Although Oslo is only a 1.5-hour flight away, I had virtually no preconception of the city other than the fact that it’s one of the most expensive places in the world where people enjoy a very high standard of living. It’s also the reason why I’ve been putting off my visit for so long – even though you can frequently find cheap flights to Oslo, I’ve been hearing numerous stories of how expensive and unsuitable for budget travellers it can be.
Last April, I finally went on a weekend trip to Norway with my best friend, Sarah, and I thought I’d share some of my tips and things I’ve learned along the way…
How to get from and to the airport
As my friend and I live in two different countries, we were on separate flights. I flew in to the Oslo Sandefjord Torp Airport on Saturday morning and departed from the Oslo Gardermoen Airport on Sunday afternoon, so I can talk you through how to get to both airports.
Having done some research, I decided to take the Torpexpressen bus from the Sandefjord Torp Airport to Oslo city centre. The Torp Airport is definitely one of the smallest I’ve been to and the bus schedule accommodates incoming flights so that there is always a bus waiting for you outside the terminal.
It is cheaper to buy tickets online – at the time of booking, adult tickets were 269 NOK (around £23), whereas student tickets were 199 NOK (around £17). You can also save money by purchasing your return ticket right away. I would also suggest to get there early – although I booked an 8:45 bus, it departed 15 minutes early. The trip itself was very comfortable – the bus stopped in several towns along the way, and an hour and a half later, I made it to Oslo.
When it comes to my return transfer, I chose to take the Flytoget high speed express train as it was the quickest way. At the time of booking, adult tickets were 196 NOK (£17) and student tickets were 98 NOK (around £8.50).
It was by far the best airport transfer I’ve had the pleasure of using – the train was spacious and in the middle of the aisle, there was a large screen displaying the latest news both in English and in Norwegian, as well as information about the next departures and current waiting time for security control. Tickets are valid for 90 days from the date of booking, so with trains departing every 10 minutes, it is extremely easy to modify your plans if necessary.
There are many other transfer options, so do your research beforehand to choose whatever suits you best – I still have a valid student’s ID, so I made my decisions based on the trip duration and available discounts.
Where to stay in Oslo
We both wanted to do this trip as cheaply as possible without compromising our comfort, as we had a number of trips planned in the months to come and had to budget accordingly. When we stumbled upon Norwegian Hotel, we agreed it was the one and managed to book a standard double room for £55.
The hotel is located in a lovely neighbourhood, close to the Tøyen train station, and the photos aren’t just a marketing ploy – the street really was lined with pink blossoming trees. The view from our window was far from great (the first thing I saw upon arrival was a homeless person going through the garbage) and there was a slight damp smell in the bathroom, but other than that, I would definitely recommend this place for a short stay.
What to eat in Oslo
Eating out in Oslo is where it starts to get tricky. In order to avoid generating unnecessary costs, we brought some pastries, instant coffee sachets and snacks with us and decided to go out for lunch instead. I am not a big fan of fish or seafood, so I did some research beforehand to find some other traditional Norwegian dishes that are worth trying.
On Saturday, I started our sightseeing trip by trying the kanerboller (cinnamon buns) and skoleboller (Norwegian buns with vanilla custard). I bought them from the nearby supermarket, and since I found them really tasty, next time I would love to see what Oslo’s best cinnamon buns taste like and whether they live up to the hype.
That afternoon, we struggled to find a traditional Norwegian restaurant close to our hotel that would offer us a variety of choices. Exhausted after a full day of sightseeing and slowly becoming hangry, we decided to settle for a meal at Anatolia, a Turkish restaurant where I had cheese-gratinated bits of dønerkebab rolled in tortilla breads, served with French fries, fresh salad, and homemade tzatziki dressing, as well as a glass of Ringnes beer. The meal came to a total of 224 NOK (around £20)– it was delicious and the service was lovely, with our waiter stopping by to make brief conversation and ask about the story of how Sarah and I met.
The next day, I was adamant that I had to try reindeer meat during my time in Oslo. Having googled the best places to have it, I decided on Café Cathedral, a beautiful restaurant right in the heart of the city. Despite some negative reviews about this particular dish, I ordered Pizza Norway with mozzarella, reindeer meat, mushrooms and rocket salad, and it did not disappoint. The meat was lean and reminded me of pork loins, while the pizza itself was delicious with its thin crust and toppings. Considering the restaurant’s location, I was expecting to pay much more than 199 NOK (£17) for it.
Buying alcohol in Norway
Now, on to a very important tip for anyone travelling to Oslo which we unfortunately learned the hard way. If you want to purchase alcohol, you have to bear in mind that grocery stores are not permitted to sell any alcohol that is above 4.7% ABV and there is a specific time-span to do so.
Alcohol sales are only possible before 8 PM on weekdays and 6 PM on Saturdays – they are not permitted at all on Sundays or certain public holidays. If you are interested in buying stronger liquors, you have to head to the state-run Vinmonopolet shops which typically close earlier than grocery stores.
We ended up buying overpriced cider and pre-mixed drinks from the hotel bar (as they were 79 NOK / £7 each, I only bought one to celebrate our trip), so it literally pays off to come to Oslo prepared.
Places to see in Oslo
This is undeniably the attraction I was most excited for and unfortunately, most disappointed with. It was only a 5-minute walk from our hotel, so we decided to pay a visit to see Edvard Munch’s most famous painting – The Scream.
Tickets typically cost 120 NOK (£10) for adults and 60 NOK (£5) for students, but once we arrived, we were informed that entrance was free due to a very limited number of paintings currently on display. Naturally, The Scream wasn’t there, and there was only one small exhibition hall.
According to their website, once the Museum moves to a new location in Bjørvika later this year, The Scream will always be on display. What I found interesting is the fact that museum visitors can vote which of the exhibits from the Museum’s collection deserve to be put on display in the new location and which should be hidden away.
Afterwards, we went for a walk in the nearby botanical garden, but the flowers weren’t in bloom yet, so there wasn’t much for us to see.
The Norwegian National Opera & Ballet
The roof of The Norwegian National Opera & Ballet – a building which divides the public opinion due to its rather unusual geometric design – is said to offer the best views of the city. While it wasn’t as spectacular as I’d hoped, it is certainly an interesting place to visit.
You can see the She Lies sculpture floating on the water and observe various groups which come to perform short dance shows by the opera entrance.
Situated behind the above-mentioned Norwegian National Opera & Ballet building is my favourite part of the city’s skyline – the so-called Barcode Project.
It consists of twelve multi-purpose skyscrapers built with spaces between them, with their resemblance to a barcode inspiring the project’s nickname. Created by various architectural firms as a way of reshaping the city’s landscape, each building has a unique design – together they form a composition that although draws resentment from Oslo citizens, is unmissable when you visit the city.
I believe that the best way to describe the Tøyen district is to call it Oslo’s hidden gem, as we might not have discovered this vibrant artsy neighbourhood if our hotel was not located there.
Back in 2013, Tøyen received a government grant, partly as compensation for the area’s main tourist attraction, the Munchmuseet, moving into a new location. It has been rapidly developing since then, with artists from all over the world being invited to create murals and many new businesses popping up in the area.
Frogner Park and the Vigeland Sculpture Park
Having seen the crying baby sculpture all over postcards in the souvenir shop, we were determined to find out more about this attraction and where it can be found.
Turns out it is part of the Vigeland Sculpture Park, the world’s largest sculpture park created by a single artist. Interestingly, Frogner Park, where it is located, is Norway’s most popular tourist attraction with between 1 and 2 million visitors annually. It is free of charge – visitors can enjoy a cup of coffee at a quaint little café, while kids can play on Norway’s biggest playground.
Getting to and from the park was the only time we used public transport. Subway tickets cost 36 NOK (£3) each way – they can be bought from ticket machines (bear in mind that notes are not accepted, only coins and cards) and must be validated using a card reader before stepping onto the train.
Parliament and the Royal Palace
Once Sarah left, I had a few hours to kill before I had to get to the airport. I decided to take a stroll along Karl Johans gate, Oslo’s main street which is over 1 km long and connects Oslo Central Station with the Royal Palace. The weather kept changing by the minute the entire time we were in Oslo and Sunday afternoon was no exception – clear blue skies would suddenly get covered with grey clouds and then the sun would break out again.
The street is lined with various shops, restaurants, as well as some of the city’s most important tourist attractions, including Stortinget (the Parliament building), the National Theatre, and the central campus of the University of Oslo. It is worth coming to the Royal Palace around 1:30 PM to observe the daily changing of the guards.
When you get tired of sightseeing, you can visit the Oslo City shopping centre for some retail therapy or, in my case, window shopping. It houses 93 stores across 5 floors. What I found particularly interesting was that apart from clothing, H&M also stocked products and accessories from other brands. Do you need a new NYX lipstick, or maybe your Beautyblender needs replacing? You’ve come to the right place.
I hope I helped debunk the myth that a trip to Oslo cannot be done on a budget – although it is one of the most expensive places I’ve had the pleasure of visiting, there are many attractions that can be enjoyed for free!
Have you ever been to Oslo? What other attractions would you recommend and do you have any other tips on how to visit the city on a budget?