What to do in Oslo on a low budget

European or Not, Here we Come

A wealthy, sterile, modern, and homogeneous society. These were some of the misconceptions I had about Oslo before spending three days there.

Yes, Norway has one of the highest GDPs per capita in the world, but never did I see any ostentatious displays of wealth in the capital. And it’s much more ethnically diverse than I had imagined; our first day we spent wandering through a Pakistani festival munching on samosas while listening to live Pakistani music. Although Oslo was uncluttered and litter-free, it wasn’t overly sterile or modern.

Oslo doesn’t at all look or feel European. I was expecting a city similar to Copenhagen or Stockholm, two urban areas of cobbled streets and old architecture that are quintessentially European. But Oslo, with mostly 20th century buildings, pine-covered mountains surrounding the city, and industry in the harbor, I felt like I could have been in Russia or Canada.

Norway is geographically in Europe, but it’s not part of the European Union, which means it’s not in the Euro-zone either. Rather you spend Norwegian kroner, a very strong currency; one I wish I could earn at home and travel with abroad.

As everyone will tell you, Norway is an outrageously expensive country. Every travel article about Norway will undoubtedly talk about the cost. This is the reason I only stayed for three days. To put things into perspective, the advertised special at the convenience store for a coffee-to-go and a muffin was 25 kroner, a bargain US $5. The price of a beer in a normal bar is about $10 per pint. A ticket for the metro: $5. Even shopping at the supermarket was expensive, although economical compared to eating out.

Oslo is a very livable city. Nearly all residents have a high quality of life. I never saw any traffic problems as I zipped along on the tram to my friend’s house just 15 minutes out of the center. He lived in a nice neighborhood with a big backyard. It’s also not congested: a capital city with under a million people!

What to See and Do in Oslo on a Low Budget

I wouldn’t call Oslo a tourist city. Most people go to Norway to see its outstanding natural beauty; probably peering through little round windows to view the fiords, or visiting the smaller cities Bergen and Trondheim. But there are a few good museums and nice parks to check out in Oslo.

oslo on a budget

the ski jump at Hollmenkollen

I did enjoy my time in Oslo and would return. But I’m not big on touristy things. One of the great advantages of Oslo is its proximity to wilderness. I just rode the metro to the last stop, Frognerseteren station (at the end of T-bane line #1), and exited literally in to the middle of the forest and hiked for a couple hours picking berries. There are hundreds of signposted trails in the regions north of the city with great views of Oslo and Oslofjord. Alternatively, try Sognsvannet, located at the end T-bane #3 for an easy walk around the lake or a trail connecting to Frognerseteren. A lot of other people had their mountain bikes on the train. And in the winter the paths double as Nordic ski trails…wait let me rephrase that: the trails are primarily used for skiing and double as hiking and mountain bike trails during the short summer season.

Before the last stop on metro line #1, we exited at Hollmenkollen to check out the site of the 1952 Oslo Winter Olympics. The centerpiece is a huge ski jump and its terrifyingly steep landing platform. The Ski Museum is also located on the premises. The site offers fantastic views of the city and the islands of Oslofjord.

The exceptional site of Oslo is the Vigelandsparken, or Vigeland Sculpture Park, a part of the larger, Frogner Park which contains an extraordinary series of statues by Gustav Vigeland, who lived from 1869 to 1943. The open-air park contains more than 200 nude sculptures in bronze, granite, and cast iron. The climax is the 20 meter high obelisk which depicts humanity playing, fighting, teaching, loving, eating, sleeping, and climbing over each other to get to the top.

For me, the Kon-Tiki Museum was definitely a highlight. It features the Kon-Tiki, the balsa-wood raft on which Thor Hyerdahl made his famous sea voyage across the Pacific Ocean in 1947. Hyerdahl was a Norwegian who spent his life researching and proving the feasibility of pre-historic contact between the cultures of different continents. Also check out the Viking Ship museum nearby.

Nasjonalgalleriet, the National Gallery is Norway’s biggest and best art gallery holding a collection of Norwegian art from mostly the 19th century to 1950 by the likes of Johan Christian Dahl, Thomas Fearnley, Gerhard Munthe, and Theodor Kittelsen. Most familiar to foreign visitors is the museum’s Munch collection, including the famous The Scream. Entry is free.

My last stop was the The Norwegian Opera House, Operaen. Built in 2008, it is an imposing structure: stylish and confident. The 500 million Euro budget outraged Oslo’s citizens and they demanded that it be used for ballet and a variety of musical genres in addition to opera. But you can’t appreciate its brilliance until you walk all over it. The slanted roof allows visitors the opportunity to walk all the way up to the top level and look out across the city and harbor.

When I return to Norway, which I hope will be sooner, rather than later, I will either bring my own tent and hitchhike the length of the country, or have an unlimited expense account.