Oslo is a rising star amongst international travelers. Traditionally tourists come to see Holmenkollen skijump, The Vikingship Museum, The Opera and Vigeland sculpture park. A new harbor-front, top quality art galleries and bold, innovative architecture are all a part of «Oslo reinvented», a continuous process suitable for the fastest growing capital of Europe.
But to really grasp the soul of a city, you need to venture beyond this. A city doesn’t grow from nothing, and although Oslo has been around for at least a thousand years, its evolution from a town into a proper city happened less than 200 years ago. It happened along the route of the Akerselva river, the reason Oslo in general, and Grünerløkka in particular is what it is today.
Akerselva is not the broad majestic river you find flowing through most large cities of continental Europe. Quite the opposite, Akerselva is a narrow, fast stream, filled with waterfalls and the remains of yesterday’s industrial heritage. It’s this industrial heritage that gave birth to Grünerløkka, the once run-down working-class neighborhood, now home to the creative masses, hip urbanites, and families with children.
Your best introduction to Grünerløkka is to walk the river, a favorite pastime for locals and still largely undiscovered by tourists. If you’re staying downtown the recommended route starts by taking the tram to Biermannsgate.
From downtown, take tram line 11 or 12, and then buss 91 from Heimdalsgata to Biermanns gate. There is road construction in the area, so be sure to check the Ruter travel information page before you go. Also be aware of the Covid-19 travel advice from the government.
Along the river
Here you should be able to hear the roar of the waterfalls at Vøyen to the west. Follow the sound and suddenly you’re standing on a bridge overlooking some of the most unexpected and scenic parts of Oslo.
A stop at Hønse-Lovisa’s house (red, wooden building next to the bridge) for waffles is almost mandatory and if you want to learn a bit more in-depth about the river’s history, check out the Workers museum just across the bridge.
Now continue downstream along the pathway beside the river. It forms part of what’s definitely the longest continuous park in Oslo. Some 9 km of facilitated walkways from the rivers source, Maridalen lake, to where it flows into the sea behind the Oslo Opera House.
Along the banks of the river you’ll notice plenty of large, brick buildings. These are old factories from the age of industrialization. Most of them have been preserved and now serve a very different kind of industry, the creative one.
The National Academy of the Arts, Oslo School of Architecture and Design, National Stage of Dance, Westerdahls school of communication, Strykejernet Art School and D.O.G.A (Design & Architecture Norway) are just some of the creative institutions you’ll find along this 1.5 km stretch of the river. These new uses have transformed what was once the industrial artery of Oslo, to its creative artery.
Past two more waterfalls you’re now in the Vulkan Area, named after the old metal works that used to be here. The old factory building now houses Mathallen, Oslo’s largest and most diverse food market, and certainly worth a visit.
Toilets are available in the basement and if your belly starts to growl there are plenty of options, both inside Mathallen and in the pedestrian area on the far side of the river. A personal favorite is Døgnvill burger, because you know…burgers!
If you’re doing this walk on a Sunday, be sure to check out the Sunday Market at Blå, just a few minutes downstream. And if you’re looking for a party spot, look no further! Blå jazz club’s been holding it down since 1998 and is probably Oslo’s coolest scene for those small, intimate concerts. Something happens here almost daily, ranging from book readings to hiphop concerts and everything in between.
Another great party spot, just around the corner, is SYNG, Oslo’s largest karaoke bar. Although karaoke isn’t necessarily the most Norwegian thing to do, it has certainly helped curing us from N.I.S.S.E! (Norwegian inherited stiffness syndrome).
Looking south from SYNG, you’ll see a large, stone bridge with sculptures on each of the bridgeheads. Anker bridge is more commonly known as the «fairytale bridge» as each of the statues are characters from Norwegian folktales. This is where we’ll leave the river and start exploring the streets of Grünerløkka.
Let’s go shopping
Take a left up the steep path just before the bridge and you’re in Markveien, Oslo’s main vintage and indie shopping street. Along with its parallel Thorvald Meyers gate, it’s the axis of Grünerløkka and its busiest streets. Be sure to check out the side streets connecting them as this is where you might find the quirky shops you would otherwise not know even existed.
As you’ve walked more than a mile now, you’d might like a small pit stop before continuing. Luckily, the super cozy wine bar Territoriet should be on your right, as long as you’ve followed the directions so far. With almost 400 types of wine available, there’s certainly something for every palate. There’s also plenty of pubs nearby for the beer enthusiast.
The uniqe spirit of Løkka
Heading up Markveien you’ll find that the next few blocks is arguably the most interesting shopping area in Oslo. You won’t find all the chain stores of the big malls downtown, or the luxury brands of Eger square. Rather it’s a mix of independent clothing stores, vintage, secondhand, design stores, groceries and cozy cafés. Some are new, some have been here for decades, or even since the late 1800’s.
It’s this mix of old and new, cutting edge and every day that gives this area such unique qualities. Now you may or may not spend a few hours shopping in the various shops, or just browsing what they have to offer. Keep in mind that local, independent, vintage and secondhand is the most sustainable way of shopping, so don’t feel too bad if you splurge a bit.
Continue up Markveien until you reach Olaf Ryes Square. You can’t miss it, the first park coming up on your right, just five blocks up from the river. Walk to the middle of the square, sit down on the benches and relax a bit. You’re currently in the very heart of Grünerløkka and if you don’t feel like just chilling out and doing some people-watching, how about:
Aterlier Nord in Sofienberggata is to your immediate south. This gallery focuses on contemporary art and media art. On the opposite side of the square and to the left is Purenkel Galleri. Here they sell paintings, prints, sculptures and also organize workshops on various how-to’s of creative expression.
Eat & drink
You’re surrounded by cafes and restaurants. To your immediate north, in Grüners gate, you’ll find what many says is the best pizza in Oslo
Villa Paradiso. Its neighbor, Eldhuset, is a proper, southern BBQ restaurant that smokes everything themselves. Theka, the family driven restaurant with a modern take on Indian street food, and the newly opened Skaal Matbar with its ever-changing delicate small dishes and large selection of natural wine and ciders. Grünerhaven, the traditional outdoor café has been around since 1978 and is very popular.
Here is a list over places to eat at Løkka.
Also make sure to check out Parkteatret. This old cinema was converted into a stage and concert hall in 1991 and the concert program is conveniently posted above the entrance. In the front, you’ll find a classic bar and a popular outdoor seating area.
If it’s a particular nice day, why not get some take-away and chill out in Oslo’s most liberal park! This former cemetery, the final resting place for some 60 000 residents of Oslo was converted into a park in the 60’s and is, despite its former use, the liveliest playground in all of Oslo. It’s just a block in easterly direction from Olaf Ryes. On summer days its filled with «Oslonians» enjoying park life, barbecues and other smoke filled activities.
Sunday is market day in Grünerløkka and the main one is just two blocks due north, in Birkelunden. Follow the tramlines along Thorvald Meyers gate – just parallel of Markveien, and you’re there in a few minutes.
As mentioned, it’s in Thorvald Meyers gate most of the bars and nightclubs are located, and in either direction, you’ll surely find something to your taste. Grünerløkka’s party scene ranges from nightclubs to Tiki-bars and everything in between. Simply go exploring and remember frequent pitstops! Here’s an overview.
The Library and Schous cultural brewery
Follow Thorvald Meyers gate due south. Just one block down you’ll see Deichmann Grünerløkka library in Schous square on your left hand side. This beautiful, white building is actually the oldest, purpose-built library in Norway and holds a special place in the heart of the locals.
Recently renovated and looking better than ever, they have books (obviously), free cinema, workshops, debates and the largest comic-collection of all the libraries in Norway!
Now how about some audio? To your immediate south is Schous cultural brewery. It takes its name from the Schou brewery located here between 1873-1981. Large parts of the old brewery have been preserved and, like the factory buildings along the river, it serves a creative purpose. Riksscenen is the national stage for folk music and dance and has an abundance of shows throughout the year.
Its neighbor, Popsenteret (The Popcentre) is the coolest, interactive museum in town! Telling the story of Norwegian popular music and inviting its visitors to record songs, shoot album covers or experience stage fright firsthand.
If you walk diagonally across Schous square you’ll reach Rathkes gate. This short street is one of the backstreets worth checking out. It runs from Schous square to previously mentioned Sofienberg park and you’ll pass by some of Grünerløkka most interesting and unusual shops along the way. Here you will also find Apostrophe restaurant, which has a great outdoor seating area.
You can also use this route to get to the Botanical Garden, just to the east of Grünerløkka. This lush, green garden is a must see when in Oslo and a perfect way to end your day after exploring Grünerløkka. Read about our visit to the garden.
This suggested walk, venues and activities takes place in less than a half a square mile. It’s an itinerary that covers many of the important sights in Grünerløkka. But be assured. Grünerløkka is the kind of borough where you want to get lost. Explore the backstreets and go with the flow. Grünerløkka has that certain feel to it, that certain soul. Grunerløkka is, in fact – the soul of Oslo!