Bergen, the ‘gateway to the fjords’ on Norway’s south-west coast, is the country’s second largest city. It has a population of fiercely proud inhabitants, and it’s rumoured the seven tree-covered mountains surrounding the city are home to trolls.
I recently paid Bergen a whistle-stop visit, as part of a press trip with Visit Norway and Fjord Norway. There’s plenty to keep family holidaymakers occupied on a longer stay, but here’s what you might expect if (like us) you only have 24 hours to spend in Bergen.
Quaint streets and a UNESCO World Heritage site
Bergen’s most-recognised landmark is Bryggen, a colourful cluster of buildings overlooking the harbour. The houses, a UNESCO World Heritage site and which are now mostly restaurants and shops, were established in around 1350 by the Hanseatic League, a guild of tradespeople. In the summer months the harbour in front of Bryggen is buzzing with people enjoying coffee, beer and seafood dishes, brought in by the fishing boats lining the harbour.
When we visited, in February, there was a good deal of rain – hence the shortage of photos of Bryggen’s harbourside. But even through the misty drizzle, Bryggen still oozed olde worlde Scandi charm, with its oxblood-daubed houses and wooden streets.
Bergen has had particularly bad luck with devastating fires over the years. Large blazes were started by a range of calamities, including a servant boy who fell asleep on his watch, and a drunk priest who threw a lit candle at his wife’s head. Many of the original wooden houses were wiped out, but on wandering through the streets, you’ll still find plenty of beguiling places dating back to the Middle Ages.
Street art and museums
Alongside the quaint buildings sit a large number of acclaimed street artworks. Banksy visited Bergen in 2000, before he became very famous – sadly his pieces were scrubbed away. The city has since gained a reputation for being the street art capital of Norway. On a wander around the streets, it’s difficult to miss the vivid artworks, sitting cheek-by-jowl with traditional buildings. Some of them, including those by Norway’s most famous street artist, Dolk (his is the man with the plant spray, below), are now protected artworks.
Fans of more traditional art can visit the KODE collection of art museums, which include Troldhaugen, Edvard Grieg’s house, which I’ve posted about here. There’s also a Leprosy Museum, housed in a former leper hospital, and a family-friendly Science Centre.
A funicular railway runs up the side of Mount Fløyen, one of the larger mountains overlooking the city. The eight-minute journey takes you 320m up above the city, to a spectacular view of tiny houses and the surrounding forests and mountains. On a wet day, as was the case when we visited, you can’t see a great deal. Instead, you ascend into an atmospheric, misty cloud, which cloaks the trees and looks like a good cover for trolls to come out of hiding. Once at the top, there is a series of well-marked forest trails, including several that pass Trollskogen, a play area with wooden troll figures peeping out at the passers-by. Hikers can walk to places where kayaking and wild camping is allowed.
There’s a gift shop at the summit, with a cafe selling light snacks, and Fløien Folkesrestaurant for those who want a more substantial meal. The large, welcoming restaurant used to be a 24-hour nightclub and has been renovated in its original 1920s style. When we visited, it was serving home-made soup, sandwiches, quiches and hearty hot meals. I ate a juicy, tender game burger with lingonberries.
The Fløibanen funicular runs every day – it’s used as a commuter train by the mountain inhabitants. Return ticket adults are NOK 90, children (4 – 15 years) are NOK 45 and children under 4 travel for free.
Bergen is home to several establishments serving good-quality food at a range of prices. The city’s restaurants pride themselves on sourcing local ingredients, especially seafood. As well as Fløien Folkesrestaurant and the restaurants at Bryggen, there is Cornelius, a seafood restaurant set on a small island, and Marg & Bien, a bright, tasteful restaurant with a subtle nautical and agricultural theme. We ate there: I chose melt-in-the mouth langoustines, followed by mountain trout caught in a remote area between Bergen and Oslo. The waiter urged me to eat the salted skin of the trout. It was delicious: a little like nori seaweed, but with more crunch and texture. For dessert I opted for a light lemon curd, with crunchy meringue biscuits.
Although Noway isn’t a cheap place to spend a holiday, Marg & Bien wasn’t overly pricey. A three-course set menu was 495 NOK, with an extra 355 NOK for a wine pairing at each course. I would expect to pay around the same amount in London, for food of a similarly high standard.
Music and nightlife
Bergen is a lively student town, with a vibrant music scene. The “Bergen Wave” of music has become recognised on the International stage, with bands like Röyksopp and Kings of Convenience drawing attention to the relatively small Scandinavian city. The scores of bars and clubs in the town reflect its hip credentials. We visited a craft beer pub-come vinyl shop, Apollon, which wouldn’t have been out of place in trendy east London. Like the street art, Bergen’s new generation of creative enertainment venues pop up in some unexpected quarters. The back end of a blue car that you can see in this row of traditional houses, for instance, is a booth in a retro café/bar.
Bergen is dubbed Norway’s rainy city. No doubt it’s doubly appealing in full, bright sunshine, but visitors need to prepare themselves for the distinct possibility of inclement weather. So long as you’re prepared to catch beauty in a drizzly moment, if needs be, you’ll enjoy the place regardless of the weather.
Getting there and practicalities
You can fly direct to Bergen from Oslo, London and other major cities in the UK. In the summer months there’s a service from the Shetland Isles and Orkney. Bergen also connects with Oslo via a picturesque rail route.
We stayed in the centrally located Scandic Ørnen. Double rooms are available from NOK 900.
If you’re planning on spending much time in Bergen, it would be worth buying a Bergen Card, which offers a discount on museums and other attractions, as well as restaurants, parking, and public transport.
If you liked this post, you might be interested in:
Fjord Norway: Flåm, Stegastein, the Fretheim Hotel and Ægir Brewpub
Fjord Norway: Flåm Railway, Fjordsafari and Vatnahalsen Høyfjellshotell
Bergen: Troldhaugen, the Edvard Grieg Museum
A walk in Oslo’s Nordmarka Forest
Seven relaxing things to do in Oslo, Norway