Launchpad London: Oslo budget strategies

In hindsight, Oslo was probably the worst possible inaugural destination for a budget travel series. And in fact my first few hours in Oslo, though a great deal of fun, were a budget traveler’s nightmare. An hour in and $90 down, I had to wonder if I would be able to come up with any useable Oslo budget strategies at all.

A one-way journey on the airport express train, which sets off from a vast concrete bunker-like station at the airport, costs 170 NOK ($29). Ouch. While cheaper than a taxi, $29 is a bruising amount to shell out for an airport train.

Never mind. There is lunch to eat. My first stop is Grünerløkka, a hip neighborhood and the home of Delicatessen, a tapas restaurant on my advance research list. Delicatessen is a very appealing place. Lighted candles–a standard feature in Oslo restaurants, it turns out, at least during the darker months–grace every table. Heavy wooden tables give the place an almost rustic feel. The waiters are friendly. I took my time with the menu, ordering a chorizo sandwich, a small salad, and finally a crema catalana. For a moment, I forgot about the objective of my journey. The chorizo, from La Rioja, was delicious. The bill was not. With tip, my meal plus coffee cost 350 NOK ($60).

Clearly I needed to rethink this whole restaurant thing. I had to get to a supermarket. At the discount chain Rimi, I bought a peppery salami, two rolls, some yogurt, bananas, and mineral water for 125 NOK ($22). Again, not cheap, but the haul was big enough for my dinner and breakfast the following day. For lunch on my second day, I ate a vegetarian smørrebrød at Café Tekehtopa on St. Olav Plass in central Oslo, relatively cheap at 79 NOK ($14). And then, in a stroke of unplanned luck, I was treated to dinner by Oslo resident Sam Daams of Travellerspoint, whose acquaintance I’d made via Twitter.

But if I thought I was going to close the evening without another moment of sticker shock, I was mistaken. We met several of Sam’s friends, all foreign men involved with Norwegian women, at the newish Schouskjelleren Mikrobryggeri, a lively cellar microbrewery and bar in Grünerløkka, and I bought a round of beers for the crew. Four pints came to 292 NOK ($52). I gazed off in a miniature stupor, trying to figure out precisely how much I’d just spent, while Sam and his friends laughed in recognition. This was, after all, an experience they’d all had previously.So where are Oslo’s budget-friendly bargains?

Several museums are free, including the Oslo Museum‘s three museums (Oslo City Museum, Intercultural Museum, and Theatre Museum); the National Museum – Architecture, the Museum of Decorative Arts and Design, the National Gallery, and the Museum of Contemporary Art (all of which fall under the authority of the National Museum of Art, Architecture, and Design); the National Library; and DOGA (the Norwegian Design and Architecture Centre).

On the retail front, things are grim for bargain hunters, although the Marita Stiftelsen charity shop on Markveien had some funky second-hand goods for 5 NOK ($1).

How might my costs have been lowered? I could have utilized the services of a regional train instead of the airport express train for the airport-center link. The regional train runs 110 NOK ($20) for a one-way journey, a roundtrip savings of $18 against the airport express. And while I slept in one of Oslo’s very least expensive beds, booked through airbnb, a more serious budget traveler would find cheaper accommodations in a private room booked through the tourist office for as little as 300 NOK ($53) per night. A campground site (during the summer months only) would be cheaper yet, and free accommodation options like Couchsurfing are of course the cheapest of all.

Sticking exclusively to supermarkets for food and drink is the safest bet, as even the fast food kebab spots that provide budget meal relief in other parts of Europe are pricey in Oslo.

Check out the introductory post in the Launchpad London series.