Oslo on a budget, according to our guest writer David Nikel, author of Moon Norway Travel Guide, can be done, Oslo does not have to break the bank! He should know he is a local.
David has shared some great tips in his article. We are all about saving money when travelling and after reading David’s article we are keen to visit Oslo. You will be too! Read on to find out how you can save your first travel $.
(Editor Update 2021)
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Norway is far from a budget travel destination, but neither does it have to break the bank. There are plenty of things to do in Oslo for just the price of a public transport ticket.
I bet you never expected to read about Scandinavia and budget travel in the same article?
The rumours are indeed true: Norway is one of the world’s most expensive destinations to visit, even though the cost of living isn’t so bad when you’re actually living here and earning in Norwegian kroner.
But just bear with me a moment. While exploring the fjords or travelling to northern Norway to hunt the aurora borealis is pricey, spending a day or two in Oslo as part of a wider city-hopping tour through Europe doesn’t have to break the bank. Honestly!
Norway An outdoors city
If moving to Norway teaches you one thing, it’s how to appreciate the free things that the country offers. After a few years, you realise that they’re also the best things.
Number one on that list is access to the great outdoors. Norway’s scenery is world-renowned so it’s no surprise that Norwegians spend as much time as possible outdoors, rain or shine. But while the remote fjords and mountain peaks star on the tourist brochures, fantastic outdoor experiences are available in or close by every Norwegian city, and Oslo is no exception.
An iconic Opera House in Oslo
The Norwegian capital is surrounded by nature and full of green spaces. Recent developments are slowly transforming the city’s waterfront from industrial eyesore to an attractive environment, and giving better access to the water than ever before.
For the perfect example of this, look no further than the city’s iconic Opera House. Its sloping roof disappears into the water, yet allows visitors the opportunity to walk all over its award-winning architecture and take in the view of the fjord and the rapidly-developing city from the roof.
For the price of a public transport ticket (37kr single (USD4.00) 111kr day USD 12.00) that’s valid on all buses, metro trains, local trains, trams and most local ferries, Oslo’s fjord and forests can be your playground too.
The Islands of the Oslofjord
My favourite thing to do on a nice summer day in Oslo is to join the locals on the small passenger ferries that hop between the small islands directly in front of the city. The closest and biggest, Hovedøya, is just five minutes away and offers a lot more than you might expect.
Views of the water and the city, of course, but walking through the nature reserve and forest trails, swimming from the beaches, playing games on the large open park, exploring the ruins of a 12th-century Cistercian monastery, checking out the latest exhibition at the former military building Lavetthuset, and seeking out the 200-year-old cannon batteries are just some of the other possibilities. Best of all, a summer kiosk serves coffee and waffles meaning you could spend all day on this perfect island if you wanted.
World-class ski jump in Oslo
But that would mean missing out on so much more! Instead, return to Oslo and make use of your public transport pass (you did buy the day ticket, right?) and take the metro to Holmenkollen station. A short uphill walk then brings you to Holmenkollen ski area and it’s world-class ski jump that’s visible from across the city. You can pay to go up the tower and into the museum, but there’s no fee to wander around the arena, visit the café and shop, enjoy the great view over Oslo, and imagine what it must be like to hurl yourself off this immense structure with just two skis strapped to your feet.
The sculptures of Vigeland
Returning towards the city on the metro, alight at Majorstuen and take the short walk down to Frogner Park. Here you’ll find Norway’s most popular free attraction, the Vigeland sculptures. More than 200 of Gustav Vigeland’s sculptures in bronze, granite and wrought iron are on display in the park, which Vigeland himself designed.
The park’s centrepiece is the famous granite monolith, standing 14-metres high atop a staired platform, which is also home to many other statues, all taking human form. It took three masons 14 years to finish once Vigeland had modelled it in clay.
But Oslo’s obsession with public art doesn’t stop at Vigeland. Whether it’s a genuine appreciation for public art or another nod towards enjoying the outdoors, the city is filled with statues and sculpture parks to enjoy – and they’re all completely free.
Public art everywhere in Oslo
The Royal Palace Gardens have long been one of the prettiest parts of the city, but now they have extra intrigue with the recent opening of the Princess Ingrid Alexandra sculpture park. As fitting for a park named after a child, it’s filled with sculptures from and inspired by fairy tales.
For some more adult-leaning art, the 31 sculptures spread over a 25.5-acre wooded area at Ekeberg Park attract a local crowd because of its location in a residential suburb high above the city to the east. That said, it’s super easy to get there on public transport as a tram stops right outside. The best-known piece is the Venus Milo aux tiroirs by the Spanish surrealist Salvador Dalí. Yet most visitors come away discussing the controversial Deep Cream Maradona by Sarah Lucas. The park’s official website describes it as “part male, part maypole”.
Saving money on accommodation in Oslo
Since I moved to Norway in 2011, there’s been an explosion of budget hotel chains opening up in the capital city. It’s a welcome trend! It’s now usually possible to bag a bed for the night in a private room for well under 1,000kr (USD118.00). There’s no frills and the rooms are tight, but it’s a more comfortable option than a hostel or the lottery of Airbnb.
My go-to choices for a trip to the capital are CityBox Oslo on Prinsens gate and the P-Hotels on Grensen. Both offer comfortable, clean, en-suite rooms with very central locations. CityBox is an automated concept with no reception, you simply access the foyer with a pre-supplied code and check-in via machine. The P-Hotels, on the other hand, has a reception and even offers breakfast, although it’s a simple sandwich and apple hung on your door handle in a plastic bag each morning.
More money-saving tips for travel to Oslo
I have a few more simple tips that will save you a surprising amount of cash in and around Oslo.
We start off at the airport. The Airport Express Train is heavily advertised, but at 198kr (USD22.00) for just a one-way ticket it’s an expensive option.
From the same train station inside the terminal, you can buy a ticket for the regular train for just 101kr (USD11.00). They are less frequent (but still 2-3 times per hour) and only take a couple of minutes more. It’s a complete no-brainer.
If you’re staying in a hotel that does offer breakfast, it will usually be in the form of a generous breakfast buffet. Depending on your eating habits and plans for the day, consider eating late and either skipping lunch, or having a simple snack to tide you over. Eating out in Oslo will be the most expensive part of your trip, so if you only need to shell out for one meal a day, it’s another big saving.
To buy those snacks, head to the supermarkets rather than the convenience stores. The biggest – Rema 1000 – is actually quite hard to find as it’s largely underground with a small entrance at street level. It’s on Torggata, very close to Oslo Cathedral. Head here for fruit, salty snacks, drinks and so on.
Last but not least, tap water is not only drinkable but very nice all over Norway! Don’t waste money on the bottled variety.
Of course, there are things worth spending money on in Oslo. The Viking Ship Museum is a perennial favourite, while a summer visit to the Norwegian Museum of Cultural History is a great option if you have kids. But what I hope to have shown you is that it’s absolutely possible to enjoy the best of Oslo – exactly as the locals do – without spending anything like what you might imagine.
About David Nikel
British writer David Nikel moved to Norway in 2011, and now calls Trondheim his home. He is the author of the Moon Norway guidebook, and runs a popular website all about living and travelling in Norway.
We thank David for a brilliant article.
David has also written Why You Should Visit Norway read the article here.
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