Norway: Does A Country Like This Really Exist?
Norway. Is This Country Real?
When comparing Oslo with other Scandinavian destinations, opinions commonly favour Copenhagen’s charm, Stockholm’s cosmopolitan way and Helsinki’s indefinable exoticism. And then there’s Oslo, the capital of an extremely safe oil-rich country, and second most expensive city in the world in 2014.
While Oslo has the reputation of being a bit grey, the truth is the last decade has seen major shifts. Besides being one of the fastest growing cities in population and business, architecture and design are the most visible contributors of this change. The Fjord City Project renovations on several miles of Oslo’s waterfront are due to complete in 2020, enhancing the historical connection with sea activity.
The spectacular Opera House (inside and out), inaugurated in 2008, is the best example of this rebirth and a landmark of new Oslo. Alongside with a broad cultural offer, it changed the city’s silhouette and became a favourite spot to hang out in sunny days.
So why is Oslo worth it?
For many reasons! Previously known as Christiania, it became the capital of Norway in 1834 after the independence from Denmark and is today home to 600 thousand people. Even though the Fjord City Project is ambitious, Oslo is nonetheless a place with a character of its own. After all, it’s where some of Europe’s greatest artists left their mark.
First and foremost, there’s Edvard Munch (1863-1944). Undoubtedly one of the most influential painters of the 20th Century, whose presence still lingers all over the city, like Fernando Pessoa’s in Lisbon and Kafka’s in Prague. Places like the Munchmuseet and the Nasjonalmuseet celebrate Munch’s painting, strongly motivated by psychic themes, and districts like Grünerløkka, where he lived most of his youth, are today’s hotspots for emerging artists and projects.
Truly unusual is the landscape at Vigeland Park, one of Norways’ most visited features, attracting more than one million people every year. Located in the Frogner district, on the west part of the city, this immense green area presents the life work of sculptor Gustav Vigeland (1869-1943): 212 sculptures in bronze, granite and iron, reflecting the struggle inherent to the human condition. A definite surprise for those who stop by, especially the 14-metre high Monolith.
Oslo is ideal for walking tours. A stroll in the centre will always take you to the City Hall building, in Rådhusplassen. While big and imponent when seen from the outside, the best is on the inside — because of the murals portraying episodes and legends of Norwegian life, but also because this is where the Nobel Peace Prize is presented since 1990. We recommend you to previously book your guided tour.
Not far away, you can see the 700 hundred year-old Akershus fortress, place of crucial moments in the nation’s history and pantheon of Norwegian monarchy. After this journey through the centuries, head for the historical district of Kvadraturen in search of a bit of hustle and bustle. It’s in the Karl Johans Gate, the city’s main artery, where life most thrives in the stores, bars, restaurants and galleries.
Before leaving for the fjords, there’s no escape from the Viking Ship Museum. Oseberg, Tune and Gokstad ships, built in wood in the 9th century and hidden in Viking graves for a thousand years, are authentic relics that testify Norway’s relevance in Scandinavian heritage.
In the woods in 15 minutes
It’s no lie. You’ll go from Oslo’s downtown to the depth of the forests really fast and 242 of the 450 square kilometres of the city are green area. The Norwegian capital is actually located in Oslofjorden (“the fjord of Oslo”, of course), which spans over 100 kilometres.
Nothing strange, since the fjord is Norway’s greatest natural symbol. But what is a fjord anyway? A very steep valley of glacial origin, located in latitudes near the poles, with great depth below the water. Nature’s true work of art, sculpted by the glacial erosion that produces breath-taking U-shaped valleys. Norway is the country with the largest concentration in the world.
Bergen is a great starting point to the fjords country. This city, 450 kilometres west to Oslo, is the country’s second largest and an inevitable destination if you’re travelling with time on your hands. Lovely and filled with tradition, Bergen is intrinsically linked to the country’s culture. Among others, it is the home of classic composer Edvard Grieg (1843-1907), one of Norway’s top references.
From here, the only way is up. Although Oslo and Bergen are in high latitudes comparatively to the rest of Europe, they’re located in southern Norway. From Bergen, you can take a boat destined to the colourful Hardangerfjord or to several sites of Sognefjord, the largest and deepest of fjords. In Luster, the inner part of Sognefjord, search for the Urnes stave church (stavkirke). A UNESCO’s world heritage site since 1979, it’s the oldest example of these Scandinavian medieval wooden churches, one of Norway’s greatest cultural legacy.
A little further north, you can compare Sognefjord’s greatness to the incomparable beauty of Geirangerfjord. If the first one is the largest, the second one, also listed as UNESCO’s heritage, is a dazzling wonder with impressive waterfalls and charming villas lost between the mountains. This is where you’lll find the very famous, narrow and winding road of Trollstigen, known as the “the golden route” going on for more than 100 kilometres of valleys. With nothing more than nature as background.
In Molde, we’re tempted by the experience of taking the Atlantic Road that leads to Kristiansund and almost interacting with the waves. And in Trondheim, the country’s third city, it’s impossible to ignore the gothic cathedral of Nidaros, Scandinavia’s largest medieval church and a national sanctuary.
Welcome to the north
This is the country of fjords, but also of lakes and islands. Nature reigns supreme and the Lofoten archipelago is set to break some records. Although we’re already in the Arctic Circle, temperatures in Lofoten are milder then in other regions of the same latitude due to the influence of the Gulf Stream. Little fishing villages in the islands are surround by an almost ethereal beauty, where all activities are recommended: ski, safaris, snorkeling, rafting, biking… Or simply taking a walk outside. If you’re visiting between May and August, you’ll have several privileged spots for enjoying the midnight sun.
If in the Summer the sun never sets, in the winter light remains a show on its own. The northern lights, a phenomenon scientifically known as aurora borealis, are produced by the effect of sun’s electric particles on the atmosphere.
So we finally arrive at Tromsø, the “capital of the Arctic” and Europe’s most northern university city. Located in an island and surrounded by mountains, it’s famous for the wooden houses of the historical centre and a very original cathedral built in 1965. But mostly because of the northern lights — Tromsø is one of the best places on earth to watch them. Both in the streets and in the city’s planetarium.
Ok, so you think: I’m on top of the world. No you’re not — the Svalbard archipelago is standing one thousand kilometres above you!
At departure: Olso
If you still have some free time before catching the plane, Oslo has another good proposal for you to enjoy some last leisure moments: the Holmenkollen ski jump, located in a hill with a gorgeous view over the city. It features a museum and a restaurant, so you’ll be sure to have a good time.
With so many great things surrounding them, it might seem odd that Norwegians are reserved and humble. That might be explained by Jante’s Law, a set of principles recommending individual modesty in public conduct, described by writer Aksel Sandemose.
The doubt remains: can the Norwegians apply the same law when comparing Norway’s treasures with the rest of the world? The rest of the world might lose the contest.