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Oslo

Vigeland Park, Oslo (Courtesy of PlusONE/Shutterstock.com)

Compared with other Scandinavian capitals, Oslo is a cozy, somewhat provincial city. Fewer tourists come here than, say, Copenhagen, but that doesn't mean visitors won't find plenty that delights. Located on the Aker River at the head of the Oslo Fjord, Norway's capital has modern architecture, hundreds of lakes, lots of parks, world-class museums and public statues nearly everywhere (including a lot of notoriously naked ones).

Oslo covers 175 square miles within its city limits and ranks as one of the world's largest capitals. However, with a population of 600,000, it is the least densely populated capital city in Europe. Norway was once part of Denmark and later part of Sweden, and many of Oslo's buildings -- including the Royal Palace and House of Parliament -- stem from Swedish rule. The country became independent in 1905. Later, Norway was occupied by German forces for five years during World War II (the Nazi history is something Norwegians are now willing to talk about, which may be of particular interest to World War II buffs).

Traveling there, you'll notice the high standard of living (and that things aren't exactly cheap). It's so expensive, in fact, that many Norwegians go to Sweden to shop. Still, Norway is one of the richest countries in the world, thanks in no small part to its North Sea offshore oil.

Oslo residents are big on nature and proud of their pristine forests and fjord. Consider taking a ferry trip through Oslo Fjord for fine views of the natural scenery and small fishing villages. Cameras ready!

--written by Ellen Uzelac

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