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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.
Chosen as the European Capital of Culture in 2008, oil-rich Stavanger lies in southwestern Norway’s stunning fjord region. Old Stavanger has been meticulously preserved with many of its wooden cottages converted into art galleries and boutiques. But it’s the museums that set this cosmopolitan city apart. The Stavanger Museum alone consists of eight buildings exhibiting collections that include maritime, medical and printing artifacts. Outdoor enthusiasts may enjoy walking the nature trails along the banks of nearby Lysefjorden, a classic fjord, or beholding the amazing view of the countryside from Pulpit Rock.
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.
Founded in 1916, the year before the Russian Revolution, Murmansk has grown into the largest city north of the Arctic Circle. During World War II, it was a gateway for Allied supplies into Russia, and Murmansk is still a Russian naval base. An enormous concrete war memorial overlooks the harbor. You may also see fishing vessels arriving from the Barents Sea, loaded with their fresh catch. The pristine waters of the surrounding Kola Peninsula are full of salmon, which often find their way into Murmansk’s restaurants. The city’s first stone building is now the Murmansk Regional Art Museum, which features local artists.
A regional center of northwestern Russia, Archangel was founded in the 16th century near Archangel Michael Monastery. There are several interesting museums to visit, including the popular Natural History Museum and the Gallery of Arts. Stroll along the banks of the Northern Dvina and see the many monuments to history from the Soviet era to Peter the Great. Admire the Russian North’s unique wooden architecture at Malye Korely, one of Europe’s largest open-air museums.
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.
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.
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.
London, the capital of England and the United Kingdom, is a 21st-century city with history stretching back to Roman times. At its centre stand the imposing Houses of Parliament, the iconic ‘Big Ben’ clock tower and Westminster Abbey, site of British monarch coronations. Across the Thames River, the London Eye observation wheel provides panoramic views of the South Bank cultural complex, and the entire city.
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