40 free things to do in Oslo

One of the world’s most expensive cities, Oslo is well known for the slimming effect it can have on tourists’ wallets. While you’re almost guaranteed to encounter pricey hotels, overpriced food and incredibly expensive beer (around $12 for a pint last time we checked), there are plenty of activities to fill your day which are absolutely free.

Free things to do in Oslo, Norway

From cultural sites and outdoor activities to stunning viewpoints and seasonal festivals, this guide will show you 40 ways you can enjoy your visit to Oslo without breaking the bank. Use the menu below to hop between sections.

Museums and tours
Lakes, islands and nature
Window shopping
Viewpoints and lookouts
Seasonal activities
Historic sites and cultural experiences
Urban exploration

Museums and tours

1) Take a trip to the National Gallery, which includes world-renowned masterpieces such as Edvard Munch’s The Scream and Madonna. Avoid the crowds and the ticket fee by visiting on a Thursday, when entry is free.

2) Explore the Stortinget, the home of the Norwegian government, and wander through the Parliament chamber on one of the two free guided tours that take place every Saturday. Entry is first-come, first-served, and is limited to 30 people. Arrive early!

Stortinget in Oslo

Stortinget, the parliament building / Pic: Lennart Perlenhem (CC)

3) Gawp at Oslo’s massive City Hall, which dominates the city’s western waterfront and is free to enter and explore. The self-guided tour leads you through various rooms, each of which showcases unique art depicting Norway’s historic past and political struggles for a better future. Free guided tours are offered three times a day from June–August.

4) Stop by the Architecture Museum. Housed in the old headquarters of the Bank of Norway, this museum offers permanent exhibitions on the evolution of architecture over the past 200 years. Just like the National Gallery (see above), entry is free on Thursday.

5) History buffs will love the Museum of Oslo. This free museum is located in an old farm villa which once belong to the city’s richest merchant family, and its exhibitions trace the history of the city over the past 1,000 years.

6) If your tastes run more modern, pay a visit to the Museum of Contemporary Art at Bankplassen 4, which features works from 1945 onwards. Engaging, thought provoking, and sometimes downright weird, the exhibits here will certainly give you something to talk about. Like the National Gallery, it has free entry every Thursday. Note that the museum will close for refurbishment on 3 September 2017 – at that point, selected works of art will appear at various venues across the city.

7) Bring out your inner botanist at Oslo’s carefully cultivated botanical gardens, where you’ll find over 5,500 species of plants from every corner of the world.

Akershus Fortress in Oslo is free to visit

Akershus Fortress / Pic: Ahmedghn (CC)

8) Go back in time at the Labour Museum. Hidden behind the old industrial mills along the Aker River at Sagveien 28, this museum highlights daily life for the working classes in 19th-century Oslo.

9) For a look back at Norway’s military past, visit the free Armed Forces Museum located inside Akershus Fortress. The museums features Viking-era weapons, massive cannons and displays on Norway’s dramatic history during the Napoleonic Wars. Modern military equipment and exhibitions on the country’s current efforts in Afghanistan can be seen as well.

Is the Oslo Pass worth buying?

Read this guide to see how much you could save during your trip!

Lakes, islands and nature

10) If Norwegian nature is what you crave then hiking in Nordmarka, the vast forest north of the city, is the quintessential Oslo outdoor experience. This large wildness of rocky hills and hidden lakes is crisscrossed by dozens of trails and dotted by small cabin cafes, making it perfect for both short day hikes and multi-day backpacking adventures.

11) Take a trip out to the peaceful Østensjø lake on the edge of Oslo’s eastern suburbs, which offers a pleasant place for leisurely strolls away from the crowds.

Nordmarka is a free nature area near Oslo

Normarka nature reserve

12) On warm summer days, join swimmers and sunbathers on the rocky Huk Beach on the Bygdøy peninsula, a 25-minute bike ride west of the city. It’s a public beach with free entry to all – just be aware that clothing is optional.

13) Take a leisurely stroll or an early morning run in the mist around Sognsvann Lake. Easily accessible from the subway station with the same name, a trip to Songsvann is an excellent way to join local Oslo residents in a short respite from the city hustle.

14) The boats out to the islands in the Oslofjord are included in the public transportation network and can be used like any bus or subway. Grab a seat on one of the ferries and island hop between Hovedøya, Lindøya, Gressholmen, and Langøyene. Each island offers opportunities for swimming, sunbathing, barbequing, and even camping. We’ve got tips on the best islands to explore here.

Window shopping

15) Bring your appetite and visit the Oslo Food Hall at Vulkan 5. Called Mathallen in Norwegian, the food hall offers a wide range of culinary offerings from around the world. Entry is free, as is window shopping along the various food stalls, where you may be lucky enough to find some free samples on offer.

16) Stop by the Sunday flea market at Birkelund Square in the Grünerlökka neighborhood. You can browse the stalls of fresh farm goods, antique furniture, used books, and vintage clothing, among many other offerings.


17) Take a stroll down Norway’s most famous shopping street, Bogstadveien, which cuts a diagonal line through the city. Designer labels, specialist stores and name-brand outlets are all found here, giving ample opportunity to stroll the sidewalks and take in the latest offers.

Viewpoints and lookouts

18) Situated on a forested hill above the famous Holmenkollen Ski Jump, the Frognerseteren Café and Restaurant is located is a rustic wooden villa offering spectacular views across Oslo and the surrounding fjord. If you’re hungry, the traditional Norwegian food inside is delicious and affordable, but for those on an extra-tight budget, the excellent views and nearby hiking opportunities are absolutely free. To get there, take the subway to Frognerseteren and walk south for around five minutes.

Enjoy free views of Oslo from the Holmenkullen ski jump

The Holmenkullen ski jump / Pic: (CC)

19) For cheap eats with a view, pack a picnic and plop down on a grassy spot on the western battlements of Akershus Fortress. With picture-perfect views of Oslo City Hall and Aker Brygge, this is a wonderful location to sit back, relax, and watch the sunset over the city while the ferries pass below. We’ve got more tips on eating cheap in Oslo here.

20) Head up to Grefsenåsen, a forested ridge towering over the north side of the city. From the parking lot just below the Grefsenkollen Restaurant, a short walk through the woods brings you to a rocky outcrop with magnificent views across all of Oslo.

21) Take the tram or walk to the viewpoint by the Ekeberg Restaurant, high above the ruins of the medieval city. From here you can enjoy great views across eastern Oslo, including the city’s Opera House and Fortress.

 

TOURS AND ACTIVITIES IN OSLOMORE TOURS

 

Seasonal activities

22) Make a special effort to be in town on Norway’s national day, May 17th. Norwegians from across the country descend on downtown Oslo dressed in their finest suits and beautifully detailed national costumes. During the event the city is awash in Norwegian flags, and a huge parade goes down the city’s main street and around the Royal Palace, where the King and Queen stand on the balcony waving to everyone marching by.

23) Soak up the sounds of the Mela music festival, held in Oslo every August. The city’s largest free music festival hosts musical acts from around the world, as well as a wide selection of international dishes.

The Mela festival is great for people visiting Oslo on a budget

Food at the Mela festival / Pic: Michal Klajban (CC)

24) Try something new at Oslo Culture Night. Every September, more than 150 of Oslo’s cultural centers open their doors for a night of free experiences and entertainment. From salsa dancing classes and concerts to cosplay workshops and film screenings, the annual event offers opportunities for everyone’s interests. It’s impossible to see everything, so read over the yearly schedule and plan ahead!

25) If you’re in town during the holiday season, the Oslo Christmas Market along Karl Johans Gate offers classic Norwegian food, homemade gifts and souvenirs, plus entertainment for the kids. It takes place throughout November and December – entry and browsing the various stalls is completely free.


Historic sites and cultural experiences

26) Visit the Bogstad Manor and Farm. Originally owned by one of Oslo’s richest merchants, Bogstad is a storybook example of 18th-century luxury. Adults can enjoy the picturesque lakeside views and well-maintained English gardens, while kids will have fun meeting the barnyard animals at this working farm. Touring the inside of the manor costs money, but the grounds are free to explore.

27) Step back in time with a walk around the medieval ruins. Oslo was a bustling port city in the Middle Ages, but the constant risks of war and fire forced the city to relocate two kilometres to a new location behind Akershus Fortress. The ruins of the medieval townsite are still visible in eastern Oslo, just behind the Opera House, and can be easily explored in an hour.

28) Step inside Oslo Cathedral, which dates from the 17th century and features a variety of artistic styles, from baroque to modern. Entry is free, as are many of the special concerts which are held inside the venue.

29) Hop on the boat to Høvedøya, where you can explore the ruins of a medieval Cistercian monastery. Careful not to pick any plants there, though – many of them are descended from herbs planted by the monks centuries ago, and have a protected status.

Hovedøya is a great free trip from Oslo

Sørenga Sjøbad with Hovedøya in the distance / Pic: Katrine Lunke (CC)

30) One of Oslo’s most famous attractions is also completely free. The magnificent, open air Vigeland Park is home to over 200 granite and bronze sculptures from Gustav Vigeland. His evocative portrayals of human figures at all stages of life, from the crying baby to the contemplative elder, will capture the attention of both young and old, making this a great place to take the kids.

31) Visit Old Aker Church, the oldest building in Oslo. This medieval church is tucked away on a small hill in the St. Hanshaugen neighbourhood, and has been in continuous use since at least the 12th century. Inside, a small museum showcases relics from the church’s nearly 1,000 year history. Entry is free, but opening times can vary so check online before you visit.

32) Spend some time in Oslo’s House of Literature. This unique institution is a bookstore, café, and literary institution all in one. There are year-round panel discussions on art, literature, and current events, and guest lecturers such as Haruki Murakami, John Irving, and Zadie Smith have been known to stop by. Most events are free – check their website to see what’s happening now.

33) Oslo’s Royal Palace may not be as large as those in Copenhagen or Stockholm but its daily changing of the guard at 13.30 is still impressive, and free. The views from the palace hill down Karl Johan street aren’t bad either.

It's free to watch the changing of the guard ceremony in Oslo

Changing of the guard in Oslo / Pic: Bjørn Erik Pedersen (CC)

34) Tackle the steep climb up Telthusbaken, or its nearby neighbour Damstredet. Both of these streets showcase charming wooden homes from the 18th century. While this style of house used to dominate the outer areas of Oslo, development has seen nearly all of them disappear. Fortunately, community action has ensured Damstredet and Telthusbaken have protected status, so their old-style homes will remain for everyone to enjoy.

35) Get on the roof! No visit to Oslo is complete without climbing the roof of Oslo’s Opera House, which offers views of the surrounding harbour and an opportunity to appreciate this architectural marvel up close.

Urban exploration

36) Discover Oslo’s industrial heritage along the Aker River. Marking the divide between Oslo’s east and west sides, the tree-lined banks of this winding river offer a pleasant respite from the bustle of the city. As you near the city centre, the imposing brick factories from the industrial revolution –which have been recently repurposed into restaurants, offices, and apartments – add an urban touch to the natural surroundings.

37) Walk along Karl Johans Gate, Oslo’s main avenue and the most photographed street in Norway thanks to the massive celebrations that take place here every May 17th (see above). Leading from the Royal Palace in the west to the Central train station in the east, the street features shopping and dining opportunities, as well as an ice-skating rink in the winter.

Join the free celebrations on 17 May in Oslo

17th May celebrations in Oslo / Pic: Bjoertvedt (CC)

38) Go west! The Lysaker River marks the western border between Oslo and the neighboring community of Bærum , and offers ample opportunities to walk, run, and even fish along its banks. Like the Aker River, plenty of industrial and historic buildings can be found here as well.

39) Meander along the seaside Oslo Promenade. The entire waterfront of Oslo has been redeveloped over the past decade to create a nine-kilometre pedestrian pathway area stretching from Bygdøy in the west to the Opera House in the east, passing many of Oslo’s best sites along its way.

40) Explore Grünerløkka, Oslo’s coolest neighborhood. Its independent shops, chic cafes, and multitude of pubs serving specialty beers make this the perfect area to visit when you’re craving something a little different.

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Next time you can also check out the best free event in Oslo at http://www.oslokultur.no 🙂