The Saturday City: Beautiful Bergen

By Nomadic Matt | Published May 28th, 2011

bergenThe conversation usually begins like this:

You’re going to Norway?

“Yes, for a few weeks.”

“You have to go to Bergen. It’s simply amazing.”

No matter who I mentioned my trip to Norway to, they would talk about seeing Bergen with as much excitement as seeing the beautiful Norwegian fjords. I didn’t know what to expect of Bergen, but since everyone seemed to praise it, my expectations for excellence were pretty high.

And when I exited the train station and walked to my hotel, I could immediately see why: Bergen is beautiful.

A compact city nestled between two mountains, Bergen’s center is filled with historical brick and wooden buildings, winding cobblestone streets, a huge central park, Gothic churches, and little squares. In the harbor, there is a fish market where you can eat some of the best fish in the country.

Sadly, I only had two days in Bergen. With so much to do in the town, I had little chance to explore the wider area and the beautiful fjords outside the city. However, I managed to fill my two days with some amazing sites in Bergen. My top highlights were:

The Fish Market – Bergen’s fish market is a culinary treat. Located right downtown on the wharf, it’s easy to visit. There are vendors there all day, though you’ll find more in the morning. By Norwegian standards, the fish is cheap, but it’s still expensive when you convert into USD.  Take advantage of the vendors, though, who are more than happy to give free samples out if you just want a taste. Make sure you try the salmon and caviar. (I’d skip the herring caviar though. It wasn’t that good. Very, very salty.)

bergen norway fish market

Bryggen – Bryggen (“wharf” in Norwegian) is one of the oldest parts of Bergen and consists of beautiful 14th-century Hanseatic buildings, including some of the few remaining wooden structures here. There are a lot of narrow alleys and pathways to wander around. Most of the buildings here are cheesy tourist shops but much of the woodwork is original and it’s pretty amazing to look at. There is also a museum that will tell you about the lives of 14th-century merchants.

Rosenkrantz Tower – Located in the fortress at the harbor, this tower dates from the 1270s. The tower has been extended several times, with the keep expanded under Erik Rosenkrantz, who was governor during in the 1500s. The current exhibit is really well done, and the top floor contains a lot of history about the castle and King Hakon. You can go outside on the top floor for good views of the city.

Hakon’s Hall – This royal residence and banqueting hall was built by King Håkon Håkonsson sometime between 1247 and 1261. It’s located in the same fortress as Rosenkrantz Tower, and is not really used any more except for on special occasions. Most of the hall was destroyed in World War II, but the original walls still stand. It’s impressive to check out.

bergen norway fish market

Bergenhus Fortress Museum – The fortress museum is not a museum about the fortress. Instead, its exhibits tended to focus on women in Norway and the Bergen resistance to the Nazis. The women exhibition might be good, but it’s all in Norwegian, so I don’t know. But the Nazi resistance exhibit was in English, very detailed, and contains lots of pictures. The history buff in me loved it. I learned a lot.

Art Museums – Near the city center’s park (which is also amazing), there are three art museums worth visiting if you are into modern and contemporary art. The museums are small and won’t blow your mind. However, they contain art by famous Norwegians as well as a slant towards more modern art.

Old Bergen Museum – This is an open-air museum with more than 40 wooden houses representing Bergen architecture during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The area is open all year round and free to visit. However, the guided tours are not. It’s not in the city center but an easy bus ride away.

bergen norway from the mountain

Fløibanen – Fløibanen is a train that takes you up a mountain near the city center where you can get great sweeping views of the city, the harbor, and fjords. There’s a restaurant on top here to eat at, but it’s not budget friendly. However, I spent a lot of time up here just marveling at the city and fjords.

Because I only had two days in Bergen, I didn’t get to see much of the surrounding fjord area. However, if you do spend a few extra days here, I would recommend taking trips out into the mountains, booking a boat cruise on the fjord, or visiting some of the old historic manors in the countryside.

A word of warning: Bergen is also famous for getting 270 days of rain per year, and not one of the 90 days of sun occurred while I was there. However, even through the rain and clouds, I really loved Bergen. I tried to resist jumping on the “Bergen is so amazing” bandwagon, but, with a city so pretty, it was hard to do. Bergen is a fun city with a lot of history and great food. Try as I might, I have fallen in with the “Bergen is awesome” crowd. I think that, next to Stockholm, Bergen is my favorite Scandinavian city. And that’s saying a lot.

Editor’s Note: Tourism Norway provided me with free accommodation and a tourist card to get into attractions for free while I was there.

comments 13 Comments

Great post! I am heading to Scandanavia on my travels but was yet undecided as to where exactly to go. Now I know I will definitely head to Bergen. Are the boat trips to the fjords expensive, did you see? Was eating out as expensive as Oslo or is it just generally expensive in all Scandanavian countries?
Thanks Matt :-)

It’s great to hear that it lived up to expectations. I often get worried about those places that I have high expectations for, as I think that I’ll have seen the best in photos or heard the best about it before I get there. It’s great to hear that it lived up to the hype.

Great photos, too.

NomadicMatt

This is one place the hype is right about.

Awesome post on Bergen, Matt. Totally agree with everything you’ve said about the city, it’s a hidden gem of Norway I reckon. Amazing scenery, compact city centre, some cool bars/cafes. Very underrated.
Did you do a trip out to the fjords while you were there? I was only there 2 days for an assignment so didn’t get a chance to unfortunately.
Bryggen is so cool though, it’s like walking back in time 400 years when you’re lost down the maze of alleyways.

NomadicMatt

I got to the fjords up in Aleseund but not in this area. I’ll have a post soon about it.

Sofia - As We Travel

I have yet to visit Bergen, but it seems beautiful and I’ve also heard many good thing about it – makes me want to see what all the fuzz is about!

zakia kerrar

Hei , i´ve moved from USA 4 years to Norway Bergen my first visit was falling in love with all the beautiful all surroundings mountains fish market .

Lisa

Loving the pictures! I’m getting more and more excited for The Knutson Heritage Trip at the end of the month. My great-great grandfather came to the States from Norway and we are going back to areas our family came from and will get to meet some family as well!! We are not going to Bergen this time, but will be visiting other areas. We are traveling from Trondheim to Oslo via the Atlantic Highway and will be staying at the Ullsvang Hotel near one of the fjords for one night. I’ll have to post pics when we return.

Bergen stands out as one of my favourite Scandinavian places. It’s like you can catch your breath there after seeing too many cities with too many churches and too many castles. Maybe it’s just the air feels fresher. Maybe it’s the rain…and those cloudy skies bearing rain make for AWESOME photographs!

If you have not decided on your itinerary yet – I would strongly recommend Lofoten Islands. You can get there with couple of charter flights and in my opinion – it is the ultimate Scandinavian experience together with Iceland. Have a great journey. Norway is a wonderful country.

Great post, and great photos. Bergen is beautiful, and you can read more about it in my website. And as someone mentioned: Lofoten is a must, and will give you the most outstanding photos.

setyo

Great Post on Bergen. May I ask how do I get to Bergen from Oslo. Is the tourist card applicable for train rides to Bergen? Thank you.

NomadicMatt

The tourist card won’t work. You’ll have to buy a separate train ticket.

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