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The Islands of Oslo

Oslo is already a very green capital city

These islands within easy reach of Oslo offer historical sites, peaceful walks and sheltered swimming.

People taking a quick ‘city break' to Oslo often bemoan the fact they can't enjoy the best of Norwegian nature.

Enjoy the great outdoors in Oslo

While the famous western fjords and spectacular mountains of Lofoten are out of reach, there are ways to enjoy friluftsliv in the very heart of the Norwegian capital.

Look at any aerial photo of Oslo and you'll see several small green specks dropped into the fjord in front of the city. Welcome to the islands of Oslo!

Read more: Fun facts about Oslo

Each island has its own distinctive character, from the beaches and history of Hovedøya to the residential vibe of Lindøya, yet all share a familiar look.

That’s because cabins built on certain islands have to adhere to a strict colour scheme of red, blue, green or yellow. When you add in the green of the grass and trees and the blue of the ocean, it’s a truly colourful experience.

The coastline of Hovedøya, an island of Oslo, Norway
Swimming off Hovedøya

Which island is right for you?

Whether you want to relax or have some fun, there's an island for you:

  • Hovedøya: Historic ruins, good swimming, beach, nature reserve
  • Lindøya: Summer homes and a friendly community feel
  • Gressholmen: Oslo's former seaplane airport now a boatyard, habitat for birdlife
  • Langøyene: Wild camping permitted, good beach and sheltered swimming

Other islands include Bleikøya, home to a former sanatorium that housed children suffering with tuberculosis in the 19th-century (it is now a private residence), and Nakholmen, a small island populated with around 200 holiday cottages owned by city dwellers.

We'll look at each of the islands in more detail later on, but first, how do we get there?

How to get to the Oslo islands by ferry

The islands are plugged into the city's public transport system thanks to a series of small passenger ferries. They all leave from the clearly marked pier in front of Oslo City Hall, which is within a 20-minute walk from anywhere downtown.

The ferries run year-round (every 1-2 hours depending on the route), although departures are much less frequent outside the summer months. During the summer, they are frequent enough for you to visit two or three islands during the day.

The queue for the Oslo island passenger ferries
Waiting for the ferries in the summer

A huge plus for Oslo residents or those staying more than a couple of days is that the regular Ruter public transport tickets are valid on all these ferries. So if you have a monthly pass, you're sorted. An Oslo pass? Yep! A day ticket? You're good!

You can also buy single tickets for the same price as a bus/metro ticket, currently 35 kroner. The 24-hour tickets are 105 kroner, and both should be bought from the machines at the Oslo pier. If you get on the ferry without a ticket, you'll be fined.

Bear in mind that these islands aren’t seen as tourist attractions, so there isn’t much in the way of facilities. Some of the larger islands have kiosks or small shops, but the opening times are erratic. Always take food and something to drink with you, and if the kiosks are open you can treat yourself to a waffle and some coffee.

Now then, about those islands…

Hovedøya

The largest, closest to the city, and most popular of the islands, Hovedøya is great for swimming, relaxing on the beach or rocky coastline, or playing ball games on the large grassy area.

The monastery ruins on Hovedøya island just outside Oslo in Norway
The monastery ruins on Hovedøya

History buffs will enjoy wandering around the ruins of the 12th-century cistercian monastery built by English monks and the remaining cannon batteries from the (many) years the island was used by the Norwegian military because of its key strategic position.

A few steps from the jetty, the beautiful timbered Lavetthuset is now home to a gallery and studio space, while a simple kiosk (summer opening only) with outdoor seating is handily located next to the monastery ruins.

Despite all of this, the majority of the island's 469 acres are forested and protected as a conservation area. You're free to wander the trails, but just don't take away any samples of the diverse plant-life or rocks that can be found here.

Lindøya

There's more summer cabins on Lindøya, about 300, than any of the other islands.

This gives it something of a community feel in high season, akin to wandering through a pretty suburb of Oslo. A small shop serves the islanders, some of whom spend the month of July or even longer living here.

Cute sign to the jetty at Lindøya
You won't get lost on Lindøya!

The best swimming spots can be found on the island's southwestern corner. Lindøya is the only one of the islands to have two ferry stops served by different routes, which gives you more flexibility when visiting.

Gressholmen

Seaplanes landed at Gressholmen between the First and Second World Wars in what was then the main airport for the city. Few traces remain now of the former airport buildings, which now serve as a boatyard.

The otherwise hilly island is connected to Heggholmen and Rambergøya with causeways that form an important bay for sea birds. The picturesque Heggholmen lighthouse on the island’s northwestern tip is a popular place to walk to, not least for the views back to the city.

Langøyene

One downside of the Oslo islands is that camping overnight is not permitted, except here on Langøyene. Originally two distinct islands now connected by a large flat grassy area ideal for sports, the island is known for its grill parties and even a small summer festival.

Langøyene with Oslo in the background
Langøyene with Oslo in the background. Photo: Ukjent / Oslo byarkiv

The south-western side of the island is home to a lovely sheltered beach and shallow swimming area. It's also the furthest island from Oslo, so much so that it's technically part of Akershus county albeit owned by the municipality of Oslo.

The rules of the islands

As already mentioned, Langøyene is the only place where overnight camping is permitted. Also, between mid-April and mid-September, open fires are not allowed.

There are public campfire sites on the islands, which can be used all year. Ask a local if you're unsure where they are. Take care in periods of dry weather, as grass, shrubs and trees can easily catch fire from discarded cigarette stubs, for example.

How many of the Oslofjord islands have you been to? Which one is your favourite – and why?

The Islands of Oslo, Norway: Peace and tranquility within a short ferry ride of the Norwegian capital. Hovedøya, Lindøya, Gressholmen and Langøyene.

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About the Author: 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 freelance writer for technology companies in Scandinavia.

1 Comment

  1. I lived on Nesodden, and had to travel on the ferry to work in Oslo,. One foggy morning, we ran aground on Nakoya. We had to walk around the island for a couple of hours, before we were rescued . It was winter, and very cold. I was 17 at the time. That was some experience. I have been on all the other islands but not in the same fashion. I live in Australia now

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