With its relaxed atmosphere, stunning setting and vibrant cultural life, Bergen in Norway is an appealing mix of the cosmopolitan and the outdoors, with easy access to the western fjords.
Standing on a peninsula surrounded by seven mountains, beautiful Bergen is Norway’s western capital and gateway to the fjords. Its relaxed atmosphere, stunning setting and vibrant cultural life make it an ideal base for a fjord holiday.
The Golf Stream blesses Bergen with a benign climate and a harbor that is ice-free year-round. But it also brings rain, some 2,250mm (89 inches), making Bergen the country’s wettest city, so be sure to pack an umbrella.
With a population of 85,600 (2021), Bergen is a major port, with 10km (6 miles) of dockside. Until the railway eastwards over the high mountains to Oslo opened in 1909 Bergen was isolated from the rest of Norway. Scotland by ship was closer than Oslo, England less distant than Copenhagen. As the westernmost city in Scandinavia, Bergen soon became a crossroad of the north, and in the 13th century the capital of a united Norway. Its favorable location with respect to the other ports of Europe drew Hanseatic tradesmen (merchants from medieval German cities), who established a commercial community at the harbor. Fullriggers plied the port, with peak traffic in 1644, when more than 400 ships docked from Scotland alone.
In July 2014, Bergen was the stage host city for the Tall Ships’ Races for the fourth time, a spectacular event with more than 75 large sailing ships from 20 countries participating.
A view from the top
The best place to go to get a feel for the city and take in its amazing natural setting is on the Fløibanen funicular that climbs more than 300 meters (1,000 feet) in just eight minutes from the city center to the top of Fløyen mountain, high above Bergen. At the summit there is a restaurant, gift shop, and a fantastic network of walking paths. Strike out alone or join the 1 ½ hour “Walk like a Norwegian” guided hike through the forests, past lakes and breathtaking views, learning about history, traditions and legend on the way. Children can go on a free treasure hunt.
For more breathtaking views of the city, fjords and islands, the Ulriksbanen cable car goes to the top of Mount Ulriken – at 643 meters (2,109 ft), the highest of the seven peaks that surround the city. You can walk for hours on marked trails, while enjoying panoramic views of the city and surrounding sea.
A walk through the atmospheric medieval quarter of Bryggen is a step back in time, to before the Reformation. Many of the Hanseatic buildings remain – a film set in themselves, meticulously preserved and listed as a Unesco World Heritage site. Here, too, are museums, galleries, craft shops, fashion boutiques and eating places, interspersed with sailmakers, a freight company and a scrap metal dealer.
The earliest archaeological remains are in Bryggen Museum Guides from the museum conduct tours through the rows of Hansa houses and warehouses that line Bryggen. These were built after the great fire of 1702, which destroyed many buildings. A key to understanding the Hanseatic merchants’ way of life is to visit the Hanseatic museum housed in a 1704 trade house complete with original interiors.
Nearby is the oldest building still in use in the city, St. Mary’s Church (Mariakirken), built in the early 12th century and justly proud of its rich Baroque pulpit. The other medieval churches to survive the periodic fires are Bergen Cathedral (Domkirken) and Church of the Holy Cross (Korskirken) both merit a visit.
Bergen – Norway – An Appealing Mix of the Cosmopolitan and the Outdoors, written by Tor Kjolberg
Feature image (on top): Photo by Berge Knoff/Visit Norway