Shipshape in Oslo

A centuries-old ship in Oslo's Vikingskiphuset.
A centuries-old ship in Oslo's Vikingskiphuset.PHOTO: EDWARD J. TAYLOR

Oslo is a city that I quickly associate with water, due mostly to its location beside its eponymous fjord.

In summer, ferries cross Oslo fjord to the Bygdoy Peninsula. But it being February, I have to rely on a taxi to take me to the city's collection of sites that share a nautical theme.

The first is the Vikingskiphuset (www.khm.uio.no/english), where three 9th-century Viking ships have been carefully reassembled within a simple yet lovely cross- shaped building.

Relics from that time rest undisturbed under glass cases, but there is a sparseness to the layout that draws attention back to the ships, in a manner that is respectfully religious.

A pleasant downhill walk brings me to the Kon Tiki museum (www.kon-tiki.no). Grass shacks, Polynesian masks, miniaturised moai figures - I have not expected to encounter any of these in Oslo. Yet here they were in the darkened corners of the narrow hall, flanking the balsa raft Kon Tiki, which had been piloted from Peru to the South Pacific's Tuamotu islands by Thor Heyerdahl, one of Norway's most famous sons.

The abundance of displays is like grandfather's anthropological attic, depicting not only the raft's famous journey, but also the backgrounds of the peoples and cultures that it made contact with.

An equally famous journey was that of the great ship Fram (www.frammuseum.no). With its egg-shaped hull that resisted the crushing pressure of ice, the ship carried explorer Fridtof Nansen to within degrees of the North Pole. It later carried Roald Amundsen south, where he became the first man to visit the South Pole.

The warehouse-sized building in which it is housed is packed with items that educate and bring wonder, most significantly the ship itself. Once they have busied themselves with climbing over her upper and lower decks, visitors can walk through a polar simulator and try a series of activities that recall what it must have been like to explore one of this planet's final frontiers.

Luckily for us, some mysteries still remain and I spend a long while at the water's edge behind the museum, puzzling over why the boats moored in their slips are bobbing on moving water, despite the frozen fjord pushing in from all sides.

Back across the fjord again, I continue my walk in the town proper, starting from the Tjuvholmen, an interconnected series of floating docks that is filled with restaurants, shops and galleries. .

Where it meets the land again I find the subdued Nobel Peace Center (www.nobelpeacecenter.org/en), dedicated to the prize that is celebrated yearly at the picturesque Radhus town hall just across the square.

I like the permanent exhibition upstairs, the face and biography of each of the winners waving on iPods affixed to wire tentacles.

Oslo's downtown has a look befitting its history and how pleasant it is to escape the warren of narrow lanes lined with stone to stroll Karl Johan's Gate in the winter sunshine. At one end is the Parliament building, a proud edifice that bears well its 170-year history. The adjacent Grand Hotel (www.grand.no/en) is equally majestic, long the haunt of celebrities and nobility.

Famed playwright Henrik Ibsen used to dine here frequently and I follow his footsteps to his home (Henrik Ibsens gate 26, 0255 Oslo) a few blocks away. The study has been left as it was in his day, with windows overlooking the Royal Palace. Still the home of the Norwegian royal family, the palace sits in a park where people sit and bask in the sun.

On the far side of the park, I lunch at the House of Literature (www.litteraturhuset.no/english), followed by a fine cup of coffee beneath the towering bookshelves.

The final destination of the day is the National Museum (www.nasjonalmuseet.no/en), which hosts the world-famous painting The Scream by Edvard Munch, as well as a superb collection of 19th-century landscape paintings.

It is at that moment that the scream I hear comes from my feet, which plead for a chance to move across the systematic series of hiking trails that make this country one of the world's premier hiking destinations.

But that will have to wait until the longer and warmer days of summer. In the meantime, more coffee?

Edward J. Taylor

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on September 04, 2016, with the headline 'Shipshape in Oslo'. Print Edition | Subscribe