For LGBTQ travelers in the Norwegian wilderness, there’s a subtle but sophisticated way of indicating your relationship status: a woolen beanie. Created by the Norwegian Trekking Association, this cute cloche is reversible, so the green side signals you’re gay, single, and looking for love, while the red side means you’re gay but committed and just seeking friendship.
The popularity of this singellua beanie testifies to Norway’s inclusive attitude toward the LGBTQ community: simultaneously sophisticated yet practical, serious yet playful and, above all, warm and welcoming.
Often overlooked in favor of the sexier Nordic vacation spots such as Sweden and Denmark, Norway boasts stunning vistas, ample opportunities for urban as well as rural escapades, and one of the world’s most impressive hospitality industries. And if that’s not enough enticement, the expansion of the affordable-quality carrier Norse Airways—as well as the proliferation of next-level tour services such as Up Norway—should put Norway at the very top of your vacation bucket list.
And though the allure of winter sports and the northern lights make winter journeys especially appealing, Norway’s formidable Pride festivities (the largest of which are in Oslo and Bergen) make summer a terrific time to visit.
Oslo is the natural first stop on your Norwegian foray. The cosmopolitan capital is a cultural powerhouse as well as home to a variety of establishments that cater to every taste. Among the many terrific accommodations in Oslo, the Hotel Sommero stands out for its gorgeous Art Deco decor (think Gatsby meets Euro-chic). Amenities include a world-class spa and fitness center, a private movie theater with themed screening parties, and artful in-room period touches such as rotary phones, antique fixtures, and hand-picked literature by local authors.
Oslo’s array of cultural attractions can be overwhelming, so to help you navigate while also saving yourself some cash, invest in an Oslo Pass for discounts on venue admissions and public transportation. Any itinerary should include the National Museum (home to one of the copies of The Scream as well as numerous rotating collections), the Palace Park (where Norway’s king and queen live), and the Vigeland Sculpture Park.
The carefree attitude of Oslo’s residents means that virtually every eating, drinking, and shopping venue is gay-friendly. Places that prominently wave their rainbow flag include the eclectic Tronsmo Bookstore (where you can stock up on sex-positive books in English, prints by local artists, and Black Lives Matter buttons), and the Cesar Bar and Cafe, where pizza and people-watching on the terrace is the name of the game. Oslo’s landmark gay bar London Pub is a storied safe space that unsurprisingly remains a local favorite—but which was unfortunately the target of a terrorist attack last year. True to its roots, the venue has rebounded loud and proud, and deserves your patronage now more than ever.
Finally, the SALT complex is perhaps the city’s most unique leisure spot, offering a combination sauna and food-truck park with relaxing harbor views, an enviable selection of local beers and spirits, and grill-your-own reindeer sausage and marshmallow platters.
Feel the Beat in Bergen
No one could blame you for spending all your time and kroner in Oslo, but don’t overlook Norway’s collection of idyllic villages and al fresco adventures located (even farther) north in Bergen. This “City of Seven Mountains” is Norway’s second-largest, but in no way plays second fiddle to Oslo. Among its unique virtues is the amazing street art (including works by Dolk, the “Norwegian Banksy”) and an alternative rock scene.
In keeping with Bergen’s musical heartstrings, book a room at Opus XVI, a breathtaking architectural homage to the famous Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg that is still operated by his descendents. Stroll around the picturesque Bryggen Hanseatic Wharf to get your bearings, pick up some souvenirs, and pop in to the Bryggen Museum to learn about Bergen’s fascinating origins and artifacts dating back to the 14th century. For an elegant dinner (or Norway’s cutest afternoon tea), seek out Restaurant 1877, which specializes in serving edible art (including suckling lamb with miso and black garlic) in an approachable setting. Then it’s on to Fincken, the city’s grandest and gayest club, for libations and dancing to the pulsating house tunes.
Smitten with Skåbu
From Bergen, head to the criminally cute town of Skåbu, and the Skåbu Fjellhotell, its eponymous mountain lodge run by husband-and-wife duo Henrik and Jannike. In accordance with Norway’s eco-friendly attitudes, this boutique hotel is committed to being environmentally sustainable. Its cozy common spaces—replete with local folk art, gourmet dining (ask for a chef-designed tasting menu!), rustic sauna, adorable 1980s-style mini fitness center, and valley views make it tempting to spend all of your time just lounging around. But more ambitious visitors will appreciate the lodge as the perfect launch pad for dog sledding, cross-country skiing, snow-shoeing, and local farm tours.
From Skåbu, a tempting array of hamlets and hytte (residential cottages) awaits to charm the pants off of visitors (often literally, as many boast saunas that encourage relaxing au naturel). More active travelers should set up camp at the Storfjord Hotel, whose waterfront location means kayaking, sunbathing, and swimming (if you’re brave) in an icy fjord. With in-room fireplaces and fluffy luxury sheets, the antler-adorned rooms (ask for one that overlooks the valley) are designed to soothe the weary traveler after a day of faffing around the fjords. In the evening, tuck into a supper of fårikål (a traditional stew made with cabbage, mutton, and root vegetables) at the in-house restaurant, paired with a robust red wine selected from their extensive wine list.
Observant LGBTQ hotel guests will notice the circular rainbow pins sported by the friendly staff. While they could easily be mistaken for a Pride accessory, the pins actually symbolize the hotel’s dedication to environmental sustainability. (One employee told me, laughingly, that no Pride symbols are needed there since queer acceptance is par for the course.)
Luxurious Nostalgia in the Mountains
Another train and ferry ride will land you at the Hotel Øye, a Victornia-era hotel whose former guests include Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Emperor Wilhelm II of Germany. If you’re a history buff, you will swoon over the period wallpaper, portraits, and crockery. The customer service and accommodations, however, are luxuriously up-to-date (think heated marble floors in the bathroom).
While sipping one of the hotel’s signature cocktails inflected with locally-foraged ingredients (our favorite is the Tyttebær Punch made with lingonberry coulis), ask one of the hotel’s gregarious employees to regale you with stories about the hotel’s resident ghost, Linda—a former housekeeper who was jilted by her military inamorato. Follow up with a multi-course dinner in the observatory restaurant, then a nightcap (or two) in the game room before falling asleep in your classic four-poster bed. In the morning, room service can deliver fresh-pressed hot coffee and flakier-than-your-twinky-nephew croissants right to your door.
These brief itineraries are just a sampling of the myriad ways you can have a jolly gay time in Europe’s most underrated country. Go with an open mind, a hearty appetite, and tusen takk (or “a thousand thank-you’s”) on your lips. I promise that Norway’s warm and welcoming citizens will return the kindness.
Joanna O’Leary is a travel writer. Follow her on Instagram @msbrideyoleary.