If you’re hoping to do Oslo on a budget, you might be in for a shock.
The very first tip I have for you for travelling in Oslo on a budget won’t be helpful: don’t go to Norway. It’s a beautiful, not to be missed place but I wish I’d gone at a time when I was a bit more flush. I’m cramming a lot of travel into this year because my future in the UK is uncertain. My boyfriend isn’t working full-time yet and we’re currently trying to make ends (and travel) meet on about one and a half incomes. So these two factors combined do not equal a stress free time in the Norwegian fjords. That being said, we didn’t necessarily spend more than we did say on our trip to Amsterdam. It’s just that we fit a lot more in on that trip. We’ve learnt our lesson though and I think if we’d known some things in advance we might have been better off – and you can be too with proper planning! Neither of us are great forward planners though, and our approach to travel is a little more #yolo (the kids still say that, right?). So that’s the first hard lesson about Norway: it’s not the place to yolo.
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The Royal Palace in Oslo
Drinking in Oslo on a Budget
So my first (helpful) tip to you for travelling in Oslo on a budget is to keep in mind the following laws surrounding the purchasing and consumption of alcohol in Norway.
- You can only buy bottles of wine and spirits at a vinmonopolet which are owned and operated by the Norwegian government. I didn’t get to visit one because of the vague opening hours but based on what I now know about purchasing alcohol in Oslo, I can’t imagine it’s going to be much of a bargain. Opening hours were a problem for us because they close at around 3pm on Saturdays and we arrived at the airport at 3.30pm. They also aren’t open on Sundays or bank holidays which ruled out our ability to purchase wine for the rest of our trip. We’ve heard they close at around 8pm on weekdays, so keep that in mind as well.
- Onto beer. Beer can be purchased in supermarkets on Saturdays but only before 6pm. We found this out when we attempted to buy two tall bottles of Norwegian pale ale at 6.30pm. Now might be a good time to specify that you can’t actually buy any alcohol at all on Sundays except for in bars, clubs, restaurants and cafes, and supermarkets aren’t open on bank holidays. SO we’re now facing a dry weekend. I don’t want to make us sound like alcoholics, because we aren’t – I just enjoy having a drink with dinner, or to unwind before bed. There’s something so frustrating about being 28 years old and having the law prevent you from being able to buy a bloody bottle of beer.
A Helpfully Closed Vinmonopolet
If you drink spirits, and think you can finish a bottle while you’re in Norway, I highly recommend buying one duty-free from your departing airport (not Oslo) or in the air if your airline offers that. Our airline (Ryanair – yeah, we’re broke okay?) sells litre bottles of spirits in the air for €14, which is about £12 or $AU20. I drink gin, and my boyfriend drinks whiskey and neither of us are the type to get ourselves written off, so it just didn’t make sense to us to buy spirits on the way to Oslo for just 3 nights. Hindsight is a bitch.
You bet your arse we bought gin and whiskey on the way home to London though.
Alcohol prices in Oslo
In any case, the two bottles of beer we were going to buy (tall bottles of fancy Norwegian pale ale) were going to set us back about 120 Norwegian Krone (NOK) which is about £10 or $AU17. A six-pack of Kronenbourg was about the same. So either way, not the best bargain of your life.
I’m telling you all this because if you like to drink, but you’re on a budget, you may be facing a dry weekend like I was. If you don’t drink, then congratulations! – you’re going to save yourself a lot of money and you can probably just move right along to the next tip. Because in restaurants / pubs / clubs / cafes / bars, a bottle of house white starts at around 400 NOK (£35 pounds or $AU60). Pints are a minimum of 80 NOK (£7 or $AU12) for the shit beer. I am almost ashamed to say I paid 89 NOK for a fricking Corona at a Mexican restaurant. Damn good burrito though, courtesy of Mucho Mas.
The most affordable way to drink is to buy a bottle of prosecco everywhere you stop. It’s around 300 NOK (£26 pounds or $AU45) which is about the same as buying it in a pub in London. OR just stay dry. It can be done: I believe in you.
So the non-drinkers will be relieved to know I’m moving on from ranting about alcohol prices and onto (hopefully) providing you with some actual tips.
Eating in Oslo on a Budget
If you have to eat in Oslo I’ve got a bit of advice here. It may not be what you want to hear, but here it is.
- Pay an extra £10 a night and secure yourself a flat that has a kitchen. We cooked ourselves a big breakfast every morning to keep us going throughout the day. That meant we could generally hold off dinner until around 4 or 5pm, and then just have ice cream for dessert to tide us over until morning. #nutrition
- Recommended dinner? Burgers. They might seem expensive starting at 120 NOK (£10 or $AU17) but at the end of the day, they’re going to fill you up. Would you rather spend 245 NOK on a fish dinner that didn’t quite end your hunger? (Yes, I did). Burgers and pizza are your best value for money, bar none. If you’re into Maccas, then a Big Mac is 35 NOK, so just eat six of them. You’ll be fine.
- We also had a delicious sushi lunch on the last day which was 130 NOK. I was happy to pay that because I haven’t had sushi since leaving Australia (I don’t like the look of UK sushi) and it was so fresh and delicious. We got it from a place I can’t remember the name of, near City Hall but I’m going to go out on a limb and say any sushi in a stunning harbour town is going to be worth it.
- I can’t recommend Mathallen enough. It may not be cheap either, but the ingredients are fresh and delicious. Mathallen is a cool food hall in Grünnerløkka, which also happens to be the coolest neighbourhood we walked through in Oslo.
Where to stay in Oslo on a Budget
So, I’ve already mentioned I stayed in a less than satisfactory AirBnB while I was in Oslo. This had nothing to do with Oslo itself, but rather just a misleading ad written by the host. By all means, do stay in an AirBnB if you can find a decent one (preferably with access to a kitchen, as mentioned before). If you’re new to AirBnB, I have only had great experiences with them, and the ads are nearly always exactly what they say they are. We did find though, that there just didn’t seem to be as many AirBnB’s available in Oslo as there generally are in other major European cities. We did book quite last-minute as this was an impromptu trip, so maybe that was the reason.
In any case, I highly recommend Grünnerløkka as the pick of the Oslo neighbourhoods. We weren’t lucky enough to score a place here, but it’s by far the coolest and trendiest neighbourhood we walked through. It had the best choices for restaurants, pubs and activities, with the aforementioned Mathallen and Mucho Mas. There were Sunday markets on when we were there, with heaps of food stalls and cool vintage wares. Not all of the shops are open on Sundays, but what we could see through windows made us wish we could come back on a weekday! We saw heaps of street art as well, and in general it was just an awesome area. Grünnerløkka is definitely walk-able from Central Oslo though, so don’t feel like you need to restrict yourself in any way!
Here’s a few hotels in Oslo that are close to Grünnerløkka or Central. I’ve looked for a range of prices and for ones that included breakfast and / or a kitchenette to help give you an idea of the prices you’re looking at. I don’t know how they are personally, since I didn’t stay in them, but this is all about giving you an idea of what you’re in for!
Comfort Hotel Karl Johan — this one is in Central Oslo, right near the beautiful wharf (pictured below), and your per night cost should come in under £100, breakfast included!
Citybox Oslo — also in Central Oslo, this one is a good deal at around £65 a night, and the rooms look real modern. There’s no kitchen or breakfast included at this one though…
Best Western Kampenn Hotell — breakfast included AND rooms with a kitchenette. Totally reasonable prices at around £70 a night as well.
Thon Hotel Slottsparken — this is quite near where we stayed, which was still a really nice area. Lots of restaurants and pubs and very close to the Royal Palace. Breakfast and kitchenette, yay! But you’re paying for it at £115 a night.
Getting around Oslo on a Budget
I’m not a fan of public transport just as a general rule, so we walked everywhere. This will probably always be in my hot tips for travelling on a budget, because I’m a firm believer that it’s the best way to see a city. You miss things when you’re on a bus. You miss people watching, and you miss taking a random left turn and discovering something you weren’t looking for. This is how you find street art, and how you get to pet random dogs, and chat with the locals. Oslo is very hill-y though, and our legs were screaming at us by the end. So I guess I understand if you want to jump on the tram sometimes. The Oslo City Pass gives you unlimited public transport so that’s a good option. Otherwise a 24 hour ticket for all transport types costs 90 NOK (£8 or $AU14), which is pretty reasonable all things considered.
When you arrive at the airport do not buy a train ticket for the airport express. A single ticket on the FlyToGet to Oslo Central Station will set you back 180 NOK, so just buy the 24 hour ticket mentioned earlier and get on the slow train. The express does only take 20 minutes, so I’m not saying it isn’t convenient but it’s certainly not conducive to an affordable holiday.
Seeing the Sights in Oslo on a Budget
Oslo has dozens of museums so you’re spoilt for choice. Unfortunately they all have an entry fee, unlike London where they’re all pretty much free. The Historical Museum and the Viking Ship Museum have 2-for-1 entry for 100 NOK (£9 or $AU15) which is possibly your best deal. However… the Historical Museum is super weird. It was a lot like walking into a high school students history project, complete with dioramas and an overuse of tulle.
I’m not saying this is a bad thing at all, because it certainly gave us a giggle. Their little Egypt room was definitely the highlight as I’ve always been fascinated by the Ancient Egyptians, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen a proper mummified corpse up close before. It’s an interesting experience and it doesn’t take long to complete, so if you’re really keen to go to the Viking Ship Museum, get your money’s worth and stop in here. Because while the Viking Ship Museum is incredibly cool (can you believe these giant things were used as burial ships?), it isn’t quite worth it on it’s own. Together though, these two museums come at a perfectly reasonable price.
We didn’t buy the Oslo Pass, but you might consider doing so if you want to see 3 or more museums, or you’re a fan of using public transport (I’m not). For 24 hours it comes in at 395 NOK (£35 or $AU60) so you’ll be cramming in a fair bit of museum walking to make it worth your while. We take a leisurely approach to travelling so these kinds of passes never quite seem worth it to me, but each traveller to their own.
Unfortunately, we left the Viking Museum to our second last day and so our budget didn’t stretch to include buying entry to another museum. So instead we went to City Hall.
I am going to do a wrap up of all the sick art we saw in Oslo, but if that’s what you’re into, then definitely check out City Hall. It’s free and it only takes about an hour to explore. It was weirdly one of my highlights from the whole trip, because it was unlike any City Hall I’ve ever been in. It’s interesting and quirky and it doesn’t hold back. In a world of serious and austere parliamentary buildings, this City Hall is a shining beacon. I mean look at this? When you’re there, don’t forget to look at the ceiling as well – it’s different in every room.
Speaking of art, Oslo has amazing street art. I’ll include more of that in the wrap up mentioned earlier, but here’s a taster. Find it near the docks, in Grünnerløkka and basically anywhere where there’s a lot of people.
No trip to Oslo is complete without a visit to Vigelandsparken in Frogner Park. This park is full of Gustav Vigeland’s life’s work of more than 200 sculptures created from bronze, granite and wrought iron. See it to believe it, these sculptures range from stunning, right through to angry baby, and man kicking babies. I could probably find their actual names for you, but I think my naming process is more than suitable.
Finally, there’s the Opera House, an architecturally stunning building right near the central train station. You can walk right up on top of it, which we did. It’s much easier than it looks to be honest (though my boyfriend may disagree with me on that one). We walked up there with our backpacks before we went back to the airport, and it was well worth it for the views!
All in all, Oslo is a beautiful place, that is both surprising and endearing. Equal parts strange and picturesque, I spent a lot of time stressed out about money but still walked away in love with it. We’re already planning to go back to Norway in the warmer seasons for the hiking and fjord tours. If you have the money, Norway isn’t to be missed – just make sure you budget well!
Stay tuned for the Oslo street art post!
Did you see my top tips for visiting Bruges?
How did you find Oslo? Tell me in the comments below.