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Of all the Scandinavian capitals, Oslo is a cozy, somewhat provincial city -- fewer tourists come here than, say, Copenhagen. But that doesn't mean tourists won't find plenty to delight. Located on the Aker River at the head of the Oslo Fjord, Norway's capital has modern architecture, lots of parks, world-class museums and public statues nearly everywhere (including a lot of naked ones!).
Oslo covers 175 square miles within its city limits and, as such, is one of the world's largest capital cities. The area is however mainly farmland, forest and lakes (340 of them), and the city's population is only 460,000 (it's the least densely populated capital city in Europe). There's a royal family residing in town, and Oslo is also the seat of the Norwegian parliament.
Norway was once part of Denmark and later part of Sweden, and many of the buildings -- including the Royal Palace and House of Parliament -- stem from the Swedish time. The country became independent in 1905, and then the Germans moved in and occupied Norway for five years during World War II (the Nazi history is something that Norwegians are now willing to talk about, which may be of particular interest to World War II buffs). Traveling here you'll notice the high standard of living (and that things aren't exactly cheap). In fact, Norway today is one of the richest countries in the world, thanks in no small part to its offshore oil.
Oslo residents are big on nature and proud of the nearby pristine forests and fjords. For cruise passengers, the ship's approach and departure through the Oslo Fjord provide fine views of the natural scenery and small fishing villages. Cameras ready!
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Aarhus • Amsterdam • Bergen • Bremerhaven • Copenhagen • Flam • Gdansk • Geiranger • Helsinki • Ilulissat • Moscow • Odessa • Oslo • Reykjavik • Riga • Rostock (Warnemunde) • Spitsbergen (Svalbard) • St. Petersburg • Stavanger • Stockholm • Tallinn • Travemunde (Lubeck) • Trondheim • Visby
Norwegian, though most folks speak English.
Currency & Best Way to Get Money
The Norwegian Krone (NOK); 6.46 NOK to one U.S. dollar. There are plenty of ATM's. Some tourist shops will also accept U.S. dollars or euros.
The famous Norwegian wool sweaters, with their blue and white patterns. Troll dolls are also popular.
Where You're Docked
There are only a few cruise ship docks, but all are within easy walking distance from downtown. The most you'll have to walk is 20 minutes (if you are at the closest dock you are about five minutes from City Hall).
There are some shops and a coffee shop, but not much else at the closest terminal.
This is an easy place to go it on foot. If you want to wander farther a field, say to the Munch Museum or Hollmenkollen Ski Jump, it is very easy to follow the bus/tram/subway system. Cabs are of course available around town, with a limited number at the pier.
If there's one must-do attraction it's the new Nobel Prize Peace Center (Radhusplassen, open 9 a.m. - 7 p.m. daily) on the waterfront right near Oslo City Hall. The prize is named for Alfred Nobel (1833-1896), a scientist who accumulated 355 patents (he invented dynamite among other things) and became one of the richest men in Europe before giving his fortune to a fund. The remaining Nobel prizes in physics, chemistry, medicine and literature are awarded in Nobel's native Sweden. The center is in a converted, historic train station but is all cutting edge, high tech -- lights flash, audio comes from odd places, and the stories of both hate and peace are told. Quotes depicted on a video wall of changing quotes include Nehru's, "You don't need genitals for politics you need brains." On the second floor is a documentary explaining the achievements of various laureates including Martin Luther King and the Dalai Lama and the striking Nobel Field, the equivalent of a Hall of Fame display of all laureates, except here their headshots appear in a dark room at eye level on sticks placed among smaller sticks with lights resembling flowers in a field of grass. Haunting modern music plays in the background -- it's a magnificent installation. The small gift shops have items with peace symbols and the museum has a lovely cafe with indoor and outdoor seating. Open Monday to Sunday, 10 a.m. - 7 p.m.
Additional Nobel history, among other things, is on tap at City Hall (Radhuspl, Open Monday - Saturday, 9 a.m. - 5 p.m.; Sunday, noon to 5 p.m.) where the Peace Prize ceremonies are held annually (it will look familiar to CNN watchers). City Hall also has a fantastic series of murals depicting everything from scenes of real life to exciting glimpses of resistance efforts during World War II. Upstairs is a quaint painting of a family sitting around a tree by native son Edvard Munch (most famous for not-so-quaint "The Scream"), and in a formal city banquet room is a mural of naked people frolicking on the beach -- oh, those playful Norwegians; wonder how such a theme would play at, say, Boston City Hall?
The adjacent waterfront area is a lively place with outdoor cafes and street musicians and other performers. Stortings is another good hangout spot with a fabulous long-and-green (lots of trees) park that leads up to the Royal Palace (which is not open to visitors).
Near the ship piers, the Medieval Quarter has interesting historic relics including Akershus Castle (Festningspl, Monday - Saturday, 10 a.m. - 4 p.m.; Sunday, 12:30 p.m. - 4 p.m.), a fortress that dates back to the 17th century where state and royal events are still held. The site boasts gorgeous gardens and its hilltop locale offers great views of Oslo and the fjord. Nearby is the fascinating Resistance Museum (Festningspl, Monday - Saturday, 10 a.m. - 4 p.m.; Sunday, 11 a.m. - 4 p.m.) showcasing exhibits from Norway's very strong allied resistance efforts. Exhibits include a molar with a radio receiver implant so a resistance fighter and his compatriots could follow the news.
Some of Oslo's most intriguing museums emphasize its relationship with the sea and they're all located on the peninsula of Bygdoy, a 10-minute ferry ride from the downtown pier (ferries depart every 20 minutes). The Kon Tiki Museum (Bygdoynesvn 36, 10:30 a.m. - 5 p.m. daily) showcases the balsa-wood raft that native son and explorer Thor Heyerdahl sailed from Peru to Polynesia. The Viking Ship Museum (Huk Av. 35, 10:30 a.m. - 5 p.m. daily) features ancient Viking ships that date back to 800 AD and an interesting collection of found utensils and jewelry. And, while you're in the neighborhood, stop by the Fram Museum (Bygdoynes, 9 a.m. - 5:45 p.m. daily) which showcases the ship that took 19th-century explorers on trips to the South Pole and the Arctic. And not the least bit maritime in theme but fascinating nevertheless is the Norwegian Folk Museum (Museumsvn, from 9 a.m. - 5 p.m. daily); an open air collection of some 150 buildings dating back to the 17th and 18th centuries. Visitors get the feeling they're actually wandering through a Norwegian town of yesteryear.
For art lovers, there are two must-sees. First is the Munch Museum (53 Toyen Gate, 10 a.m. - 6 p.m. daily). Edvard Munch donated his art to the city when he died in the mid-20th century ("The Scream" and several other paintings were stolen in a major robbery a couple of years ago; the museum has just recently reopened with increased security). The contemporary museum also exhibits other interesting artists. The second is Vigeland Sculpture Park (Kirkevn and Mid-delthingst, open 24 hours). Allow yourself time -- on a nice day -- to enjoy this at leisure. Part of the 80-acre Frogner Park on the outskirts of town (about four miles or a $10 cab ride), this outdoor sculpture garden features the work of Gustav Vigeland, who created life-sized -- as well as larger than life -- pieces that depict the cycle of life from birth to death.
Shoppers will want to fan out from Karl Johan's Gate, where the downtown retail scene is concentrated. There are also a variety of shops at the mall, including Aker Brygge, located just around the harbor from the closest ship berth.
Been There, Done That
Check out the Hollmenkollen Ski Tower (Kongevn 5) in Oslo's western hills. This was the original site of ski jumping in the 1892 Olympics and was rebuilt in the mid-20th century. Enjoy the awesome view overlooking the city and the fjords; there's an Olympics' museum as well.
Take a boat ride along the fjords. Directly on the docks are tour boat operators and you can hop on any range of "cruises," from quick 50-minute overviews of the waterways to 2.5-hour fjord tours.
Take a nature hike. Oslowalks organizes regularly scheduled, 2.5-hour guided excursions (www.oslowalks.no) around the city and/or in nearby forests.
Highly recommended: Icebar Oslo
For People Watching: The cafes along the waterfront, including at the Nobel Peace Center, and Karl Johan's Gate are great options.
Best Upscale Eats: Gourmet seekers should try Theatercafeen (Stortingsgt 24, noon - 2:30 p.m.). It's a Viennese-style cafe with a hip audience that's long been popular with local theatergoers and visiting celebrities.
Best for Families: Check out Najaden at the Norwegian Maritime Museum (Bygdoynesveien 37, daily noon - 6 p.m.) where kids under age 12 can do the Scandinavian lunch buffet (lots of fish and meat) for half price; grown-ups pay about $22.
Best Choice for Nature Lovers: Hiking the Nordmarka Forest around the Hollmenkollen area. You hike 1.5 miles uphill to the Tryvann Observation Tower where you can ride an elevator to the top deck for views of the vast forest. The hike downhill is 2.5 miles.
Best Choice for First-Timers: The Viking Heritage tour visits the Viking Ship Museum, the Open-Air Folk Museum, Vigeland Sculpture Park and the Holmenkollen ski jump so you get Viking history, Olympic history, a taste of Norwegian culture and an art lesson.
Best Choice for Troll Seekers: Head southwest of Oslo to fertile Lien valley, known as a home to trolls. At Jutlien Farm, you will board a wagon pulled by a Norwegian Fjordhorse and watch for trolls as you explore a forest. Then return to the farm and hear commentary about the history of trolls and Norwegian mythology (told by a troll, of course). Eat cake and jam while you listen to the tales. The tour is great for families.
Staying in Touch
Arctic Internet Cafe offers Internet access at the city's main railway station -- located one floor above the main waiting area.
For More Information
On the Web: www.visitoslo.com.
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--by Fran Wenograd Golden. Boston-based Golden, whose contributions to Cruise Critic include features, ship reviews and port profiles, is the travel editor of the Boston Herald and also co-author of "Frommer's Europe Cruises & Ports of Call."
The Oslo Harbor photo is courtesy of www.visitoslo.com. The Cannon at Akershus Fortress photo is courtesy of Pal Bugge and www.visitoslo.com. The Nobel Peace Center photo is courtesy of Nancy Bundt and www.visitoslo.com. The Holmenkollen Ski Jump photo is courtesy of Espen Bratlie and www.visitoslo.com.