If you read any blog about Oslo, there will be a mention, or gripe, about how expensive the city is, so I visited knowing that I would essentially need to sell an arm and a leg to be able to do anything in this Nordic city – so imagine my surprise when I had to sell both arms and legs! I joke, I joke – but in all seriousness, Oslo is mind-numbingly expensive. The blogs do not lie.
But getting past the discussion of money, Oslo is also hip in a very unassuming way and unexpectedly multicultural, particularly in the area we were staying in Grünerløkka. There is a growing immigrant community which I think has injected some flavour into the city, largely evidenced by the different array of Asian and African cuisines on offer – never mind the fact that I had to pay AU$25 for a bowl of pho! (Okay, it’s always going to come back to the topic of money.)
You won’t be able to live like royalty when travelling to Oslo (head to South-East Asia for that) but you will still be able to have fun on a limited budget. Here is a list of cheap (or free) things to do in Oslo that won’t break the bank. Note: the scandi-cool that all of the locals in Oslo ooze is priceless.
1. Vigeland Sculpture Park
The unique Vigeland Park located within Frogner Park is filled with more than 200 bronze and granite sculptures carved by the brilliant sculptor Gustav Vigeland (1869–1943), who was also responsible for the design of the Nobel Peace Prize medal. The quirky park is lined with sculptures of men, women and children found in myriad poses and contortions – some reflective, some comical, some erotic and some just plain bizarre. The magnum opus of the sculpture park is the towering monolith made up of intertwined naked human bodies.
Grünerløkka was traditionally an industrial working-class neighbourhood that has since transformed into Oslo’s hub for trendy bars and restaurants, coffee houses, microbreweries, alternative boutiques and vintage stores, and independent galleries. This is where you’ll find the stylish scandi hipsters clad in their vintage designer wares sipping deconstructed coffee.
3. Munch Museum
The Munch Museum (Munchmuseet) is home to the largest collection of paintings, prints and drawings by Norwegian artist Edvard Munch (1863–1944), and also houses 2 out of the 4 versions of The Scream (a painting and a pastel work). I was particularly enamoured by Munch’s woodcut works as well as the extracts from his journals, which reveal a poetic man who isn’t afraid of expressing his emotions: ‘No longer shall I paint interiors with men reading and women knitting. I will paint living people who breathe and feel and suffer love’. The museum is expected to move to a new site next to the Oslo Opera House in 2018.
I also wish we had more time to visit the Astrup Fearnley Museum, a contemporary art museum located on the Oslo Fjord.
4. Akershus Fortress
The Akershus Fortress is a fortification that was originally built around the late 1290s on the Oslo Fjord to protect the city, and it has since played a significant role in Oslo’s history. The fortress has successfully fended off all invasions; however, it was occupied by German Nazi forces during World War II when the fortress surrendered without combat. Wander the grounds at your leisure and check out the medieval castle, the Museum of the Norwegian Resistance and the Norwegian Armed Forces Museum to brush up on your Norwegian military history. Don’t forget to take in the views of the sparkling harbour.
Blå is a popular gig venue in the Grünerløkka area located by the river Akerselva that regularly showcases live music by local acts. A vibrant terrace bar is situated by the water, and it is an ideal place to unwind with a drink (and I do mean this in the singular because MONEY!). There’s also a bustling Sunday market selling second-hand vintage wares.
6. Street art
I was pleasantly surprised to discover all of the cool street art lurking around the streets of Oslo. You are bound to stumble upon amazing examples of street art on building facades during your everyday wanderings, particularly in the Grünerløkka area and around Blå by the river Akerselva. My favourite piece has to be this peacock here…and this is coming from someone who has a serious case of ornithophobia.
7. The Royal Palace
The Royal Palace is the home of Norwegian royalty and it is situated in a regal position right at the end of the Karl Johans gate, Oslo’s main street where you’ll find many other attractions such as the National Theatre and Eidsvolls plass. Marvel at the neo-classical architecture and catch the changing of the guards which happens daily at 1.30 pm.
8. Oslo Opera House
The gleaming Oslo Opera House is a brilliant modern architectural feat where visitors can walk freely around the sloped rooftop. In winter, the roof slope gets covered by snow and becomes a temptation for snowboarding enthusiasts!
9. Tim Wendelboe
Okay, so this may not be a budget activity seeing as a single coffee at Tim Wendelboe set me back approximately AU$8, but I was prepared to splurge for the best in Nordic coffee culture and the coffee was worth every krone. You can also get your caffeine fix at Fuglen, a retro coffee house by day and lively cocktail bar by night.