Impressive buildings dominate Oslo's city centre
Occupying an enviable waterfront location and with top-rate restaurants, Norway's capital has a lot to offer, says Simon Calder

Why?

While Oslo's airport is a fabulous piece of architecture in its own right, postpone your departure for a couple of days to make the most of Norway's capital.

To appreciate the benefits of the high price of oil, Norway is the place to go. Europe's richest large country has benefitted hugely from its offshore reserves of the black stuff - and has invested wisely in embellishing its national capital. Over the past couple of decades, a combination of investment and imagination has transformed Oslo from a Nordic backwater to a world-class city.

The location could hardly be better: the city occupies the curve around the top of a long, broad and corrugated fjord, reined in by hills. Oslo now celebrates its waterfront with verve.

The central core of the city remains full of impressive buildings (and stylish places to stay), but more adventurous architecture is enlivening the shoreline, and spreading through the city - as are some enticing new places to eat, drink and stay. Just check your credit limit: Oslo's prices can make even London seem a bargain.

What?

Go on, you know you want to: begin your exploration at the National Gallery at 13 Universitetsgaten ( www.nationalmuseum.no; open 10am-6pm daily except Tuesday, but closing at 5pm at weekends and with late opening to 7pm on Thursday; admission free). This is a handsome if diminutive venue for one of the world's most celebrated paintings: The Scream, by Edvard Munch. The painfully blunt depiction of agony - one of several versions in existence - was stolen from this very gallery in August 2004, but returned intact two years later, and is now in well-guarded pride of place. Besides the star turn, there is an impressive collection of Norwegian paintings.

Then wander through the expansive and elegant gardens of the Royal Palace (though you can't visit the residence without an invitation), and beyond it wander past the impressive City Hall to the string of restaurants and cafes at Aker Brygge, a modern complex of offices, shops and eateries that overlook the harbour.

For a magnificent finale, hop on one of the boats that shuttle you across the harbour from April to September ( www.boatsightseeing.com) to the Bygdoy peninsula - venue for Norway's most visited attractions.

The Kon-Tiki Museum ( www.kon-tiki.no; 9.30am-5.30pm daily in June, July and August, shorter hours thereafter; admission NOK50) has just been refurbished to mark the 60th anniversary of the Kon-Tiki expedition in 1947, where the explorer and anthropologist Thor Heyerdahl led an expedition aboard a raft of balsa and bamboo across 4,000 miles across the Pacific. The fragile vessel is on display, along with much additional material to sustain the subtitle of the museum, the Institute for Pacific Archaeology and Cultural History.

The Viking Ship Museum ( www.khm.uio.no/english/viking_ship_museum; 9am-6pm daily from May to September, and 11am-4pm at other times of year; admission NOK50) houses three Viking ships lifted out of the Oslo Fjord at the end of the 19th century.

Where?

The Grand Cafe at Karl Johans Gate 31 (and part of the Grand Hotel, www.grand.no) has functioned as the central meeting place for the capital, and arguably the whole country, for 130 years; this is where the likes of Ibsen and Munch went for shots of coffee, conversation and inspiration.

For an equally impressive interior, and a more imaginative menu (especially soups and salads), visit Tekehtopa at St Olavs plass 2 ( www.tekehtopa.no). This is known by many locals as Apotheket, hinting at its previous role as a pharmacy; this year it celebrates its 10 anniversary in its new incarnation.

On a fine summer's afternoon or evening there are few places to beat the bars and restaurants strung out along the waterfront on Stranden. For fish, visit Lofoten Fiskerestaurant, appropriately on the waterfront at Stranden 75 ( www.lofoten-fiskerestaurant.no); the offering depends on what seafood is in season; the summer signature dish is Porte Plateau Luxus, a aquarine feast served with tzatsiki, aïoli and vinaigrette.

Wow!

At Vigelandspark, a short way west of the city centre, the sculptor Gustav Vigeland has populated an entire park with extraordinarily elaborate representations of the human form.

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