In our A Total Trip series, writers document what they spent on a recent getaway. In this edition, London-based writer, Tasmin Waby, shows us how she turned an expensive destination into a budget-friendly break.
After I got a very-last-minute call from my best friend from Australia, an expat in Norway, to come to his [insert significant number here] birthday party in October, I decided to treat myself to a solo long weekend away.
My aims were to see some inspiring art, architecture and autumnal colors; to cycle around Oslo; and to sauna.
From London, it’s a two-hour plane trip to Oslo – the equivalent of flying from Sydney to Hobart or New York to Chicago. As it was the shoulder season, flights were surprisingly inexpensive (as long as I took only cabin baggage and didn’t mind a middle seat). I hadn’t flown in Europe since the pandemic grounded everyone, so the low airfare to Norway came as a surprise.
I was aware that travel in Scandinavia is notoriously expensive, but living on a budget in London means I’m accustomed to minding my pennies. Yet my flight, however, was where the bargains ended.
Day to day spend
On the ground
Arriving in Oslo: Oslo Lufthavn immediately dazzled me with its luxe feel. There were two options to get into town; since I was tired, I got the super-easy-to-find Flytoget (£17.37) – which I later realized was a budget-blowing mistake.
My accommodation was on the other side of Slottsparken (free) from Nationaltheatret Station. Since it was late, I wondered if it was safe to walk through a large park alone at night...and it was fine. The tram around the park would have taken 12 minutes and cost me. Plus, I got to see the Royal Palace lit up at night.
Groceries: After checking in at my hotel, I popped out to get some groceries for the next few days: yogurt, muesli and berries for breakfasts, plus lunch supplies (Norwegian beetroot salad, smoked salmon, rye biscuits) for £19.89. A year ago, the price of food in Norway would have made my eyes water – but the inflation crisis in the UK meant this seemed perfectly reasonable.
Coffee and the outdoors: The Friday forecast was for sun, so I hit the park first. After a black coffee (£2.65) at the Kaffebrenneriet next door to my hotel, I walked 20 minutes uphill through historic streets to Frognerparken (free).
Central Vigelandsparken (free) was full of tourists – myself included – taking photos of the many fascinating statues by Gustav Vigeland, yet when I wandered off along autumnal paths I mostly saw locals walking dogs or baby strollers. It was sunny (if cold), so I unpacked my picnic lunch and caught some rays on a park bench, filled with gratitude.
Sightseeing: Next, I caught the tram to Central Oslo (£3.03) and checked out the architecture at Deichman Bjørvika (free), Oslo’s central public library. Next door, I visited Oslo Opera House (free) and watched the spectacle of locals jumping into the cold Oslofjord from the floating sauna village across the harbor. At the Operastranda (free) I saw locals kayaking from the small beach.
I popped into the foyer of the newly opened Munch Museum and browsed the museum shop (free), but decided to save a museum visit for a rainy day. Instead, I continued on to Inger Munch’s pier to admire The Mother, a huge bronze sculpture by Tracey Emin (free), as well as a free outdoor photography exhibition.
Biking: It was time to venture further afield, so I hired a Lime bike (£5.46) to head up to Grünerløkka. Since I got lost a few times, the rate should have been cheaper – but I did get to see a lot more of central Oslo.
Dinner: I spent the afternoon soaking up the atmosphere: browsing local shops, cafes and squares in the late afternoon sunshine before catching the tram back (£3.03) to my hotel. I stopped by a different supermarket to get Norwegian egg salad, a baguette and some chocolate for supper (£8.70). On day one, I had seen a lot of Oslo while managing my budget. Success.
Transport: My best friend was celebrating his birthday today; he lives an hour south of Oslo, in Horten. I met some friends on platform 2 of Nationaltheatret Station to catch the train to the stunning new Holmestrand train station (£32.49 round trip), an architectural wonder in itself.
We spent the rest of the day prepping for the afternoon party, eating copious amounts of home-cooked food. Later that evening, a small group of us headed to the local sailing club, where my mate had booked its floating sauna (a bucket-list tick for me). I stayed overnight.
Total: £32.49 (plus gifts for the host’s kids).
Coffee and museum: In the bracing early morning (there was ice on the car window!) I got dropped at the station to take the train back to Oslo and head to the Nasjonalmuseet (£15), picking up a coffee at another chain, Espresso House, for the trip (£3.68).
I love art galleries, and since this one was full of works by Norwegian artists I had never seen, I stayed a good few hours. The Edvard Munch section had familiar favorites like The Scream, Madonna and The Day After – but it was his self-portraits that fascinated me that day. My favorite works from the permanent collection included a painting called Summer Night by Kitty Kielland (1886) and the In a Norwegian Landscape series (1993) by Torbjørn Rødland.
From there, it was a 25-minute walk to the Interkulturelt Museum (free) via the multicultural Grønland district. There, I unexpectedly learned about Scandinavia’s connection with the Aswan High Dam in Egypt.
Next, I decided to head up to Ekebergparken (free), a short tram ride or a massive uphill walk away. I was feeling rather lazy after a late night, so I jumped on another Lime bike (something I’d later regret). The trip up was an adventure, via a stop at Gamlebyen Gravlund (the old-town cemetery).
At Ekebergparken, I discovered there was nowhere to legally park to end my Lime ride – so, with the minutes ticking, I took a risk and left my bike unattended at the general bike-parking spot. I went for a walk to one of the lookout sites for epic views over Oslo, and wandered some of the sculpture paths. Thankfully, the bike was still there when I returned 25 minutes later. The total trip ran to 55 minutes (£12.77).
I returned to Deichman Bjørvika to rest, recharge my phone and replenish my water bottle. At 5:55pm, I joined the hordes to watch the sunset from Opera Oslo, then headed over to Barcode Street Food for some plant-based junk food from Dirty Vegan (£16.39). It had been a long day, so I walked back to my hotel room for an early night with my book.
Before leaving for London, I headed back to Grünerløkka, where my bestie met me for a coffee at Tim Wendelboe’s Espresso Bar (he had been unimpressed with my chain-store coffees so far). I went off-piste, however, and ordered a cascara tea (basically, tea made with the husks of coffee cherries – I loved it!). I picked up the tab (£8.20).
A block from the cafe was the Akerselva River walk (free). Since my friend had to go back to work, I followed the path toward the center. The river gorge was beautiful with autumn foliage – even if I missed the more dramatic waterfalls further upstream. At Nybrua bridge, I caught the tram (£3.03) the rest of the way as, like a chump, I was carrying my luggage around.
Without a plan, I wandered aimlessly around the central shopping area looking for souvenirs for my kids, but didn’t manage to find anything they’d like. (Teenagers.) In the end, I bought them cute toothbrushes (£4.85)...I know, I was struggling.
I then remembered reading about a newish year-round rooftop pool at an art deco hotel, Sommerro – but when I got there I discovered the pool is only for hotel guests, and the basement pool and sauna (£18), which sounded divine, was to close very shortly. Life belongs to the organized, obviously.
I should have gone to the Ibsen Museum across the way, but I had had enough of dragging my luggage around. Instead, I walked past Slottsparken again to Nationaltheater Station, via a cafe sandwich and coffee (£11.57) and got an eary RE10 train to Oslo airport (£8.90).
I have form for missing planes, so this seemed like a sensible end to my mini break. It also meant I wouldn’t be tempted to spend any more money. At the airport, I pre-downloaded some Netflix episodes for my trip home. It was a relaxed final day – and even if I didn’t get that much done, I left happy.
The final tally: £326.71
The tally above includes on-the-ground spending and accommodation, but excludes airfare and my side trip to my friend’s birthday party. Oslo is an expensive city, but it is also the perfect city for a solo traveler: easy to navigate, very safe and brimming with culture. I managed to see a lot of the town – from the main highlights to some local life – and I left wanting to go back as soon as they’ll have me.
With more money, I would have gone to at least one top-class restaurant and more paid sights, such as the Munch Museum and the Norwegian Folk Museum. With more time, or better planning, I also would have gotten out to an island and done some forest walks outside the city.