Polaria is a Disney-esque scientific homage to the ecologies, climates, and technological potentialities of the Arctic. Viewed from any of the boats out on the harbor, its stainless-steel surfaces resemble a jagged ice floe pressed into fragile but irregular vertical alignments. Inaugurated in 1998, in a location beside the waterfront, immediately adjacent to the world headquarters of the Polar Institution of Norway (a deeply respected subdivision of the Norwegian Ministry of the Environment), it's one of the most frequently visited attractions in town. Its design resulted from a contest wherein 45 noted architects from North America and Europe competed. The result as viewed from the town evokes a weather-tight factory, industrial-looking in wood, glass, and stainless steel, that looks like it could survive the harshest Arctic winter.
The dioramas and tableaux -- some with artificially induced snow flurries behind thick sheets of Plexiglas, will leave you with a deeper understanding of the complex and delicate ecosystems of the Arctic. There's an IMAX-size movie theater where an 18-minute film, shot mostly on the Norwegian/Russian island of Svalbard, celebrates the beauty and biodiversity of the Arctic. There's also an aquarium holding what might be the ugliest fish anywhere. Where the signs indicate, you can reach out and touch some of the species -- a favorite of children.
An indoor pool is for the care, shelter, and feeding of arctic seals, with regular feedings and seal gymnastics. And in the lobby, there's a genuinely wonderful gift shop -- one of the best in town -- selling souvenirs and some remarkably charming gift items, including hand-painted lacquered boxes hauled in from across Norway's frontiers with Russia.
- © Frommer's 2013
- Recommended 2010