Hovedøya: An Island Getaway Just Minutes from Oslo

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Visiting Oslo's islands are a wonderful addition to any Oslo itinerary. The closest island to the city, Hovedøya, offers a ton to see and do in a relatively small space.

Phew, what a scorcher! Oslo's in the middle of a heatwave with temperatures in the high 20s, and even touching 30C at one point. I'm still keen on exploring the city, so I made the most of the good weather to get back out on to the water.

Hovedøya island with Oslo in the background.
Hovedøya island with Oslo in the background.

Today, I chose to take advantage of the local passenger ferries and continue my exploration of the islands of the Oslofjord.

I've previously been to Gressholmen and Lindøya, both of which I enjoyed for different reasons. But today I chose the one closest to Oslo, Hovedøya. The name translates to English as simply ‘the main island'.

Read on for my introduction to Hovedøya, including how to get to the island from downtown Oslo.

Sunny day = busy island

It takes just a couple of minutes on the ferry from Oslo to reach Hovedøya and with the weather like it was, the ferry was packed. That's because Hovedøya is one of the most popular spots for swimming.

Busy beach on Hovedøya

There's a good-sized beach, and plenty of rocks and grassy areas that are ideal for sunbathing or drying off after a dip.

Sunny Hovedøya island

But if sun worshipping isn't your thing, there's plenty of other points of interest on Hovedøya too, particularly if you're interested in the history of Norway.

Historic sites on Hovedøya

The most notable historic site is the ruins of Hovedøya Abbey, a 12th Century Cistercian monastery built by English monks. The existing church on the island was built in Romanesque style, while the extended monastery was presumed to be Gothic.

Ruins on the medieval Hovedøya Abbey near Oslo

The abbey stood for almost 400 years, until political turmoil during the succession to the throne led to the end of the monastery when the abbot chose the wrong side. The abbey was subsequently closed and burned down.

Next to the ruins there's a nice little cafe which serves really tasty pizza. And beer, ice-cream, pølser, you know, the usual. But no, I only had pizza! Oh and be aware, the cafe is only open during the summer.

The monastery ruins on Hovedøya island just outside Oslo in Norway

Even with the high number of kids running about being kids (you know, REALLY annoying), it was a very peaceful place to stroll around and let your mind wander.

Nature trails on Hovedøya

The rest of the island is split between open spaces and two nature reserves. The surprisingly dense forest is home to all sorts of trees, flowers and wildlife. Sadly this also includes a vast array of bees and wasps. Be warned!

Forest trail through Hovedøya island near Oslo

Exploring the forest, I came across two old buildings, which turned out to be former military installations. My eyebrows were raised when I first realised this, after all the island was so peaceful and a few moments ago I was wandering around the ruins of a monastery!

But when you think about it, it makes perfect sense. Akershus Fortress, a medieval castle built to defend Olso, is very close to Hovedøya.

The island hosted two cannon batteries and was used as an arsenal for the fortress, storing such naughty things as gunpowder.

One of those buildings – this beautiful timber-framed building – has been lovingly restored and the ground floor is now open to the public as a gallery / studio space.

Beautiful timber-framed building on an Oslofjord island

The small exhibition I saw during my visit was entitled “The Home”, a series of paintings, watercolours and lithographs by the artist Edyta Sobieraj.

Inside the gallery I spied a piano and a set of speakers, so they must run some form of events there too. Inappropriate for somewhere so steeped in history perhaps, but I couldn't help feeling it would be an amazing location for a nighttime party.

A temporary exhibition inside a beautiful timber-frame building on Hovedøya island near Oslo

And here endeth my time on Hovedøya. Truth be told I spent too long in the sun. I'm sat next to a fan radiating heat as I'm writing this!

Returning to Oslo

If you take a trip out to the Oslofjord islands on a hot sunny day, be aware that there isn't much shade. So, take plenty of sunscreen, bottles of water, and a hat.

A view of Oslo's waterfront in the summer

It's best not to rely on the kiosk/cafe for food and drink as opening hours tend to be varied.

The Oslofjord passenger ferry is busy in the summer

My final photos were taken from the jetty as I waited for the ferry to return, showing how close Hovedøya is to Oslo. The very last one is from the ferry itself, as it carried me and a whole host of others back to the city.

How to get to Hovedøya

The small passenger ferries are part of the Oslo public transport system. That means that they are included in public transport passes and regular tickets. Now all-electric, the ferries are a wonderful way to visit the islands.

The passenger ferries leave from the pier just in front of Oslo City Hall. In the Ruter app or website, search for Aker Brygge (platform E) and Hovedøya.

The ferries take approximately eight minutes to reach Hovedøya, and may continue on to some of the other islands. That means that when returning, make sure you catch the one labelled Aker Brygge, unless you want to enjoy a day of island hopping, of course.

Have you been to Hovedøya? Did you enjoy it, or do you prefer one of the other Oslo islands? Let me know in the comments below.

About David Nikel

Originally from the UK, David now lives in Trondheim and was the original founder of Life in Norway back in 2011. He now works as a professional writer on all things Scandinavia.

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