When you tell people that you are visiting Oslo there is usually a sharp intake of breath – the kind that a builder or plumber will do when they are about to give you an astronomical quote for a minute piece of workmanship – it seems almost instinctual for them to give you a diatribe on how expensive the city is.
They’re right though; Oslo is known to be one of the most expensive cities in the world but it is slowly dropping down that list with Paris and Copenhagen jostling it out of the top 10. At £8 a pint and £4-5 for even the measliest of sandwiches it can be hard to see the city on a budget (believe me, I tried). However, you don’t have to plunder your bank account like a viking to enjoy Oslo.
Whether you are a lover of the great outdoors, an admirer of art, or a history buff there is plenty to do in The City of Tigers for free. Yes, you heard me correctly. Oslo has plenty to do for those not looking to drop a wad of Kroner.
Walk along the River Akerselva
The Akerselva River, known as the green lung of Oslo stretches 8km from Maridalsvannet lake north of the city, running down to the waterfront of the Oslo Fjord. The whole walk takes around two hours passing through parks, open spaces and riverside passes lined with old industrial areas and factories. If you don’t have time for the full walk, it’s worth joining at Grünerløkka like I did and crossing the river in to the cool, street art strewn alley of Ingens Gate.
Ingens gate, literally translating to Nobody’s Street, is the city’s bohemian nook where you can find galleries, retro boutiques and some awesome graffiti – Every patch of wall is painted and there’s even an extravagant chandelier hanging above the lane. I passed through on a Sunday afternoon and found an arts and craft market lining the street (this takes place every sunday from 12 until 5pm). If you’re needing a break from walking then you can always sit by the river with an (expensive) beer at Blå, a bar and live music venue with an awesome outdoor terrace.
Visit Oslo’s Prettiest Street
If you’ve had enough of the Brutalist or modern architecture of the city centre, then head to Damstredet & Telthusbakken, just a short walk from Ingens Gate. Originally an impoverished are of the city, Damstredet is now home to bohemians and artists who take up residence in these painted wooden houses from the late 1700s and the 1800s. It’s one of the few places in central Oslo that you can see traditional Norwegian architecture and it’s colourful facades and cobbled streets make for a nice detour. While your there you can also drop by the nearby Vår Frelsers Gravlund, the graveyard where Munch is buried, if you’re a little morbid like me.
Visit the Free Museums
Some of Oslo’s best and most well known attractions charge for entry but there are plenty that are free to visit. It’s worth noting that some of Oslo’s other attractions allow visitors free entry on Thursdays. These include the National Gallery, the National Museum of Architecture and the Museum of Contemporary Art giving you the opportunity to see some of Munch’s most famous works for nothing.
Oslo City Museum
A museum dedicated to 1,000 years of Oslo’s history, shown through models, paintings and photographs.
dedicated to the history of both Norwegian and international film with it’s own cinema showing historical films. As well as this there are also displays of famous Norwegian props, costumes and characters.
Armed Forces Museum
Free museum at Akershus Fortress that shows Norwegian military history from Viking times until the 21st century.
Part of the Oslo City Museum, the Labour Museum showcases Norwegian labour and industrial history. It may not sound like the most thrilling of exhibitions but if you’re a history buff, it could be worth a visit.
In Grønland you will find the Interculture Museum celebrating Norway’s immigration history and cultural changes in Norwegian society.
DogA – Norwegian Centre for Design and Architecture
Housed in an old transformer station, and was awarded the National Building Prize in 2006, this museum is the perfect place to see a diverse program of exhibitions dedicated to design.
See some Pretty Weird Sculptures
It seems strange to have a sculpture park in a city that is in itself, one vast sculpture park. It seems that any blank piece of pavement has been festooned with a bronze effigy of a long dead politician, celebrity, dog or in some cases, celebrity dogs. However Gustav Vigeland isn’t just any old sculptor; he is one of Norway’s most loved artists and even designed the Nobel Peace Prize medal. He was both ‘imaginative’ in his designs and incredibly prolific so it seems fitting that a whole park was needed to showcase his lifework. Over 200 of his sculptures populate Vigeland Park making it the largest sculpture park in the world dedicated to a single artist.
The centrepiece of it all is the Monolith (or Monolitten), a huge stone column made up of 121 human figures reaching up in to the sky. Make sure you don’t miss the angry baby statue and the sculpture of a man being attacked by multiple even angrier babies (yes, you read that correctly).
Watch the Changing of the Guard at the Royal Palace
It’s hard to miss the Royal Palace (or Det kongelige slott in Norwegian). Located at one end of the broad boulevard that is Karl Johans Gate and elevated above the surrounding streets, this stunning pastel yellow palace was built in 1849 and is now the main residence of King Harald V and HM Queen Sonja. Unlike Buckingham Palace, Det kongelige slott is surprisingly open to the public with tours taking place every day (130 NOK) and a service is conducted in the Palace Chapel on Sundays at 11 am. If you don’t want to fork out for a tour, then you can hang around outside at 1.30pm to watch the ceremonial changing of the guard.
Surrounding the Royal Palace is a 22 hectares area of parkland, gardens, ponds and statues known as the Palace Park. It’s free to wander around and is pretty popular with locals on a weekend as a place to relax and even have a picnic.
Climb the Rooftops
Sydney may be known for having the world’s most famous Opera house but architecturally, The Norwegian National Opera & Ballet House should be a close second. Designed to look like a glacier rising from the Oslo Fjord with its large glass windows and it’s potruding corners, it was awarded the prize for ‘Best Cultural Building at the World Architecture awards in 2008.
The best thing about this building? You can climb it’s sloping walkways to the rooftop for stunning views of the harbour that extend out to Bygdøy. Sunset is the perfect time to visit as the Opera house is bathed in golden light and the harbour is shimmering in the golden hour sun.
Walk The Oslo Promenade
Oslo’s most attractive feature and the reason so many people choose to visit is it’s fjord-side location. What better way to spend an afternoon than wandering the harbour and taking in some of the city’s landmarks.
Starting at Sørenga, a newly developing area with plenty of waterfront coffee shops and views over to Hovedøya, it takes around an hour to make the 3.5km walk over to the stunning Astrup Fearnley Museum at the other side of the city centre. You will pass by the aforementioned Opera House and through Akershus Fortress, a medieval castle dating from as far back as the 1300’s. From here you walk towards imposing City Hall and Rådhusplassen where musicians and street performers gather in the summer and food trucks park up for you to get a (relatively) cheap snack.
The walk ends at the boardwalk of Aker Brygge, a beautiful new waterfront development with plenty of cafes, bars and restaurants – although they can all be a little expensive. It’s worth walking all the way down to the end of the promenade and stopping to rest on the wide grassy area outside the Astrup Fearnley Museum to take in the views of the Fjord.
Tip – If you would like to see more of Oslo, it is worth buying an Oslo Pass (24 hours for 395 NOK , 48 hours for 595 NOK) which will give you free entry to over 30 museums and attractions as well as free travel on public transport. As well as this you get discounts at varying restaurants, cafes and sightseeing tours.
Do you have any tips for free things to do in Oslo? Let me know in the comments!
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