Who said Oslo has to be expensive? Discover the 10 top free things to do in Oslo to add to your bucket list.
Norway is one of my favourite countries. Its neverending beauty must be seen and experienced both during the cold and warmer seasons. In summer, there are amazing hikes to go on while in the winter you have the chance to see the Northern Lights and go whale watching. The only tough part about travelling in Norway is how pricey it can be. Making your money last on any trip can be a challenge. Unfortunately, it’s usually the most amazing places that have a lot to offer that are the most expensive, especially the Scandinavian countries.
Whenever there is a new study or publication on the most expensive cities in the world, you’re sure to find Oslo in the top five. According to TripAdvisor, a night out in Oslo, including one night at a four-star hotel, a short taxi ride, and cocktails and dinner for two, costs £381.28 GBP ($550.97 US). Ouch!
But don’t let that put you off, in any city there are always ways of making your money go further. Better yet, why not do things that cost zilch, nada, niente, zero, and diddly-squat!
Let’s take a look at the top 10 things to do in Oslo without spending a penny.
1. Admire the pretty Norwegian Houses on Damstredet and Telthusbakken
Damstredet and Telthusbakken are two charming small roads lined with wonderfully colourful and well-preserved wooden houses which have been inhabited since the late 18th and early 19th century.
As part of the expansion of Oslo, Damstredet was mostly built between 1810-1860. The first house, known as Solberg and painted pink, was built in 1756 by the sculptor Ole Meyer.
The author, Henrik Wergeland lived in Solberg between 1839-1841 and was later the residence of the Minister of Defence, Nils Christian Irgens. The brown house towards the beginning of the street was a stable where Henriks Wergeland kept his horse, Verslebrunen.
The houses that line the narrow street of Telthusbakken, located in the borough of St. Hanshaugen, date back to 1815 when deeds were issued for the properties. During the 16th century, this street was part of the main road connecting the east and west of Oslo and passed the Old Aker Church which sits on top of the Telthusbakken hill.
Old Aker Church was built around 1080 and is Oslo’s oldest building still in use. The name Telthusbakken comes from a large canvas house that existed around 1700.
The two streets are located approximately 15 minutes walk from each other making it easily accessible, and will lead us straight on to the next FREE thing to do.
2. Pay Your Respects to Edvard Munch
It might sound weird to recommend visiting a cemetery, but oftentimes cemeteries are very beautiful with wonderful landscaping. To be fair, when I visited Vår Frelsers gravlund (Our Saviour’s Cemetery), there was a blanket of snow on the ground and no one insight. It wasn’t creepy at all, but calm and peaceful.
As a massive fan of Norwegian painter Edvard Munch, most famous for his painting The Scream, my main reason for visiting the cemetery was to see where he was laid to rest.
Originally created in 1808 as a result of the famine and cholera epidemic of the Napoleonic Wars, today this beautiful cemetery is Norway’s main honorary burial ground. Here you’ll also find the graves of other famous Norwegians including Henrik Ibsen (playwright), Henrik Wergeland (writer), Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson (writer and Nobel Prize winner), Richard Nordrak (composer of the Norwegian national anthem), Christian Krogh (naturalist painter) and Alf Prøysen (writer and musician).
3. Absorb the Amazing Art inside City Hall
What can I say, it was Munch’s painting entitled Life that’s located here that drew me to visit Oslo’s Rådhus (City Hall). But that’s not all there is to see.
Inaugurated in 1950, City Hall has been decorated by great Norwegian artists from 1900-1950. Inside, everywhere you look you’ll see motifs from Norwegian history, culture and working life.
On the anniversary of Alfred Nobel’s death on December 10th, Oslo City Hall hosts the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony. It is here that the laureate gives his or her lecture and is awarded the medal and diploma. Attending the ceremony is the Norwegian Royal Family and Prime Minister, which as you might imagine is by invitation only, however after the ceremony you can catch the Peace Prize winner waving from the Grand Hotel balcony at 7 pm.
Outside in Rådhusplassen (City Hall Square) you can also find beautiful fountains and sculptures. It is from here that you can appreciate the wonderful music played played hourly on 49 carillon bell located inside the eastern tower of City hall.
If you’re visiting during the summer months, keep an ear out for special concerts that are hosted here in the square.
4. Take a Stroll Along Karl Johans Gate
Karl Johans Gate is the city centres main street and named in honour of King Charles III John, who was also the King of Sweden as Charles XIV John.
Along this long street which leads straight up to the Royal Palace, you’ll find discos, night clubs, bars, jazz clubs and cafés scattered amongst the shops, shopping centres, and hotels.
Kvadraturen is the name of the historical centre in Oslo, getting its name from the rectangular street pattern. It was here that king Christian IV founded Christiania, (renamed Oslo by law in 1924) after the big fire in 1624. Oslo’s oldest buildings are located in this area where you will also find numerous art galleries and museums.
5. See the Change of Guard at the Royal Palace
Beautifully elevated on top of the hill at the end of Karl Johans Gate, the Royal Palace was completed in 1847. It was here that King Charles III of Norway resided.
During summer it is possible to pay for a guided tour of the palace which boasts an impressive 173 rooms. Alternatively, you watch the change of guard at 1:30pm daily which lasts approximately 40 minutes. On Sundays there is a service in the Palace Chapel at 11 am.
6. Take a Free Guided Tour Inside Parliament House
If you think the outside of this building is stunning, wait until you take the free 45 minutes guided tour inside. Designed by Swedish architect Emil Victor Langlet, the building was taken into use in 1866. The building features several styles, including French and Italian influences.
Due to the small size of the building, it cannot hold the current staff of the legislature, so Parliament sometimes meet in other offices in the surrounding area.
Stortinget, as the building is called in Norwegian, literally means “the great thing” or “the great council”.
Tours run on weekdays during summer but only on Saturday’s during spring and autumn, so plan ahead.
7. Be Fascinated by the Bizarre Statues in Frogner Park
Apart from visiting the Munch museum, wandering around Gustav Vigeland’s impressive sculpture installation in Frogner Park was a major highlight.
Just to give you an idea of how impressive it is, the actual sculpture area spans 80 acres or 320,000 m2. The area features 212 bronze and granite sculptures, which all culminate towards the famous monolith made up of 121 figures struggling to reach the top of the sculpture. Over the course of 20 years, Gustav Vigeland dedicated his life to the creation of his installation that MUST be seen.
If you love this park then you must visit Oslo’s best kept secret for only NOK 50, located just outside the city centre.
8. Walk on the Roof of the Opera House
This is perhaps the coolest thing you can do in Oslo! The roof of the opera house angles to ground level creating a large plaza inviting pedestrians to walk up and enjoy the panoramic views of Oslo. The building appears to rise out from the water thanks to its angled exterior covered in beautiful Italian marble and white granite.
Don’t forget to head inside as well. The lobby is surrounded by 15 metre (49 feet) tall windows with minimal framing as to allow for maximum views of the water.
Interior surfaces covered in oak brings a warmth to the space which contrasts with the coolness of the white exterior. The main auditorium is a horseshoe shape and illuminated by an oval chandelier containing an impressive 5,800 handmade crystals. This place is just awesome!
9. Admire Quirky Architecture at Barcode Project
While we’re on the subject of architecture, we can’t miss visiting the Barcode Project, in Oslo’s business district.
Designed by Dutch and Norwegian firms, this row of multi-purpose high rises buildings resembles a barcode due to the narrow space between each building. The overall shape of each building is very different, offering many enjoyable architectonic details and quirks.
Perhaps the best view of this area is afforded from the roof of the opera house or from the long pedestrian bridge Akrobaten (the acrobat) which stretches across the tracks of Oslo central station, connecting the two areas.
10. Relax in the Botanical Gardens
I really wanted to visit these gardens, but during winter there’s not much greenery to appreciate. Boooo! From what locals told me, this green oasis is the perfect place to relax and enjoy botanical variety and diversity. Beyond the 1800 different plants found here, there is so much to appreciate.
There are six unique gardens that offer something special to everyone. Starting with the Viking Garden, here you will see plants, rocks and animals that were used during the Viking Age all displayed in a 33 m long ship-shaped time machine made of corten steel.
Great-granny’s Garden is home to many plants from old gardens. They are preserved here in a living archive. The garden is particularly designed for people suffering from dementia – the familiar scents, old-fashioned benches, and other traditional elements have a comforting effect and improve their memory.
Next up is the Systematic Garden which demonstrates the family relationships among plants, while the Rock Garden contains alpine plants from all over the world.
The Herb Garden contains medicinal and poisonous plants, spices and culinary herbs, fiber plants, and plants used for dyeing. Lastly, the Aromatic Garden is specially designed for the visually impaired with labels in Braille and raised bed for wheelchair users.
Oslo Accommodation Recommendations
Whilst visiting Oslo, I stayed at Anker Hotel for four nights. The double room I had was very spacious and the bathroom was equally as big. The room had a lovely view over the stream and bridge leading up towards Damstredet and Telthusbakken. Located just a 15-minute walk from Karl Johans Gate, Anker Hotel is also well connected with both tram and bus stops right outside the hotel. I particularly enjoyed their the traditional Norwegian ginger biscuits they had at reception each day. Nom nom!
Want to see more of Oslo? Take a day trip!
- Oslo Nature Walks: Island hopping
- Experience the best of Oslo with a city pass
- 2-Hour Oslo Fjord Sightseeing Cruise
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Over to you!
Are you planning to visit Oslo? Have you visited Oslo and can recommend other free activities?
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Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoyed this post.
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