14 fabulous, fun things to do in Oslo (and some of them are free!)

14 fabulous, fun things to do in Oslo (and some of them are free!)

You can’t beat a bit of local knowledge. I spent two nights in Oslo, Norway, staying with friends. In those short 48 hours, they introduced me to a glut of Scandi-cool experiences, which I’d never have discovered by myself.

So now, I’m passing on their wisdom. Here are some tips on fun things to do in Oslo. Some of them are even free!

Look around an international food market

Oslo

Located in Vulcan, one of Oslo’s new development projects, Mathallen is a fiesta of international food and drink. Without the grunginess that you sometimes find in European food markets, Mathallen is bright and fragrant with the smell of superfood smoothies and spicy street food. It’s open from Tuesdays to Sundays, with regular country ‘takeovers’. Italy was holding court when we visited. Next up is Portugal, who are offering tasting tours, and the chance to win flights to Lisbon.

Mathallen Oslo

These pintxos at the Barramon bar and deli caught my eye, but there was enough at Mathallen to inspire a day of feasting. A French-inspired grilled cheese sandwich at Smelt for breakfast, then lunch at Champagneria Bodega tapas bar, overlooking the river. An afternoon snack from Mixto Latino Street Food, followed by dinner at Atelier Asian Tapas. And the day wouldn’t be complete without trying some high-end Norwegian cheeses fom Ost & Sånt.

Is your stomach groaning already?

Go bee spotting

When you’re in Oslo, don’t forget to look up. I took the picture below outside Mathallen, at Vulcan. Those stumps on the rooftop at the right of the picture, next to the taller chimney? They’re beehives.

Oslo

Norwegians are fiercely protective of nature, and that includes bees. To make sure Oslo’s bees have a safe passage across the city, from the mountain to the fjord, city planners encouraged businesses and individuals to put beehives at strategic points along a ‘pollinator passage’. This Highway for bees means you’ll find hives in all sorts of unexpected locations – like the roof of the opera house, or the top of the Deloitte building.

Hire bikes, and cycle along the fjord

You can hire bikes in Oslo through Oslo Bysykkel. For NOK 49 (around £4.90), an app on your phone tells you where the nearest bike station is, and unlocks a bike for you. The charge lets you use the service for 24 hours, taking an unlimited amount of 45 minute rides. If you wanted to cycle more, a three-day pass costs NOK 99. Oslo’s a good city for cyclists, with plenty of purpose-built paths, and a central area that is reasonably flat. Nobody seems to wear a helmet, though.

Hang out at the harbour

Oslo

The inside of Oslo’s iconic opera house

If you only have time to visit one area in Oslo, the harbour is THE place to go. From end to end, it runs for nine kilometres. It’s a diverse place: culture vultures can marvel at the design triumph that is the Opera House, while nature-lovers can stroll along the coastal paths at the tips of the harbour’s promenades. There’s shopping and restaurants at Aker Brygge Wharf, and the park area of Sørenga Bridge is modelled on New York’s Highline. In the harbour’s upmarket quarter of Tjuvholmen you’ll find Venetian-style canals and the Astrup Fearnley Museum of modern art.

Oslo Opera House

Oslo’s opera house

Take a dip in the fjord

Despite the somewhat chilly temperatures of the fjord, those Norwegians do love a dip. They make it look so enticing, it’s impossible not to want to join them. At Sørenga Seawater pool (below), women in bikinis, children with rubber floats and Oslo residents in their seventies were all basking in the August sunshine, with the occasional plunge into the fjord. For those seeking a more pebbly shore, there’s also Tjuvholmen City Beach.

Oslo

Hire canoes

The Norwegian Trekking Association’s new outdoor activity centre at Sørenga, Friluftshuset, hires out canoes to those who’ve reached a certain level of proficiency. When I was there in August, the fjord was peppered with colourful kayaks.

Oslo

Visit a museum

Munch Museum

From ‘Towards the Forest’, an exhibition at the Munch Museum

Oslo has a large number of world-class museums, and I’ve posted about some of them here. Top of the list would be the Munch Museum, with an impressive collection of the artist’s works; the Viking Ship Museum, where three boats are on display after being buried for almost a millennium; and the Natural History Museum, set in the city’s beautiful Botanical Gardens.

An Oslo Pass gives free entry to over 30 museums, as well as discounts at restaurants and free travel on public transport. A 48-hour Pass is 595 NOK for adults, 295 NOK for children.

Oslo

Oslo’s Natural History Museum

Try caramelised goat’s cheese

Brunost, a semi-soft brown cheese, is one of Norway’s best-known food exports (after seafood, that is). It tastes very little like the cheese eaten on Continental Europe – and as it’s made by boiling a mixture of milk, cheese and whey, technically it’s not a cheese at all. Norwegians almost unanimously include it in their lunchboxes, and use it as a topping for waffles and biscuits. It’s very sweet, but the version made purely with goat’s cheese has a distinct tang – so be warned. I found it delicious, and enjoyed tucking into a brunost ice-cream I found at Sørenga.

Eat at Tunco

Tunco

It’s not easy to find inexpensive places to eat in Oslo. One gem that I discovered (with the help of my friends) was Tunco. Set in the St Hanshaugen district of Oslo, the lively restaurant/takeaway serves healthy, freshly-cooked food with Asian flavours, vegan options and child-friendly portions. The food was delicious, and not too badly priced: 149 NOK – about £14 for a regular portion, and 119 NOK – about £11 for a small. Best of all, for every meal you buy, the restaurant donates one to a child in Kenya.

Chill out at the city farm

Oslo

Losæter’s sensory garden

Close to the waterfront at Bjørvika, Losæter is an urban farm set on formerly derelict land. With allotments, a calming sensory garden built with people with dementia, and a Bakehouse whose award-winning design is based on a Viking ship, it’s worth walking the ten minutes from the Opera House to experience this burgeoning community space.

Oslo

Losæter’s Flatbread Society Bakehouse

Drink Norwegian craft beer

Oslo

Vippa Oslo

There’s no denying it: the alcohol in Norway doesn’t come cheap. But, if you can bear parting with 80-100NOK for a beer, there are plenty of fine Scandinavian ales to choose from. We sat in the harbourside sunshine to drink beer in two places: Vippa, a new hip warehouse collective of pop-ups set right by the port; and Kongen Marina, a tropical-themed bar popular with the sailing set.

Oslo

Kongen Marina

Sample gourmet coffee

Oslo

Norwegians take their coffee very seriously. If you’re part of the ‘slam, bang, thank-you, ma’am’ school of coffee-on-the-go, you’ll be disappointed. Baristas take their time here. But the resulting brew can be savoured like a fine wine – and, indeed, at gourmet coffee house and barista training school Tim Wendelboe, the drink is served in wine or cocktail glasses. The coffee there was superb, and didn’t quite have the same steep Oslo mark-up as other food items. It came to 75NOK for two drinks, which is practically London prices.

Tim Wendelboe is in Grünerløkka. Also excellent (and similarly priced) is Supreme Roastworks, a micro roastery on Thorvald Meyers gate.

Notice the differences

Oslo

One of the best things about visiting a new city, is strolling the streets, discovering the things that make it a distinct, unique place. Like the hundeparkering in the picture above. Norwegians are a dog-loving nation, and in Oslo they like to take their hounds with them everywhere. The dogs go into these special kennels when it’s time for their owners to dine.

And where else in the world would you find a ramshackle sauna like this, just across the water from an iconic Opera House (hidden in this picture by a temporary stage)? You can even just about make out the blur of naked flesh through the window.

Oslo

Some things aren’t too different, though. On Brenneriveien we chanced upon this mural by Sheffield street artist Phlegm. A housing crash in 1899 stopped lots of building work around the city, so rows of houses were left unfinished. The result is that there are more gable ends than usual in Oslo. Perfect for street artists.

Oslo

Walk in the forest

Nordmarka forest Oslo

I don’t think you can have the complete Oslo experience without a trip to the Nordmarka forest. It’s only twenty minutes away from the centre, and offers a whole new dimension to the city. Restaurants, museums and fjordside lounging are replaced with pine trees, the crunch of feet on a dirt track, and the chance of spotting an elk.

To get to the Nordmarka, a train ride takes you through the picturesque Oslo suburbs to several stops with forest access. The T-bane Metro runs to Holmenkollen, Frognerseteren, Sørkedalen, and Sognsvann, all of which are good starting points. You can read more about walking in the Nordmarka here.

 

Have you been to Oslo? Any tips?

For more information about things to do and places to stay in Oslo, go to the Visit Oslo and Visit Norway websites.

You might also like to visit the other features in our Norway section, including posts on Bergen and the western fjords.

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43 Comments

  1. September 22, 2017 / 9:51 am

    Oh my goodness, what an amazing city! Those dog parking bays are genius. We intend to travel Europe with our dog for a year in a few years time, I think she may well get to know the inside of one of those!! We need to campaign to get them over here! I’d definitely be up for a dip in the Fjord – well, as long as I visited in Summer! You’re right about local knowledge, it makes all the difference.
    Nat.x

    • Nell
      Author
      September 24, 2017 / 7:26 pm

      Apparently the dog kennels are vet-approved, and very popular. I’m looking forward to hearing about your dog road trip when it happens!

  2. September 25, 2017 / 6:48 am

    Lol! My sister made a beeline for the dog kennels when she visited last week (they have some sort of ultrasonic cleaning device in between pooches you know)! I also love the fact that although I now live here, you’ve introduced a few of places I didn’t know about! Typical understated Norway. Quiet and orderly is the way, we often miss stuff going on because the marketing (if you could even call it that) was so minimal we just didn’t hear about it. Great you had a ball and you certainly had a busy weekend, ‘tusen takk’ for the tips 🙂

    • Nell
      Author
      September 25, 2017 / 8:52 pm

      And tusen takk for visiting! It’s good to know I’ve included some things that even an Oslo-dweller didn’ know about. You’re right, it’s a fabulous, understated country.

  3. September 25, 2017 / 8:35 am

    What a fab looking city. It is high on my bucket list. I would love to see the fjords too #mondayescapes

    • Nell
      Author
      September 25, 2017 / 8:55 pm

      They really are magnificent, too.

  4. September 25, 2017 / 10:38 am

    Tips from locals are the best! I love the sound of the caramelised goats cheese and I know Mr TB would be a big fan of the craft beer 🙂 #MondayEscapes

    • Nell
      Author
      September 25, 2017 / 8:56 pm

      The beer was top-notch. He’d have to go armed with a full wallet, though!

  5. September 25, 2017 / 12:08 pm

    Oslo seems like such a fascinating city. Everything I read about it makes me want to go there. #MondayEscapes

    • Nell
      Author
      September 25, 2017 / 9:12 pm

      You definitely should if you get the chance, Allison x

  6. September 25, 2017 / 12:15 pm

    Lucky bees! If only other cities looked after their wildlife so well. That food market sounds delicious and those kennels are hilarious!

    • Nell
      Author
      September 25, 2017 / 9:12 pm

      I know. A little quirk I would never have anticipated!

  7. September 25, 2017 / 2:21 pm

    Oslo sounds like a fantastic city. Hoping to visit Norway next year with a stop in Oslo. Wanted to do the ferry from the UK to Stavanger but have found out it has now stopped!

    • Nell
      Author
      September 25, 2017 / 9:13 pm

      I know – the ferry to Bergen doesn’t run now, either. A big shame!

  8. September 25, 2017 / 3:34 pm

    Loved Oslo – gutted I missed out on that cool asian restaurant when we were there though. However, I did enjoy illegal burger – another cheap and tasty option! #MondayEscapes

    • Nell
      Author
      September 25, 2017 / 9:14 pm

      Sounds great – thanks for the tip!

  9. September 25, 2017 / 4:43 pm

    Ohh I went such a long time ago to Oslo (pre-kids). Love to go back with them now. Also free things are good. I was so, so expensive out there and that was over 10 years ago.

    • Nell
      Author
      September 25, 2017 / 9:23 pm

      It’s still pricey, but there are cheaper things to do, if you know where to look. x

  10. September 25, 2017 / 6:10 pm

    This looks sooooo cool! I have wanted to visit the cities of Norway for a while (Oslo, Stavanger and Bergen) and I think your post is so helpful!
    #MondayEscapes

    • Nell
      Author
      September 25, 2017 / 9:28 pm

      Thanks! I’ve written about Bergen too – do check it out.

  11. September 25, 2017 / 9:19 pm

    What a cool list, definitely will be checking this out when we come to go to Oslo – which we really really must. Thanks for linking up to #MondayEscapes

    • Nell
      Author
      September 25, 2017 / 9:29 pm

      And thank you for hosting, Karen! x

  12. September 26, 2017 / 9:44 am

    Coffee, bees, fjords, food and art galleries?! What’s not to like?! #mondayescapes

    • Nell
      Author
      September 26, 2017 / 2:29 pm

      I know. All the good stuff!

  13. September 26, 2017 / 3:25 pm

    I’m so jealous. I will get to visit Scandinavia at some point I have promised myself. This just makes me want to go all the sooner x MondayEscapes

    • Nell
      Author
      September 27, 2017 / 10:43 am

      Oh, you definitely should, Deb. It’s a magical place.

  14. September 27, 2017 / 4:57 pm

    Oh Nell it looks so amazing I would love to wander checking out the Bee hives, and that food market wow, thanks so much for linking up #mondayescapes

    • Nell
      Author
      September 28, 2017 / 12:40 pm

      And thank you for hosting! x

  15. September 27, 2017 / 8:11 pm

    Wow so many great tips and places to visit. Love the dog kennels, although im not sure our 2 dogs would enjoy going inside them #MondayEscapes

  16. September 27, 2017 / 9:48 pm

    This looks so beautiful. Hiring bikes followed by hiring canoes followed by the food market! I’m sold #mondayescapes

  17. September 29, 2017 / 1:18 am

    I visited Norway for the first time recently and loved it – we travelled through the Fjords but unfortunately we didn’t get time to visit Oslo. Definitely book-marking this post for future reference Nell as we’re hoping to visit next year!

    • Nell
      Author
      October 2, 2017 / 1:24 pm

      Norway can be a bit addictive, can’t it? I’ve been a few times now. The fjords are incredible.

  18. September 29, 2017 / 9:10 pm

    Wow that looks so amazing. I would love to visit here and wander around. The Bee hives, and that food market look fantastic. x

    • Nell
      Author
      October 2, 2017 / 1:32 pm

      It’s a wonderful place, Susan.

  19. October 3, 2017 / 9:10 am

    I had no idea that Oslo had so much to offer! And how fab to get the insider knowledge from your friends. Shame the beer’s so pricey, although can’t imagine my boys sitting long enough for me to enjoy it – so probably doesn’t matter 😉 #citytripping

    • Nell
      Author
      October 3, 2017 / 1:57 pm

      yes, my days of spending hours drinking are well behind me too – children or no children!

  20. October 3, 2017 / 10:21 pm

    What great tips – especially a few freebies amid the famous Scandi expense. How wonderful about the bees too, that makes me very happy. Very tempting for the thought of a summer city break. Thanks for linking up with #citytripping

  21. October 4, 2017 / 3:57 am

    So many fun things to do in Oslo. I would like to go to the farm, and drink craft beer! #citytripping

  22. October 4, 2017 / 9:47 am

    Great post! Oslo is on my list of places I’d love to visit, so will be bookmarking this.

    • Nell
      Author
      October 6, 2017 / 11:05 am

      Thank you!

  23. October 4, 2017 / 9:48 am

    Sorry, forgot to add the hashtag – #citytripping

  24. October 5, 2017 / 1:50 pm

    Oslo sounds fantastic. The bee highway, dog parking, community forest area, and the ramshackle sauna are all great additions to a city.

    • Nell
      Author
      October 6, 2017 / 11:31 am

      Yes, it has so much going for it.

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