Long weekend in Bergen, Norway
Oh how I love being based in Europe! I definitely couldn’t do a long weekend to somewhere like Norway if I wasn’t. I spent 3 nights in Bergen on the first weekend of April and loved it.
I always had this weird idea in my mind of European cities being old and stuffy. I don’t know, I guess coming from somewhere so far away and taking so much culture from the UK and the States, my perception of other parts of the world can be a bit warped, But as I’ve travelled through Europe I’ve loved so many more cities than I thought I would, and Bergen is another that I was pleasantly surprised by, and could see myself living in. I’m not even disappointed that I didn’t see any of the really spectacular views that you see further north, because it was such a lovely place to experience.
Accommodation and Transport
Our Airbnb (click here to get a discount on your first Airbnb stay) was located about a 7 minute walk from two of the Light Rail stops, and that ran all the way from the airport to the city centre, so it was super easy to get around, especially with the Bergen Card covering our public transport. It didn’t cost much more to stay there than it would’ve to stay in a hostel, and with three of us we thought it would be nice to have our own space. We had a spectacular view of a harbour and mountain in the background so it was a lovely location. There were also buses that left from the same place as the light rail, so it was a super accessible spot and I think the whole city would be pretty easy to navigate. It has a lot of hills so there weren’t many cyclists but it’s small enough that you could walk around most of it in an hour or two. We were about a 30 minute walk from the centre and a 30 minute walk to the Ulriken cable cars.
Bryggen and the Vågen Harbour
The city of Bergen sits below the Vågen Harbour, and on its northern side is the picturesque area, Bryggen. The colourful buildings face out onto the water in a perfect row, much like Copenhagen’s Nyhavn. Once the capital of Norway, Bergen has been an important port in Europe, and was once a kontor (trading post) of the Hanseatic League. There were a few mentions of the Hanseatic League in Bergen, which operated from the 13th to 17th century in northern Europe, and was made up of merchant guilds and market towns. Bryggen now a UNESCO World Heritage site and the Hanseatic buildings, some original and some rebuilt after many fires, are a popular tourist attraction. Today many just host local businesses and in the 70’s one of only two Hanseatic League museums was built there. We really enjoyed exploring Bryggen, there are lots of little alleyways between the buildings and you can walk along the balconies of some. If they made a Nordic version of Pirates of the Caribbean I could easily see them filming a scene there! The rest of the harbour is gorgeous and is home to the Bergen Fish Market, though only the indoor restaurants operate all year round with small selections of seafood; sadly we missed out on the full, outdoor market which operates in the warmer months.
Ironically, I only saw one Fjord on this trip, but Bergen is known as the gateway to the fjords of Norway. Even just by looking at a map of the area, it’s obvious that this place is going to have some seriously breathtaking landscapes! There are many trips that leave daily from the harbour to many of the nearby fjords and beyond, like Osterfjord, Sognefjord and Nærøyfjord. I did the short trip through Osterfjord to Mostraumen which was lovely. The three hour journey left the harbour at 10am and went up through the Osterfjord and the Mostraumen strait where Norway’s smallest municipality, Modalen of less than 400 people is located, and back again. The trip costs from 650NOK and I got 20% off with my Bergen Card, so in NZD I paid $92 which isn’t so bad. One of the highlights was when we pulled up to a waterfall and one of the staff put a bucket out to collect the water for us to drink. It was incredibly refreshing, as you might imagine! The whole trip was so stunning, with gorgeous scenery the whole way along, and cute little colourful houses dotted around the place. I did a quick research about why so many houses are painted red and yellow, and it’s because red was the cheapest, followed by yellow, and then white was the most expensive and was only used by those who could afford it, hence it being less popular than the other two colours.
There was a lot of discussion between us about what is a mountain and what is actually a big hill! There was also a lot of groaning about the many slopes of the city from the Dane in the group, as Denmark’s highest “mountain” is only 147 metres above sea level…its name, Himmelbjerget, means “Sky Mountain”. Needless to say, we didn’t do any mountain hikes on our trip. Instead, we visited Mt Fløyen via the Fløibanen Funicular and Mt Ulriken via Ulriken643 (a cable car). We went up to Mt Fløyen several times because with the Bergen Card we got one free return trip per day, so it was a great trip to do when we had a few spare hours. One day we went for sunset but sadly it wasn’t really a night for it, and another time we went and explored a little lake and while we were there we were hit with a snow flurry which actually made the scene feel really magical. There’s a fair bit to do up there, especially in the summer with a couple of cafes, a restaurant, large play area for kids, high ropes courses, hiking trails to lakes and waterfalls and of course, the lookout points of the whole city.
There was much less at the top of Ulriken, but being a lot higher that makes sense. The name of the cable car, Ulriken643, comes from the height it takes you to, with Mt Fløyen being only about 320 metres above sea level when you exit the funicular. As we made our ascent in the cable car, there was a huge snow storm so we weren’t able to see much when we got to the top. Luckily, it cleared in about 10 minutes, so by the time we finished our lunches we were treated to a stunning scene as the clouds rolled away and the city came into view.
I think the city itself deserves to be talked about a bit as well. It’s a lovely city, with so much harbour area to explore, and then all the beautiful mountains as a backdrop. I loved wandering through it and seeing all the quirky stores they had, as well as the regular chain stores I hate to love. Its kind of hard to explain the geography, but the majority of the city is on a bit of land between two harbours, so where our Airbnb was located was the bottom of one, where it created quite an inlet, and then when you cross that and go into town the northern part of the city is around the Vågen Harbour. One morning I walked to the end of the piece of land between the two harbours and it was so beautiful, from there you could see the harbour near our apartment and then all out to the surrounding islands. I wanted to fly my drone there but there were so many people out enjoying the sunshine so I didn’t want to impose. The city has quite a few museums, some lovely restaurants and lots of beautiful green spaces and gardens to visit. Sadly quite a few things were closed because it was off season, but we went to the Maritime Museum and explored the gardens around that area, but couldn’t go into the green house of the botanical gardens.
Fantoft Stave Church
I’ve heard more than a few complaints from kiwis who travel through Europe that they get church/cathedral fatigue. Every city you visit has at least a couple of churches that you must visit, and people tend to get bored of it. I still love going into the churches, but I love the unique ones the most and the Fantoft Stave Church was so cool! We couldn’t go inside because it wasn’t open until May I think, but I can’t imagine there’s a whole lot to see in there because it’s pretty tiny. But the outside is gorgeous. Tucked away in the forest and made of dark wood, it looks like something from a H.C. Anderson tale. It has an interesting history; it was first built around 800 years ago and then moved to Fantoft in the 1800s. In the early 90s, actually a few days after I was born, the church was burned down by a guy from a black metal band, what a dick. It took about 5 years to rebuild to what is seen today.
The Bergen Card
One of my main sources when I researched Bergen was Visit Bergen and they actually sorted me out with the 72hr Bergen Card. If you’ve done any research on travelling to a new city before, chances are you will have seen something similar. They’re cards that give you access to a huge variety of discounts on attractions, tours, transport and activities. The offer differs for each city but the Bergen Card gave me free transport on the light rail and busses, free access to the Maritime museum and the Fløibanen Funicular and discounts on the Ulriken cable car and my fjord tour. It is great value if you plan to cram a lot of stuff into a small window and especially handy if you’re travelling in summer. We found that a few things weren’t open when we visited because it wasn’t during the peak season, particularly the fjord tours. I would definitely recommend researching what you want to see and do before you arrive and working out how much you can save by investing in one of these cards!
Have you visited Bergen yet? What are your must-sees?