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Overlooking a gorgeous fjord, Norway’s capital and largest city simply radiates with natural beauty and sophistication. Oslo’s rich seafaring history is on display at the Viking Ships Museum, rivaled only by the Kon-Tiki Museum, which holds the balsawood raft that Norwegian adventurer Thor Heyerdahl used to sail from Peru to Polynesia. History aside, Oslo exudes a love of the outdoors in city parks like Vigeland, which is adorned with over 200 life-size sculptures by artist Gustav Vigeland. Much of Oslo is heavily forested with pines, making it one of Europe’s greenest cities.
Founded in 1641 near the southern tip of Norway, Kristiansand once claimed the world’s largest fleet of sailing ships. Today the proud city exudes an energy that peaks in summer, when your ship calls. The Posebyen old quarter boasts a collection of historic wooden houses surrounded by shops and restaurants. Museums abound and include the Agder Museum of Natural History and Botanical Garden, which opened in 1828. Kristiansand Zoo, said to be Norway’s most visited attraction, covers 150 acres of Nordic terrain where animals like red pandas, moose and Bactrian camels roam in wide-open spaces.
Located in the southwest of Norway where the fjords flow out into the North Sea, Haugesund is surrounded by the blue ice Folgefonna glacier in the north and the impressive mountain formation of Preikestolen in the south. Learn why this charming town is known as the Homeland of the Viking Kings at Avaldsnes’ Viking settlement, where you can see a reconstructed Viking farm and learn how the Vikings lived. Discover majestic fjords, cascading waterfalls, stunning glaciers, imposing mountains, and idyllic islands and lighthouses. The best way to get an insider’s look at Haugesund is to follow the locals and go for an invigorating hike at Preikestolen, also known as the Pulpit Rock or Preacher’s Rock, one of the most popular hiking trips in the region.
In 1904 much of Ålesund was destroyed by fire, but the town was quickly rebuilt in the period’s popular Art Nouveau style. Soaring turrets, spires and beautiful ornamentation adorn the buildings throughout Ålesund, giving it a distinctive flair and earning the town a revered architectural reputation. An evening departure allows you plenty of time to explore its many attractions, such as the spectacular Art Nouveau Centre museum, scenic Town Park, and Atlantic Sea Park, one of Europe’s largest aquariums. For a look at modern Norwegian woodworking, visit the impressive Gallery Cylindra. Many of Ålesund’s squares feature sculptures commemorating significant events, including the town’s rich fishing history and Norway’s contribution to World War II.
Founded in 1838, Hammerfest was razed repeatedly over the years by storms, fires and most savagely by retreating German soldiers at the end of World War II. Now almost completely rebuilt (it was Europe’s first city with electric street lights), Hammerfest is known for its colorful homes lining the sea, contemporary attractions and passion for welcoming visitors to its pristine Arctic environs. The most avant-garde building is the striking Kirkegata church with its tent-shaped gable. But don’t miss the whaling artifacts in the museum in Market Square, or the panoramic view atop Salen ridge.
While the Midnight Sun will soon dip below the horizon, Honningsvåg should be illuminated throughout the evening spent here. It’s an awe-inspiring setting in northernmost Norway, surrounded by dense forests and fjords, inhabited by reindeer and held sacred by the indigenous Sami people. One of the world’s most memorable, otherworldly experiences is standing atop the precipitous North Cape, the late-night sun eerily hanging over the Arctic Ocean. There is even a museum in town devoted to the North Cape. The area is also famous for the Gjesværstappan Nature Reserve, where literally millions of arctic birds flourish during the summer nesting period.
Cradled within the majestic Altafjord, Alta is a modestly sized city yet boasts a wealth of natural, historic and architectural treasures. In the Rock Art of Alta UNESCO World Heritage site, bewitching rock carvings, some created up to 6,000 years ago, depict everyday activities of the Stone Age such as hunting and fishing. The 19th-century Alta Church enchants with its austere beauty, while the strikingly futuristic Northern Lights Cathedral, clad in titanium, spirals upward like a mysterious sea creature. As in most of Norway, breathtaking scenery abounds, so both locals and visitors take advantage of the area’s ample natural gifts by kayaking the fjord or hiking in awe-inspiring Alta Canyon, one of the largest in Europe.
As you admire the striking architecture of the Arctic Cathedral and Polaria aquarium overlooking Tromsø Sound, you may get the sense that this city, 250 miles north of the Arctic Circle, has an edgy streak. This should come as no surprise in a place where the sun never sets – or rises – depending on the month. The area’s biggest draw is its majestic fjords and mountains, an untouched wilderness that you can explore by boat, bus, foot and more. At the Polar Museum, you’ll discover what it takes to survive in the Arctic, and at the Roald Amundsen Monument, you’ll witness a city that honors the lives – and death – of those who live on the edge.
Nestled on the eastern shores of stunning Hinnøya, Norway’s largest island, Harstad beckons with its active lifestyle and rich history. Hike and even ride an e-bike through a pristine landscape of rolling meadows fringed by towering, jagged mountains, or simply relax shoreside with delightful views of the shimmering Vågsfjorden and its myriad islets. The traditional grass-roofed homes of the Sandtorg Bygdetun immerse you in the life of 18th-century local farmers and fishermen, showcasing intriguing artifacts and workshops from the distant past. Military history buffs will thrill to Meløyvær Fort, a Cold War relic that was once of strategic importance to NATO and features a perfectly preserved control center as well as three 120mm Bofors guns.
Sailing into the dramatic Lofoten Islands among towering jagged peaks and sheltered bays sets the stage for an unforgettable experience. Nothing short of stunning, the main islands – Austvågøy, Vestvågøy, Flakstadøy and Moskenesøy – are separated from the mainland by a long fjord, but all are connected by bridges and tunnels. Located on Vestvågøy, Leknes is a gateway to unspoiled beaches and the Lofotr Viking Museum as well as traditional fishing villages and outdoor adventures on nearby islands. The unique quality of light has long drawn artists to the archipelago, so you’ll also find myriad galleries featuring everything from glassware and sculptures to jewelry. If you’re yearning to experience a Lofoten-style city, head to the unofficial capital of Svolvaer.
Ideally situated near the terminus of the Ofotfjord, Narvik’s setting can’t be described as anything less than spectacular. No matter which direction you turn, you’re likely to see soaring, snowcapped mountain ranges ringing the horizon. Take in awe-inspiring vistas by riding the Narvikfjellet Gondola to the jagged peaks just beyond town, then hike through the alpine setting or simply absorb Norway’s majestic beauty. Visit the Narvik Krigsmuseum for engrossing insight into WWII’s fierce Battles of Narvik, which included naval encounters on the fjord and land skirmishes in the surrounding mountains. A comfortable ride aboard the legendary 27-mile-long Ofoten Railway reveals hidden natural treasures rarely trod by humans, and the unique chance to cross over from Norway into Sweden by land.
If you close your eyes and envision Norway, there’s a good chance the first image that springs to mind is the stunning, oft-photographed landscape of the Lofoten Islands. Punctuated by countless jagged peaks that plunge precipitously into sea and fjords, the region is an outdoor enthusiast’s dream. Admire the dramatic scenery from a kayak, catamaran or whale-watching vessel, and discover charming fishing villages on a tour of the distinctive archipelago. As the largest town in Lofoten, Svolvaer offers plenty of sophisticated dining options, with fresh-caught seafood naturally in the spotlight. For a glimpse into the region’s tumultuous Viking past, visit the beguiling Lofotr Viking Museum, which immerses you in everyday life during Norway’s Iron Age.
Stroll through this picturesque fishing town and admire the views from the headland. Take a drive around this stunning, craggy island of majestic waterfalls, beautiful fjords, farms, villages, enigmatic sea stacks and panoramic views of the neighboring islands. Or visit an ancient Viking settlement in a valley of lakes.
This starkly beautiful island holds many ancient treasures like the enigmatic Standing Stones of Stenness and the 5,000-year-old village of Skara Brae, amazingly discovered with furniture and indoor drains preserved. Visit the imposing trio of St. Magnus Cathedral, the nearby ruins of the Earl’s Palace, and the earlier Bishop’s Palace.
Savor the old town’s marvelous Georgian and Victorian architecture and impressive Edinburgh Castle, high on its volcanic crag with a fabulous view. Stroll along the medieval Royal Mile to the Palace of Holyroodhouse to see the abbey and Queen Mary’s chambers. Visit St. Giles’ Cathedral where John Knox once preached.
Surveying the chaotic web of London’s streets – over 600 square miles of them – it seems as though none of them lead out of the city. And why would they, as everything you could want is here, from castles to cathedrals and paintings to parks. Human history unfolds at the unrivaled British Museum, while residents and visitors opine at Hyde Park’s Speakers’ Corner. Find world-class theater in London’s West End and a parade of history’s greatest artists in any one of its art museums. For explorations in Portsmouth, take your pick of maritime heritage attractions: three historic ships, a submarine and several top museums such as The D-Day Story and the National Museum of the Royal Navy.