Oslo sits at the head of the Oslofjord, an inlet of the Skagerrak.
It is the oldest of the Scandinavian capitals, having been
founded by Harald Hardrada in 1048. After being levelled by
fire in 1624, the city was rebuilt in brick and stone by King
Christian IV, who renamed it Christiania - a name which stuck
until 1925 when it reverted back to Oslo.
Despite being Norway's largest
city, Oslo is remarkably low-key. The city centre is a pleasant
jumble of old and new architecture with an abundance of
museums, parks and monuments. It's also a remarkably easy
city to get around, with most sights within walking distance
of the centre or effortlessly reached by public transport.
A must see in Oslo is the Akershus
Fortress, a medieval fortress and castle built around 1300.
The Akershus Castle is especially memorable and contains
dungeons possessing dark little cubby holes where the prisoners
were kept under lock and key; plush upper floors with banquet
halls and staterooms; and the chapel, still used for royal
events, which holds the crypts of King Hakon VII and Olav
V. During WW II the Nazis used Akershus as a prison and
place of execution, and today it's the site of Norway's
Resistance Museum, which gives a vivid account of German
occupation and the Norwegian struggle against it. The site
is surrounded by park-like grounds, offering excellent views
of the city and harbour. There are concerts, dances and
theatrical productions held here during summer.
Vigeland Park is a wonderful
expanse of greenery, duck ponds and rows of shady trees
- the ideal place for leisurely strolls and picnics on the
lawn. Its central walkway is flanked with life-size statues
by Gustav Vigeland, a prolific artist who presented the
human form in a range of emotions and poses. Probably the
most impressive piece is a monolith of writhing bodies,
believed to be the world's largest granite sculpture. For
a more in-depth look at the development of Vigeland's work,
check out the Vigeland Museum across from the park. Other
artistic shrines include the National Theatre, with its
lavish rococo hall, which was built a century ago to stage
Ibsen's plays; and the Munch Museum, which contains more
than 5000 drawings and paintings bequeathed to the city
by Norway's most famous artist. Munch's most famous painting,
The Scream, resides in the National Gallery, though it went
for a short, unexpected holiday in 1994.
A 10-minute ferry ride across
the harbour takes you to Bygdoy. This peninsula has some
of Oslo's most outstanding attractions including Norway's
largest open-air folk museum; maritime museums housing excavated
Viking ships and Thor Heyerdahl's balsa raft Kon-Tiki; restored
stave churches; and a couple of good beaches. Also easily
reached by public transport is the Nordmarka, a wilderness
area on Oslo's northern border, which is crossed by hiking
and skiing trails.
The majority of Oslo's budget
accommodation and eateries can be found in or close to the
city centre. Karl Johans Gate, the main street, is lined
with shops, and is a popular haunt for buskers. Oslo's nightlife
includes the usual mix of theatres, live music, discos,
clubs, pubs, gay bars and drag shows.
This cluster of historic white houses built around a small
fishing harbour is one of Norway's most picturesque villages.
It's popular with artists and tourists, and is a summer
hangout for Norway's yachties. Visits to nearby islands
can be made by inexpensive water taxis. One such island
is Stangholmen, which has an old lighthouse with a restaurant
and bar. Risor is on the curving southern coast, south of
The central part of Norway takes in the country's highest
mountains, largest glacier and most spectacular fjords.
Unsurprisingly, this region is the top destination for almost
all travellers to the country.
The historic city of Bergen,
with its cultured atmosphere and low skyline of red-tiled
roofs, is the main jumping-off point for journeys into the
western fjords. From here you can visit Sognefjord, Norway's
longest (200km) and deepest (1300m) fjord; the scenic Hardangerfjord;
the massive Jostedalsbreen glacier; spectacular waterfalls
at Geirangerfjord; and Trollveggen, a jagged and often cloud-shrouded
summit near Andalsnes that is considered the ultimate challenge
among Norwegian mountain climbers.
In addition, there are resorts,
excellent national parks, and road trips through some of
Norway's most breathtaking scenery. Don't miss the 470km
train journey on the Oslo-Bergen railway: this scenic trip
is Norway's finest, and passes through mountain ranges and
the windswept Hardanger plateau.
The 'Gateway to the Arctic' is a stark contrast to the sober
communities dotting the northern coast of Norway. It's a
spirited town with street music, cultural happenings, more
pubs per capita than any other place in the country and
many 'northenmost' claims. Snow-capped mountains provide
the scenic backdrop, the town has a swag of period buildings
and the Tromso Museum is a good place to learn about Lapp
culture. There's also fine skiing here in winter.
This fishing village on the Lofoten island of Moskenes is
intriguingly named and well-preserved. It boasts a shoreline
of red rorbu, plenty of cod drying on racks, and postcard-perfect
scenes at every turn. Many of the village's buildings have
been set aside as the Norwegian Fishing Village Museum,
complete with old boats and boathouses, a period bakery,
storehouses and so on. Nearby is Moskenesstraumen, a maelstrom
with a mighty whirlpool which inspired tales by Jules Verne
and Edgar Allen Poe.
This 10,000-strong fishing town claims to be the northernmost
town in the world. If its name sounds familiar, it's the
place Bill Bryson hung around at the start of Neither Here
Nor There waiting to be gobsmacked by the Northern Lights.
While you're waiting for this celestial display of psychedelia,
check out the Royal & Ancient Polar Bear Society and
the reindeer grazing in the Hammerfest graveyard.