A guide to my favourite Norwegian city. Find out why I love the city and what there is to do if you do visit Bergen…
Bergen City Guide
Fjords to the west of it, mountains to the east; Bergen is stuck in the middle waiting for you. Steelers Wheelers riffing aside, Bergen is well worth a visit.
First impressions were good; the railway station caught my eye for a photograph. The impressive symmetrical domed lattice roof, backdropped by the blue sky. The leading lines of the train tracks. The eye catching red paintwork of our train.
At the time of writing this, Bergen is my favourite place in Norway. As with the rest of the country, Bergen radiates calm. Right away I felt at ease and excited to explore the city. Read on to find out what Bergen has to offer…
~ What to Do and See ~
1. Historic Bryggen
After checking in and dropping our bags off at the hotel, we decided to take a stroll to get our bearings. Our first stop was picture perfect Bryggen. It would be rude to visit Bergen without checking out Bryggen. The area consists of a number of colourful wooden buildings which line the old wharf in the centre of historic Bergen. I just loved the colourful charm and rustic feel of Bryggen.
The buildings date back to the early 1700s, their construction taking place shortly after the great fire of 1702 had ravaged the city. Behind the colourful veneer is a criss-cross of alleyways and which houses Bergen’s artistic scene – potters, artists, jewellers, leather crafts. It is very much a creative hub. Walking through this part of the city is a throwback to a time long since passed. If you find yourself hungry from all the excitement, Baker Brun (housed in one of the colourful frontages) sells some delicious cinnamon buns.
2. Mount Fløyen
Practical tip whilst the sunsets are spectacular, they do draw a crowd. I’d recommend heading a bit further back towards the restaurant, away from the crowds and for a better view (particularly if you are keen to set up a tripod for some long exposures).
Fløyen is best accessed via the Fløibanen funicular railway. The lower station is a couple of minutes walk from Bryggen. The funicular departs every 15 minutes. Return tickets are 95NOK for adults and 50NOK for children.
Mount Fløyen is good for more than sunset. Visit during the daytime and at the summit you will find there is a cafe, playground and a number of hiking trails. The hiking trails weave through nearby woodland and alongside clear, still lakes (although be wary of lurking trolls!). If you are a more serious hiker, you might want to consider hiking to the next summit (Mount Ulriken) which will take about half a day. There is a separate cable car to the top of Ulriken, but it is a 20 minute drive out of town.
3. Enjoy some fresh seafood at the fish market
Whenever I visit a city which lies close to the ocean, seafood is high on my agenda. It just makes sense. On the opposite side of the harbour to Bryggen lies the Bergen Fish Market. It has wide selection of fresh fish and shellfish to enjoy and is a hive of activity during the day.
4. Explore the colourful city on foot
My favourite way to explore a new city is on foot. I find that it is the best to discover and experience the charm (and smaller details) of a place. Because central Bergen is small, it is very easy to get around on foot. So go get that step count up and hunt for those colourful, Scandinavian styled buildings.
In the evening, we headed slightly further afield; to the more modern areas, such as Solheimsviken. Sitting alongside the water, the lights created some cool reflections.
5. Bergen is a gateway to the fjords
Bergen is surrounded by seven fjords and is a great base from which to see the fjords of southern Norway. We went on a day trip to the magnificent Hardangerfjord. If you do visit Bergen, factor in a day or two for fjord trips – after all, it isn’t known as the gateway to the fjords for nothing. For more information on visiting the fjords of southern Norway, check out my Fjord Focus article.
6. Brush up on your Hanseatic History
If colourful, historic Bryggen has made you curious to find out more about the Hanseatic League, pop into the Hanseatic Museum. The museum is in Bryggen and housed within one of the oldest wooden buildings in the city. It provides an insight into the life of the Hanseatic sailors who traded from Bergen between 1350 and 1750.
7. Escape the rain with one of Bergen's many museums
Bergen is the rainiest city on the planet. On average, it rains on 240 days each year. We were very fortunate not to experience any rain during our couple of days in Bergen, but there is every chance that you might get caught in a shower (or two) when visiting. If it does rain, Bergen is home to a number of very good museums. In addition to the Hanseatic Museum, the KODE art museums, the leprosy museum and science centre are highly rated.
~ What to Eat ~
Bergen has some delightful restaurants. We generally ate on the cheap because Norway is a pretty expensive country. However, in Bergen we decided to splash the cash a little and check out some of the local restaurants. My personal favourites were:
Spisekroken – a small cosy restaurant, located a couple of minutes walk from the seafront. The restaurant prides itself on using local produce and serving “rustic food with a twist and of course good wine”. I ordered veal with a carrot puree, small potatoes, kale, parsley, walnut and apple sauce for mains. The veal was deliciously tender and the sweetness of the puree and walnut/apple sauce complemented it beautifully. Never one to skip dessert, I enjoyed the chocolate tarte with brown cheese, browned white chocolate, cloud berries and cloud berry sorbet. Again, it was bloody delicious! It was also the first time that I had tried cloud berries. They are quite tart, similar to a blackberry I guess, but they accompanied the sweeter chocolate elements of the dish very well.
Bare Vestland – the restaurant is located across the water from Bryggen, close to the fish market and tourist information centre. The entrance is just below street level, down a set of stairs. The restaurant has a cosy, inviting interior. We opted for a 6 course sharing menu, where the chef decides what dishes to serve. For a flavour of what is on offer, the menu featured a lot of local ingredients, such as virgin herring, smoked mackerel, ox-cheek, ham hock, beer-and-meat stew, local fish, pickled leeks. I have to say, the meal was spectacular. If you are looking for a traditional taste of Norway then Bare Vestland fits the bill.
Kafe Spesial – a cheaper, cool alternative to the above recommendations. As everybody knows, pizza and beer are a match made in heaven. Kafe Spesial serves both: freshly made pizzas (with what seems to be a infinit selection of toppings) and something like 100 different beers! A pizza and a beer will set you back less than £20, which is incredible value for Norway!
If you are planning to visit Bergen, what are you looking forward to the most? If you have already been, did you love it as I did?