This Is How You Can Have a Fabulous Time in Gay Norway

Written by | Travel

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Photo By Stasia04/shutterstock

We chart a chilly course across Norway to discover amazing art, natural wonders and plenty of places to have fun in the snow.

In the United States, more than 4.7 million people identify as Norwegian-American; that’s almost as many ethnic Norwegians as the entire population of Norway. Yet most Americans have never experienced the beauty and modernism of the world’s second wealthiest country, and its riches are particularly evident on the islet of Tjuvholmen in the southeastern corner of the capital city, Oslo.

norway mountains

Seated at a delightful café near Tjuvholmen Sculpture Park, you may find yourself staring back into the Eyes by Louise Bourgeois, two immense black granite orbs. Couples stroll along the waterfront of Oslo’s new arts district, passing the Eyes and other sculptures beautifully framed by Renzo Piano’s billowing architecture for the Astrup Fearnley Museum. Roughly translated as “isle of thieves,” Tjuvholmen once had a reputation for nefarious activities and shady characters. Now it’s part of Oslo’s ongoing waterfront renaissance, the Fjord City urban renewal project. Connected by sparkling steel-and-wooden bridges, the islets of Tjuvholmen adjoin the gleaming shopping and entertainment district of Aker Brygge , where more than 20 celebrated architects have designed both residential and commercial buildings, including museums, galleries, restaurants and hotels. The view from atop Sneak Peak, Tjuvholmen’s 300-foot observation tower, reveals the area as a masterpiece of architectural vision and urban planning. It’s no wonder Oslo is one of Europe’s fastest growing cities.

Tjuvholmen’s sleek design hotel, The Thief , opened in 2013 — exuding glamour with its curated collection of contemporary art. Rooms feature Italian furnishings and balconies with fjord or city views. Attention to detail is their hallmark — including thoughtful gestures such as a nightly thermos of hot water for herbal tea accompanied by two bite-sized homemade brownies. In the mornings, you might see daring guests wrapped in their plush, chocolate-colored bathrobes, heading down to the beach for a bracing swim. During the “Juletiden” holiday season, guests may request a Norwegian decorated Yuletide tree for their rooms.

Dinner is served there at either Fru K in an art-filled dining room (which includes a Jeff Koons centerpiece) or at Thief Foodbar, the more casual sister of the hotel’s much-heralded restaurant. Both are helmed by the Michelin-starred chef Johan Laursen, who serves five- or seven-course tasting menus with a focus on Nordic flavors.

Norwegians are lovers of nature and sport, exemplified by the more than 1,500 miles of ski trails in Oslo alone. The national ski arena Holmenkollen — with its 200-foot ski jump — is a great place for sweeping city views. You can also enjoy ice skating in front of the National Theatre and more cold-weather fun in Oslo Winter Park.

For another side of Norwegian culture, head to Vigeland Park , the world’s largest sculpture park by a single artist. The magnum opus of Gustav Vigeland is monumental: more than 200 sculptures in bronze, granite and wrought iron, including many stunning specimens of male nudes. Completed from 1939 to 1949, the park is a landscape architecture masterpiece: terraced lawns and walkways flanked by majestic trees.

Since LGBT life in Oslo is so integrated into the overall culture that there’s no need for a “gayborhood” — although, Grünerløkka is generally considered to be where hipsters congregate at cool boutiques and convivial cafes. Oslo’s gay community can also be found at hot spots such as Ett Glass, Elsker, the city’s largest club London Pub, and “dirty dancing” at Fire.

Don’t leave Oslo before visiting Engebret Cafe. For over 150 years, it’s been the favored venue for Oslo’s luminaries, including playwright Henrik Ibsen, composer Edvard Grieg and painter Edvard Munch — all of whom kept regular tables Oslo’s oldest restaurant. Housed in an 18th-century building whose opulent interior radiates romance and hospitality, it may be the most enchanting locale in the entire city.

Next, it’s time to move on to Scandinavia’s extraordinary natural attraction: the fjords. Formed at the end of the Ice Age, these deep grooves carved into cliffsides are marked by waterfalls and perpetual snow but also dotted with seaside hamlets and bucolic fishing communities. Fjord Tours’ “Norway in a Nutshell” takes you on a fjord-centric journey through some of the world’s most dramatic scenery via rail, ship and motor coach. Guests travel through wild, mountainous terrain on the Bergen Railway (Northern Europe’s highest-altitude railway) and the historic Flam Railway, and take a fjord cruise through the Aurlandsfjord and the narrow Nærøyfjord. The tour concludes with a ride through the steep hairpin turns of Stalheimskleiva. Hold on to your handbag!

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Your next stop is situated in the heart of the fjords and ringed by seven mountains: Bergen. Acclimate yourself to the city by riding the Floibanen funicular, which takes you to the summit of Mount Floyen in under seven minutes. It offers a great view of Bryggen, the city’s original harborfront wooden buildings which date back to the 12th century, when the city was a major port, and are especially lovely when decorated for the holidays.

Book yourself into Bergen’s brand-new Hotel Oleana, the crown jewel in the Nordic Choice Hotels collection, which is perfectly located alongside a manicured square in front of the city’s largest theater, the National Scene. Opened in June 2015, the boutique hotel is in a completely refurbished building from 1926 and complements its heritage with a collection of Art Deco furnishings in eye-popping jewel tones. The fun quotient is amped up with elevators that open onto wall-sized murals of strategically-covered nude musicians.

Bergen’s youthful populace (it’s a major university city) has contributed significantly to the city’s cosmopolitan vibe and dynamic reinvention. Streets once known as “Tailor” and “Shoemaker” are now dotted with everything from vintage stores to bohemian cafes to elegant bespoke tailors such as T-Michael.

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Bergen’s museums are housed in a series of buildings that form an “art street” flanking an octagonal lake in the center of town. Known collectively as Kode , the galleries are magnificent repositories for masterpieces by Norwegian artists. Equally impressive is the Kode’s latest opening, now attracting gourmands the world over: the restaurant Lysverket. Chef Christopher Haatuft’s seven-course tasting menu reawakens the senses to the joy of eating. It’s akin to a Nordic version of the Japanese omakase: three hours of Norwegian gastronomic treasures in a dining room that beautifully exemplifies the purity of Scandinavian design. As you take your post-meal walk along the lake, don’t be surprised to find yourself plotting your return. There are many reasons to visit Bergen, but another chance to experience this impressive restaurant may be the best reason to come back again.

Meanwhile, your flight home should be a pleasure: Norwegian has been voted the best low-cost airline in the world. Direct flights to and from the States (including NYC and LA) are on Boeing 787 Dreamliners, which provide more comfortable flights, thanks to increased oxygen flow (which reduces jet lag), lower noise levels, LED mood lighting and larger windows for one last fjord-filled look.

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Last modified: September 18, 2019