Coordinates: 59 54 N 10 43 E
Population: 808,000 (2007 est.)
I’m not sure if location, expense, or as the Onion’s Our Dumb World insinuates, a residual fear of Viking invasion is to blame, but Oslo, one of my favorite European cities, doesn’t seem to get its fair share of attention. By comparison, fellow Scandinavian capitals Stockholm, Copenhagen, and even tiny Reykjavik have all had more time in the spotlight than Norway’s chief city. Perhaps that will soon change however. In a matter of weeks Oslo will open a spectacular new National Opera House designed by Snøhetta, the same architectural firm that revived Alexandria’s mighty library in 2002.
Among smaller metropolises, Oslo has much to offer: a young, pulsing music scene, a number of excellent museums, plenty of green, spacious parks, and an easy-to-navigate public transportation system. It remains to be seen how much of a transformative force the opera house will be for a part of the harbor that has long been a working port, but a walk past the construction site last fall certainly left me hopeful. The sleek, angular form that rises from the fjord disguises its true size—at nearly 420,000 square feet the building won’t have trouble standing out, even with one or more massive cruise ships docked nearby. And for tourists arriving by water, it will be an impressive addition to the view that already greets visitors to Oslo. Slowly gliding past the Bygdøy peninsula and the wooded isles of Lindøya and Hovedøya, I can image it now: first the medieval Akershus fortress comes into view, with the hulking City Hall and the gleaming new opera house emerging on its left and right flanks. Behind them, protruding from the treeline beyond the city’s edge, I can faintly make out the arcing shape of the Holmenkollen ski jump.
Ben Keene is the editor of Oxford Atlas of the World. Check out some of his previous places of the week.