Most budget travelers skip Norway because it’s 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 few ways around this fact and have learned that “cheap” can be an extremely relative term.
However, flight connections can allow for a brief stopover in this incredibly beautiful city. So 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’ll find many of 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’s also a Viking burial chamber with skeletons.
Next to the Viking Museum is a large open-air re-creation of traditional Norwegian buildings from various periods throughout Norwegian history. The most famous building is the intricately carved church.
This museum features the Fram, the world’s first ice-breaking ship and the last one made out of wood. The Fram made many trips to the North and South Poles, and the exhibit is very detailed and offers a lot of history, as well as photographs.
Right next to the Fram, this museum has famous historian and explorer Thor Heyerdahl’s balsa rafts, which he used to sail the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Thor showed 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 migration theories.
The Holocaust Center
The Holocaust Center is the former residence of the Norwegian Nazi collaborator and nationalist leader Vidkun Quisling. The center focuses 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’ll come to City Hall. It 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’s an excellent mural symbolizing Norway’s struggle for freedom on the far wall.
Akershus Castle is a medieval fortress from 1290, though it’s 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 10am to 4pm. The interior isn’t Versailles, but the free audio tour provides a detailed history of the castle and Norway.
Located within the castle grounds, the museum chronicles Norway’s resistance to the Nazis during World War II and subsequent prosecution of Nazi 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’re there and it comes included in your Oslo Pass, it’s worth spending a few minutes at.
The Oslo fjord is spectacular, reminding me of the Puget Sound near Seattle but with more islands. There are a few ways to see the fjord: the hop-on-and-off boat that shuttles people from the various attractions and museums, or a proper two-hour 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 center of this park is the Royal Palace, 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 nice weather, the park is filled with locals enjoying what little sun they get throughout the year. I found it a great place to people-watch. During the summer months, parts of the palace are open to the public.
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’ll also find some Impressionist and Dutch works. This museum is open until 5pm, so it’s best to do this last.
Since there are a lot of attractions involved, it’s best to get the Visit Oslo tourist card while you’re 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 USD 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 recommend at least one more day, but for those on a tight budget, two days is fine to get an overview of Oslo.
Note: Visit Oslo provided me with free accommodation and a tourist card to get into attractions for free while I was there.