Oslo is expensive. Really expensive. That is a fact. If you enjoy eating out and indulging in a tipple or two then be prepared. When we recently visited Oslo, we found that the average price of a pint was around £10 (gulp!). Therefore, as people who enjoy eating good food accompanied by a couple of drinks, we quickly blasted through what we thought we would spend during our 4-day city break. So, we’ve put together a list of 10 free things to see and do in Oslo. This will allow you to still see everything that the city has to offer but not completely break the bank doing so.
The Akerselva river runs through Oslo. It starts at Maridalsvannet in Oslomarka and ends at Paulsenkaien and Oset in Bjørvika and is roughly 5 miles long. Running alongside the river at many points are parks, green areas and running trails. Therefore, if you want to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city centre and want to find a quiet spot, head to the river and walk until you find somewhere you fancy. We found a waterfall in Grünerløkka which was a stunning little oasis and somewhere we hung out for a while mesmerised by the water. There is even a swing seat (which was unfortunately for us occupied) that we agreed would be a perfect place to chill out and read a book, eat a picnic etc.
Akershus Fortress (also known as Akershus Castle) sits overlooking Oslo and was designed and built to protect the city and provide a royal residence. Over the years the castle has been used for a number of things including a military base, a prison and government offices. The walk up to the fortress is not as difficult as you may first think. Yes, it is uphill but if you don’t have any mobility issues, you’ll be able to get up there no problem. Even I managed with a sprained ankle (urgh!). Guided tours are available, however, on the day we visited it was hosting a wedding, therefore, we were unable to take a look inside. The views it offers over the city are beautiful though and well worth visiting just for them.
Damstredet & Telthusbakken
A must visit when you are in Oslo is Damstredet & Telthusbakken. Here you will find the cutest traditional Norwegian houses. On these cobbled streets, you will find brightly coloured wooden houses which date back to the late 1700s and the 1800s. They are extremely well preserved, so well, in fact, I couldn’t believe they were as old as they are. They are occupied. Therefore, we were very respectful of the houses and the streets themselves and didn’t spend too long hanging around. Although I’m sure the residents are used to tourists walking up and down and taking photos. It really is a charming and quaint area of the city and a complete contrast to the tall, modern buildings in the city centre.
One of our favourite parts of Oslo is Grünerløkka. It is a cool, laid-back area which is well worth visiting. We recommend a walking tour of Grünerløkka. Having a guide means there is someone there to answer any questions that you have. Located east of the city centre, it is super easy to get to on foot and somewhere we would really encourage you to explore. Sunday is a great day to head to Grünerløkka as it is the day the markets are held and they are great for picking up a memento of your trip. Or why not try some homemade food from one of the many delicious smelling food stalls? It’s home to hipsters, street art and numerous cafe bars, it has a very different vibe to that of the city centre.
Holmenkollen Ski Slope
Skiing and ski jumping is one of the most popular sports in Norway and most children are taught to ski from a very young age. Therefore, there are a number of ski slopes dotted across the county. The Holmenkollen Ski Slope is located around 30 minutes by bus outside of Oslo city centre. We visited on an organised trip via Tripadvisor as part of a bigger tour of the city’s most popular attractions. However, it is possible to get to the ski slope by public transport too, although it does take at least an hour and depending on the bus you get, multiple changes too. Even though we don’t really have any interest in ski jumping, visiting the slope and learning about its history was a great way to spend a couple of hours.
The Oslo Opera House is a lovely, big, modern building in the Bjørvika neighbourhood in the city centre. It is a stunning piece of architecture, located at the head of the Oslofjord. Not only does it look amazing but also you can walk on its roof and get a 360-degree view of the city. Yes, it has been designed so you, me, anyone can walk on the roof, crazy eh? The Opera House is also home of The Norwegian National Opera and Ballet and the national opera theatre in Norway. The Oslo Opera House hosts outdoor plays, concerts and many other events throughout the year. Unfortunately, nothing was being held during our stay, otherwise, we would have certainly tried to get tickets, as it looks like an amazing venue.
The Royal Palace, which is currently the home to King Harald V and Queen Sonja, is a beautiful building located on Bellevue Hill, at the end of Karl Johan, the main street in Oslo. It’s somewhere that you have to visit, even if it is simply just to look at, while you are in the city. However, we would recommend timing your visit to coincide with the changing of the guards. It is a great thing to witness and the best part about it is it’s free. It takes place at 1:30 p.m. every day, no matter what the weather is like. The entire changing of the guards takes approximately 35-40 minutes. If you do have a bit of cash to splash then it is open to the public during the summer months and you can take a guided tour of it.
Vigeland Sculpture Park
One of our favourite spots in Oslo was Vigeland Sculpture Park. In fact, it is Oslo’s most visited tourist attraction with over one million people visiting it every year. Unfortunately, as we visited it as part of an organised tour, we didn’t get to spend that much time there. Therefore, I would recommend visiting independently and you won’t really be rushed. Plus the gardens around the sculptures are equally stunning and worth a wander around. The sculpture park is located in the Frogner Park and is home to more than 200 sculptures by Gustav Vigeland (1869–1943) in bronze, granite and cast iron. One of the park’s most famous sculptures is Angry Boy, people touch his hand (and winky(!)) for good luck.
We find that the best way of discovering any new city is by taking a walking tour of it as soon as possible after you have arrived. Guided walking tours are usually easy to find in major cities and that’s certainly the case in Oslo, even free ones! It is important to remember that even though the tour is ‘free’ the guides do work for tips, so don’t forget to slip them a few quid before you leave. The best things about walking tours are the fact the guide takes you to all the best places in the city, whether they be the most popular tourist attractions or off the beaten track hidden gems. Therefore, giving you a taste of the city and what it has to offer and allowing you to decide what you want to revisit later on your trip.
Museums (on a Thursday)
There are lots of museums in Oslo that are worthwhile visiting, however, all do charge an entrance fee. That is apart from on Thursdays when the National Gallery, National Museum – Architecture and Natural History Museum offer free admission. So, if you’re travelling on a budget or saving your cash for late afternoon beers, time your visit to coincide with a Thursday. All three free museums should keep you busy for at least a couple of hours each and are perfect if you’re a culture vulture. Especially the National Gallery which houses Norway’s largest public collection of paintings, drawings and sculptures. Including a number of pieces by Edvard Munch including Madonna, The Sick Child and the world famous Scream.