Norway is famous for its fjords, the most beautiful of which are hundreds of miles from the capital. But you don’t have to travel that far north – or even stray very far from Oslo – to have fun exploring some beautiful waterways.
One of the simplest options from Oslo is to head directly south from the city aboard a public ferry, enjoying the laid-back islands of the Oslofjord along the way. This is the nearest fjord to Oslo and a great place to get a taste for Norwegian coastal living.
Now, we’ll be completely honest: the Oslofjord isn’t as jaw-droppingly handsome as the ‘proper’ Norwegian fjords that you may have seen in pictures, but it is much easier (and cheaper!) to reach from Oslo. If you’re looking for a nice day trip away from the hustle and bustle of the city, and fancy exploring a few cute little islands along the way, we’d definitely recommend it.
What is the Oslofjord?
The Oslofjord is a huge inlet that snakes up towards Oslo from the North Sea. Passing low-slung islands, it goes all the way north to the City Hall, a brutalist masterpiece in Aker Brygge in central Oslo.
The fjord has long provided a natural harbour for workers and settlers, and it has also helped to keep invaders out – even if would-be attackers they made it up the fjord to Oslo, they’d be welcomed by the sight of the imposing Akershus Fortress, which still stands on the edge of the city today.
During the Second World War, another of the fjord’s fortresses – Oscarsborg – was instrumental in keeping the Germans at bay for long enough to allow the Norwegian government to escape.
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Why visit the Oslofjord?
When the rush and hubbub of the city becomes a little bit too much, a trip out the islands of the Oslofjord can be the perfect tonic.
It’s easy to start exploring. Just hop on one of the super-clean and surprisingly nippy ferries at Aker Brygge in central Oslo (just near the Nobel Peace Center) and you’ll be amazed by how quickly the city disappears behind you.
Whether you want spend a summer’s day jumping off rocky outcrops into the cool blue water, or would rather amble aimlessly through the winding streets of a typical Norwegian coastal town, you’ll find it on the Oslofjord.
Getting from Oslo to the islands
There are a number of routes available to you on the Oslofjord, depending on the time of year and your plans for the day.
Tickets for all of the islands we’ve recommended below are easy to bookable via the RuterBillett app, which is available in English. It’s still possible buy tickets on board the ferries if you prefer, but you’ll have to pay a small surcharge for the privilege. You can check journey times and timetables at ruter.no.
Single tickets are available for quick hops between the islands, but if you’re going to spend the day exploring then we’d recommend the 24-hour option (around 190 NOK per person for all zones and transport methods).
The best islands to visit
Journey time from Aker Brygge in Oslo: 5mins
Close to Oslo, the little island of Hovedøya is a great place for swimming and walking during the summer. It’s also packed with history; the Cistercian monastery in the northern part of the island dates back to 1147.
Although Hovedøya is only a 5-minute trip from the boat landing at Aker Brygge, it feels a whole world away from the city. Roughly U-shaped, the island’s main focal point is the pretty harbour, where you’ll see sailboats bobbing around in the water. Just inland on the way to the monastery, you’ll find a small café. A one-way ticket to the island will set you back around 33 NOK.
Journey time from Aker Brygge in Oslo: 1hr 10mins
If you’re keen to get to know the area a little better, you could consider camping overnight on Håøya, the largest island in the Oslofjord. There’s little to do here except admire the forested trails and the spectacular views across the water.
Once you’ve got your blood pumping with a wander up the track and over the hill from the ferry landing, you’ll tumble down toward the glorious horseshoe-shaped bay on the western side of the island. Also here is the incredible dairy-bakery-café known as Håøya Naturverksted, which offers (among other things) cheese made from the milk of Kashmir goats.
Journey time from Aker Brygge in Oslo: 24mins
Gressholmen is definitely worth a look if you’re itching for a swim. The island is less than half an hour’s boat ride from the city centre and, rumour has it, the community’s only pub is soon to reopen after a shutdown that’s lasted several years. Unbelievably, this little island was also the site of the first-ever airport in Oslo.
Journey time from Aker Brygge in Oslo: 1hr 25mins
Oscarsborg is a one-stop shop for culture and history. The island’s setting – it bisects the fjord at one of its narrowest points – made it the perfect place for repelling any type of pilfering marauders.
This led to the construction of a fortress in the 19th century which proved vital during the German invasion of 1940. Now home to a grand hotel and resort, the fortress remains a popular attraction and the island itself hosts gigs and concerts during summer.
Journey time from Aker Brygge in Oslo: 1hr 25mins
Just south of Oscarsborg and firmly on the Norwegian mainland, the little town of Drøbak is home to meandering, 18th-century streets, which offer an instant fix of colour whatever the time of year. The church just uphill from the ferry launch is worth a look, as is Det Gamle Bageri, a quaint bakery at Havnebakken 1. Add all this to the scattering of boutique stores and restaurants, and it’s easy to spend a tranquil day or two here.