• Image about Oslo’s Harbor

Oslo was recently - and surprisingly - named the most expensive city in the world. But GREGORY KATZ learned that some of the best things about the beautiful Norwegian metropolis are free.

Photographs by Kimm Saatvedt

For over a decade, Tokyo held the unwanted distinction as the world's most expensive city, a judgment that seemed accurate to anyone who had stopped in a downtown hotel for tea and emerged 45 minutes later feeling slightly fleeced. But this year, when Britain's respected Economist Intelligence Unit report came out, the Japanese capital had been replaced as the planet's priciest metropolis.

The new winner, or loser, was not London, Paris, Hong Kong, New York, or any of the world's most famous cities, but the mostly modest Norwegian city of Oslo, known more for its fjords, ski slopes, fresh fish, and as the home of the Nobel Peace Prize than for its glitz and glamour. How did a little-known city rise to the top of the most-expensive list? What would visitors get in return for paying the highest prices on earth? And why should an uncrowded Scandinavian city cost so much?

Experts cite many reasons for the high cost of living in Oslo, including a sustained oil and natural gas boom, the expense of importing many foods, and a substantial tax on alcohol consumption. These (and several other factors) have made Oslo an expensive place to visit and to live. Norway is a prosperous nation by any measure - it exports more oil than any other country except Russia and Saudi Arabia - and the current high prices for oil and natural gas have brought in billions more. This makes for high incomes, a high level of government spending, and high prices for visitors. Like me.

Was it possible to enjoy the city without spending my way into the stratosphere? I had to find out.