Updated: 8/10/20 | August 10th, 2020
Most budget travelers skip Norway because it’s an expensive country to visit. The capital, Oslo, is consistently ranked as one of the most expensive cities in the world owing to its high taxes, strong currency, and high percentage of imported goods.
Understandably, traveling here on a budget here is tricky. Yet I still encourage you to visit, even though it’s not a budget-friendly destination. There are unique museums, beautiful parks, and stunning nature to be enjoyed. It’s small enough that a two-day or three-day visit is usually enough to get a feel for it.
To help you plan your trip and make the most of your time, here is my suggested 48-hour itinerary for Oslo.
Wander Vigeland Sculpture Park
Start your day wondering this 80-acre park and see its 200 statues. Located in Frogner Park, it’s the world’s largest display of sculptures created by a single artist. Gustav Vigeland (1869–1943) created the collection of bronze, iron, and granite statues that now stand in this open-air “gallery” (you’ve probably seen the famous ‘crying baby’ statue on social media).
In the summer, the park is where you’ll find locals enjoying the long days of sunshine. There are often events and concerts held here as well.
From here, head down to Bygdøy island, where you’ll find many of Oslo’s museums.
See the Viking Museum
This museum is home to the best-preserved Viking ships in the world, some of which date back to the 9th century. It’s a sparse museum (the focus really is on the ships) but the burial ships (as well as the preserved tools and carts from the Middle Ages) are incredibly rare and worth seeing for yourself. The museum offers a short film and as well, though the free audio guide is the best way to make the most out of your visit.
Huk Aveny 35, +47 22 13 52 80, khm.uio.no/besok-oss/vikingskipshuset. Open daily from 9am–6pm in the summer and 10am–4pm in the winter. Admission is 120 NOK for adults and free for kids under 18.
Explore the Norwegian Folk Museum
Not far from the Viking Museum is the Norwegian Museum of Cultural History. It has a collection of over 150 buildings from various periods throughout Norwegian history. It’s an open-air museum, so you can explore both the interior and exterior of many of the buildings, some of which date back to the 12th century.
The most impressive of its exhibitions is Gol Stave Church, an intricately carved wooden church constructed in 1157. The museum also has a large photographic archive as well as tons of historic artifacts, documents, tools, and more.
Museumsveien 10, +47 22 12 37 00, norskfolkemuseum.no. Open daily from 11am–4pm. Admission is 160 NOK.
Visit the Fram Museum
As a northern country used to frigid temperatures and harsh winters, polar exploration is a field intricately woven into Norwegian history. This museum highlights that history, focusing on Norway’s contributions to polar exploration. The centerpiece of the museum is the Fram, the world’s first ice-breaking ship. The ship was used between 1893 and 1912 and is actually made of wood. The Fram made trips to both North and South Poles and sailed farther north and south than any other wooden ship in history.
The museum is incredibly detailed; there’s a lot of photographs, artifacts, tools, and tons of information. It’s a unique look into Norwegian culture through the lens of exploration.
Bygdøynesveien 39, +47 23 28 29 50, frammuseum.no. Open daily 10am–6pm. Admission is 120 NOK.
Visit the Holocaust Center
Established in 2001, this museum highlights the experiences of Norwegian Jews (as well as the persecution of other religious minorities). It’s located in the former residence of Vidkun Quisling, a Norwegian fascist who headed the Norwegian government under Nazi occupation between 1942-1945. It’s a somber and sobering place to visit but incredibly insightful with various exhibitions, photos, films, artifacts, and interviews from World War II and the German occupation of Norway.
Huk Aveny 56, +47 23 10 62 00, hlsenteret.no. Open weekdays 9am–4pm. Admission is 70 NOK.
Learn About the Kon-Tiki Expedition
In 1947, Norweigian historian and explorer Thor Heyerdahl used a traditional balsa raft to cross the Pacific Ocean from South America to Polynesia. This journey set out to prove that the Polynesian islands were populated from the Americas — not Asia, as had been previously thought.
He and his small crew spent 101 days at sea. They filmed much of the experience, winning an Academy Award in 1951 for Best Documentary (he also wrote a book about the trip)
To get a sense of what his journey was like, watch the 2012 historical drama Kon-Tiki (it’s a great travel movie).
Bygdøynesveien 36, +47 23 08 67 67, kon-tiki.no. Open daily from 9:30am–6pm (shorter hours in the autumn and winter). Admission is 120 NOK.
End your day at City Hall, which is open to the public and free to enter. While it might not sound like an interesting sight, tours of the hall are will give you lots of insight into the city and its history. Most noteworthy are the hall’s twenty murals and works of art. They depict everything from traditional Norwegian life to the Nazi occupation. Also highlighted here is the history of the Nobel Peace Prize. It’s awarded here annually (the other Nobel Prizes are awarded in Stockholm, Sweden).
Rådhusplassen 1, +47 23 46 12 00, oslo.kommune.no/radhuset. Open Sunday-Thursday from 9am-4pm. Admission is free.
Wander Akershus Fortress
Originally built in 1290, Akershus Fortress is a medieval fortress that evolved into a Renaissance palace under Danish King Christian IV. Currently, it’s used as an office for the prime minister. It was built for protection and the fortress has never successfully been besieged (though it did surrender to the Nazis during World War II).
Inside the fort is a military museum as well as a museum dedicated to the Norwegian resistance during World War II. In the summer you can take a guided tour and there are also often events here as well (mostly concerts). Check the website to see if anything is occurring during your visit.
+47 23 09 39 17, forsvarsbygg.no/no/festningene/finn-din-festning/akershus-festning. Open daily in the summers 10am–4pm (winter hours vary). Admission is free.
Take a Harbor Cruise
The Oslo fjord is stunning. With its towering cliffs, calm waters, and rugged green shoreline, the Oslo fjord should not be missed. You can take a hop-on-and-off boat that shuttles people from the various attractions and museums or enjoy 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. It’s a relaxing way to spend part of your day — especially if you’ve been on your feet all day.
Tickets for the two-hour cruise cost 339 NOK per person.
Explore the Royal Palace and Park
The Royal Palace is the official residence of the monarch (Yup! Norway still has a king!). Completed in the 1840s, it’s surrounded by a huge park and locals can usually be seen enjoying the long summer days here. During the summer, parts of the palace are open to visitors and tours. Tours last one hour and you’ll be able to see some of the lavish and ornately preserved rooms and learn about the country’s monarchs and how they ruled Norway.
Slottsplassen 1, +47 22 04 87 00, kongehuset.no/seksjon.html. Summer hours vary. See the website for details. Admission is 140 NOK and includes a tour.
Visit the National Gallery
While small, Oslo’s National Gallery has a wide range of artists on display. Here you’ll find Impressionists, Dutch artists, works by Picasso and El Greco, and the highlight of the gallery, “The Scream” by Edvard Munch. Painted in 1893, The Scream has actually been stolen from the gallery twice over the years. Admittedly, the gallery doesn’t have the biggest collection I’ve seen but it’s nevertheless worth a visit. It’s a relaxing way to end your trip.
The National Gallery is temporarily closed and will reopen in 2021 but you can find some of its collection in the National Museum.
Other Things to See & Do
If you have extra time in Oslo, here are a few other suggestions to help you make the most of your visit:
- Explore Nordmarka – The Nordmarka Wilderness Area offers everything from biking to swimming to skiing. It spans over 430 acres and is home to huts that are available for overnight stays. You can reach the area in just 30 minutes by car or 1 hour by bus. Avoid going on Sunday, as that’s when all the locals go so it will be busier (unless you want to meet more locals!).
- Go Tobogganing – If you visit during the winter, do the Korketrekkeren Toboggan Run. The track is over 2,000 meters long and sleds are available for rent (including helmets) for 150 NOK per day (so you can take as many rides as you like). It’s only available when there is snow so the schedule will vary, however, it’s incredibly fun and popular with the locals too!
- Wander the Botanical Garden – Home to over 1,800 different plants, this botanical garden/arboretum has two greenhouses full of exotic plants and a “Scent Garden” designed specifically for the blind so they could have a sensory experience (it’s a really neat experience so don’t miss it). There are lots of benches so you can sit down with a book and relax, as well as works of art throughout the garden. Admission is free.
- Go Swimming – Oslo is surrounded by water and has lots of places to swim. The water is clean and safe and locals can be found swimming all year round. Tjuvholmen City Beach, Sørenga Seawater Pool, and Huk are three spots worth checking out if you’re looking to take a dip when the weather is nice.
Since there are a lot of attractions involved, it’s best to get the Oslo Pass. Like everything in Norway, attractions are expensive. If you plan on visiting lots of museums (and using public transportation) the pass will save you a good chunk of money. The 24-hour pass is 445 NOK while a 48-hour pass is 655 NOK (they also have a 72-hour pass for 820 NOK).
While Oslo has a lot more sights and activities, two days here is manageable enough to get a feel for the city and learn its history without entirely breaking the bank (though you’ll come close!).
Book Your Trip to Oslo: Logistical Tips and Tricks
Book Your Flight
Use Skyscanner or Momondo to find a cheap flight. They are my two favorite search engines because they search websites and airlines around the globe so you always know no stone is left unturned. Start with Skyscanner first though because they have the biggest reach!
Book Your Accommodation
You can book your hostel with Hostelworld as they have the biggest inventory and best deals. If you want to stay somewhere other than a hostel, use Booking.com as they consistently return the cheapest rates for guesthouses and cheap hotels. My favorite places to stay are:
- Saga Poshtel Oslo Central
- Oslo Youth Hostel
- Club 27
Don’t Forget Travel Insurance
Travel insurance will protect you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It’s comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong. I never go on a trip without it as I’ve had to use it many times in the past. My favorite companies that offer the best service and value are:
- World Nomads (for everyone below 70)
- Insure My Trip (for those over 70)
- Medjet (for additional repatriation coverage)
Looking for the Best Companies to Save Money With?
Check out my resource page for the best companies to use when you travel. I list all the ones I use to save money when I’m on the road. They will save you money when you travel too.
Want More Information on Norway?
Be sure to visit our robust destination guide on Norway for even more planning tips!
Photo credits: 3 – Tore Storm Halvorsen, 4 – Daderot, 5 – Claudine Lamothe
Note: Visit Oslo provided me with free accommodation and a tourist card to get into attractions for free while I was there. I paid for my own meals and flights to/from Norway.