Founded by the Viking king Olaf I Tryggvason in the 10th century, Trondheim is Norway's third-largest city and was the country's capital until the early 1200s. Scenic and pleasant, it's a bustling university center, with expansive avenues created after a fire razed most of the town in 1681. The city lies on the south bay of the Trondheim Fjord, at the mouth of the Nidelven River.

Noted for its timbered architecture, Trondheim retains much of its medieval past, notably the Gothic-style Nidaros Cathedral. Pilgrims came from all over Europe to worship at the shrine of Olaf, who was buried in the cathedral and canonized in 1031.

The city's fortunes declined during the Reformation. Under the Nazi occupation Trondheim became the base of German naval forces in northern Norway, with U-boats lurking deep in its fjord.

Today Trondheim is a progressive city with a rich cultural life, as well as a high-technology center for research and education. Its town center is compact and best explored on foot; most of the historic core of Trondheim lies on a small triangular island surrounded by water but linked via bridges.

Trondheim lies some 684km (424 miles) north of Bergen and 552km (342 miles) northwest of Oslo. Oslo and Bergen are more major destinations, but if you have a day or two to spare, make it to Trondheim. We often prefer it during "term time," when 25,000 students bring it to vibrant life, biking around town, drinking in the bars, hanging out in the cafes, and listening to the sounds of jazz, often imported from New Orleans.

If you're heading north from here, savor city life before journeying into the wilds, which are hardly tamed, except for Tromsø. If you're arriving in Trondheim from the north, you'll view it as a return to civilization and all those pleasures it brings.