Most budget travelers skip Norway because it is an expensive country to visit. The taxes are high, a lot of things are imported, and the currency is very strong. During my time here, I’ve found very little ways around this fact and have learned cheap can be an extremely relative term. However, flight connections can allow Oslo for a brief stopover to this incredibly beautiful city. And while Oslo isn’t cheap, you can spend two days here doing a lot without blowing your budget:
Vigeland Park and Frogner
Since most museums don’t open until 10am, spend the morning walking around the city. A good walking path is to head to Vigeland park, look at the statues, and walk through the Frogner neighborhood, which houses some very nice buildings. Head down to Bygdøy island, where you will find many of the Oslo’s main museums.
Located on Bygdøy island, this museum is home to Viking longships found at burial sites around Norway. In addition to two 1100 year old Viking ships (apparently the best preserved in the world), there are three other ships and a lot of information about life during the Viking age. There is also a Viking burial chamber with skeletons.
Next to the Viking museum is a large open air recreation of traditional Norwegian buildings from various periods throughout Norwegian history. The best most famous building is the intricately carved church.
This museum features the Fram, the world’s first ice breaking ship and last one made out of wood. The Fram made many trips to the North and South pole and the exhibit is very detailed and offers a lot of history as well as photographs.
Kon-Tiki Museum – Right next to the Fram, this museum has famous historian and explorer Tor Heyerdahl’s balsa rafts, which he sailed over the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. Tor should that it was possible for ancient cultures, using their own technology, to have traveled across the large oceans. His trips offered important insight to historical theory.
The Holocaust Center – The Holocaust center is the former residence of the Norwegian Nazi collaborator and nationalist leader, Vidkun Quisling. The center focus on the Holocaust, the fate of Norwegian Jews, and the persecution of religious minorities around the world.
As you take the boat back across the harbor, you will come to city hall. The hall is open to the public and free to enter. It’s open late so making this your last stop will ensure you have enough time to visit all the museums. The main banquet hall is where the Nobel peace prize is given and there is an excellent mural symbolizing Norway’s struggle for freedom on the far wall.
Akershus castle is a medieval fortress from 1290 though it has changed greatly over the years, especially when Danish King Christian IV turned it into a renaissance palace. The grounds of the castle are open from 6am to 9pm and provide excellent views of the city and fjord. The castle itself is open from 10 to 4pm. The interior isn’t Versailles but the free audio tour provides a detailed history of the castle and Norway.
Resistance Museum – Located within the castle grounds, the museum chronicles Norway’s resistance to the Nazi’s during World War 2 and their subsequent prosecution of collaborators.
Armed Forces Museum- Also within the castle walls, the museum shows Norwegian military history from Viking times until the 1950s. It’s not that amazing but since you are there and it comes included in your Oslo pass, it’s worth spending a few minutes at.
The Oslo fjord is quite spectacular, reminding me of the Puget Sound in Seattle but with more islands. There’s a few ways to see the fjord: take the hop on and off boat that shuttles people from the various attractions and museums or take a proper 2 hours cruise through the fjord. I recommend the two-hour cruise since it goes deeper into the harbor and you see a lot more.
The Royal Palace and Park
The royal palace is the center of this park where you can watch the changing of the guards in the morning. Its central location means you will probably criss-cross it a few times. It’s very big with a lot of open space and trails. During the nice weather, the park is filled with locals enjoy what little sun they get throughout the year. I fount it a great place to people watch. During the summer months, parts of the palace are open to the public.
National Gallery – Near the palace, the National Gallery contains the famous painting “The Scream”, which was made even more famous when it was stolen a few years ago. The museum is small (just one big floor) but there are a lot of Scandinavians artists on display. You will also find some impressionist and Dutch works. This museum is open until 5pm so its best to do this last.
Since there are a lot of attractions involved, it is best to get the Visit Oslo tourist card while you are here. The card costs 340 NOK ($70 USD) but contains free transportation, access to the museums, and discounts off the harbor cruise. It’s the most economical way to see everything. To save money on food, the most sensible thing to do is simply cook your own meals or eat the pre-made meals from 7-11. (Seriously, they aren’t too bad.) Any good restaurant you go to will set you back at least $50 USD. After all, this is a country where McDonald’s costs $15 dollars for a meal. Food isn’t cheap.
While Oslo has more sights and activities, two days here is manageable enough to get a feel for the city, learn the history, and spend a lot of money. If you can afford it, I would recommend at least one more day but for those on a tight budget, two days is fine to get an overview of Oslo.
Editor’s Note: Visit Oslo provided me with free accommodation and a tourist card to get into attractions for free while I was there.