Let’s face it: long distance sucks. There’s no two ways about it. As much as not being with your significant other might sting, the distance does provide one perk that is especially appealing to any traveller, and that’s meeting halfway. My boyfriend, who lives in Spain, and I decided to break up our year-long separation by ringing in 2016 somewhere we’d never been before: Oslo, Norway. This is how we did it on a budget.
Note: This trip, more so than seeing Oslo in particular, was about spending time with one another. As such, we didn’t see and do everything there is to see and do in the city, so our expenses were probably slightly less than what a regular tourist would expect to spend.
Where to stay: Comfort Hotel Xpress Youngstorget
Located 10 minutes walking-distance from the Oslo Bussterminal, the Comfort Hotel Xpress Youngstorget is perfect if you’re looking for a private room but don’t want to pay a fortune. Oslo’s hostel scene hasn’t really taken off like in other European cities, but this hotel offers a hostel-like atmosphere for an amazing price. For $82 CAD/night (NOK 587) we were given a spacious room with a double bed and a random single bed that they decided to throw in there (probably because storage space is limited). Also, heated floors in the washroom. ’nuff said.
One reason why this place is so cheap is because they don’t clean your room everyday. If you stay a week like we did, they clean your room on the fourth night. You can always ask them to come clean for a fee, though.
A few things were not quite as advertised. The “fridge” in the “kitchen” was maybe a few degrees cooler than room temperature, so steer clear of that 2L milk carton unless you plan on chugging it the same day. We were told coffee and tea would be free, but there was a small fee. Not a huge problem because neither of us drink coffee and there’s a kettle in the kitchen if you decide to buy tea from the grocery store instead.
Overall, our stay was wonderful. The location was perfect and the staff were all very friendly. I’m still not over the heated bathroom floors.
What to eat: Groceries
Buy groceries. For the love of God, buy groceries.
Seriously though, eating out in Oslo is ridiculously expensive. Expect to pay about 2-3 times what you would in Canada. Before I left, I did some pretty thorough research on what to do about food in this city. You can check out this really helpful YouTube video for a comparison of grocery store prices in Norway vs. USA. Remy 1000, a Norwegian grocery store chain, is where we did most of our shopping. The prices were very reasonable, about what you would expect back home. I think we spent maybe $150 CAD (NOK 620) on groceries between the two of us the entire week.
In addition, I brought some non-perishables in my luggage – peanut butter, nuts, granola bars, oatmeal – as well as a few cheap plastic containers. These containers came in super handy for storing food and as bowls to eat out of. Unfortunately, my bag did not arrive until halfway into the trip so we didn’t actually make a very big dent in my food supply.
For the days when we were out exploring all day or simply felt like changing things up a bit, we did eat out. Café Arkadia in the heart of the museum district serves fantastic open-faced sandwiches for lunch for a very reasonable price. There are a few shawarma places around, too, that offer a cheap meal. On New Year’s Eve, we decided we’d get all dolled up and splurge on a sit-down dinner for two. Splurging, in our case, meant spending $25 each on a pizza and $7 on a coke at Egon. While staying on budget was important to us, we didn’t want to obsess over spending a little extra cash here and there. We were on vacation, after all, and I think it’s always important to experience the culture as much as you can.
What to do: Museums and parks, seasonal activities
We opted not to purchase the Oslo Pass for several reasons:
- We were there for an entire week, so we would have had to buy 2 or do all the visits in three consecutive days.
- It was holiday season, meaning there were several days that the museums were closed.
- We prefer walking to taking public transit.
- We received a student discount in most museums anyway.
It turns out that you can actually get a 20% student discount on the Oslo Pass itself if you pick it up in person. Had we known this before we arrived, it might have been something to consider. Even without, though, museums were fairly inexpensive.
We visited the Viking Ship Museum (NOK 50/$8 CAD for students) and the Historical Museum the next day. This combo gives a great bang for your buck because you can visit both museums for the price of one, as long as it’s within 48 hours. The other one we checked out was the Nobel Peace Centre. Highly recommended if you’re at all interested in war and/or social justice. Student price: NOK 65/$10.50 CAD.
One of the coolest places we went was Vigeland Park, an enormous green space consisting of sculptures by Norwegian artist Gustav Vigeland. You’ll find yourself scratching your head as you walk across the bridge, wondering how on earth these bronze humans ended up in such questionable positions.
Getting lost is among my favourite things to do in a new place. Throughout the week, we must have spent hours wandering the city, discovering Parliament, the University of Oslo, the Opera House (climbing up onto the roof gives you a great view of the city), the harbour, suburbs that look like they could feature in a Grimm fairytale, and various parks scattered across the city.
Since we were around for New Year’s Eve, we made sure to check out the fireworks in the harbour, which did not disappoint. Afterwards, we wanted to stop by one of the many parties hosted by local nightclubs, but the minimum age to get in to most of them is 22 For some you even had to be 25! Thus, instead of salsa-ing to some sexy latin beats, we resigned ourselves to a claustrophobic, sticky-floored hole-in-the-wall where we were nearly trampled by rowdy 18-year-old Norwegian giants. (Seriously, they’re SO tall!) This adventure cost us around 150 NOK ($24 CAD) each. Probably not worth it, but it was an experience.
We arrived too late, but Oslo also hosts a delightful-looking Christmas market at the Folk Museum if you’re around for the holidays.
How to get around: Walk
If at all possible, I’d rather travel a city via my own two feet than the metro or bus. It’s a great way to get exercise and save some cash. We found Oslo to be a fairly walkable city. In addition to not being very large, the city centre can be quite beautiful, adorned with strings of lights and an interesting combination of old and new architecture. By far the longest walk we took was to the Viking Ship Museum, a solid hour and a half from our hotel. Rather than suffer through the blustery winter weather on the way back, we coughed up nearly $7 (~40 NOK) for a bus ticket. If you’re going to take public transit, don’t make the same mistake we did and buy the ticket on the bus. You can get it from 7-Eleven or the metro station for cheaper.
To actually get to Oslo itself from the airport, the best value is to take the Flybussen airport bus to the main Oslo bus terminal. The ride is about 4o minutes and will set you back 275 NOK ($45 CAD) roundtrip. (I didn’t risk purchasing the student ticket because my student ID wasn’t considered valid identification, but I think I could’ve gotten away with it since they barely look at your ticket.) Buy the tickets online before your trip to ensure the best price.
I came with $500 spending money and left with a little under $250.
Eating out: $80
As you can see, food is probably going to be your biggest expense. Just scope out some restaurants ahead of time and look for a hotel that offers a full kitchen or at least a microwave and fridge. My advice is don’t rule out Oslo just because you’ve heard how expensive it is. It’s a nice place for a short visit in the off season and is totally doable on a budget.