Oslo, the capital of Norway is a beautiful and surprising city. Surrounded by water, the old town contrasts with the super-modern center with very original architecture. Oslo is a very pleasant place to visit, especially in the summer time. It's also the gateway to other attractions in Norway which is becoming more and more popular among tourists from around the world (for example Fjords and the famous Pulpit Rock).
But anyway, if you are in Oslo, you will be surprised how diverse and beautiful the Norway's capital is and how many things you can actually visit. I was amazed ans astounded while walking down the streets of the city. I came to Norway mainly for the Pulpit Rock and, although I didn't intend to spend a lot of time in Oslo, it turned out to be a nice surprise (so were other towns in Norway and the countryside). While driving through the country, everything seemed so beautifully planned and arranged. All the houses, gardens, little streets and squares with fountains. No wonder it's one of the richest (and, unfortunately most expensive) countries in the world.
Is Oslo expensive?
The answer for this question is simple - yes, it is. Really expensive. (Unless you come from other Scandinavian countries). Some people say Ireland is expensive, but comparing to Oslo, Dublin will seem very cheap. You are going to notice it as soon as you land in Oslo.
I arrived in the Rygge Airport with a budget airline (I must admit that I paid only 40 EUR (53.50 USD) for the return flight from Ireland!) and the first shock was the bus fare to Oslo city center. It's 300 NOK return (38 EUR/50 USD) - almost the price of the flight. The distance is around 60 km (37 miles) and the journey takes around 1 hour. Let's compare the price from Barcelona Girona Airport to Barcelona which is 100 km (62 miles) away - 25 EUR (33 USD).
You can find all the fares and info how to get from Oslo Rygge to the city center here (also by train): http://www.visitoslo.com/en/transport/transport-airport/moss-rygge/
The second shock was the fact that there's no Currency Exchange Office or any bank at the airport. My bank card didn't work when I was trying to purchase the bus tickets so I had to withdraw money from the ATM which charged me a nice additional fee for that.
Let's have a look at the average prices in Oslo: 1 ticket for public transport (any) that must be used within 1 hour costs 30 NOK (3.80 EUR/5 USD). 24-hour pass: 80 NOK (10 EUR/13.50 USD).
Plain sandwich in a grocery store - 59 NOK (7.50 EUR/10 USD). A nut bar: 23 NOK (3 EUR/3.80 USD). Bottle of water (cheapest option): 25 NOK (3.20 EUR/4.20 USD). Soft drink: 30 NOK (3.80 EUR/5 USD).
A meal in one of the cheapest restaurants (for example one of the kebab restaurants): 130 NOK (16.50 EUR/21 USD). Average restaurant: 400 NOK (50 EUR/67 USD). Just for one course.
Take away coffee (cappuccino, latte, etc.): 32 NOK (4 EUR/5.40 USD). Beer in a pub: 70 NOK (9 EUR/12 USD).
As you can see, prices are more or less twice as high as the prices in Dublin, Ireland.
Budget accommodation in Oslo
There are very few hostels in Oslo, but if you are a backpacker and have been traveling through different countries, the term 'budget' accommodation seems to loose its meaning here. I stayed at the cheapest Oslo's hostel, located right in the city center, near to the main train/bus station but in a little dodgy area. The price of a bed in a 6-bed mixed dorm was nearly 35 EUR (46 USD). Also, don't be surprised when you are asked to pay for bed linen and towels (70 NOK per person - additional 8.80 EUR/12 USD). So all together it was more than 43 EUR (57 USD) per night!
The staff was clearly rude and couldn't care less about the guests. We were given beds in 8-bed dorm without being informed about it in advance. When we asked how to get somewhere, we just heard 'I don't know'. In the hostel, there is WiFi but there's no computers where you could access the Internet. We were told by the hostel's staff that in case of emergency we can ask the guests to use their I pads/laptops! Of course, the staff had the Internet behind the counter but surely we were to inferior for them to be able to use it if we needed it. So, we asked for the information we needed in the nearby hotel, where the staff were nice enough to actually check the internet and help as, even if we weren't their guests.
What to see in Oslo
After all the trouble and not a very good start, Oslo surprised us really nicely and, if the prices and the hostel story didn't scare you away, you should really visit the capital of Norway and I'm sure you will like the city.
Oslo Old Town
The old part of Oslo is beautiful and resembles any other European city. It's full of nice, cozy litte streets, beautiful architecture, parks and squares, good restaurant and shops. You can start walking the old town right after getting out of the main railway/bus station - Oslo S. Many attractions and buildings are within the Old Town.
One of them is the distinctive Oslo City Hall building where the Nobel Peace Prize is presented. The brick building with two towers was opened in 1959 and is the seat of the administrative panel in Norway.
Another example is The Parliament Building completed in 1866. It combines several different European styles, mainly from France and Italy. It also has the characteristic yellow-grayish color. The entry is free and there are tours (also in English) available.
Oslo National Theater, opened in 1899 is one of the most beautiful buildings in the city. It also offers free guided tours.
Oslo Cathedral, located very near the main station Oslo S is also worth mentioning. It was built in the seventeenth century and is the main cathedral in Oslo.
Oslo is also known for many museums, especially the Vikingskipshuset Museum (The Viking Ship Museum) which can boast an original, perfectly well preserved Viking ship buried more than 1100 years ago. Another great museum is the Frammuseet Museum which is basically an exciting trip to the North and South Pole. The exhibition shows the weather extremes in those remote places and how life can survive even in the harshest conditions.
Akershus Castle and Fortress
Akershus Castle and Fortress date back to the fourteenth century, around 1300. The medieval castle was turned into the renaissance style in the seventeenth century. Situated on the hill beside the shore, the castle area provides amazing views over the modern waterfront of Oslo. In the lavishly decorated halls, state events are held until this day. The entry fee is 70 NOK for an adult (9 EUR/12 USD), 50 NOK for students (6.30 EUR/8.50 USD) and 30 for a child (3.80 EUR/5 USD). The fortress and the castle courtyard are free to enter.
Modern Oslo and the Harbor
Oslo's super modern quarter, although still under construction when I visited it, was already quite astonishing. I didn't expect to see it in Oslo to be honest, most of European cities, with a few exceptions, are filled with the classic, old-style architecture. The modern, high rise buildings are located right in the heart of Oslo, next to the distinctive, equally modern Opera House. The skyscrapers have very original shapes, some reminds of multiple Rubik's cubes stuck together. At night, the brand new bridge illuminates with different colors that change every few minutes.
The harbor and the waterfront is beautiful, full of ships, cafes and restaurants. I was impressed by the new part of the city, everything seems to be so well planned and organized, it doesn't clash with the Old Town like in some other cities where super modern skyscrapers are squeezed in between old monumental churches.
National Opera Building
The Norwegian National Ballet and Opera Building is located in the modern part of the city, at the waterfront. It's design is really impressive, white walls and the roof combined with glass create an odd but beautiful shape. After entering the Opera House you can admire some free art performances.
It's also possible to climb onto its roof to get a beautiful view of the city. I also noticed some people were lying down flat and rolling down the snow-white 'slopes' of the Opera House - it looked hilarious. At night, the building glows with purple-blue light, another perfect spot for nighttime photos (although in the summer it never gets completely dark). In front of the building, there was an art exhibition of some really controversial photos depicting for example pigs feeding people and other weird things. Oslo will always surprise you!
Vigeland Sculpture Installation
Vigeland Installation is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Oslo. It represents the life work of the artist Gustav Vigeland (1869-1943). The city clearly likes to be controversial and the park will surely shock you. The whole exhibition consists of more than two hundred sculptures and statues in bronze, granite and forged iron. The sculptures are presented in very strange poses, some I would say sexual, some just plain weird, the bodies are entangled with one another making the exhibition a truly different and striking attraction. I've described the Vigeland Installation in detail here.
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