Gateway to the fjords: 48 hours in Bergen
- Credit: Archant
With historic architecture, stunning landscapes and an exciting food scene – Bergen seems to have it all. But does it live up to expectations? Hannah Gosset finds out.
Surrounded by sea and mountains (seven, to be precise), Bergen is the perfect jumping off point for exploring Norway's fjord-flecked west coast.
Here, the natural scenery steals the show, but that's not to say the city itself has little to offer - quite the opposite, actually.
Bergen's eclectic mix of urban attractions and culture is enough to rival its big sister, Oslo, and despite being the second largest city in Norway, it feels more like a quaint town with its charming streets and friendly locals.
Though summer is a popular time to visit for hiking in the lush landscapes, Norway's coastline is just as beautiful - or arguably even more beautiful - in winter. My partner and I visited during December, and while the lack of snow may have scuppered my ideas of sledding down powdery slopes, the city's wooden houses, cosy cafés and cobbled walkways certainly lived up to my expectations of an idyllic Scandinavian destination.
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The city is relatively compact, meaning you can explore most of the highlights on foot in just a couple of days.
Here's how I spent 48 hours in Bergen.
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A historic hub… If you're looking for that postcard-worthy picture of Bergen, head to Bryggen. An UNESCO World Heritage Site lining the eastern side of the harbour, these colourful old buildings are one of the city's most popular attractions - and it's easy to see why. The houses date back to 1702, and it really does feel as though you've stepped back in time as you wander around the narrow, timber-clad alleyways. It's not all history though - many of the buildings have been converted into restaurants and boutique shops.
Go to market… On the other side of the harbour is Fisketorget, Bergen's centuries-old fish market. The indoor section is open year-round, serving a huge variety of fresh, locally sourced seafood. It's a tourist hotspot (which is reflected in the prices) but still a great place to grab a bite to eat. For lunch we chose Fish Me restaurant and tucked into a delicious feast of sushi and king prawns on the cosy terrace overlooking the water.
Panoramic mountain views… The iconic Fløibanen funicular takes you on an eight-minute ride to the top of Mount Fløyen. The panoramic views are truly spectacular, even after the sun goes down and the city's lights twinkle below. If you want to explore further you can grab a hot drink from the café and venture off on a woodland walk to various scenic viewpoints.
A taste of Bergen… Tucked away in a quiet courtyard at the back of the historic quarter, Bryggen Tracteursted is a traditional Norwegian restaurant steeped in old-world charm. Try their version of tapas (smakfulle småtterier) for tasty local delights such as lutefisk, trout roe and reindeer fillet. If you fancy a tipple, there's an extensive list of local beer and aquavit (a Scandinavian spirit flavoured with spice and herbs) to complete the Norwegian experience. Just a quick word of warning: drink prices can be eye-watering, even compared to London standards.
Fantastic fjords… Bergen is known as the gateway to the fjords - and arguably there's no better way to experience these majestic landscapes than with a cruise. If you're only visiting for a few days like me and have limited time, the three-hour Mostraumen trip is the perfect taster. The cruise leaves daily from the harbour and takes you on a thrilling journey up the 27km-long Osterfjorden and the innermost arms of the Mostrauman strait, where snow-dusted mountains and green islands dotted with wooden houses rise from the sea.
Hearty fare… Housed in a quaint wooden house in the city centre, Daily Pot is a no-frills café specialising in homemade soups with organic, locally sourced produce. Most dishes are vegan, with a few options for meat lovers. We had the Thai and Curry Pot - hot, filling and delicious - the perfect pair of winter warmers.
For art lovers… Kode is one of the biggest museums in Norway, spread across four galleries and composer's homes. Like most tourists, we made a beeline for Kode 3, which contains one of the world's largest collections of Edvard Munch's work. Those hoping to see 'The Scream' (this may have been me) will be disapointed, but you can see a black and white sketch of the famous haunted face.
Drinking with the locals… No Stress is a popular city centre bar serving a variety of fun cocktails with, as the name suggests, a laid-back atmosphere. For something more 'Norwegian', try Sjøboden in Bryggen, which has more than 60 varieties of local craft beer and daily live music.
Where to stay… Located in the heart of Bergen, Hotel Norge by Scandic is a social hub for both visitors and locals with a selection of stylish bars and restaurants across three floors. Most rooms have floor-to-ceiling windows, some with balconies and views of Lille Lungegårdsvannet lake and the surrounding mountains. The highlight for me though was the breakfast buffet, with everything from Norwegian caviar and baked salmon to pancakes and vegan muesli on offer. I was excited to spot Gordon Ramsey having breakfast at a table across the room one morning, and what's good enough for a celebrity chef is more than good enough for me!
Flights… Wizz Air fly direct to Bergen from London Luton Airport and Norwegian fly direct from Gatwick. Flights take just under two hours. Bergen airport is served by two shuttle services and a train which takes you to the city centre in under 40 minutes.
Top tip… A 48 hour Bergen card (£30) can be purchased from the tourist office at the harbour, giving you unlimited use of public transport and discounts on numerous attractions.