“ What’s in Oslo? Is there anything worth seeing? You know it’s pretty expensive, right? Oslo is boring so save your money.” These were a few of the reactions I got from people when I told them I had booked a trip to Oslo. To be honest, I had no expectations about the city. But let me tell you, Oslo did not disappoint. Yes, it is expensive, but not to the extent that you’ll end up selling your kidneys to get back home.
The city definitely surprised me with its mix of classic and modern architecture, calm vibe and lush greenery. Oslo definitely has a little something for everyone. I’ve put together this travel guide where I share my tips on how you can spend a weekend in Oslo.
From the airport to the city
A triple hurray for saving money in one of the world’s most expensive cities. Take the regular train instead of the Express train from the airport to the city center. The regular trains take one minute longer and are way cheaper than the Express one.
Where to stay
As we all know, Norway has a reputation for being an expensive country for tourists to visit. It wasn’t easy to find a budget-friendly hotel in pricey Oslo, but I found one that offers great value for money.
The Comfort Hotel Xpress Youngstorget was my base for the weekend and let me tell you this hotel definitely puts the comfort back in the word comfortable. This is a no frills hotel, but our decent sized room was basic (Scandinavian basic, so still pretty good), but clean with comfy beds and a spacious bathroom.
To keep the prices low and to save the environment, the hotel has skipped the unnecessary stuff. For example they don’t change towels or clean rooms daily which I had no problem with since we were only there for a weekend trip. The location can’t be beat as it’s just a short walk from the main shopping street and the trendy neighborhood Grünerløkka. The rooftop terrace is a great bonus.
Things to do in Oslo
So you’re ready to take on the city, but where to begin? Here are a few highlights of the city you can’t miss.
1. Explore the city center
- Wander around the Karl Johans gate area: Enjoy the hustle and bustle of the city on Karl Johans gate, Oslo’s main shopping street. The street begins at the train station and ends at the Royal Palace. From here you can walk to visit the Norwegian Parliament Building and the Royal Palace while passing rows of cafes, shops and cute squares.
- Stroll along the Aker Brygge wharf: Back in the 1800s, you didn’t want to take a stroll down here as it was a den for drug-dealers and criminals. Today you find numerous shops, cafes and bars where you can enjoy a wide array of foods.
- Damstredet og Telthusbakken: What I noticed during this trip is that unlike Stockholm, Oslo has its monumental buildings scattered over the city. In the two adorable streets Damstredet & Telthusbakken you’ll find quirky wooden houses from the 1700s and 1800s which are a nice change from the modern architecture of the city center.
- Opera House: The Oslo Opera House appears to rise out of the waters of the Oslofjord like a glacier. It’s a striking white building where it’s allowed and encouraged to walk on its roof as you have an amazing 360 degree view of the modern city skyline and the islands in the inner Oslofjord.
- Pop into one of Oslo’s many museums such as the National Gallery of Norway for your dose of Norwegian art, history and design.
2. Island hopping
I definitely recommend visiting Oslo’s picturesque islands. There’s a vast network of ferries connecting the city with its neighboring islands and the ferries are a fantastically cheap alternative to the commercial boat trips. You can use the Oslo Card or buy a regular day ticket.
Be aware that most ferries go once every hour so be sure to plan an itinerary carefully. From October onwards there are only about 6 boats a day. Exploring the islands sure works up an appetite so don’t forget to bring food, as some of the islands don’t have a restaurant or cafe.
Each island is lovely and unique in its own way. The island of Gressholmen is home to an old lighthouse and is a nature reserve. Hovedøya island is known for Cistercian monastery ruins from the early 12th century while you find the famous red, green, and yellow cottages on Lindøya island and on the teeny-weeny island of Bleikøya. The Bygdøy peninsula is famed for numerous museums such as Kon-Tiki, Fram, Oscarshall, Norwegian Folk Museum, Viking Ship Museum and Norwegian Maritime Museum.
If you don’t feel like exploring all of the islands, but you still want to get a feel for small Norwegian villages made up of colorful cottages while taking in some stunning views of the Oslofjord, I highly recommend just spending an hour aboard the B1/B2 commuter ferry. The ferry ping pongs between several small but incredibly gorgeous islands right in Oslo’s harbor.
3. Hip Grünerløkka
Grünerløkka was once a gritty industrial area down by the river, but now it’s one of the trendiest districts of Oslo. It has become a hub for art galleries, cool bars, independent and vintage clothing stores, and great coffee shops. Colorful murals by local and international street artists brighten up the streets of this hip neighborhood. Want to know what things you can do in Grünerløkka? Lucky for you, I have a blog post on how you can spend an afternoon in this trendy district of Oslo.
Food & Drinks
I know I keep repeating myself when I say Oslo is expensive. The Norwegian capital has some of the highest prices for everyday items in Europe, and that naturally extends to food and drink. Even simple snacks and meals that are affordable back home can cost you a fortune in Oslo. However, that shouldn’t stop you from eating out or treating yourself a drink. Here’s a small selection of my favorite cafés and restaurants. Some are even reasonably priced so you won’t have to break your bank.
- Illegal burger: This place is on the same street as the hotel and we stumbled upon it when we were looking for a place to eat. Illegal Burger is the perfect place to enjoy quality burgers at a reasonable price. Make sure you visit this burger joint early as seats are very limited – Møllergata 23
- Ploens Gate: In my opinion the hippest alleyway of Oslo. This small street is decorated with string flags and fairy lights and lined with cool bars. You can enter this alley from Torggata. One of my favorites was Angst bar. This place is quirky and stylish with bold bright cartoon wall art, floral light fittings and a painted ceiling. They serve excellent drinks and play great tunes – Torggata 11 Sentrum,Youngstorget
- Retrolykke Kaffebar: This combined retro shop and coffee bar serves the most generous hot beverages in town – Markveien 35
- Mathallen Food Hall: Mathallen is a large indoor food market in the middle of Grünerløkka. It’s a foodie’s heaven. The mall has everything from coffee and wine, to sausages, meats, fish, vegetables and pastries, and a large selection of organic goods. Mathallen is also home to several cafés and restaurants, so you won’t be starving – Vulkan 5
- Salt Cafe: Apparently this cafe is part of a nomadic art project. The café/bar is partly built of driftwood found along the seashore and its decor may remind you of your grandmother’s living room – Langkaia 1
- Pila: The food here is amazing. The restaurant serves traditional Norwegian foods with a modern touch. The staff is super friendly – Østre Elvebakke 7
- Godt Brød Grünerløkka: This bakery offers delicious baked goods – Thorvald Meyers gate 49