The conversation usually begins like this:
“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. My top highlights were as follows:
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 out free samples 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.)
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. There are a lot of narrow alleys and pathways to wander around. Most of the buildings 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 Håkon. You can go outside on the top floor for good views of the city.
Håkon’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 anymore, 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.
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’s exhibit might be good, but it’s all in Norwegian, so I don’t know. But the Nazi resistance exhibit was in English and very detailed, and it contained 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 toward more modern art.
Old Bergen Museum – This is an open-air museum with more than 40 wooden houses representing Bergen’s architecture during the 18th and 19th 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.
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, but it’s not budget friendly. However, I spent a lot of time up there 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 place, 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.
Note: Tourism Norway provided me with free accommodation and a tourist card to get into attractions for free while I was there.