Here are four things you need to know about Oslo, if you’re visiting this summer (especially if you’re a student or otherwise on a budget).
1. Whether you are arriving by boat or train (including airport express train ) your very first impression of Oslo is not likely to be amazing. It will get better. Revisit in a few years, and this part of the city could be very nice, but at the moment, it’s a mix of drug dealing, construction work and bland chain stores. With the exception of the new Opera House, get out of that central train station/lower half of Karl Johan street area fast. Go east, west, north, south – it will be a step up from this no matter what.
2. Norwegians never get enough sun. If it’s a sunny day, parks will be filled with people getting as much of it as they can. Norwegians believe that being indoors on a sunny day is sinful. I’m sure 80% of the summer activities Oslo-dwellers will recommend happen outdoors. About half of them will be variations on the drinking-beer-in-a-park activity. See rule number 3.
3. Alcohol in Norway is tricky. Because of taxes and regulations, it will be more expensive than you are used to, and harder to find. This is not really a problem if you get used to it. Actually, this is really annoying. Beer can be bought in grocery stores until 8 PM on weekdays and 6 PM on Saturdays. Wine and spirits must be bought at “Vinmonopolet” (literally, The Wine Monopoly), the one “chain” of stores allowed to sell this. These stores usually close at 6 PM on weekdays and around 3 on Saturdays. And you can’t buy anything on Sunday, of course. Bars don’t follow these rules, but they will be more expensive than you are used to. Again, get away from Karl Johan, or think like a Norwegian and drink grocery store beer in a park. This is technically not legal, but no one cares as long as you’re not being a nuisance.*
4. Norwegians do not eat out much. Although you’ll probably find every kind of coffee shop, sandwich place and restaurant in Oslo, the Norwegian way to eat is to have breakfast and dinner at home and bring sandwiches wrapped in paper to work/school or eat in the office cafeteria. Coffee shops are excellent, but there are limited options for simple lunches and dinners, and anything a step up from fast food is likely to be expensive. This is because restaurants cater to people who are out for a special treat, not yet another every-day dinner. So if you’re on a budget, you can’t afford to not visit grocery stores. In a pinch, you can buy quick ready-made meals at 7-Eleven or DeliDeLuca – they are everywhere – but it will be cheaper and healthier to shop in a supermarket and prepare your own sandwich or salad.
* I’m sure some readers are rolling their eyes at how much space I’m giving this alcohol issue. But if you’re a student from a country where you’re used to just buying a bottle of wine whenever for whatever price you feel like paying, and you’re arriving in Oslo at 2 PM on a Saturday, you’ll be glad you read this.
This post was originally published on this blog in 2008, but it’s still relevant. You should also check out my top 3 Oslo tourist attractions.