Tell anyone you’re going to Oslo, and the one thing people will reply with is: “oh I’ve heard it’s very expensive there!”
It seems to be the only thing people know about the Norwegian capital, but we weren’t going to let it get in the way of our little Scandinavian adventure. So, we booked flights and accommodation for a two night trip in May 2018, and now I’m going to tell you how to see Oslo on a budget (because yes, it is possible!).
Note: actually getting to Oslo isn’t expensive. Flights can be insanely cheap. And our accommodation was perfectly reasonable too – we paid £75 per night per person.
Our flight arrived into Oslo Gardermoen airport, the most central of Oslo’s three airports. And this is where we had our first money saving opportunity. Don’t be fooled into catching the Flytoget train shuttle service – yes their trains run a bit more regularly, but it’s barely any quicker and costs almost twice as much (190 NOK) as the local train service, NSB (101 NOK). So it’s a no brainer really.
Our first afternoon
Once at Oslo Central station, we decided to explore the city centre on foot to kill time before we could check into our apartment. We had a lovely wander in the surprisingly hot spring sunshine, and soon got our bearings of this compact city.
After we checked in to our apartment, we headed straight back out for more exploring. This time to the popular Aker Brygge and Tjuvholmen areas. On a sunny day, this is a great place for al fresco dining and drinking, with great views across the harbour, and a lovely atmosphere with locals and tourists alike spilling out onto the boardwalks enjoying their beers. We walked along the water front to the Opera House, skirting beneath Akerhus Festnig en route.
The Opera House is a fantastic sight and well worth a visit. It’s free to go up onto the roof where you will be rewarded with panoramic views across the water and to the fjords beyond. This was definitely a highlight for us and we could have sat there all evening watching the world go by!
We started our one and only full day in Oslo at the wonderful Vigeland Sculpture Park – the world’s largest sculpture park dedicated to one artist, Gustav Vigeland. With over 200 granite, bronze and iron sculptures to see, it was a great way to spend the morning. Oh, and entrance is free!
From here, we wended our way on foot back down to the harbour via The Royal Palace – a beautiful building standing tall and proud over Oslo and Karl Johans Gate. We didn’t go in (although tours of the state rooms are available in summer), but instead enjoyed the gardens, the tulips, and the view all for free!
We pressed on to the harbour to jump on the passenger ferry to Bygdoy for the must-see Vikingskipshuset. Money saving tip #2 coming up – save money by buying your ferry ticket from the box office on City Hall Pier 3 before you get on board. And buying a return ticket, rather than two singles, is cheaper too – 48 NOK one way, 69 NOK return.
The Viking Ship Museum is well worth the 80 NOK entrance fee. And while the museum itself is only small, the three recovered burial ships and their fascinating history more than make up for it. I was truly amazed to read about the ships and their history, and to see them up close and how well they had been restored was incredible.
After this, we jumped back on the ferry and still only mid-afternoon, we made the most of the sunshine and headed up to Akerhus Festnig (or fortress), this time for a proper look around. This, again, is free to simply walk around, but if you want to delve deeper into the history of Oslo and the fortress, guided tours are available at a cost. It’s the perfect place to while away an hour or so, especially in the sunshine as there’s plenty of places to stop and admire the view.
On our flight over to Oslo, I buried my head in my Lonely Planet Pocket Guide and came up with a ‘top 6’ list of the places I absolutely wanted to go to in the brief time we had. Rather surprisingly, we had completed the list by the end of our second day which left us with no plans for our final morning. Wanting to make the most of every minute and hour, we decided to have a stroll up to St Hanshaugen, one of Oslo’s largest parks, before heading to the airport. It’s a bit of a climb to get there, but this means you’re treated to really nice views over the city (which is always a bonus in my eyes).
Food and drink
What makes Oslo so expensive is the food and drink (we went out for one evening meal which came to around £70 for two mains, one beer, and one soft drink), so we simply held back on a few things we would normally treat ourselves to when on holiday i.e. stopping for a beer or a cocktail in the afternoon sun, eating lunch at a nice restaurant, or grabbing a coffee or an ice cream every morning.
One error we made when we first arrived in Oslo was diving into the first coffee / sandwich shop we could find to pick up lunch. It was a little more than we’re used to spending on two sandwiches and one orange juice, coming in at a grand total of £16 (eek). Don’t make the same mistake. If like us, all you want for lunch is a quick sandwich and some snacks, head to a 7/11 store instead where it is much cheaper, and probably the most affordable way to eat lunch in Oslo (money saving tip #3!).
We thoroughly enjoyed our time in this fascinating and trendy city, and we came home with Krona to spare. So it is possible to visit Oslo on a budget!