has a spectacular setting located at the head of a 110km (70-mile)
long fjord. It is the oldest of the Scandinavian capitals, founded
around 1050 by Norwegian king Harald Hådråda,
who established it on the site of an earlier Viking
settlement. Following the construction of the imposing castle and
fortress of Akershus Slott, by Håkon
V Magnusson, in the late 13th century, Oslo’s importance
grew and it developed into a major trading centre, dealing with
Germany and central Europe.
After numerous lesser conflagrations, the predominantly wooden city
burnt to the ground in 1624. King Christian IV
rebuilt it on its present site, to the northeast of the castle,
and it was renamed Christiania in his honour –
a name it kept for 300 years. By the mid-1800s, the capital had
grown into a major financial, military and administrative centre.
The subsequent development of shipping, industry and forestry has
helped give it the dominant role that it still enjoys in the nation’s
United with Denmark, from 1380 to 1814, and from
then on with Sweden, Norway finally gained independence
during 1905, and Oslo staged a major arts festival in June 2005
to mark this centenary.
The best approach to Oslo is by sea, sailing up
the fjord, to where the city sprawls out from its centre around
the quays to the flanks of the surrounding hills. Although not noted
for grand architecture, Oslo’s history lives on in medieval
buildings like Akershus Slott, which stands across
a park from the austere angular bulk of the 1930s-style Rådhus
(City Hall). A highlight is the Slott (Royal Palace),
which elegantly dominates the view west along Karl Johans
Gate past the Storting (Parliament).
Despite its status within Scandinavia, Oslo gradually
faded in international influence until the discovery of North
Sea oil during the 1960s. This contributed to its current
resurgence, a factor reflected in its bustling docks and the lively
retail and leisure sector around Aker Brygge, a
transformed former warehouse area along the quay.
The population of just over half a million is quite small for a
major city, but with its late-night shopping, crowded cafés,
pubs, restaurants and theatres playing to full houses, Oslo has
developed a very cosmopolitan feel. However, in this respect, Bergen,
its predecessor as the nation’s capital, still has the edge,
due to its closer involvement with the international oil
The climate is surprisingly mild. In the summer, temperatures often
hover around 20ºC (68ºF) but during the winter, they can
fall to well below freezing point. Winter is dark and quite gloomy,
although there is always snow on the numerous ski trails close to
Oslo. On long summer days, when the sun drops only briefly below
the horizon and it never gets truly dark, the inhabitants spend
much of their time outdoors. Summer is perfect for exploring the
parks and hiking paths, or relaxing on the beaches.
cannot help its dark sub-arctic winters but in recent years it has
largely shaken off its former dull and parochial image without losing
its air of informality and with liberal drinking laws have helped
create a lively nightlife and oil money provides support for arts
and culture, making it a thriving and vibrant city.