you’re going to have wet hair and want a relaxed, casual night, taking it all in, preferably with the Norwegian lover you met on the trip. Go to dinner at Lille Saigon (Bernt Ankers gate 7). It’s a 20-minute walk and a hole in the wall. Be sure to get noodles! The salad rolls are good, too. The memorable part of this restaurant is that I had the best banana split I’ve ever had in my life. There’s really no logic there.

Annie’s Oslo packing list

Suede sneakers

They’re super-comfortable and great for walking, and they have a rubber platform to them, so they’re basically also my version of heels.

Black sweatpants

Mine are from Sonia Rykiel, but her granddaughter Lola makes a similar style at her brand PomPom Paris. I like going method when I travel, and these are a good balance of kinda chic and kinda fitting in with the normcore local style.

Vintage silk scarf

Since I’ll be off my usual twice-a-week blow-dry routine, wrapping my head tightly in a scarf is an easy fix on a bad hair day (and just always makes me feel timeless and sexy). I like vintage Schiaparelli, Valentino, and Liberty scarves, which you can find on Etsy, the RealReal, eBay, and Vestiaire Collective. Agnès B. has good new silk scarves.

Lip liner

My lip liner. My savior. I have tiny little lips, and I refuse to accept it. I simply can’t go anywhere without the stuff. I use Sephora-brand lip liner as a base (it’s also only $6!) in “Light Brown.” Then I trace around the edges with a darker shade, Rimmel’s Lasting Finish in “Cappuccino.”

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The COVID-19 situation there: Travelers to Norway must be able to show proof of vaccination (or recent recovery from COVID-19) and must register their trip before arrival. As of December 3, visitors are also required to take a COVID-19 test within 24 hours of entering the country.
Annie Hamilton’s 5th Trip to Oslo in 5 Years