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134km (83 miles) N of Oslo; 58km (36 miles) SE of Lillehammer

Hamar is no beauty itself, but it's at the center of a beautiful region of central Norway. If it's a choice between Lillehammer and Hamar, make it Lillehammer. But if you have that extra day to spare, journey to Hamar, if for no other reason than to enjoy Lake Mjøsa.

Located on the large and scenic Lake Mjøsa, Hamar is the capital of Hedmark County and one of Lillehammer's rivals for the winter-sports enthusiast. It makes a good stopover en route from Oslo to Lillehammer, but it also has many attractions in its own right if you'd like to base yourself here and drive up to the more crowded Lillehammer.

In the Middle Ages, Hamar was the seat of a bishopric, and some ecclesiastical ruins remain from those glory days. Hamar was also the home of Kirsten Flagstad, one of the world's most famous operatic sopranos back in the days when soprano suggested something other than a hit TV show.

Hamar's Viking ship-shaped ice-skating hall was the site of skating events during the 1994 Winter Olympics.

Hamar is a good center not because of its great architecture (it doesn't have any), but because of its natural setting. Its most charming assets are its marinas and waterside cafes, which, at least in summer, capture some of the charm of Norway. If you want to see old Norway, explore the ruins at the Hedmarksmuseet.

More alluring than the rather dull modern buildings of Hamar itself is the surrounding fertile farmland, riddled with forests and pastures. In such a bucolic setting, it is easy to understand why many Oslovians build summer homes here and use Lake Mjøsa as their playground during the few short weeks of sun they have. Many towns, such as Hamar, are used as mere refueling stops for visits to the nearby national parks and lakes.