Pocket Guide: Bergen
Surrounded by seven hills and seven fjords, the UNESCO World Heritage city of Bergen lies on Norway’s southwest coast and is the second largest in the country. Its history stretches back more than 900 years, to the Viking Age, and as a member of the Hanseatic League, it became a prosperous port town through its vibrant trading relationships with other European cities.
Today, Bergen is still a major port but offers more of a laid back small-town vibe due in part to its sizeable student population. With dozens of hotels and one of the most spectacular settings of any Scandinavian city, it’s perfect for both a short break in its own right or as a base for a wider exploration of the western fjords. It also boasts a lively cultural life with numerous museums, galleries, Medieval buildings and markets.
Visit Bergen at Different Times of Year
Visit Bergen in the late spring or summertime and you may never witness the sun go down. At this time of year, the city parties around the clock and an exuberant energy takes hold. But it’s equally atmospheric in autumn and wintertime too, when the population simply moves indoors to the candle-lit cafes, coffee shops and bars, or heads up to the mountains for a spot of sledging or cross-country skiing. The Fløibanen funicular to the top of Mount Fløyen – one of Bergen’s most popular attractions – is open all year round, as is the cable car to the top of Mount Ulriken. With mountain-top restaurants and panoramic views, both destinations are essential Bergen experiences.
What Are Bergen’s Best Highlights?
Bryggen – the old Hanseatic wharf lined with colourful wooden buildings – is today the most famous symbol of the city. The Medieval wharf was built after the great fire of 1702, and the area is home to the fish market and the Bergenhus Fortress, along with many boutiques, craft shops, restaurants and cafes.
Close at hand is St Mary’s Church, or Mariakirken, the oldest existing building in the city. Dating from the early-12th Century, its interior features a pulpit unlike any other in Norway, as well as a number of 15th-century frescoes. Also nearby are the Theta Museum – a single room used by the Resistance Movement during Norway’s 1940–1945 occupation – along with the Bryggens Museum, the 1560s-built Rosenkrantz Tower, and Bergen Cathedral, which offers free organ recitals in summer.
While you’re in Bergen, take the opportunity to venture further afield. Western Norway is a landscape of rushing waterfalls and creaking glaciers, of snowcapped mountains and seemingly bottomless fjords, and Bergen is its most obvious gateway. Some of the most popular and easily accessible fjords to visit include Hardangerfjord – the fourth longest in the world – which lies to the south of the city; the World Heritage-listed Nærøyfjord, which is the one of the narrowest in Europe and Norway’s longest fjord, Sognefjord, to the north. You can also take a ride on the famous Bergen and Flåm Line railways, often touted as the most beautiful train journeys in the world.