Walking along Akerselva gives you an opportunity to explore Oslo’s rich history, while enjoying beautiful scenery with several waterfalls, lush riverbanks and grand bridges.
Oslo’s Akerselva runs from Maridalsvannet in Nordmarka down to the fjord by Bjørvika. In other words from the edge of the wilderness to the most urban part of the city.
The river is clean, and fishing and swimming is possible. And if you are lucky you may even spot some wildlife. There are also a couple of museums and many restaurants along the way.
Akerselva is about 10 km long, and the walk is around 8 km. The elevation at the top is 149 meters. If you feel like making the trip shorter, there are many public transport opportunities.
On the weekends and holidays, the river trail is busy, but it never gets really overcrowded. Let’s start from the bottom and give you some highlights.
The walk starts at Vaterland’s plass on Grønland. This is one of Oslo’s most multicultural neighbourhoods. And if you want to bring some healthy snacks, Grønland has the city’s best fruit and vegetable stores.
The first part of the walk goes along a flat and quiet part of the river. The lower Akerselva area may appear more hip and artsy than beautiful, with street art and factory buildings mixed together.
Thrown in the mix are also elements of more or less weird art, including the one called “the dick swan”, which is in the middle of the river outside the music venue Blå.
The old brick buildings you see from top to bottom of the river were mostly factories or workshops, and many were producing textiles.
The reason that Akerselva had so much industry was primarily the accessible hydropower from the waterfalls, but the river was also used for transportation of goods.
Anker fairytale bridge
The first large bridge you encounter is Anker bridge, nicknamed the fairytale bridge. It crosses the river on a busy street, so you have to step aside from the trail for a moment.
The bridge has four rather impressive sculptures made by Dyra Vaa in 1937. They are inspired by Norwegian folk tales, which are an important part of Norwegian cultural history.
The tales include trolls, mythical creatures from the forest, bewitched animals, good against evil, and the mandatory princes and princesses. One statue is from the fairytale White-Bear-King-Valomon, and shows a young woman on top of a giant bear. This statue is over 3 meters tall.
Mathallen is a food court on the west side of the river. Inspired by larger European cities, it has specialty stores selling fresh cut meats, cheeses, coffee, chocolate, gelato and a lot of other things.
This is not a place to go to get cheap food, the key word is quality. It has an open seating area, and a few restaurants on the second floor. Mathallen has become immensely popular, hip and trendy, and maybe a little overrated.
Nedre Foss – salmon ladder
The first waterfall you encounter is Nedre Foss. This has a recently built fish ladder, which enables large salmon and trout from the ocean to travel up the river to spawn, which usually happens in October and November.
If you are around during this time, you can see the fish trying to literally jump up the river. Trout is the most common fish in Akerselva, and there is also freshwater trout further up.
When industrialisation started in the 1840s, Akerselva soon became immensely polluted by waste from factories and sewage. As the factories closed down, and the city managed to utilize new technology for cleansing, the fish started to return. There are today around 15 types of fish in the river.
It is legal to fish in Akerselva between July 1st and September 15th. Rules for fishing can be found on Oslomarkas Fiskeadministrasjon.
The very tall gray building on the right side of the waterfalls, is an old silo. This was used for storage of grains that were produced at the mill at Nedre Foss until the 1960s. The silo was modernized with elevators installed in 2001, and is now used for affordable student housing.
The walk continues through Kuba Park and past another waterfall to Åmot bridge. This suspension bridge was originally built over Drammen river, but given to Oslo in 1852.
The bridge is supported by cast iron chains, and has the inscription (in English translation): “100 men I can support, but I will fail during a rhythmic march.”
Not a joke, but a warning. A similar bridge in France had collapsed when a troop of soldiers marched over it in 1850. If you get passed by joggers, you can feel the bridge swaying.
The next waterfall you encounter is Mølla waterfalls, which is Akerselva’s largest.
These waterfalls can be quite spectacular when the water flow is heavy, and maybe even more beautiful on cold winter days when it is partially frozen. The hill to the top, could also be Oslo’s steepest.
The red little house by the waterfalls, is Hønse-Lovisas house (literally Chicken-Lovisa’s house), and is a very cozy cafe. Hønse-Loisa was one of the main characters in the Norwegian author Oscar Braathen’s book “Ungen” (the Child).
Lovisa was an older lady who took care of women who had children in wedlock, and this enabled them to continue working at the factories without giving up their children. The book was an attack on the strict norms that existed in the 1800s in Norway. Not surprisingly, illegitimate children were seen as immensely sinful.
At the top of the waterfalls, is Beierbrua. This charming walk bridge is one of Akerselva's oldest. The small sculpture, “the factory girls on Beyer bridge” by Ellen Jacobsen, was made in memory of the young girls working in the factories.
Oslo Labour Museum (Arbeidermuseet)
If you want to learn more about the working conditions and the industrial revolution in Norway and Akerselva, you can make a pit stop at Oslo Labour Museum at Sagene. They also have a virtual tour in English..
The large brick factory buildings you encounter on the east side of the river, is Myrens Verksted. This mechanical workshop made machinery for other factories, giant turbines and sanders for the timber industry. Most of the buildings are still standing.
The walk then has a short stretch that is somewhat less interesting. If you have children, this could be a nice place to let them run around, as there are a couple of playgrounds, trees to climb, and lots of lawn to run around on. This part of the river is also mellow.
Nydalen is a newly developed and rather large area on both sides of the river, with apartments, offices, stores, bakeries and cafes. The developers have been criticized for creating too little green space.
Anyway, this might be a place to shop for snacks or sit down for a drink, or even take a swim. Nydalen is also a subway stop.
There is also quite a lot of wildlife along Akerselva, and the further up you get, the higher the chance is of spotting a wild animal.
For example, the previously endangered beaver, which have increased significantly in number lately, may be seen along the riverbanks. There are also foxes, squirrels and badgers—the most common carnivore in Oslo.
At the top of the river, there might be deer or even moose. Of course wild animals are scared of humans and dogs, so the chances you encounter them on a crowded day are pretty slim.
The critically endangered European eel also lives in Akerselva, and if you are really lucky you may spot one.
This could be one of the world’s most fascinating species, and parts of its life pattern is still not known to scientists. All European eels swim to the Sargasso-ocean north-east of Cuba to spawn. The journey is around 5000 km.
The fry travel back on ocean currents to Europe, and when old enough into freshwater rivers and lakes, including all the way up Akerselva to Maridalsvannet and towards other lakes in Nordmarka.
The eel only breeds once at the end of its lifetime, and dies shortly thereafter, so no return-ticket is necessary for the parents.
Close to the end of the walk, is Frysja/Brekkedammen, also called “stilla” (literally meaning calm). This is a somewhat hidden secret for people outside Oslo. It is a beautiful oasis in the summer and a great place to swim or have a picnic.
Here the river expands into something that feels like a lake, and the water is very quiet. And because this practically is Oslo’s drinking water, it has the cleanest water in the city for swimming.
Brekke bruk – sawmill
And just before you get to the top of the river, is the dam at Brekke Bruk, which originally was used as a transport road for timber from the forestry in Nordmarka.
This industry started probably as early as the 1500s, and predates the industrial revolution by far. Large logs were then floated down the small rivers, through Maridalsvannet and down Akerselva and used mainly for housing.
The sawmill at Brekke Bruk was established in 1740. It had a giant elevator of sorts, pulling up the logs from the water. Brekkedammen used to be full of timber in the spring and summer until the 1960s.
Norwegian Museum of Science and Technology
Teknisk museum is on the east side of the dam. It has different exhibits, including one about the industrialization around Akerselva, and is also a great place to take the children.
And then – you are at the top! Maridalsvannet is Oslo’s largest lake, and main water supply, supplying 90% of the city.
And even though there is a highly modernized cleansing system, neither fishing nor swimming is allowed. Walking around the Maridalsvannet is also possible, it is around 8 km.
How to get there
All subways stop at Grønland subway station and several buses at Oslo Bussterminal, a 5 minute walk from Vaterlands plass.
Jernbanetorget and Oslo Central station are also 5-10 minutes away, which is Oslo’s main hub for trains, subways, trams and buses.
Bus 54 stops at Frysja, which is about a 15 minute walk from the top of the river.