Backed by mountains and surrounded by sea, Oslo is a truly unique European city. Norway’s capital is renowned for its green open spaces and abundance of museums, embracing the contemporary arts while paying homage to its fascinating history. Oslo has been named the European Green Capital for 2019 and has one of the lowest carbon footprints in the world. Its excellent transport links and careful city planning mean Oslo is easy to navigate – perfect for a one-day cruise stopover. If you’re looking to see the city on a budget, perhaps our list of the top free things to do in Oslo will help.
Just 500m from the cruise port sits the impressive Akershus Castle and Fortress. Dating back to 1299, the medieval building occupies the very end of a headland, and has witnessed many sieges through the years. King Christian IV (1588 – 1648) modernised the castle and converted it into a Renaissance castle and royal residence. Today, visitors can explore the fortress free of charge, and even take a guided tour throughout the summer.
Ekebergparken Sculpture Park
Showcasing a spectacular international art collection, Ekebergparken is a must-see for culture vultures visiting Oslo. Statues are surrounded by beautiful scenery, from lush woodlands in the summer to snow-covered lawns in the winter. The sculptures represent European art history over the past 150 years, including works by Salvador Dali and Damien Hirst. Ekebergparken is open all year round, and is completely free. It is roughly a 45 minute walk from the port, however there are also excellent public transport links.
Famous for its maritime history, Bygdoy Peninsula is the place to go to discover Norway’s Viking history. Vanessa, creator of travel blog Snow in Tromso, has lived in northern Norway for the past three years and highly recommends visiting Bygdoy: “Oslo might be Norway’s most expensive city but there are plenty of things you can do and see for free! Visiting a country like Norway, you’d most likely want to see the famous fjords and beautiful landscapes, and even the city of Oslo itself has lots of green spaces to offer.
“My favourite place in Oslo is the peninsula Bygdoy, where you can not only find some of Oslo’s best museums (the Viking Ship Museum for example, or Folkemuseum – an open-air museum depicting life in Norway in the old days) but also several beaches where you can relax and enjoy the scenery on a sunny day without having to pay a single kroner!
“The peninsula also is a great place to go for a walk in the forest and you can even visit the summer residence of the King of Norway, which also functions as an organic farm. Entrance is free in spring and summer, however you can only visit on Saturdays.”
If you’re boarding your Fred Olsen cruise to Oslo in the summer and want to hit the beach, fear not. Just 6km from the cruise port, the beautiful Paradisbukta Beach is a haven for swimmers, windsurfers and sunbathers. Throughout the summer season, a snack bar is open and the grassy surroundings are abuzz with cyclists and hikers. It goes without saying that Paradisbukta Beach is totally free to enjoy.
First consecrated in 1697, Oslo Cathedral is truly a sight to behold. In 1950, the building’s interior was restored back to its original baroque style. It is the main church for the Church of Norway Diocese of Oslo and is used for weddings and funerals by the Norwegian Royal Family and Norwegian Government. Oslo Cathedral is just a 15-minute walk from the cruise port and completely free to visit. During weekdays and every Sunday, the church hosts mass, but the building is also used for concerts throughout the year.
Vigeland Sculpture Park
Vigeland Sculpture Park is often named by travellers as the most unusual attraction in Oslo. Situated an hour’s walk from the cruise port, the park is worth seeking out if you’re interested in surreal art. It is the largest sculpture park in the world by a single artist, with over 200 pieces on display, each crafted by Norwegian sculptor Gustav Vigeland. The sculptures feature naked human figures in various poses and situations, and are considered to be incredibly unique, if not rather unusual.
Gustav Vigeland did not live to see the park’s completion, however the collection welcomes over one million visitors each year. It’s said that the artist had envisioned a true public space for the people of Oslo, and it remains free to the public.
Jennifer and Tim of award-winning travel blog Luxe Adventure Traveler said: “Norway is one of the world’s most expensive countries to visit, but that doesn’t mean a trip there has to cost a fortune. Vigeland Sculpture Park with its 212 sculptures is one of Oslo’s top attractions, and entry is free.
“You can also pick up some things for an inexpensive lunch than if you were to sit down at a restaurant from Mathallen Food Hall and have a picnic in the park. Also, head to the Oslo Botanical Garden which was founded in 1814 and has over 7,500 species of plants, and free entry.”
Old Aker Church – Oslo’s oldest building
The half an hour walk from the cruise terminal is well worth the effort to see Oslo’s oldest building. Old Aker Church, as well as being visually stunning, is the oldest surviving building in the city, dating back to around 1150. The Roman-style basilica is surrounded by a picturesque churchyard, and services are still held here on Sundays at 11am. Old Aker Church is free to visit.
Edvard Munch’s grave
Art enthusiasts shouldn’t miss out on paying their respects to Edvard Munch. The renowned Norwegian artist, and creator of well-known masterpiece The Scream, is buried in the Cemetery of Our Savior, just moments from Old Aker Church. Munch spent much of his later years in solitude at his estate in Skoyen, Oslo. Many of his works celebrate rural life. His grave is fairly easy to find, as it features a stone bust of himself.
Walk on the roof of Oslo Opera House
Walk on the roof of one of Oslo’s finest buildings – Oslo Opera House. Visitors are invited to stroll along the marble rooftop to truly appreciate the architecture and get a unique perspective of the city. Gaze over the fjord archipelago, dotted with traditional wooden summer houses in bright colours, as well as the rolling hills beyond Oslo. While this unique experience is completely free, if you want to explore Oslo Opera House inside, there is an entrance fee. The opera house is just a 15-minute walk from the cruise terminal.
Oslo’s Royal Palace
See the changing of the guard at Oslo’s spectacular Royal Palace. Surrounded by the lush grounds of Palace Park, the opulent building is home to HM King Harald V and HM Queen Sonja. If you’re not prepared to fork out £12 for a guided tour of the Royal Palace, the changing of the guard takes places each day at 1.30pm and is a magnificent sight. If you did opt for the guided tour, you’ll be taken to see the beautiful staterooms, including the Banqueting Hall, Mirror Hall and King Haakon VII Suite.
Damstredet and Telthusbakken
Step back in time in Oslo’s most picturesque districts. Extremely well-preserved with quaint wooden houses dating back to the 1700s, Damstredet and Telthusbakken are a photographer’s paradise. Damstredet is a pretty cobbled street lined with old houses, stretching for just 160 metres. Telthusbakken is equally attractive, with gardens and a medieval church. Roaming through these ancient parts of Oslo is completely free. This area is roughly a 30 minute walk from the cruise port, however the city has great transport links.
If you’re keen to explore the old-world charm and contemporary art scene of Oslo, take a look at our selection of Fred Olsen cruises which visit Norway and the Baltics.
Image credits: Victoriano Javier Tornel Garcia, Visit Oslofjord, Mahlum