This is Know Your $h!t – a series where I help you get in the know before you Shut Up And Go. Get the historical, political and social lowdown before you touchdown (and maybe some recs on the hotspots and hidden gems of the area).
Oslo is an expensive city – let me just point that out now. If you really want to get the most out of your trip to Oslo, I would recommend the following:
- Planning ahead
- Saving your hard-earned £€$
- Reading this article 😉
I did none of these things because my trip to Oslo was essentially an elaborate form of procrastination motivated by:
- the looming pressure of university exams; peer-pressure from my international flatmates; and £35 return flights.
Whilst it was cheap for us to get there, it was not cheap to stay there – even for a weekend. Luckily for you, I traipsed the city for free activities, skipped breakfast and lived off fast food dinners so that you don’t have to.
Making The Most Of Your Time In Oslo
Unlike other places you might visit, getting everything out of your trip to Oslo means you can’t really do the most with the least. Chances are, you’re going to have to part with some kroner. But, like all things, there are ways to finesse the system.
Spend smarter, not harder.
Norwegian Money Moves
Airport considerations: Our £35 return Ryanair flight from Manchester to Oslo Torp was the sort of value flight I live for. However, if you too are tempted by this bargain, let me warn you now that, although the airport may say ‘Oslo’, it is not Oslo. Only when we landed did we realise we would need to catch a shuttle bus (free) to the train station, and then a 2+ hour train (most definitely not free) to Oslo proper.
This didn’t bother any of us that much: it gave us time to rest after our early morning, and getting to soak up the Scandi scenery from the train was a treat in itself. Obviously, though, it took a chunk out of our day, and money out of our tight pockets before we’d even stepped foot in the hostel. A word to the wise: if you’re really trying to save money, weigh up the cost of flights+trains from Torp with a flight direct to Oslo’s main airport.
Hostel considerations: Opting for a hostel is almost always a result of wanting to travel and stay as cheaply as possible. The hostel we stayed in was definitely reasonable, especially by Oslo standards, and was in a good location (i.e. not on the outskirts of the industrial belt of the city). However, one thing I would stress (and I don’t know if this is the case with all / most Norwegian hostels) is that there were quite a lot of hidden costs once we turned up to check-in: breakfast wasn’t included; hot drinks weren’t included; you had to rent the bedding (it was a compulsory purchase or face a fine); towels had to also be rented (though not compulsory if you brought your own).
My advice? Check the small print. Having only brought very limited kroner with me, I would have preferred to have booked a slightly more expensive hostel online back in England with these things included, rather than losing some of my cash on it. And if you have space in your carry-on, bring your own towel.
Oslo Pass considerations: Our group was only in Oslo for a weekend, and a spontaneous weekend at that, so none of us really read up on the Oslo Pass, and we didn’t really have the dollar for it either. However, if you really want to get the most out of your time in the capital (I’m talking museums, attractions, transport) then I would recommend looking into an Oslo Pass.
It’s a lot like the I Amsterdam city card, in that for a fixed price you get unlimited use of public transport, as well as free entry into some of the top attractions, including the home of The Scream at Munchmuseet. Prices start from 445 NOK (~€42) for 24 hours for 2019, so planning your itinerary is essential so that you can make the most use of this purchase.
Sometimes I would buy Vogue instead of dinner. I felt it fed me more.
Know Your History
Now you’ve sorted all your finances out, it’s time to get down to what you really came here for. Let’s start with history, because Oslo has so much of it.
Obviously, Oslo is the place to go to get your Viking fix, and the Vikingskipshuset is where you wanna head if you just have to lay eyes on some super old boats. Here is where you will discover all you need about Vikings in the land of the Vikings itself, so I can’t recommend going here enough if you’re trying to squeeze every historical drop out of the Norwegian flannel of culture.
And, if you’ve gone ahead and bought that Oslo Pass, you can get in here for free, as well as the Norwegian Museum of Cultural History (cute and quaint traditional Norsk houses and knick-knacks); the Historical Museum (antiques and art from other cultures); and the Nobel Peace Centre (everything you ever wanted to know about the Nobel Peace Prize and its winners). I can particularly recommend the Nobel Peace Centre because, despite not going in it ourselves, it was the closest a museum came to persuading us to part with 80 NOK. Now that I’m back in Britain, I wish that I would’ve spent my dinner money (which went on a pricey Burger King) on a ticket inside. As Vogue is to Carrie Bradshaw, so museum entrance is to me.
Just across from the Nobel Peace Centre is the lovely (and FREE) Akershus Festning which is the perfect place to go if you’re after just a little nibble on the ear of history in Oslo (mix metaphors much?), especially if you’re on a budget. This place is huge and ideal for a brief wander through history, taking in the scope of the fortress which symbolises Oslo’s beginnings as the country’s capital. If you’re travelling in a group (or even solo, live your own life boo), the grassy hills, cobbled courtyards, and huge cannons make for the best props and backdrops for an impromptu photo shoot. Because, y’know, pics or it didn’t happen.
See For Free
You know what Oslo has a lot of? Really nice buildings. You know what the benefit of buildings is? They’re free to look at (for now – I’m looking at you, the rampant rise of capitalism).
It doesn’t matter what city I’m in, I always like to spend some time just ambling through the streets to get a really good feel for the vibe. In Oslo, this is a day’s worth of activities in itself. From the grand and palatial, to the modern and innovative, if architecture is your jam, then Oslo is your jam jar.
Keen photographers, get yourselves down to the business district at dusk. The modern skyscrapers in hues of chrome and blue will be a treat to capture, and once it’s gone dark and they all light up, you’ll be glad you waited around in the cold Nordic air.
And, of course, the obvious in Oslo architectural prowess is the iconic Oslo Opera House, floating like a glacier on the waterfront. From all angles, this is a modern masterpiece, and a really chill place to just sit and soak up the atmosphere. Climb all over it like it’s your own private $690 million jungle gym, and peer down through the glass at the city’s cultured population as they flock to the ballet.
Get Back To Nature
There’s a reason why the go-to pun on our trip was that we couldn’t afFJORD to do anything. After all, the stunning natural beauty of Scandinavia is one of its biggest USPs. And, Oslo itself sits right on the North of Oslofjord, making a trip out on the water not only a necessity, but very accessible. With ferries leaving regularly from the city’s dock, it only takes a matter of minutes to feel like you’ve escaped from the city and into your own private wilderness.
It’s not a lie when I say that this trip to Oslo cured my Freshers’ flu that I had been nursing for 8 months: just getting onto one of Oslo’s closely neighbouring land masses and into the fresh, fjord air felt healing. If you’re lucky with the weather like we were, you could easily spend an entire day on just one of the tiny islands, let alone see them all. Pack a picnic, bring your camera, bring a book, bring some friends. Ramble through ruins and forests, then sit on the rocky beach and fish or skim stones. If you’re looking for a break that includes cosmopolitan city life and a natural retreat, Oslo could well be the right city for you.
Ferries travel far and wide from Oslo’s dock, so make sure you know where you want to go and hop on board. This is something we were all sure we wanted to spend our money on.
I would deffo recommend a trip to Oslo – it’s a cool, chill city with a spirit of its own, and plenty to do. And it’s chocolate milk features very highly on my continental chocolate milk scale. Just don’t make the same mistakes I did: plan, prepare, and book.
Share your Oslo thoughts and questions in the comments!