I have travelled through Norway before, but i’ve never actually spent a night in this Nordic land of the midnight sun. I once flew in but then immediately borded a train and then ferry onward to Sweden, I’ve hiked over from a national park that straddles both countries, as well as driving in from Sweden to a border town for coffee and cake. So when Ryanair cancelled one of my flights last year, they sent me an £80 voucher that I had to use before the end of March, and as I like a challenge, I searched until I found a return flight for under £80 that was close to a weekend, so I would only need 1 day off work. So ‘Oslo’ Torp it was . . .
I say ‘Oslo’ as Torp airport is actually about 75 miles from the capital, but many budget airlines fly into this small airport instead of the main Oslo one. I would say the majority of the people on my flight and probably the majority of Torp users head onward to Oslo, so the public transport too and from the city is frequent, not too expensive (it is Norway remember) and well-managed. As long as you realise you will have another 90+ minutes of travel after you have landed, I wouldn’t be put off if you want a budget Scandinavian trip.
Arrivals – Scandinavian airlines do provide direct flights from Manchester, Edinburgh, and London to the main Oslo Airport known as Gardenmoen. But for those of us on a budget there are cheaper options from both Manchester and London, to the smaller Torp airport but not much else from the UK that goes direct.
Norway is bordered by Sweden, Finland and Russia, but Oslo is situated on the far south of the country, and therefore only close to Sweden. It’s just over an hours drive to the Scandinavian border and a 3 1/2 hour drive from Gothenburg the nearest Swedish city. You used to be able to get the ferry from the UK to Kristiansand a large port south of Oslo, but this route has now been stopped. Oslo itself has a ferry port, but again no direct sailings with the UK, you do have options of sailing in from other Scandinavian locations though. Trains and buses are plentiful into Oslo, and from many Scandinavian destinations such as Tromso, Lillehammer, Stockholm and beyond and something I would like to explore further at some point, I bet the overland scenery is breathtaking.
Getting from Oslo’s main airport into the city centre is easy as there are frequent buses and trains to the main stations in the city, and its the same from Torp, which organises buses too and from the capital according to the flight departures and arrivals, so don’t worry if your flight is delayed, more than likely the bus will delay its departure to suit. I bought a return Torp Ekspressen bus ticket online for £44 before I left the UK (you can also buy on the bus), otherwise you can take a shuttle bus to Torp train station and then board the hourly train to Oslo centre.
History Bit. People started to migrate to the coastline that is now Norway around 10,000 BC as it provided the perfect environment for shelter, fishing and hunting as well as being warmer along the coastline. In the 1300’s Norway, Sweden and Denmark were joined together under one union and ruling monarch, Sweden left this union in 1523, but Norway and Denmark remained together until 1814, Norway then ended up in another union with Sweden until 1905 when it finally gained its own independance. There have been settlements in Oslo since the middle ages, and it has been regarded as the capital since 1299 when King Haakon V set up residence here.
Sights. I wanted to do Oslo on a tight budget, it was easy to think I was having a cheap weekend because my flights were free, but then I didn’t want to break the bank exploring the city once I got there. The thing that surprised me about Oslo, because it’s not a place I readily think of for a weekend trip, nor do most of my friends, is that its packed with so much to see and do, boat trips, museums, parks, a castle, a cathedral, and great cafes and restaurants, I think the expense puts people off, which is understandable, but a shame.
As I wanted to keep the cost down, I decided to limit the fee paying things I did, but decided to choose just one of the many museums in the city, and boy are there loads. Some of the many on offer included Nobel Peace Centre (£9) Munch Museum (£11) Ski Museum (£13) Viking Ship Museum (£9) Norsk Folk Museum (£12) Polar Ship Museum (£11) Jewish Museum (£4.60) Museum of Oslo (£8 but free on Saturdays!) and the Kon TIki Museum (£8). There is also a 241 offer for those wanting to visit both the History Museum and viking ship museum as long as you visit within 48 hours. As you can see, for most of the museums you wont be getting much change from £10 (€11 $14) per person, so choose wisely.
I decided to visit the Nobel Peace Centre, this museum unsurprisingly tells the history of the famous award given out for peace and is the only Nobel medal given out in Norway. All the others awards for economics, physics etc are given out in Nobel’s home country of Sweden. As well as a timeline of the awards given out for peace, there are other permanent and temporary exhibitions whilst I was there, a really thought-provoking exhibit was on the nuclear bomb and another one called Generation Wealth. Take a peak inside the museum shop, its full of eco-friendly, handcrafted, unique and rare products, I could have easily have bought 2 or 3 things, the whole centre is well worth a visit and I’m so glad I spent my minimal budget here.
For the remainder of my trip I stuck to the free things, and this easily kept me busy for the whole of the weekend, so what did I do . . .
A short walk to the north west of the city is Vigeland Park the worlds largest sculpture park, mainly featuring a variety of nude statues in all kinds of interesting poses, the most famous one being the angry boy. You enter the park by a large gate and I headed straight ahead towards the fountain, over a bridge and up to the large monolith. There are about 200 statues, along with footpaths, a cafe, shop and museum, it’s a popular jogging spot and dog walking route, so if you’re lucky like me, you’ll find lots of dogs to cuddle. Open 24 hours and free, it’s a must do on any Oslo itinerary.
From the park, I headed back towards the waterfront along Løkkeveien and Dronnings Mauds Gate, an upmarket area with nice cafes, coffee shops and really interesting architecture. At the end of the street you arrive at the Nobel Peace Centre, but beyond this, its worth exploring the waterfront, which is full of more cafes and restaurants and beautiful views out across the Fjord. One thing I wished I had budgeted for was a fjord cruise, £30 for 2 hours, there were a couple of companies offering daily trips, and if (when) I return, I am definitely going to book on one. That said, I still had a nice time wandering along the water’s edge and taking in the scenery.
Opposite the Nobel Peace centre across the water stands the Akershus Fortess looking out across the Oslo fjord. Its open from 6am-9pm and although guided tours are available, you can just wander and explore the impressive buildings yourself whilst enjoying the beautiful views across the waterside for free, perfect for my frugal weekend.
Next I walked my way back into the centre of the city towards the spire of the Oslo Domkirke or Cathedral. Its another free attraction you can visit in the city, open daily for the public to visit and there are also guided tours you can book on as well.
I then followed my way through the curious looking red bricked passageway which is the old bazaar. Once to be demolished but now a protected building, it houses shops, restaurants and cafe’s, realising I was now cold and in need of something to eat, I stopped for a soy cappuccino and some ‘Norway National cake’, how could I refuse!
The cake was £10 (€11) and one of the cheapest things on the menu, so I slowly took my time sat outside under a blanket, watching the many locals and tourists windowshop. Once replenished I explored the immediate area of Karl Johans Gate and Dronningens gate, with Karl Johans being the main street of the city, its full of shops and cafes and leads to further attractions within the city. I didn’t stay too long exploring here, as I knew I would have time the following morning, so after picking up some cheap snacks & water from a food shop that would have to last me till dinner, I headed in a North East direction.
My plan was to break the budget and visit the Munch museum located just by the Botanical Gardens but I took too long just having a great time exploring the streets, little churches and craft shops. Realising that it closed at 4pm, I wouldn’t have made it in time, so I inadvertently stuck to my budget after all.
As it approached evening, the temperature dropped, so I headed back to the hotel, warmed up, rested, then grabbed dinner as a local recommended vegan place. Main meals costed between £16-20 which seemed the same as an average traditional place to eat as well, if it had been my first trip to Norway, I may have hunted out some more local dishes, but felt I had ticked that box with my £10 cake!
I then spent a pleasant evening just wandering the main streets around Karl Johans Gate, past the national theatre, parliament, Eidsvolls plass and stopped to watch families ice skating, dealing with the cold weather much better than I did! The streets were pretty quiet despite it being a Saturday evening, but it was in the heart of winter, and from what I could tell, most people seemed to be enjoying theatre, cinema and the warmth of indoor bars and restaurants. Lots of places did have outdoor seating, so I can imagine its a whole different world once the temperature increases, another reason to return for sure.
The next morning with a few hours to kill before my bus back to the airport, I was up early for my breakfast (banana and cereal bar brought from Manchester) and a discounted coffee via a voucher from my hotel. Feeling brave I sat outside the cafe with my soy cap in the minus 5 weather, under a patio heater and wrapped in a blanket, having the most glorious time watching dogs play in the snow and joggers carefully negotiating the icy paths, feeling a little blue that my time in the Norwegian capital was almost over.
I still had about 2 hours to spare, so headed across the street from the coffee shop through a park which turned out to be the palace park and by sheer coincidence I arrived as they were changing the guard, so stopped to watch for a while. The park itself was really nice, full of dogs in jumpers going for morning walks, and the little colourful sculptures dotted around the snowy park really added to the atmosphere.
I then took the main route back into the city centre down Karl Johan’s Gate getting to explore more of the most famous street in the city, past some of the buildings I had walked past in the dark the previous night, such as the Stortinget (parliament). I then made a slight detour South past the impressive City Hall building to take in the views of the Oslo Fjord for one last time.
It would have been great to have had at least another full day in the capital to see another museum or two and take a cruise out across the fjord, but as time was limited due to the availability of flights and my budget, it wasnt feasible this time, but its one of my most recent visited capital cities that I want to return too, I’ll just have to get saving!
Coffee and Cake I had my National Cake probably in one of the more expensive cafes around, right inside the bazaar at the Cafe Cathedral but the service, food and views were worth it. My morning coffees were at Espresso House the one by my hotel offered guests a discount, plus it had great views across the palace park opposite, as well as offering heated outdoor seating, as well as a cosy indoor space too.
Eats I ate both nights at Nordvegan a delicious plant based restaurant, serving warm dishes as well as home made desserts. Offering both seated and take out options, the chef has worked in Michelin starred restaurants and the food doesnt disappoint, hence returning on my second night too.
Always be polite – Thanks ‘Takk” Hello ‘Hallo” Good Bye “Ha Det”