I’d been to Norway once before, passing through the country on my way to Sweden. En route, I’d picked up a burger from Burger King.
It cost me £15.
That was the moment I decided Norway, as much as I wanted to visit it in the future, was off the cards. If one burger could cost that much, I couldn’t bear to think what my bank balance would look like after a couple of days there.
Five years later, I write this having come back from spending three days in Oslo visiting a friend, and to my surprise, the damage has not been as catastrophic as I imagined.
Like many, I’d assumed Scandinavian countries were great for mini breaks if you were rolling in bank notes – but it turns out, those of us rolling in pound coins can also find lots to do on a relatively modest budget.
Of course, there are always going to be cheaper destinations – but for many things, I would put Oslo on a par with cities like London and Paris.
However, I also learned the hard way that there are just some goods you should not spend money on in Norway (besides Burger King) and I offer up my successes and failures to you.
Firstly, getting there. It goes without saying now that you should buy flights with good time to spare. Even two months in advance, for a Friday-Sunday trip, you can get return flights at a decent time for around £60.
What you should not do, is leave it to three weeks before and have to fork out £187. Don’t be me.
Once you land in Oslo, in what is the cleanest airport I have ever seen, you’ll probably want to be heading into the centre, which you can do by getting the express train, or the cheaper standard train. It’s worth downloading both Citymapper and their transport app, Ruter.
True to the stereotype that Scandinavians are trustworthy and content people, there are no ticket barriers or checks for getting on trains – but do buy a ticket! You can do this via Ruter and I bought a seven day one for Zone 1 (cheaper than three 24 hour tickets) for 335 NOK (£25.70), plus two extra airport tickets (£11.51).
While I thought I was being incredibly clever by booking for seven days, I was actually incredibly stupid because Oslo is a walkable city. I took three journeys the entire time I was there, excluding the airport trips. More cash wasted.
Half an hour later, we found our hotel with ease. Att Revier, a four star hotel in Oslo City Centre, is fully accessible by phone. There is no check in desk and everything is done through a handy app.
Instead, when you walk in, you’re greeted by the hotel’s bar, which serves as the building’s hub. Beautifully decorated with warm woods, stylish tiling and trendy soft furnishings, it sets the tone of the hotel – especially when you meet the lovely front of house staff, like Kate.
You then walk through to a more traditional dining area, baked in sunlight from the glass roof four floors above. The ethos of the hotel is all about community, making connections and having memorable experiences, and it looks to cater to all your needs.
There is the bar, a fine dining restaurant, Savage, a pasta place, Null Null, a cinema offering free screenings in the basement and a soon-to-be-opened rooftop bar and Mediterranean restaurant.
A stay at the hotel, in a standard double room, for the end of March/early April, will cost around £150 a night – comparable with other four-star hotels in the neighbourhood.
For those looking to stay for longer periods, or more space, the hotel has apartment-style rooms complete with kitchens, which is where we stayed.
Once we’d dumped our bags, we walked 15 minutes to the Edvard Munch museum, which houses 26,000 of his works. Munch was a Norwegian artist most famous for his painting The Scream, and the space really is incredible, hosting Pollocks and Rothkos alongside the museum’s namesake.
The entry for two was £25, which was obviously a little pricier than our free museums in the UK, but is similar to other European galleries. The art itself was spectacular and organised across floors in such a way that each room offered something surprising.
The other paid-for cultural experience we tested out was the sauna on the water’s edge, Oslo Badstuforening Sukkerbiten.
For £15, you get two hours to have dips in the (freezing cold) water before taking shelter in the sweltering saunas, floating on the harbour with beautiful views. Once you get over the cold showers, it’s the perfect way to start a day.
But a lot of the beauty of Oslo can be seen without paying for a thing. With stunning sights everywhere you look, you could easily spend the day getting lost, sitting down on a bench occasionally to take in the scenery.
Walking up to the top of the hill by Norway’s Resistance Museum, you can observe the city below in absolute silence. Because that’s the thing about Oslo: it is a quiet city!
There are just over 1 million people living there, and on the weekends – especially during the winter and spring seasons – many families travel out to second homes in the countryside.
Another beauty spot that we had almost to ourselves was the beach at Huk – which, fun fact, is also a spot for naturists. Sat, warm cinnamon bun in hand, I could have stayed there for hours just soaking up the sun in the fresh, crisp air.
During my three days in Oslo, I did run into one queue, however – outside The Syverkiosken, a hotdog kiosk that was described by my friend as the city’s most famous hotdog institution. I was sold.
The owner, Erland, greeted us with a massive smile and fantastic conversation. We got two traditional hotdogs (served in a wrap, rather than a bun) and then two specials – one with a creamy jalapeno sauce and crispy onions, another with mashed potato and porcini mushrooms, grown locally.
This was definitely the cheapest eat of the mini break, coming to around a tenner, and one of the best.
But all the food in Oslo was fantastic, with my favourite spots being Bar Revier for breakfast (scrambled eggs on toast with halloumi, crispy kale and sriracha mayo), Code (lobster rolls and spring onion topped fries), VentiVenti (I will dream about the seafood pasta and chocolate fondant cake!).
The above were all similar price-wise with nice London restaurants – around £25 for mains – but if you were looking for cheaper, there are many street food markets dotted around the city.
One of my favourite food experiences though was outside the city centre, at Grefsenkollen Restaurant. It was a bit of a journey and there was a long uphill walk to get there, but my god was it worth it.
With views over the city, sat in the sun surrounded by snow, we had a campfire set up, with apple cider hot and ready for our arrival. Our server was a really lovely young man, who explained what we had in store.
We were to start with marshmallows over the open fire, before baking our own bread, tasting the local cheeses and hams. Then, the ox stew would come out and be cooked over our fire.
By the time it was ready, the temperature had dropped and it was just what we needed: hearty, tasty, with a rich broth and a side of mustard and horseradish cream. We finished off the evening with the Norwegian version of a KitKat, which I have to concede is a lot better than ours. All that for £34 per person.
One thing I have not been able to mention on my budget-friendly list though is alcohol. Alcohol is what makes a trip to Oslo expensive.
At one restaurant, we thought we’d hit the jackpot when we found a nice bottle of wine for £28. It transpired that that was the cost of one glass. We went to a wine bar one night and two glasses set us back £36.
Beer was slightly more reasonable, but it’s not a place where you’re going to order round upon round.
While the city is by no means cheap, on the whole it was definitely more affordable than I expected.
I’m not going to lie, my heart sank on the first night after I saw a Porsche taxi. When, jaw on the floor, we gasped, ‘a Porsche?!?’, a local replied, ‘What do you expect? It’s Norway!’
But that’s just testament to the high standard of living and how well people are paid there.
After a couple of days, I wasn’t any worse off than I would have been living like a tourist in London.
And where would you find views like Oslo’s in the Big Smoke?
Jess was a guest of Att Revier, and you can find out more about the hotel here.
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