If you’re on your way to the snowy Norwegian bolthole of Geilo, with its steep cliffs, long winters and arctic foxes, why not stop by the fabulous Bergen? Situated on the country’s western coast, Norway’s second largest city has plenty to offer whistle-stop visitors, with a rich cultural history that goes all the way back to the year 1070. Here’s our guide to a stopover in Bergen.
Start your first day with a self-guided walking tour around the city’s downtown area. Begin on Lille Ovregaten, with its flower-strewn squares, and wander to Bergen cathedral, which is well worth a visit. Recorded as far back as 1181, it’s dedicated to Saint Olave and today is an acoustically ideal venue for concerts. Look out for Tanks School, the renowned composer Edvard Grieg’s alma mater, as you stroll towards the harbour. At the far end, you’ll spot the prominent Rosenkrantz Tower and Håkon’s Hall of the 13th century Bergenhus fortress.
While away an hour or so at the city’s outdoor fish market, Fisketorget, where you’ll find impressive displays of fish and shellfish in the covered hall and plenty of places to stop for a bite of boiled shrimp or raw oysters.
The city is flanked by mountains, fjords and glaciers from every angle. In the afternoon, take the Fløibanen funicular up Mount Fløyen for the best of the views and some incredible panoramic photos. A wander down one of the many hiking trails will take you back to the city centre, winding along cobbled streets lined with quaint wooden houses.
Continue your hike through Bryggen, an area of the city recognised by the UNESCO World Heritage List and home to the famous wooden houses on the harbour, which are what most people associate with Bergen. Stop by the Bryggens Museum to learn about the mid-20th century archaeological excavations and the wharf’s role as part of the Hanseatic League’s trading empire for 400 years before a devastating fire in 1702. Pick up a few postcards and all manner of crafts, from pottery to jewellery, in the tiny stores along the alleyways.
Darkness descends early in winter, so there’s plenty of time to enjoy the city’s nightlife. With a burgeoning music scene, there are plenty of venues downtown. You’ll find classical and rock music at Grieghallen, a 1,500-seat concert hall. For contemporary sounds, there’s the old meat factory Bergen Kjøtt, a favourite with local artists, while Wessel Bar on Øvre Ole Bulls plass often has jazz and folk performances, washed down with a tipple of Norway’s potato liquor aquavit. Afterwards, take a seat at Enhjørningen for spectacular fish, the traditional Norwegian delicacy lutefisk and old-world service.
On the second day, head for the fjords. Mostraumen makes up the innermost part of the Osterfjord, just outside Bergen. Cruises set off from Zachariasbryggen all year round, heading towards Nordhordaland Bridge and sailing between steep cliffs, spotting waterfalls, seals and eagles en route. Even in just half a day, you’ll experience spectacular western Norwegian natural beauty.
Back in town, pick up a skillingsbolle, or cinnamon roll, from one of the sweet-smelling bakeries to warm your hands and fill you up. If it’s a rainy afternoon – which, as the one of the wettest cities in Europe, it might well be – stop by KODE for a showcase of Scandinavian artwork. Four galleries cover everything from fine silver crafts to Munch, perched at the edge of Lille Lungegård lake.
If time allows, head northwest to the Nordnes peninsula for the Akvariet Aquarium, with one of the greatest collections of marine fauna in Europe. Seals and penguins live alongside carp, reptiles and a shoal of herring.
Drinking is integral to the country’s culture; join in with a bar hop around the city centre. Pub Henrik Øl og Vinstove is the destination for beer, with over 50 Scandinavian brews on tap, while restaurant/bar Lysverket is considered the most sophisticated cocktail spot in town. When it comes to dinner, Bergen’s fine dining scene is encapsulated by Potetkjelleren, with an elegant seven-course tasting menu displaying the tastes of Norway and an unusual wine list.