Scandinavia is hot right now – well okay, not literally. But backpackers are loving this stylishly quirky corner of the world and all the unique cities and natural beauty it has to offer. Take the Norwegian capital for example. There’s a nonchalant coolness about Oslo, it’s chic and modern but minimalist and traditional at the same time. Full of culture, incredible architecture, amazing food and banging nightlife. Read on to discover the top 10 things to do in Oslo that won’t break the bank… even if it is one of the most expensive cities in the world!
Visit Nordmarka Forest for cross country skiing
Skiing is a religion for Norwegians, not only because they’ve historically dominated the skiing world cup and Olympics. It’s also the favourite pastime of the general population. Every year, once winter covers the hills, people strap on their skis and hit the trails that criss-cross through the entire country.
Cross country skiing holds a special place in Norwegian culture. This activity was once solely a means of transportation – now it’s just pure social fun, as well as a hardcore full-body workout! Perhaps its popularity could be put down to the fact that it’s suitable for everybody and extremely good for the body and mind. The Nordmarka Forest offers various skiing routes for long distances against a beautiful backdrop of Nordic flora. There are strategically placed restaurants and cafes along the routes that not only offer a nice view over the forest, but also the opportunity to thaw your frozen nose.
- Get here: Metro (6) from the city centre to Sognsvann station
- Price: The trails are free, but you’ll need to rent skis from the city centre for around £23 a day.
Try the best cinnamon buns in the country at WB Samson
It is simply not acceptable to go to Scandinavia and not indulge in the sugar laden, spice encrusted cinnamon bun. I will simply not allow it! Though any and all cafes around the city do offer this humble but delicious delicacy, it’s essential for any visitor to enjoy the best that the city has to offer. It’s honestly one of my top things to do in Oslo.
The cafe is stocked throughout the day with handcrafted buns, freshly baked breads, pastries and authentic dark Scandinavian coffee. But if it’s a warm kick you require, then nothing beats their hot chocolate, finished with whipped cream and enough calories to provide insulation against the cold.
- Get here: The closest metro station is Stortinget
- Price: Depends how much you can eat! One bun costs 40 krone (about £3.50)
Try the brown stuff at Mathallen Food Hall
Sometimes you just need to be surrounded by food – believe me, it’s good for the soul! Olso’s Mathallen Food Hall is full of Nordic culinary delights, and the atmosphere inside the hall is quite exquisite. You can pretty much just attach a feeding bag around your neck and feast on, but the one thing that is mandatory is the Norwegian brown cheese. It is truly a gluttonous experience, as the caramelised sweet and tangy tasting cheese coats the roof of your mouth, sealing it shut with deliciousness. It may not be for everyone, but it’s certainly a must try!
- Get here: Bus 54 or 34 to Møllerveien
- Price: Free entry, just pay for what you buy
Get your culture fix at the Munch Museum
Named after one of the most celebrated Nordic painters and pioneer of expressionism, Edvard Munch, this museum is a must on everyone’s Oslo itinerary. Even if you feel art and museums might not be your thing, you have to go here. I’m not guaranteeing that you’ll scream out in excitement for Munch (wink wink), but you will have a marvellous time admiring talent and skills that are beyond most of our imaginations.
Though the museum is dedicated to displaying its namesake’s work, the exhibitions are on constant rotation. The collection of paintings, graphical prints, books, letters and sculptures that Munch gave the museum prior to his death is so vast that the exhibitions are always changing. Your tour can also be enhanced with a lesson in history with audio tours available in English, and a film on Edvard Munch’s life that is shown throughout the day.
- Get here: Metro to Tøyen
- Price: 120 kroner (£10.15)
Wander around Ekeberg Sculpture Park
If you’re a solo traveller who enjoys taking long walks among serene nature, this is a pick exactly for you. Why be alone in a national heritage park when you can click selfies with sculptures?
The sculptures are actually an international art collection, situated at spectacular lookout points throughout the park. The best part is that Ekebergparken is always open and is free to visit, as the residents get lonely and appreciate all visitors. Jokes aside, the pieces of art are spectacular and give you the opportunity to appreciate beauty both manmade and natural. This is one of the more relaxing things to do in Oslo, especially in summer, and shows off the city’s quirky charms.
- Get here: Tram 18 or 19 to Oslo Hospital/Ekebergparken
- Price: Free entry
Shop till you drop at Velouria Vintage
The Nordic have a penchant for vintage and thrifting. You don’t need to be a fashion expert, but as humans we all enjoy a bargain find. The 90s are huge at the moment – I mean, who doesn’t want to channel the ‘dad working for an upcoming IT firm’ or ‘mom before she had you’ look?
There doesn’t need to be money burning a hole in your pocket for you to indulge yourself with unique pieces from the iconic vintage stores in Grunerløkka, Oslo. Velouria Vintage is the hippest vintage store in town, and if for no other reason you should go there for pure inspiration. This is a place that makes fashion fun again, as nothing is taken too seriously. Also, a good point to note is that the store caters to all genders so there are treasures to be found by everyone.
- Get here: Tram 11, 12 or 13 to Olaf Ryes Plass
- Price: It depends how much you buy, but prices are generally very backpacker-friendly.
Swim in some of the cleanest water in the world at Frysja
Swimming isn’t everyone’s cup of tea (or coffee, as that is the drink of choice in the Nordics). Partly because there are no guarantees attached to ponds and lakes found in the wild, and no one wants to come out of a polluted lake with extra toes and scaling skin. What about swimming pools I hear you say? Chlorine water that’ll turn your bleached blonde hair green, kid pee… that’s it, I’m done.
But if you’re making a trip to the promised land of high living standards, then why not make the most of it? Brekkedammen at Frysja resides at the serene upper part of the Akerselva River. The majority of Oslo residents get their drinking water from the nearby upstream lake, Maridalsvannet, thus making the water the cleanest in the city. As you swim the grassy patches along the stream, allow for a perfect spot to set up a picnic so you can fully enjoy a day out in the sun.
- Get here: Bus 54 to Frysja
- Price: Free
Visit Tim Wendelboe for coffee that’ll blow your socks off
Now time for a shocking revelation: Norwegians love coffee. The tempting aroma wafting out of Tim Wendelboe has the power to convert anyone. The self-titled coffee shop, micro roastery and training centre offers people an education about the intoxicating bean. If you want to learn, go in with open nostrils and have a snack before to prevent the strong coffee from burning a hole in your stomach!
- Get here: Tram 11, 12 or 13 to Olaf Ryes plass
Have a tipple at Bar Robinet
You might say, there are bars all over the world, so what’s the point of going all the way to Norway just to sip your usual apple martini? If that’s what you feel, prepare to have your mind changed when you take a trip to this quirky and quaint establishment that serves a wide range of creative drinks to its niche crowd. The bar might be small (no more than 30 people can fit inside) but it’s full of character. The intimate atmosphere allows you to strike up a conversation with the bespectacled Norwegian teacher who’s enjoying his nightcap in the corner!
- Get here: Bus 37 to Hammersborggata
- Price: No cover charge
Learn about Nordic history at the Viking Ship Museum
This museum located in the Bygdøy peninsula boasts the world’s best-preserved Viking ships. The famous adventure film The Vikings Alive plays all day long on the ceilings and walls of the museum, while you get to roam around and appreciate the artefacts dug from Viking tombs around the Oslo Fjord. The finds include ships, small boats, sledges, carts, tools, textiles and household utensils.
Go here to discover more about these fantastical warriors, whose achievements mostly consist of plundering and growing impressive amounts of facial hair. And no, no self-respecting Viking ever wore horns on their helmets. They saved those for the adult-themed slumber parties, along with the handcuffs and beard combs.
- Get here: Take the ferry from Rådhuset to Bygdøy (summer only) or Bus 30 to Vikingskipene
- Price: 100 Kroner, or about £8.50
There’s something for everyone in our list of the top 10 things to do in Oslo. Visit this noble country, eat cheese that looks like it went off, party in a cubicle sized bar and witness the colourful Scream. Gorge on cinnamon buns and buy yourself a horned helmet to take back home to further continue your Scandi adventure. Well what are you waiting for – start planning that trip!
Why not check out our hostels in Oslo for a budget place to stay?
About the author:
Karan Ahluwalia is a Finnish writer studying in London, about to embark on great adventures after her MA studies. She knows her way around five languages, food from all corners of the world, and misses the snow and seasons from back home.