"What's your favorite country?" As someone who has lived in five countries and visited over a hundred of them, that's a question I'm frequently asked, and it's one that doesn't admit of an easy answer. So several years ago, I adopted the habit of qualifying my response to the question by narrowing its scope: I now ask my interlocutors to limit their question to a particular region of the world, rather than the entire globe. This minor re-framing of the question not only makes it easier for me to answer, but is also more interesting for the person asking it.
And when asked what my favorite Scandinavian country is, the answer is always the same: Norway. Norway's majestic coastline, welcoming people, fantastic food, and stark natural beauty possess a truly perennial appeal. And I am not alone in my enchantment with Norway, as it is consistently among the most popular Scandinavian countries for tourism and leisure travel.
From the lovely city of Bergen to the colorful Trondheim, and from the breathtaking fjiords to the pristine arctic wilderness in the stunning Svalbard Islands, Norway is a country of exceptional natural beauty and abiding charm. My most recent visit to Norway was last summer, while on a Baltic cruise that included a stop in Oslo. My husband and I spent an unforgettable day wondering the streets of this little Nordic gem, and it was evident almost immediately that my husband was just as enchanted with Oslo as I had been when I first visited the city fifteen years earlier.
There is a lot to do and see in Oslo, but a few things you should make a point of visiting are City Hall and the Royal Palace (iconic landmarks which grace ninety percent of all pictures taken in Oslo) and the impressive Vigeland Sculpture Park, where more than two-hundred sculptures in bronze, granite and cast iron are on public view.
For a glimpse of what Oslo looked like a few hundred years ago, you don't have to rely on images in paintings or descriptions in novels: You can take a leisurely stroll back in time by visiting Damstredet and Telthusbakken, two narrow streets in central Oslo with small wood and brick houses from the 17th and 18th centuries. The buildings along these two streets are the oldest and the best preserved local architecture in Oslo today.
Another attraction not to be missed is the Oslo Opera House: a beautiful piece of modern architecture right by the harbor. Its slanted design allows visitors to easily walk to its roof, which offers excellent views of the city.
And if, like me, you're interested in ships, then you mustn't miss the Fram Museum, where you can see the strongest wooden ship ever built, The Polar Ship Fram. A true marvel of maritime engineering, The Fram still holds the records for sailing farthest north and farthest south. At the Fram Museum, you can actually go onboard the ship and see how the crew managed to stay alive in some of the harshest climates and most dangerous places on Earth. It even includes a polar simulator, so visitors can experience for themselves the frigid temperatures endured by the Fram's crew on her Arctic and Antarctic voyages. The Viking Ship Museum is also extremely interesting. Here you will find some of the world's best-preserved Viking ships and artifacts retrieved from Viking tombs around the Oslo Fjord.
And no trip to Oslo would be complete without paying a visit to the world-famous coffee-shop-by-day-and-cocktail-bar-by-night, Kaffefuglen. A 1960s style cafe where you can buy anything you see inside (from mugs, to flatware, to furniture!), Kaffefuglen is not just an excellent place for an afternoon pick-me-up, but also a beautiful monument to classic Scandinavian design.
Oslo has a lot to offer in the way of world-class accommodations, but for me, nothing compares to the distinctive and elegant hotel at Tjuvholmen, The Thief. Named "The Best Hotel in Northern Europe" by Condé Nast Traveler, The Thief is located right on the harbor and overlooks the Oslofjord, offering incredible waterfront views. And in the summer months, the rooftop terrace is an excellent place to enjoy a glass of wine and spectacular views of the city. Each of the one-hundred and sixteen rooms and suites at The Thief features a private French balcony, and the penthouse suite has a private rooftop terrace with sensational panoramic views.
I have no doubt that once you visit Norway and its enchanting capital city, Oslo, you will understand why it is among my favorite destinations in the world.