Is there anything better than being able to explore a city knowing that you can do so on a pretty tight budget? When you think about destinations across Europe where you can achieve this, it’s unlikely that the Scandinavian nation of Norway (or any of the other countries in this part of the continent) will be very high on your list. However, during our recent visit to the Norwegian capital of Oslo, we challenged ourself to experience the very best of this city without breaking the bank. We want to share how you can experience the best free (or budget-friendly) Oslo attractions if you only have 24 hours in this part of Norway.
Oslo, in much the same manner as fellow Scandinavian capital cities Stockholm, Helsinki, and Copenhagen, is a city full of rich history, modern culture and a plethora of attractions that will keep you occupied throughout your visit.
Just like most other European cities, 24 hours in Oslo is barely enough to touch the surface but if you are experiencing a whirlwind trip throughout Scandinavia or perhaps enjoying an epic Eurail adventure, you have to be prepared to make the most of your limited time in the city.
Let’s take a look at how you can explore Oslo on a budget. We are convinced that after your trip, you will be raring to head back to Norway to explore more…I know we are!
How to Reach Oslo City Center?
Ok, let’s start with the first challenge…how to actually reach Oslo! If you are traveling around Europe via train, this is actually going to be an easier and more affordable option than if you are flying.
This may sound a little strange given that flying into a European city with low-cost airlines in today’s era is the norm but the reality is, it’s not the cost of the flight that you need to be worried about…it’s the location of Oslo’s international airport – Oslo Airport Gardermoen.
Gardermoen is located 45 km from the city center and unless you plan on renting a car, your best option is going to be to take the train. Here are the options available to you:
Known as the “shuttle train,” this is the quickest way to reach Oslo’s city center from Gardermoen airport. Hopping on the Flytoget shuttle is a 20-minute journey and except for a taxi, this is going to be the most expensive option. A one-way ticket (at the time of publication) costs 190 NOK (24 USD).
The most “cost-efficient” method is the regional train that takes longer (25-30 minutes) but is certainly cheaper. A one-way ticket is 101 NOK (13 USD).
Taxi service is available between the airport and city center but you are looking at somewhere in the region of 600 NOK (76 USD) for this method of transportation. If there are multiple in your party, this may be a more cost-effective method.
Of course, if you are confident enough to drive in Norway, a rental car may be the best option but if you are only planning on staying inside the city center, we highly recommend taking the regional train.
Given that we only had 24 hours in Oslo, we actually booked our hotel by the airport and opted to travel into the city via the regional train before returning at night. It was approximately 40 USD combined for the two of us (round-trip) and if you have an early flight in the morning, staying at a hotel near the airport is definitely a wise move!
Best Free Oslo Attractions
You have figured out your best way to reach Oslo city center, so now it’s time to head out and start exploring! What better way to achieve this than your own two feet.
It’s true, exploring any European city is better when you take a self-guided walking tour given that you can wander down different streets, explore hidden neighborhoods and have better interactions with locals who will always point out the best “local spots” that you cannot afford to miss.
The beauty of exploring Oslo in only 24 hours is that you can accomplish a lot given that there is a lot to see and experience in the central business district by the harbor. Oslo is a port with plenty of cruise liners and cargo ships frequently entering and leaving the area.
Whether you have any time to admire the vessels passing through is entirely your choice but after reading our recommendations, we think you will have enough to keep you occupied and your eyes away from the port.
Here are 5 awesome FREE things to do when you next visit Oslo.
- Akershus Fortress
- Karl Johans gate
- The Royal Palace
- Aker Brygge Wharf
- Mingle in Local Markets
A stay in Oslo doesn’t have to cost a fortune. In fact, there is a lot you can do for free in the Norwegian capital. (Visitnorway.com)
Although Oslo may no longer be considered as the world’s most expensive city, it’s still in the higher echelons in comparison to others across the globe. But as with any city in the world, you can always find something that is free and for those of you that tend to travel on a tight budget, these attractions will keep you occupied for at least 24 hours!
If you are ready to learn all about Oslo’s rich history, there is no better place to start than at the iconic Akershus Fortress which dates back to the late 13th century when construction first started following the instruction of King Håkon V. This medieval castle was originally built in the strategic location at the end of the headland overlooking the bay.
It’s no surprise to hear that this castle has withstood various battles over the centuries and today, it’s been transformed into a stereotypical Renaissance castle and royal residence. Guided tours are available (at an additional cost) if you are interested in heading inside the residence but we think that exploring the grounds and imagining life here over the last 700 years is equally rewarding.
It’s also worth noting that Akershus Castle was formerly used as a prison prior to World War II and has housed many famous prisoners, including early Norwegian socialists.
You can easily spend several hours walking around this part of Oslo. Although Akershus Fortress is the focal point of this area, there are other attractions that may catch your eye as you explore. The Armed Forces Museum, for example, is a great spot to learn all about Norwegian military history dating back to medieval times and up until World War II.
Akershus Castle Church is located in the castle at the very top of the fortress. Public services are available and offer locals and visitors alike the opportunity to experience a peaceful atmosphere in a place of worship.
Karl Johans gate
Ready to experience the heartbeat of Oslo? Take a stroll over from Akershus Fortress to the city center to enjoy Karl Johans gate which is renowned as the main street. The street was named in honor of King Charles III John.
Karl Johans gate was formerly a series of separate older streets but was collapsed into one to create the iconic thoroughfare that we see today. This main boulevard leads all the way from the Central Station where you will likely arrive for your visit to Oslo, to the Royal Palace and measures a distance of just over 1,000 meters.
Whether you are interested in enjoying a little retail therapy (not going to focus on the plethora of retail outlets that are available given that we are primarily interested in FREE attractions) or simply admiring the Norwegian architectural ingenuity on display along this street, Karl Johans gate is undoubtedly the place to be to enjoy a little bit of everything.
Nightclubs, bars, hotels, cafes, chain stores and boutique establishments can all be found along Karl Johans gate but it’s when Oslo prepares to celebrate with a street parade or at Christmas when you really get to experience the very best along this street.
Our visit to Oslo was a few weeks prior to Christmas and everything was preparing for the holiday festivities with a Christmas market at “Jul I Vinterland” (Christmas in Winterland).
The Royal Palace
The Royal Palace in Oslo dates back to the first half of the 19th-century when this was initially constructed as the royal residence for King Charles III of Norway. Today, it is home to HM King Harald V and HM Queen Sonja. This gorgeous structure is perfectly situated at the end of Karl Johans gate and towers above the main thoroughfare in Oslo.
For those of you interested in European architectural styles, the Royal Palace is stereotypical of the neo-classical design with a facade of stuccoed brick. If you can arrange your Oslo itinerary to accommodate the changing of the guard, this takes place every day at 1:30 PM and well worth experiencing if you want to see how the Norwegians perform this tradition.
Guided tours are available throughout the Royal Palace in the summer months but regardless of the time of year you visit Oslo, you can be assured that this residence is a landmark you won’t want to miss.
Aker Brygge Wharf
One of our favorite neighborhoods that we explored was Aker Brygge. We took the short walk from the Royal Palace to head down to the Aker Brygge Wharf and were immediately impressed by the eclectic blend of restaurants, shops, bars and other spot were locals and visitors alike could mingle together. This commercial district is also a popular spot for visitors that want to take boat tours out into the bay.
In comparison to many other attractions around Oslo, the Aker Brygge Wharf is relatively new given that this it only became prominent in the 1980s and 90s. This area was formerly a shipyard until it ceased operations in 1982.
The Aker Brygge neighborhood is a popular and vibrant commercial district and frequently plays host to photography exhibitions, concerts and pop-up events for fashion, art and culture. We spent a couple of hours exploring this neighborhood and although our visit to Oslo was only short, this was definitely a spot we are already looking forward to returning to.
The relaxing atmosphere was evident as you stroll along the Wharf and whether you are just grabbing a cup of coffee or enjoying dinner with a gorgeous view overlooking the bay, this is a part of Oslo perfectly situated to reflect on your visit to the Norwegian capital.
The street market culture in Oslo is definitely a popular experience that you will want to participate in during your visit. Depending on the time of year you visit Oslo will determine the style of markets available.
Visiting in November or December will give you the opportunity to experience the best Christmas markets and we can well and truly attest that Oslo has some of the best markets across Europe. If you are contemplating where to visit for the best Christmas market breaks in Europe, Oslo should definitely be on your radar!
For those of you interested in experiencing a stereotypical Norwegian fish market, head to Fisketorget on City Hall Pier for a truly immersive experience. Be prepared for a pretty strong smell but that’s part of the experience!
An alternative market is Mathallen Food Hall which is a little further outside of the main city center in the heart of the Grünerløkka district but well worth the effort to visit. This market offers a variety of locally produced cheese, chocolates, meat, fish, and vegetables.
Oslo is a beautiful city and definitely, somewhere you should have on your radar regardless of your budget. Just like any other city, you can spend as much as you want but hopefully, we have highlighted some attractions and neighborhoods that you can thoroughly enjoy exploring without putting too much of a dent on your credit card.
Each of the above-listed experiences can be enjoyed at no extra cost or alternatively, you can spend money in each spot and add an extra layer to the experience. It’s personal preference folks! We had an amazing 24-hour visit to Oslo and look forward to returning in the future.
Our intention was to explore Oslo using the Visit Oslo Pass but unfortunately, some technical issues prevented us from using that. However, that did allow us to spontaneously put together our very own self-guided itinerary and experience everything we listed above. We hope you have a similar positive experience when you next visit the Norwegian capital.