Diary of a guidebook writer: Four free options to see Oslo on a budget

Photo: David Nikel The waterside Aker Brygge development is home to shops, restaurants, offices, upscale apartments, and a lot of boats.

Photo: David Nikel
The waterside Aker Brygge development is home to shops, restaurants, offices, upscale apartments, and a lot of boats.

David Nikel
Trondheim, Norway

Three chapters down, five to go! With Oslo, Trondheim, and Lofoten in the bag, my thoughts now turn to Tromsø and the road to the North Cape (Nordkapp). Although I’ve lived in Norway for five years and been to Tromsø three times, I’ve still not made it up to Nordkapp.

There are so many interesting things to see in the north of Norway: the dramatic peaks of Lofoten, the devastating history of World War II in Finnmark, and the rock carvings of Alta, to name but three, that I’ve never understood the appeal of standing on a rock that is claimed, incorrectly, to be the northernmost point in Norway.

Rather than asking for a simple listing of the “best” things to do, however, the editors at Moon encourage a curation of activities to suit all ages, budgets, and interests. That means that even if I don’t think much of Nordkapp myself, I have to understand why hordes of Norwegian Americans flock there every summer.

In the same vein, although this guidebook is not aimed directly at budget travelers, almost every traveler to Norway is a budget-conscious traveler, so I’m paying special attention to budget-friendly attractions, restaurants, and accommodation.

When it comes to free attractions, Oslo is blessed with a wide range. While you would be missing out by not paying to enter the Viking Ship Museum or the Norwegian Folk Museum, it’s great to know about some of the free options to fill in the gaps in your itinerary.

Vigeland Sculpture Park
Wander the truly unique Vigeland Sculpture Park and get drawn in to the bizarre mind of Gustav Vigeland. More than 200 sculptures in bronze, granite, and wrought iron are on display in the park, which Vigeland himself designed. Walk from one end to the other in just ten minutes or spend an entire morning examining the human condition. As many take human form, there is an eerie realism to them. Not least the famous Angry Boy, its hand a different color due to the myth that good luck passes to those who touch it. You can’t miss the park’s centerpiece, the 14-meter-high monolith made up of 121 writhing figures.

Photo: David Nikel More than 200 sculptures are free to view (and take crazy pictures with) at the Vigeland Sculpture Park near Majorstuen.

Photo: David Nikel
More than 200 sculptures are free to view (and take crazy pictures with) at the Vigeland Sculpture Park near Majorstuen.

The sculpture park is surrounded by the much larger Frogner Park. Oslo’s biggest inner city playground is filled with locals walking dogs, barbecuing pølser (hot dogs), and playing frisbee, whatever the weather.

Holmenkollen Ski Arena
Visible across the city, the arena’s main attraction is the Holmenkollen Ski Jump, rebuilt in 2011 as the centerpiece of the Holmenkollen Ski Arena. This world-class sporting facility is free to walk around, take in the remarkable views across the city, and feel your stomach churn at the thought of sailing off into the skies. There’s a charge to enjoy the complete Holmenkollen experience, which involves a trip up the ski tower to see the views the jumpers get just before they launch.

My preferred way to get there is to visit the Frognerseteren lodge (accessible on the T-Bane system) for some warming cocoa and a sweet treat before making my way down through the forest trails.

Aker Brygge
The old Aker shipyard dominated Oslo’s waterfront until its closure in 1982. Four years later, the first part of waterside development Aker Brygge opened its doors. Today, over 6,000 people work here and over 1,000 people call it their home. The offices, malls, and residences are linked by several public areas and a pier perfect for an afternoon stroll or people watching from the many restaurants, cafés, and ice-cream kiosks that line the route.

A recent extension to Aker Brygge, Tjuv­holmen is a modern development with a grim history. Thieves were executed here in the 18th century and its name directly translates into English as “the Thief’s Island.” On the walk from Aker Brygge to Tjuvholmen, you will pass the always-burning Eternal Peace Flame, dedicated to the city of Oslo by Sri Chinmoy in 2001 and designed to serve as a beacon of light and inspiration.

The islands of the Oslofjord
While not technically free as you need to take a ferry to get there, the inner Oslo­fjord islands are at least covered by the regular transit pass, unlike the ferry to Bygdøy, which requires an additional ticket. Each of the islands possesses a different quality—recreation, history, nature—so you pick and choose or spend the day hopping between them. During the long summer nights, young Norwegians head to the farthest island, Langøyene, to party and camp.

My favorite is Hovedøya, the largest and most popular of the islands. It’s great for swimming on its western beaches, playing games on the large open grassy area, or exploring the forested nature reserve. Historical monuments abound, including the ruins of a monastery founded by English Cistercian monks in the 12th century and burned down in 1532. You’ll also find cannon batteries from the days when the island was used by the Norwegian army. A few steps from the jetty, the beautiful Lavetthuset is home to a gallery and small kiosk open during the summer.

David Nikel is a freelance writer based in Norway. He runs the popular www.lifeinnorway.net blog and is the author of the upcoming MOON Norway guidebook.

This article originally appeared in the July 15, 2016, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.


The Norwegian American

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