The beautiful port city of Oslo in Norway is a cultured Scandinavian gem boasting top museums, world-class sports facilities and stunningly gorgeous scenery, yet its reputation as the world's most expensive city (as asserted by a number of studies, see here for details) may put potential visitors off. But don't let your bank manager talk you out of a long weekend in Oslo - it really is worth it, and here are some of my own tips on how to save your kroner whilst still enjoying this fantastic city.
- Stay with a friend (new or old)
The ideal way to explore a new city is accompanied by friendly locals who can show you the ropes. If you don't happen to have friends who live in Oslo with a generous disposition and a comfy couch as I did, why not try Couch Surfing to stay for free (or at least very cheaply - many Surfers consider it rude not to bring a small gift or at least buy your hosts a drink)? If you've not heard of Couch Surfing, it is a website where registered users offer up their couches to weary travellers. Surf safely though - only stay with Surfers who have already been recommended by friends and people who've stayed with them before, let someone know the address you'll be staying at, and, if possible, surf with a friend. It's not for everyone, and if you don't feel comfortable, just get a hostel bed instead. Be warned though - they aren't so cheap. The cheapest bed in a mixed dorm goes for about 30€ so if you've just come from backpacking in Eastern Europe, it could come as a shock - but the Anker Hostel comes recommended by insiders and is also very central.
- Save money on public transport by taking to Shanks' Pony instead
Oslo is a wonderfully-sized city which can easily be explored on foot if your accommodation is located fairly centrally, so make the most of this and walk around instead of taking the tram.
- Don't book an expensive tourist cruise around the Oslofjørd - explore using the island-hopper ferries instead.
Despite what I just said, it IS worth "splurging" on a 24 hour public transport ticket for 75 NOK (10 €) if you want to explore the beautiful, tranquil islands just around the port of Oslo in the Oslofjord. Oslo inhabitants love escaping the city to chill out on these natural havens. Some of them, such as Lindøya, are packed with Norwegian summer huts or 'hytte', all painted either green, yellow or red, but others, such as Gressholmen, are more secluded and perfect for a short hike with great views over the fjord and harbour. The largest island, Hovedøya, also houses a ruined monastery from the 14th century (founded by monks from Lincolnshire in England!). Just check the freey times - they mostly leave every hour so don't miss the last ferry of the day or you might have to swim back to the city!
- Pick up a copy of "Oslo - A Poor Man's Connoisseur Guide to Happy Living in One of the Most Expensive Cities in the World"
This guide was published by by:Larm to help with promoting a music festival, but is actually filled with tons of great tips. I randomly found my copy lying on a wall in the embassy district of Oslo on our last day there, so it was a bit too late to be of use, but I read it on the plane back and it seemed full of good advice, including a couple of places I had already been to and enjoyed during my stay!
- Go hiking in the forests nearby
Norway is well known for its beautiful scenery, and the area around Oslo is no exception. If you take the T-bane (metro) line 1 direction Frognerseteren and get off at the last stop, Frognerseteren, you'll find a park with hiking trails leading around a large lake, popular with Norwegians for running, walking, barbecuing and maybe swimming in the lake on a hot day. Head higher up into the mountains for a hike leading to stunning views across Oslo and the surrounding area. We walked from the lake Øvresetertjem up into the mountains and then to the Holmenkollen Ski Jump, one of the most famous in the world - very impressive viewed from below!
- Save on museums by visiting on a Sunday
The National Museums of Oslo are free on a Sunday, and in winter (October-March) they are free all week! Otherwise you'll pay 50 NOK for a ticket which covers all of the national museums (The National Gallery, the Museum of Contemporary Art, the National Architecture Museum and the Museum of Decorative Arts and Design. Most worth a visit is the National Gallery, which has an impressive array of pieces, from Van Gogh to Reubens, with a room dedicated to Norwegian national treasure and painter of the world's most expensive painting, Edvard Munch. You'll get to see his famous and invaluable painting, The Scream, which was stolen from this very spot a few years ago, but was returned afterwards. It goes without saying that security in this room is pretty high!
- Go to Vigeland
The Vigeland Sculpture Park is an absolute must-visit in Oslo. This huge green space in Frogner Park, full of marble and granite sculptures, depicts the strength and vulnerability of humanity, and its construction lasted from 1906 to 1947. My tip: avoid all the tourists and visit the park in the evening; the gates stay open and it's much more impressive to view all of the sculptures in a more solitary fashion. They also look beautiful as the sun sets. Most impressive all is perhaps the Monolith, a tall tower made up of human figures, reminiscent of the Tower of Babel.
- Check out the harbour
At the harbour, there are often free events such as "fish festivals", music events, boat regattas and other such events. Plus you can watch the gigantic cruise ships leaving or arriving in Oslo on a Nordic cruise - watch out, the horns are deafening! To see the harbour from above, walk up to the Akershus Fortress and have a picnic on the grass overlooking the harbour; a wonderful vantage point from which to see all the comings-and-goings.
- Visit Oslo City Hall
From the outside, this redbrick giant looks more 70s housing block than city hall, but inside the modernist frescoes are truly impressive. When you enter the main hall, look to your left to see a wall freize recounting the history of Norway during World War II, from Nazi occupation to Norwegian resistance and the final victory. Heading upstairs, you can visit the state rooms for free. There are some very interesting portraits of the King and Queen of Norway in one of the rooms, and the rest are filled with colourful wall paintings and murals. This building is where the Nobel Peace Prize is awarded each year, so take in the history and make what you will of the slightly unconventional artwork.
- Don't blow all your money in bars
Going out to eat or drink in Oslo is notoriously expensive; a beer will set you back at least 70 NOK for a pint (around 10 €) and restaurants are mostly pricey. You can save here by buying food in supermarkets and having picnics rather than eating out all the time. If staying with a friend, bring them some duty-free booze from your departure airport (much, much cheaper than you'll find anywhere in Norway) and make your own party. Throughout the summer there are tons of free festivals going on in parks around Oslo, so bring a few beers and you'll have a cheaper and probably more fun night out than you would in one of the overpriced bars in the centre. Another tip is Blå, a bar in Grünnerløkka which has a jazz night on Sundays - the house band, made up of various interesting types, play three sets, mainly covers, and set a great atmosphere - and entry is free! (it is a small place and gets busy though, so turn up early - people arriving after around 9.30 won't stand a chance of getting in)