Compact, eclectic and lively capital city? Check! Stunning woodlands and pristine fjords? Check! The most expensive city on the planet? Check!
Yet fear not as there are plenty of FREE things to do in Oslo, whatever the weather and whatever your budget;
Vigeland Sculpture Park – Oslo’s Vigelandsparken is both free to explore and one of the most popular attractions in Norway, with over one million annual visitors. This unique park features over 200 works from Norwegian sculptor Gustav Vigeland (1869-1943) in cast iron, granite and bronze. Vigeland himself designed the layout and content of the park which is studded with lavish fountains alongside tree lined lawns.
Oslo City Museum – Don’t miss this fascinating little museum which is located in the Vigeland Park (see above) within Frogner Manor. The museum contains exhibits spanning 1,000 years of Norway’s cultural history along with one of the biggest collection of paintings in the country. Of particular interest is the main building of the Frogner Hovedgård which retains its faithful interior, which dates from 1750-1900 and is only open to the public between July and August. The Oslo City Museum is free to all visitors.
National Gallery – Oslo’s Nasjonalmuseet features exhibits of Norwegian art, dating from the romantic period in addition to a few pieces from international artists. The main draw right now is the Munch 150 exhibit which features the country’s most famous artist, Edvard Munch of ‘The Scream’ fame. Don’t miss the upcoming exhibitions; “Scream” through the magnifier and ‘The Dance of Life’. The National Gallery has free entry every Sunday.
Botanical Gardens – Take a moment and chill out in Oslo’s Botanical Gardens which is largely set aside as an arboretum – dedicated to trees. Known in Norwegian as the ‘Botanisk Hage’, this is a great spot to chill out and gain inspiration from its beauty. The Arboretum area contains around 1,800 different plants covering a large varied collection of both shrubs and trees, all displayed in order of plant family. Don’t miss the exquisite Scent Garden and the ornate Palm House which dates back to 1868. The stunning Victoria House contains various species of exotic plants from all over the world. Open Tuesday-Sunday, the Botanical Gardens are free to enter.
Akershus Castle and Fortress – Situated in Oslo’s city center beside the Oslo Fjord, is the magnificent Akershus Castle and Fortress, which dates back to 1299. Norway’s King Håkon V commissioned the build which has gone through man changes over the years, most notably when it was remodelled as a Renaissance castle by King Christian IV (1588-1648). Sadly the castle fell into disrepair for two hundred years, prior to renovation in 1899. The castle and fortress are free to explore, and catch the annual programme of festivals and events which are held within the grounds. Don’t miss the centuries-old ‘Changing of the Guards’ spectacle which takes place each day at 1.30 pm.
City Walks – One of the easiest (and cheapest) ways to get your bearing around Oslo is to take a city walk. And the bonus is that the city boasts a few impressive vantage points! Wander the grounds of the historic Akershus Fortress (mentioned above) which combines history with stunning panoramic views over the harbour below. Head out to the scenic trail around Ekeberg and consider Frognerseteren, which is a little further afield but keen walkers are amply rewarded with the spectacular fauna and fauna of the lush Oslomarka Forest, which contains dozens of hiking paths of all lengths. If you prefer the sights of the city, then you can opt to walk the Akerselva River trail which takes in its pretty waterfalls, traditional bridges and old mills. And finally, it’s said that the Old Aker Church on Telthusbakken hill inspired Edvard Munch – a must for all budding artists!
National Museum of Contemporary Art – In total there are six museums that offer free entry each Sunday, including the National Gallery (mentioned above) and the National Museum of Contemporary Art which is located on Oslo’s Bankplassen 4. Opened in 1990, the museum hosts both temporary and permanent exhibitions. The permanent displays include the fascinating ‘The Garbage Man’ from Ilya Kabakov, Per Inge Bjørlo’s ‘Inner Room V’ and Richard Serra’s ‘The sculpture Shaft. In total there are some 5,000 works housed within the museum by both international and Norwegian artists, with pieces dating back to 1945. The exhibitions include sculptures, paintings, drawings, photography and installations.
Other Free Oslo Museums – The other participating museums with free admission on Sundays includes the Museum of Decorative Arts and Design, the Museum of Architecture, the Historical Museum and the Stenersen Museum, which also has free entry each Tuesday.
Ekebergparken Sculpture Park – One thing Oslo does particularly well is parks: vast sprawling city parks, and the Ekebergparken is a fine example. Not only does this park offer fine sculptures and a vast green national heritage park for its people, it also offers superb views over the rolling hills. Spanning 63 acres, this park is about the same size as the Vigeland Sculpture Park (mentioned above) and contains many sculptures well-known international artists. Don’t miss the traditional sculptures of Rodin and Renoir within the Villa Gardens. And make your own mind up about ‘The Dance’ installation by George Cutt’s which is über modern! Ekebergparken is free to the explore 24 hours a day.
Markets and Festivals – Hang with the local at one of Oslo’s city markets, such as the Vestkanttorvet Market which sells pre-loved items and antiques. The Sunday flea market at Birkelund is great for browsing and picking up unique pieces. The highlight has to be the traditional Christmas markets, where authentic Norwegian food, drink and locally made handicrafts are sold. The biggest is undoubtedly the market at City Hall’s Rådhusplassen.
Oslo also has a packed annual calendar of festivals and events. Don’t miss the National Music Day each June when the city comes alive with music spanning every genre. The multicultural Mela Festival which is held each August is a must-experience with its exhibitions, film previews and world music. And each 17 May is always great fun, as locals take to the streets to celebrate Norway’s national day, where you can expect city parades, vibrant fireworks and much flag waving!